South Africa’s ‘wild’ province, the Eastern Cape features expanses of untouched beach, bush and forest. This was Nelson Mandela’s home province, and is an area with some enticing attractions – among them the Addo Elephant National Park, with the densest elephant population in the world; the dramatic Wild Coast; and, of course, Mandela’s home at Qunu.
Here, you can still find traditional African villages, and the region’s 1000km of undeveloped coastline alone justifies a visit, sweeping back inland in immense undulations of vegetated dune fields. For anyone wanting to get off the beaten track, the province is, in fact, one of the most rewarding regions in South Africa.
When you choose to embark on one of many Eastern Cape safaris, you’ll be amazed at the diversity of wildlife. From white lions to black rhinos, from cheetahs to Cape mountain zebras, from elephants to eland, the Eastern Cape has them all.
Choose between a national park, such as the Addo Elephant National Park, or a host of private game reserves.
It seems hard to believe that the fate of the Addo elephants once hung by a thread. Intensive hunting of the ‘pests’, as they were known, in the early 20th century almost annihilated them. Thanks to committed conservationists, however, the elephants were saved and are now in abundance, along with black rhino, kudu, eland, bushbuck, and other antelopes. Keep your eye out for the rare flightless dung beetle, an Addo Elephant National Park special. Signs warn you not to drive over them.
Shamwari Game Reserve, a favourite haunt of international celebs, is the largest private reserve in the Eastern Cape. It has the Big Five, a couple of Born Free centres where rescued animals from all over the world are rehabilitated, and lots of luxury accommodation.
Kwandwe Game Reserve, just 20 minutes from Grahamstown, covers 22 000 hectares (54 000 acres) of rolling plains, high hills, and rocky slopes. Look out for lion, white and black rhino, buffalo, elephant and cheetah.
Pumba Private Game Reserve, also near Grahamstown, is home to one of the only two free-ranging populations of white lion in Southern Africa. At the moment one pure white male and one white lioness hunt only part of the five biomes of the reserve because their gene pool must remain pure and not mix with their tawny cousins. In 2011 they produced two white cubs – a remarkable breeding achievement.
The Eastern Cape also boasts with an incredible marine life including endangered humpback dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. The southern right whales come to South Africa’s eastern coastline in particular for calving and lolling while sharks are there all year round.
Many privately owned game reserves in the Eastern Cape offer opportunities for off-the-beaten-track explorations and hands-on involvement in conservation initiatives, like tracking cheetahs at Samara Game Reserve. Samara Game Reserve works closely with the Endangered Wildlife Trust to make sure that the endangered cheetah species will continue to survive. So that the gene pool is kept healthy, Samara swops its cheetahs with other reserves.
The Wild Coast region remains one of the least developed and most exciting regions in the country. The region is blessed with unspoiled beauty on the subtropical coast.
The Wild Coast comprises 300 kilometres of coastline between East London and Port Edward. The disappearance of many ships and vessels along the rough coast gave rise to the area’s name. The name, Wild Coast, also complements the area’s scenery of untamed splendour and cliffs, which in two places feed waterfalls directly into the ocean.
From here, all the way to the KwaZulu-Natal border, dirt roads trundle down to the coast from the N2 to dozens of remote and indolent hillside resorts, of which Port St Johns is the biggest and best known. In the rugged, goat-chewed landscape inland, Xhosa-speakers live in mud-and-tin homesteads, scraping a living herding stock and growing crops.
Named after the three distant ridges of the Amathole range of mountains that resemble the back-outlines of running wild pigs, the little town of Hogsback has become an arts and crafts colony, a photographer’s preferred location, a nature lover’s haunt and a honeymoon couple’s top choice of a romantic hideaway in the Eastern Cape.
Hogsback was named, it is said, for the three ridges on the Amathole Mountains that resemble the outlines of a hog’s back. These mountains are the spiritual domain of the Xhosa people, who call this area Qabimbola (after the red clay from the area they adorn their faces with).
And when the mountain mists clear, you’re left with an astounding view of waterfalls, valleys, and one of South Africa’s most prized forest strongholds.
The Eastern Cape is a malaria-free area, making it the ideal destination for visitors looking for peace of mind, especially those travelling with younger children.
Some of the private game reserves have dedicated children’s programmes which allows families with younger children to enjoy a safari experience together.
Unique Bird Watching experiences
The birding route of the Eastern Cape is the only route in South Africa to offer a range of seven different biomes – grasslands, savannah, succulent thicket, fynbos, coastal thicket, forest, and semi-desert. Some of these unique bird watching experiences include the Knysna turaco (known locally as the Knysna loerie), bokmakierie, southern-black korhaan, black harrier, malachite sunbird, eastern clapper lark, and the South African Shellduck.
All of these are endemic species that are regularly seen in the Eastern Cape.
Diverse plant life
The Eastern Cape offers a diverse range of safari experiences. This is largely due to the convergence of a variety of plant biomes, which in turn makes this region suitable for a great diversity of wildlife and bird species, found in a single region.
The diverse landscape from vegetated mountainous areas to the open Karoid plains, also makes it a biological melting pot of vegetation types, from euphorbia forests and displays of winter-flowering aloes to thicket vegetation. This vegetation is able to support very high numbers of browsing herbivores such as black rhino, greater kudu, bushbuck and eland. It is also one of the top five carbon-storing vegetations on the planet. “Portulacaria afra (also known as Dwarf Jade Plant, Elephant Bush and Spekboom in Afrikaans), is native to the Eastern Cape, and is a remarkable succulent tree that has an exceptional ability to store carbon in particular.
Cultural melting pot and birthplace of iconic world leader, Nelson Mandela, the rich heritage and diversity of the Eastern Cape with its people, sights and sounds interwoven into the tapestry of what makes this region so unique. Become encapsulated in the history of a proud region and its people.
Discovered by longboarders during the early 1960s, Jefferys Bay, or J-Bay as we like to call it, has the kind of waves that attract surfers from around the world. It’s known among international surfers as having some of the best waves in the world.
J-Bay features a number of surf breaks that harness the approaching swell as it meets the offshore reef. The most famous of these is Supertubes or “Supers” where, on good days, a 4ft to 8ft wave runs from the point along the reef and includes a classic barrelling section, before closing out at a spot called Impossibles.
Due to its natural beauty, the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast is ideal for mountain biking, hiking and the majority of the Eastern Cape’s hiking trails can be found along the Wild Coast, which many travel pundits argue is among the most beautiful coastlines in the world. It’s not only wild, but also empty, safe for the local villages and their friendly inhabitants.
These hiking trails offer breathtaking beauty, dramatic coastlines, pounding seas, a few shipwrecks, and very few other people.
There is also a multitude of 4×4 trails that allow for those who prefer travelling in comfort.
Other activities guests can enjoy around the Wild Coast include horse riding trips on the beach, fishing (fishing permits are required), and canoeing.
Water activities such as snorkeling and diving can also be enjoyed in the area while bungee jumping (from the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee jump) and skydiving is a popular activity amongst the adrenaline junkies.
The Eastern Cape, an intoxicating mix of coastal and mountain scenery, is home to many of South Africa’s hidden rural gems. It is also home to some fantastic golf courses, with well-designed fairways and steady to strong winds to either cool you down or provide an extra challenge. There are more than 15 good golf courses to choose from in the Eastern Cape, including the Wild Coast Sun Country Club, Royal Port Alfred Golf Club, St Francis Links, and the Port Elizabeth Golf Club.
Wild, beautiful, and totally absorbing – a world of wonder awaits the visitor to South Africa’s Eastern Cape.