Want to go on a road trip in the Eastern Cape? With so much to do and see and so many places to unwind, you’re in for a real treat! Fuel up the car, pack some padkos and start mapping out your journey in the province that’s brimming with diversity.
There’s a route for every appetite
The Eastern Cape’s Tsitsikamma is the gateway and green welcome to the Garden Route, but that’s not where it stops. There are various tourism routes throughout the province that call on all road trippers, whether you have only a weekend to explore or a whole month. To name just a few, there is the Amathola Mountain Escape Route for some Hogsback magic, the Baviaans Wilderness Route for a rugged off-road adventure, the Wild Coast Route for off-the-beaten path discoveries, the Frontier Country Route for history and culture and the Langkloof Fruit Route for scenic fruit orchard and mountain vistas.
And a road for every type of traveller
Variety is the province’s middle name, and the roads share this diversity. The Eastern Cape boasts national highways, back roads, quiet roads, foot paths, trails, mountain passes, gravel roads and extreme off-road terrain. You can set off on foot on a day trail or an overnight hiking trail, travel effortlessly on the national roads, experience a donkey car ride in the Karoo, get muddy and go off-road in Baviaanskloof, conquer mountain passes by mountain bike, explore the back roads of small towns and go sightseeing on horseback (there are even overnight horse trails). And of course, if you prefer to travel via water, explore rivers by boat or paddle (yes, there are also overnight canoe trails), and the ocean by snorkel or surfboard.
The Eastern Cape is the birth place of Madiba
Nelson Mandela, the father of our nation, was born on the 18th of July 1918 in Qunu and, today, visitors can get a glimpse into the life of Madiba by visiting the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha (which is not too far from Qunu). Also explore Route 67 in Nelson Mandela Bay, an art route with 67 public art pieces which symbolises the years Mandela dedicated to the freedom of South Africa.
And home to the Big Seven
There is more than just the Big Five in the Eastern Cape, here the Big Seven roam around in our national parks and reserves and splash in our ocean. Addo Elephant National Park is the only park in the world to house all seven species which include the lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino, the southern right whale and the great white shark. While the land mammals can be seen on a game drive throughout the province’s plethora of national parks, provincial parks and reserves, the ocean warrior such as the southern right whale can be enjoyed on a whale watching trip, with the added bonus of spotting dolphins, seals and penguins. Algoa Bay’s St Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world.
There are big cities
If a city with a vibrant atmosphere and unique energy is what you are after, make a stop in the province’s two largest cities, Port Elizabeth and East London. Both towns offer visitors numerous attractions, museums, night life, shopping malls, excellent beaches and since the automotive industry has a big presence in the Eastern Cape, you know you will be in good hands if you need a repair en route.
And some small towns
If you are an avid explorer of small towns the Eastern Cape will fill your bucket list with endless possibilities. Explore Grahamstown, the city of Saints, indulge in Karoo lamb in Graaff-Reinet, ride the waves of Jeffreys Bay and St. Francis, eat your way through the farm stalls of the Gamtoos Valley, go fly fishing in Somerset East, discover art in Bathurst, find snow in Rhodes, go apple picking in Joubertina and chase waterfalls along the villages of the Wild Coast.
The sun is always shining
The Eastern Cape’s Sunshine Coast, on Route 72, stretches from Port Elizabeth to East London and includes towns such as Kenton-on-Sea, Port Alfred and Bushmans River Mouth; the route is known for its excellent weather. This area gets the most hours of sunshine in South Africa and when roughly 320 days out of 365 days are sunny, one can be sure that every day is beach day.
But there’s also some snow
Tiffindell has one of the best ski runs in the world and is South Africa’s only ski and snowboarding resort. At an altitude of 2720m, this Alpine Resort is located in the Southern Drakensberg on the slope of the Ben McDhui (the Cape’s highest peak at 3001m). But during winter other areas of the province also often get covered with a sprinkle of white dust such as Hogsback, Ugie, the mountain tops of Tsitsikamma and Langkloof, Nieu Bethesda and other parts of the Karoo.
There are forests
Take a deep breath and fill your lungs with indigenous forest air. Stand in awe of a giant Outeniqua yellowood tree in Tsitsikamma, navigate your way through a canopy of milkwood trees on the Wild Coast and find magic and waterfalls in Hogsback’s Afromontane forests.
Beaches upon beaches
The Eastern Cape is home to seven blue flag beaches and these include Jeffreys Bay’s Dolphin Beach, Nelson Mandela Bay’s Humewood, Kings and Hobie Beach, and also Hamburg, Kariega and Kelly’s Beach along the Route 72 on the Sunshine Coast. Blue Flag is an international annual award which focuses on the environmental management of our coastline and coastal waters and it is an international symbol of quality for beaches.
And of course, the Karoo, a semi-desert
The Karoo and its small towns are known for its vast plains, jaw dropping sunsets and inspiring night sky, history, wildlife, unique culinary delights, hospitality, natural wonders, eco experiences, art, bushman paintings, fossils and game reserves and national parks which make a significant contribution to the conservation of species such as the cheetah and mountain zebra.
Adventure is out there
The Eastern Cape is the adventure province of South Africa and boasts the world’s highest commercial bungee jump from a bridge at 216 meters. If you are an adrenaline junkie at heart and want to release more endorphins you can also skydive in Jeffreys Bay, river raft in Cradock, sandboard at Sundays River, scuba, snorkel, bike and hike South Africa’s most famous Otter Trail, glide between trees on a Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, kayak in the ocean and then float on a lilo in the Storms River Gorge.
But so is tranquility
You can go from screaming your lungs out while on an adventure to being surrounded by only the sound of nature in a matter of minutes. In an area of 168 966 km² you can find spas, art workshops and relaxing retreats with a focus on health, yoga, meditation, even a combination of surf and yoga, and, of course, the healing powers of nature. The Eastern Cape is just what the doctor ordered if you need to escape the city’s hustle and bustle, if you need peace and quiet or a digital detox.
All kinds of art
Grahamstown is home to the largest arts festival on the African continent; the annual National Arts Festival comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, music, comedy, art exhibitions, lectures, craft fair and workshops. The Eastern Cape is also known for big names in the art community including playwrights Athol Fugard, Winston Ntshona and John Kani, outsider artist Helen Martins from Nieu Bethesda’s Owl House and abstract painter Walter Batiss. Towns like Bathurst, Graaff-Reinet, Nieu Bethesda, Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown will be a real treat to for art lovers to explore.
The province has natural wonders that will leave you in awe; there is the Valley of Desolation’s million-year-old dolerite columns in Graaff-Reinet, the largest untouched dune field in the Southern hemisphere in Woody Cape, the biodiverse Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, the famous dramatic sea arch at Hole in the Wall, striking mountain peaks such as Compassberg and Cockscomb, the oldest Marine Protected Area in Africa and a waterfall – one of only 19 waterfalls in the world – which plummets into the ocean.
And lastly, friendly people
The Eastern Cape is not only home to the Friendly City, but also home to a population of friendly people who will welcome you with open arms. So, what are you waiting for? Pack some padkos and hit the road…
Article/photos courtesy of Jonker Fourie for EC Tour, http://www.ectour.org.za.