Next time you are planning a journey – solo or with your favourite people – we encourage you to explore the Eastern Cape, one of the less-travelled stretches of South Africa.
This may not be the most obvious choice for a local road trip, but as our country’s second-largest province, the Eastern Cape is ideal for adventurers who want to experience many different things in one journey. With a diverse landscape that ranges from the ancient semi-desert plains of the Great Karoo to the remote beaches of the Wild Coast, the Eastern Cape is a province that you could explore for months on end.
Of course, not all of you have that much time on your hands, so we’ve rounded up a list of our top 10 Eastern Cape attractions. If you’re unable to visit all of these spots in one trip, let this list serve as inspiration for future holidays or weekend outings!
- Experience elephants
The Addo Elephant National Park lies only 72km north of Port Elizabeth. Established in 1931 to save the last 11 South African bush elephants from extinction, this 444,000-acre wildlife sanctuary is now home to the so-called ‘Big 7’ – which includes more than 600 elephants, as well as rhinos, buffalos, lions, leopards, whales and great white sharks! This is a spectacular place to spend a day or two (or three) taking in the wild beauty of the fertile Sunday Rivers Valley bushveld.
- Soak up SA’s surf capital
The legendary right-hand surf breaks of Jeffrey’s Bay attract surfers from around the world. This vibrant seaside town is just off the N2 about 75km southwest of Port Elizabeth – and is a must-visit location for surfing enthusiasts and anyone who loves the sea, sand and sun. When you have had enough of the beach, there are plenty of bustling coffee shops and restaurants to explore.
- Recharge your batteries In Cape St. Francis
This charming seaside town has always been popular with tourists. That said, it has managed to maintain its down-to-earth fishing village atmosphere, thanks to local efforts to keep this pristine spot “clean, green and small”. Just over 100km from Port Elizabeth, this area is also famous for its wild waves and excellent surf spots, as well as the centuries old (and still operational) Seal Point Lighthouse. This national monument, built in 1878, remains the tallest masonry lighthouse in South Africa.
- Join the festivities
You may want to time your journey to coincide with one of the two festivals that take place in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) every year. Africa’s largest multi-arts festival, the National Arts Festival, takes place here during June/July, attracting more than 200,000 visitors who come to enjoy and celebrate local and international creativity. On the other hand, SciFest Africa, which takes place in March/April, is an exceptional experience for anyone who wants to learn more about science, technology and innovation in South Africa in a friendly, entertaining setting.
- Hike in Hogsback
This otherworldly hamlet in the Amathole Mountains is often claimed to be J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration for the fictional forests described in the Lord of the Rings. While this is unlikely (given that Tolkien left South Africa at the tender age of three), the magical waterfalls and misty afro-montane forests that surround Hogsback are reminiscent of Middle Earth. Visit this quaint village if you love hiking through lush forests and swimming in clear mountain streams.
- Hit the ski slopes
Wrap up warmly and visit Tiffindell, the only ski resort in South Africa. High up in the Southern Drakensberg, this Alpine-style getaway offers three months of skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and snowman-building during June, July and August. Even when the mountains are not blessed with natural snow, world-class snowmaking and grooming equipment keeps the ski areas operational during season.
- Visit the Valley of Desolation
14km outside the historic Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet lies the Valley of Desolation, where you can stand at the edge of a sheer cliff and look out over the vast plains of Camdeboo. Here, 120m tall towers of dolerite rise up from the valley floor, creating an unforgettable landscape formed by volcanic activity and other forces of nature over 100 million years. This is an ideal vantage point for bird lovers, as there are often Black Eagle and Kori Bustard sightings (just 2 of the 220 bird species recorded here over the years).
- Explore the art treasures of the Karoo
After Graff Reinet, travel back in time to Nieu-Bethesda. Situated at the foot of the Sneeuberge, this tiny Karoo village is home to the iconic Owl House Museum – a small house and garden decorated with ground glass, mirrors and lights; and filled with more than 300 cement and glass sculptures of owls, camels, mermaids, peacocks and other wonderful creatures. These works were created between 1945 and 1976 by Helen Martins, who lived here. She was assisted by several locals over the years, most notably by Koos Malgas; and they succeeded in transforming an ordinary house into a must-see dream world that inspired Athol Fugard’s play ‘The Road to Mecca’.
- See the Place of Thunder
One of the most awe-inspiring attractions along the Wild Coast, about 4.5 hours from East London, is the Hole in the Wall at Coffee Bay, also known as Izi Khaleni (place of thunder). This natural wonder is a giant hole that has been carved into a free-standing cliff over millions of years by the power of the waves. This is a beautiful area to explore – cool off in the lagoon or hike in the surrounding hills.
- Bungee off a bridge
If you are a seasoned adrenaline junkie or ready to conquer your fear of heights, be sure to include the Bloukrans Bridge on your road trip route. Located on the N2 highway at the border between the Eastern and Western Cape, this bridge is home to the highest commercial natural bungee jump in the world. In addition to jumping, this bucket list experience includes a zipline from the bank to the bridge and a chance to walk back on the suspended skywalk, which offers some of the most spectacular wilderness views in South Africa.
These are only a few of many spectacular Eastern Cape experiences. Let us know if we left your favourite spot off the list?