The Eastern Cape
- Tourist Information & Activities
Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
to Map of Eastern Cape Images © South
THE EASTERN CAPE,
of the Eastern cape is relatively diverse, from arid desolate Karoo to
lush green Tsitsikamma Forest and fertile Lankloof and Sundays River
Valleys. The main public game reserve in this area is the Addo Elephant
Park with the private game reserve of Shamwari not far away. This was
a true frontier post in the early 1800s.
Various peoples met
along the coastal migration routes and as a result many battles were
White settlers clashed with the Xhosa, Pondo, Zulu and Sotho tribes.
The unique architecture of the towns and cities reflects the unique
mixed heritage of the people and the many museums reflect the turbulent
The Eastern Cape is an agricultural region producing mainly grains
and fruits, though there are some cattle and sheep ranches.
The Eastern Cape has a wealth of beautiful natural areas, with a rich
diversity of vegetation, fauna and landscapes. Some of these areas include
proclaimed provincial nature reserves, marine reserve, and coastal islands;
while others are referred to as conservation or wilderness areas. The
Eastern Cape is also an important meeting ground of six major converging
Biomes, and 25 of the Acocks veld types occur in the Eastern Province:
(a) The Savannah Biome which includes the valley bushveld flora of the
summer rainfall area
(b) The Fynbos Biome characteristic of a winter rainfall
(c) The Grassland Biome which includes Flora of higher altitudes
(d) The Succulent-Karoo Biome with its Flora which flourishes under arid
and semi-arid conditions
(e) The Thornfelt-Karoo Biome
(f) Indigenous Forest Biome
Spectacular examples of local vegetation are ericas, protease, wild
daisies, the Cape Thatching reed, the Yellowwood, Schotia and Coral Trees,
Spekboom (favourite food of the elephant), tree fuschia, sneezewood,
guarri, the num-num and other shrubs (found predominantly in the Addo
area), many varied grass types, Euphorbia, Aloe and other succulents,
along with herbs and bulbous plants.
South Africa's native fauna is the premier attraction of the many wildlife
game reserves the Eastern Cape. Boasting some magnificent and almost
untouched scenery, the area is malaria-free and is fast becoming one
of the foremost game viewing destinations in the country. Various private
game farms in the area have ensured that the Eastern Cape is well stocked
with wildlife. Varieties of buck (bushbuck, duiker, grey rhebok, mountain
reedbuck, grysbok) and birdlife inhabit the region and just 72kms from
the city centre, one can view the Big 5 (Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino,
Buffalo) plus zebra, giraffe, and more....Malaria Free.
MAJOR GEOGRAPHIC AREAS
Three powerful nations
shaped today's Republic of South Africa: the British, the Xhosa and
the Afrikaner. It was in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa
that they first made contact over 200 years ago.
While there was limited understanding
between Xhosa and European settler, the economic needs of both were
essentially pastoral, and at first, there was no reason for conflict.
It seemed that there was land enough for all and to spare.
However, inevitably, conflicting demands
coupled with the ignorance of each group about the other's culture,
together with differing attitudes towards land ownership, spiritual
beliefs and civilization, paved the way for conflict to fester, simmer
and finally erupt.
The first frontier war broke out in 1780
and market the beginning of the Xhosa struggle to preserve their traditional
customs and way of life. It was a struggle that was to increase in
intensity when the British arrived on the scene.
The Xhosa fought for one hundred years
to preserve their independence and heritage, in a land of great diversity,
spectacular scenery and rare beauty. And still today, this area is
known as Frontier Country.
Now no longer the scene of conflict and
strife, Frontier Country remains spectacularly beautiful. In its natural
state, it is one of the most diverse regions on earth. Much of the
pristine indigenous flora and fauna is still very accessible, making
for breath-taking views, experiences and memories.
Frontier Country is also a meeting place
for four major weather systems, which share a common boundary, hence
the incredibly diverse environment. A trip through Frontier Country
exposes the traveler to spectacular mountain ranges, valleys, lush
forests, scrub bush and some of the most spectacular and unspoiled
beaches our country has to offer.
In Frontier Country one can experience
untamed Africa at its best and view the 'big five' (seven if you include
whales and the Great White Shark) in malaria- and bilharzia-free reserves.
One can indulge in fresh and salt water fishing for trout and ocean
game fish, experience some of the most rewarding bird watching (if
you're lucky you'll see indigenous parrots in their natural environment)
and see a wide range of plant life including the almost prehistoric
cycads in their natural environment. It may also be possible to attend
one or more of over 400 performances presented annually at the biggest
Arts Festival in the Southern Hemisphere.
Visitors can explore and visit the beautiful
towns and villages the British settlers established years ago. Old
mission stations, schools and the university where Nelson Mandela and
other prominent African leaders were educated can also be found.
Whether you choose to explore Frontier
Country in the saddle - on horseback or your mountain bicycle - by
car or coach, by river raft or canoe or on your own two feet, you will
be awed by the beauty of its mountains, valleys, plains, rivers and
coastline. There are also opportunities to indulge in adventure sports
ranging from skydiving to scuba diving.
Frontier Country people from all walks
of life are hospitable and friendly. Whether you are buying arts and
crafts, sampling a traditional meal, enjoying fine cuisine in a country
restaurant, having a pint in a country pub, watching a cricket match
on an old village green or visiting a township or historical monument,
you will be made to feel especially welcome.
There is a great deal for explorers to
do in Frontier Country, including visiting historical sites, architectural
gems, museums and galleries.
Game and Nature In Frontier
The Frontier Country originally boasted herds of game that rivaled all others.
The region's climatic diversity also meant that a great range of game existed
in the many varied biomes compacted into a relatively small area.
Unfortunately, after the arrival of European
hunters, a large proportion of the game was shot out, and it was only
with the beginning of the conservation ethic in the mid-twentieth century
that the situation was reversed and the wildlife of the area made a
strong natural comeback. Today Frontier Country is still the only place
in Africa where one can view the big five in an environment free of
malaria, bilharzia and other tropical diseases and in their natural
The area now has nearly a million hectares
devoted to game. A range of public and private nature reserves span
the area, from the world famous Addo Elephant Park in the west to the
magnificent Double Drift in the east.
The Karoo - South Africa's vast central plateau - is a land of wide
open skies and, for many South Africans, the true heart of the country.
As an enviro-tourism destination, the Karoo is unsurpassed, with
scenery that changes from dramatic, rugged mountains to arid, open
Malaria free game viewing, mountaineering,
hunting, farm visits, bird-watching, water sports - they're all here,
alongside imposing historical buildings, mysterious rock
art and ancient fossils.
Stay a while and discover the endless
silence of this semi-desert; gaze into the night sky and resist the
temptation to pluck a star or a
planet from its place in the heavens; here they all seem so close, so
bright that the Karoo is considered the world's best stargazing destination.
The Sunshine Coast incorporates more then a million hectares
of malaria free game reserve - so you hove more than a million
This is one Route that deserves its name - stretching from Port Elizabeth
in the west to East London in the east, it boosts hundreds of kilometres
of shining beaches that bask in the highest number of sunshine hours
on South Africa's coast.
But its not just beaches and nature reserves
that make the Sunshine Coast - here you'll find plenty of entertainment,
history, culture and outdoor adventure.
A museum that houses the world's only Dodo egg and the famous first coelacanth,
'Old Four Legs', whose discovery near East London in 1938 catapulted
South Africa into the front rank of the world's Ichthyological stage.
The Grahamstown Festival, held in the historic town Grahamstown,
is the country's oldest and largest annual celebration of the arts.
Numerous golf courses can be found in
the area, plus every kind of water sport imaginable. Other activities
include fishing, hiking, 4x4 trails and
riding, plus casinos and cinema complexes, theatres
and opera houses and all the other attractions that you'd expect from
a leading tourism destination. But there's one unique difference - the
Eastern Cape remains largely unspoiled and un-commercialized. So an
the Sunshine Coast will leave
you refreshed and rejuvenated - and with a renewed sense of people's
basic goodness and friendliness.
An Almost untouched paradise,
An environmental haven with the feel of the 'true' African coastline
- the Wild Coast is an almost unbelievable experience. And it is completely
Craggy, rocky and untamed, the Wild Coast
is the pearl in the crown of the Eastern Cape with countless natural
attractions and a rich cultural heritage. Kilometre after kilometre
of unspoiled coastline, forest and open spaces where you can enjoy
sandy beaches, fishing, horse riding, birding, hiking, famous shipwrecks
and strandloper caves.
Explore the age-old traditions and customs
of the local Xhosa people, visit the birth place of Nelson Mandela
(ot Qunu) and learn about the astonishingly uplifting life of the man
who lead South Africa into her modern democracy at Umtata's Nelson
Mandela Museum. With accommodation to suit all
tastes - from seaside shacks to comfortable hotels, as well as numerous
adventure activities, an escape to the Wild Coast is the quickest
way to rediscover your passion for living.
Addo Elephant National Park is part of the South Africa
National Park Service and is a delightful reserve near Port Elizabeth.
The elephants used to be tightly packed in this park but it has recently
been expanded so that these large but quietly trodden pachyderms have
a wider area in which to roam. Due to this, it is harder to see them
but evidence will be all around. An elephant produces 150 kilos of dung
every day (about one drop every 15 minutes), so the precious flightless
dung beetles have quite a job to do.
You will see many signs in this park asking you to take care not to
run over dung beetles that are vital to the fragile ecology. Accommodation
is in basic but attractive chalets which overlook a well trodden path
to the waterhole in front of the main lodge. You can eat at the basic
restaurant or take your own barbeque food and cook it on your patio while
watching elephants pass by. Just after dusk the silver backed jackals
often start howling, an eerie serenade in the silence.
ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK
As the early European settlers secured land and settled
down, grazing lands made way for grain. Zebra was a popular hide for
making grain bags and the zebra-like quagga disappeared over the slippery
slope, closely followed by his cousin the Cape mountain zebra. Down to
a population of 91 in the 1950s, the mountain zebra was luckier than
its hapless cousin to survive at all. There are now some 1,200 Cape
mountain zebra world-wide and the Mountain Zebra National Park has one
largest herds. The undulating hills and vegetation-dotted valleys of
the park, harbour a variety of antelope as well.
The Mountain Zebra Hiking Trail gives
you three days and two nights among the flora and fauna but there are
nature trails as well
as horse-riding excursions. Accommodation is in a restored Victorian
farmhouse as well as traditional Karoo cottages. And there’s always
camping. There is no need to bring in your own provisions – there’s
a shop, restaurant as well as a gas station. Other mammals found here
include eland, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and gemsbok. Mountain
reedbuck and grey rhebok frequent the higher areas, whilst they shy caracal
cat occupy the niche of primary predator. Summers are warm, and winter
nights are cold, with regular rainfalls.
Shamwari is privately owned and Africa's southernmost game reserve. It is situated
in the malaria free Eastern Cape, near the sunny city of Port Elizabeth.
Although it is only 180m², the reserve contains all of the big five
(lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard). Other animal species that you
may encounter are hippo, zebra, black and blue wildebeest, common and black
springbok, blesbok, red hartebeest, gemsbok, eland, kudu and bushbuck. At
night you may see the aardvark, caracal, genet or Cape grysbok. There are
over 200 varieties of raptors and birds, from the majestic marshall eagle,
to the greater double-collared sunbird. Ongoing projects ensure that the
land and indigenous plantlife are restored to the area, while the anti-poaching
unit protects the wildlife.
East London is one of South Africa's
richest and most diverse eco-tourism destinations on offer.
as a gateway to three of the Eastern Cape's tourist destinations. The Sunshine
Coast and Country to the west of East London, the Wild Coast to the east
of East London and Amatola Mountain Escape, towards the interior. Along
these routes are destinations of exceptional beauty including open, sandy
beaches, daring coastal cliffs, fertile valleys, river and estuary lagoons
and indigenous forests, the ultimate outdoor and wilderness destination!
East London is South Africa’s
only river port, situated on the mouth of the Buffalo River, so called
Khoi San because of the large number of these animals
roaming the area. It was eventually settled as a means of providing supplies
to the garrisons, who were protecting the white settlers from the warring
Xhosa tribe. In the late 1850’s the population of East London was
boosted by the introduction of some German settlers, most of whom were
bachelors. In 1857 the British Government took pity on them and a cargo
of 157 Irish girls arrived to help lift morale. The unusual double Decker
Bridge over the Buffalo River was completed in 1935 and to this day,
is the only bridge of its type in South Africa. Modern day attractions
the East London Museum housing the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish thought
to be extinct and numerous memorial statues.
East London's beaches are rated among
the finest in the world. Certain areas, mostly notably world famous
Nahoon Reef, are renowned for their
surfing and consistent wave conditions and play host to international
surfing competitions. Water World and Fun Park on the west bank of the
Buffalo River is a superb facility for children offering super tube,
speed slides, river cascades, paddling pools, a play park and mini 4X4's.
Fort Beaufort was founded in 1824 and was named after the father of Lord Charles
Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort. Originally a military garrison, Fort Beaufort
boasts many fine buildings dating back to the Frontier wars, including
the Martello Tower, a circular fort of the kind usually erected as part
of a coastal defense system. The old Victorian barracks is probably the
finest to be found anywhere outside the United Kingdom. During the War
of MIanjeni, the town was attacked and nearly overrun by anti-colonial
forces led by Hermanus Matroos.
Fort Beaufort is an excellent base from
which to explore the fascinating Kat River Valley and the surrounding
Katberg and Amatola Mountains which saw some of the heaviest fighting
anywhere in South Africa. At Fort Fordyce the great Xhosa chief Maqoma
humiliated the British hero Sir Harry Smith.
Graaff-Reinet - The Gem of the Karoo
Established in 1786, this town was
named after the Governor of that time - 'van der Graaf' and his
Known to be a barren
and untamed area, it became the outpost of white civilization for trading
by the middle of the last century. The picturesque Sneeuberg mountain
range keep watch over this typical 19th century rural town and the
town lies in the horse-shoe bend of the
It is one of the only towns in the world to be surrounded by nature
reserve - a unique location for a truly unique town. It is also home
to the Valley of Desolation - a breathtaking spectacle of precariously
balanced Dolerite columns.
Graaff-Reinet is the oldest town
in the Eastern Cape, and much of its charm comes from the huge number
of restored historical buildings that line its streets (it has more national
monuments than any other town in South Africa). But it is also a town
of the Karoo, which is known for its warm hearted and open hospitality,
and a town where nature takes precedence, surrounded as it is by the
Karoo Nature Reserve.
The heaviest flying bird in the world - the Kori Bustard, one of over
220 bird species, can be found in the area, as well as a grapevine purported
to be the largest in the world, this ancient vine still bears grapes
Why not try something different - perhaps the adventure of a lifetime
- when you go paragliding with black eagles. Come share the thermals
of the vast Karoo skies with these magnificent birds. You may even catch
a glimpse of the shy Cape Mountain Zebra - once an endangered species,
now thriving in the Nature Reserve.
Colonel John Graham established Grahamstown in 1812.
His brief was to survey the frontier and establish a series of forts along
the Fish River, the newly proclaimed border with Xhosa territories. It
was the first town to be established by the British in South Africa, its
location being primarily chosen for the perceived abundance of water. It
remained a military garrison and was the site of the famous 1819 attack
by Nxele (Makana) in his attempt to halt the European incursion into Xhosa
A bitter battle, described as the most
significant in South African history, ensued in which the Xhosa were
finally forced to withdraw after the timely arrival of a group of Khoi-Khoi
hunters under the leadership of Jan Boesak. Today the battle area is
known by the local people as Egazini, meaning the "Place of Blood".
A monument to the Xhosa warriors who died defending their homeland
has been erected and specialist guides are at hand to lead tours of
As a result of this battle it was decided to settle 4,000 Britons in the area
to consolidate British occupation of the territory. Their influence on subsequent
South African history was far reaching and way out of proportion to their limited
numbers compared to the local inhabitants. After the arrival of the settlers,
Grahamstown grew rapidly to become the second largest town in South Africa
after Cape Town. As military activity moved further east and north, education
took over as its main infrastructure.
Grahamstown has more than 70 declared
National Heritage sites. One of these is the highest church spire in
the country, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of
many famous buildings of the Victorian era, including the Albert Memorial
in London's Kensington Gardens and St Pancras Station in London.
Grahamstown remains an important educational
and cultural centre today, with easy access to game reserves and the
unspoilt beaches of the Sunshine Coast. The surrounding area is farmed,
largely for chicory, pineapples, ostriches, sheep and game. The city
is also an important legal center.
After a little more than two decades, Jeffrey’s
Bay matured into a quiet fishing village, until its sandy warm beaches
and perfect swimming and surfing bays were discovered. Jeffreys Bay has
some of the most sensational surf in the world, many say the best. The
waves just go on and on in perfect tubes and every July the beach gets
packed with freshly waxed boards and sun bleached blond surfers for the
national championships. When the tide has gone out and the surfers have
retired, the beach is yours to stroll and comb for its rare and beautiful
shells washed up by the warm Indian Ocean.
Kenton on Sea
This peaceful coastal
resort lies between the Bushmans and Kariega Rivers and offers a wide
range of activities.
You can explore coves, lagoons,
rivers and beaches. The twenty hectare Joan Muirhead Nature Reserve is
close by and plays a very important part in the ecosystem of Kenton on
Sea. This resort town has a temperate climate and large stretches of
beach. Along the shore is an historic ‘Dias Cross’, erected
five centuries ago by Bartholomew Diaz, the first Portuguese ocean explorer
to sail along the eastern coast of South Africa. The area has a variety
of plant and birdlife, including some century old cycads, which are one
of the most primitive plants still surviving today. There are plenty
of rock pools, excellent swimming, water sports and fishing. With easy
access to all the scenic wonders the Eastern Cape has to offer, Kenton
on Sea is an African vacationer's paradise.
This outstanding African holiday spot, flanked
by splendid beaches, straddles the banks of the Kowie River. The beaches
miles, making them ideal for walking.
Popular among water sport enthusiasts
for swimming, surfing, boating, water-skiing and scuba diving, the
town has a picturesque boat harbour,
residential marina and first class angling. There are stunning sea
views from The Royal Port Alfred Golf Course, and the surrounding countryside
has many hiking trails, and historical and scenic places to visit.
Port Alfred lies on the picturesque R72
coastal road, half way between Port Elizabeth and East London. This
small town was once a sleepy
fishing village at the mouth of the Kowie river, which is navigable for
some 28 kilometers upstream. Today Port Alfred boasts a huge yacht harbour.
With man-made islands and canals, a paradise especially for boat owners
was created, and the boats can travel either to sea
or up the river.
The climate in Port Alfred is, like everywhere else at the Sunshine
Coast, subtropical. Wide and long beaches with fine sand are particularly
popular with surfers. The water temperatures lie between 18 and 24 C
Along the coast there are reefs
that provide excellent diving grounds. A well-reputed diving school
its services to beginners. The Kowie
river is particularly popular with canoeists (Kowie Canoe Trail, 18 kilometers
long). Port Alfred boasts an excellent golf course too, which belongs
in the top ten in the country.
A superb value-for-money African holiday base,
the city offers a diverse selection of attractions as a family-fun holiday
including eco-attractions, scenic nature trails, historic heritage, magnificent
wildlife, cultural experiences and countless water sport activities. Algoa
Bay's 40 km of breathtaking coastline boasts a perfect combination of warm
water, protected beaches and is complemented by Port Elizabeth's wonderful
climate, which has been rated as having the fourth best weather of any
coastal city in the world! Furthermore, the area supports the most diverse
array of vegetation types in South Africa as five of the country's seven
terrestrial biomes (biogeographic areas) are represented in the Eastern
The Bay, which is a favoured draw-card for beach and watersport enthusiasts
is fast becoming known as South Africa's watersport capital and offers
activity throughout the year, especially wind-surfing and fishing. In
fact, Algoa Bay is regarded as one of the best sailing venues in the
world, while scuba diving is of world class quality with beautiful reefs,
shipwrecks, fish and colourful coral species.
The Dutch Reformed Church established the village of Riebeek East in
1830 on the farm Mooimeisiesfontein, the home of the famous Voortrekker
leader Piet Retief. Previously the local Boer farmers had to trek to
Uitenhage, about 130 kilometres away for the Nagmaal (Communion services).
The need for a church in the area became very apparent and while the
British government turned down an initial request in 1826, a second
in 1830 was granted. In the South African tradition, a town grew up
around the church. Riebeeck East is now in the midst of a game and
sheep farming area and offers many attractions and hiking trails through
the surrounding diverse and beautiful hills. The Mooimeisiesfontein
farmhouse, the home of Piet Retief, still stands and has been declared
a National heritage site.
St Francis Bay
The picturesque South African holiday town of St Francis
Bay, where whitewash and thatch rub shoulders with Sardinian-style red
tile roofs, lies among
beautiful green clad dunes. Approximately half of the town is constructed
around the largest man made web of canals and waterways in Africa. The
Kromme River noted for the wild flowers growing along its banks, winds
its way to the ocean and provides a paradise for anglers, canoeists,
windsurfers and boaters. A nature lover could lose himself in the natural
beauty of the area with superb hiking and biking trails in the nature
reserve, along the dune river system or the vast white beaches. Bird
life is abundant in this area. The waters of the bay are world famous
for their perfect surfing waves and ideally suited to almost any type
of water sport. Dolphins and whales certainly seem to think so and play
in the water alongside the surfers. The bay also boasts some of the finest
rock and surf angling along the East Coast. Adjacent to St Francis Bay
is the rustic fishing village of Cape St Francis with its beautiful beach
and historic lighthouse while Port St Francis is the harbour.
Before the Voortrekker era, the Mthatha River was regarded
as the boundary between the Tembu and Pando tribes who were amongst the
in the area. The nearby Mthatha River is said to have received its name
from the number of Thathe or Sneezewood trees, which flourish along its
banks. A notably treacherous river when it floods, another theory suggests
that the name derives from the word thatha (taker), owing to the damage
and fatalities caused by the flooding river. The Chiefs from both these
tribes decided the only way to stop the incessant brawling between the
two tribes was to create a ‘white buffer zone’. They allocated
farms along the banks of the river to be rented out to the white settlers.
The first person to acquire one of these farms was the Bishop H. Callaway
who arrived as the first bishop of the Anglican Diocese in this area.
He erected his headquarters, as well as a church, a school and a hospital.
The township was laid out in 1879 and there is a handsome building, which
is used for the parliament. The town hall is impressive and overlooks
a superb garden.
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