Renowned for its great beaches, malaria-free parks and reserves, wildlife and proud heritage and culture, the Eastern Cape offers tourists extreme action sports to gentle flower trails, heritage museums, game reserves and parks - all this within the nine tourist routes.
Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure Park
This is the centre of adventure tourism. Tsitsikamma is part of the world-renowned Garden Route and is a stone’s throw away from the holiday playground of South Africa’s rich and famous, Plettenberg Bay. World records and firsts in the district include the highest commercial bungee jump in the world (216m), the highest narrow gauge bridge in the world, South Africa’s first national marine park (the Tsitsikamma National Park) and the country’s first tree-top canopy tour. Hiking trails include the world famous 48km Otter Trail, the 72km Tsitsikamma and luxurious Dolphin trails.
Tractor rides and horse trails take visitors deep into the heart of the forests.
Storm’s River Mouth, with its hanging bridge at the mouth, is probably one of South Africa’s most visited sites. Just off the N2 and clearly signposted, a winding road takes you into the Tsitsikamma National Park.
The diverse Kouga Route, on the tail end of the Garden Route, leads the traveller through fields of pastoral countryside, the shelly beaches of surfer’s paradise and to the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve. The wilderness supports 12 major vegetation types, some 310 bird species, a plethora of reptiles, mammals, fish, and, of course, the shy, wandering leopard. The coastal town of Jeffreys Bay, renowned for its 11 different surf breaks and long, rolling swells, is the venue for the annual international Billabong Pro Surf Classic, which sees the world’s top surfers vying for the world championship title.
View rock art or the remains of Khoisan woman Sarah Baartmann returned from a museum of humanities in France. She was given a traditional reburial at Hankey in the Gamtoos Valley.
St Francis and nearby Cape St Francis boast fine rock and surf angling, whale watching, surfing and hiking. Cape St Francis’ historic lighthouse, built in 1878, is considered to be one of the best in Southern Africa.
Sundays River Valley
Topped by the pretty citrus village of Kirkwood and stretching down to the thorny bushveld of the famous Greater Addo Elephant National Park, the Sunday’s River Valley Route and the Greater Addo Route – stretching from the thorny Noorsveld around Darlington Lake to the bleached dunes of Alexandria – is a gem of diversity just 40 minutes drive from Port Elizabeth. The region includes inland attractions such as the Greater Addo Elephant National Park that incorporates a 120 000ha marine reserve to form the world’s first Big Seven Reserve (Southern Right Whales and Great White Sharks have been added to lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant). The park’s 400 or more elephants are descendants of just 11 refugees from the ivory carnage of the 1970s.
The pretty town of Kirkwood is known throughout the country for its citrus fruit, roses, game farms and annual Wildlife Festival, microlight flights and 4x4 trails.
This circular self-drive route, on the wild western side of Port Elizabeth (all within 45 minutes and 45kms of the city centre) passes through glorious beaches, nature reserves with Cape Fynbos and lush forests. It also includes the popular Sacramento shipwreck (1647) and trail at Schoenies. The rugged coast offers dolphin and whale sightings, rock pools, picnic spots and safe swimming in certain areas. Unspoilt Sardinia Bay is the perfect beach for a long walk and Maitland beach with its colossal sand dunes is perfect for sandboarding.
The route also includes accommodation, kiddies activities, pottery and crafts, 4x4 trails, three game farms, a unique shell gallery, restaurants, three golf courses, quad bike adventures, horse riding, racing establishments and more. Tours are offered and maps of the route are available at Port Elizabeth tourism and accommodation venues.
Nowhere in South Africa has the current trend of turning once arable farmland into private game farms had quite so much impact as on the Frontier Country Route. The Big Five, kudu, zebra and giraffe are replacing cattle. To date, virtually 80% of the lower Albany district is under game – with several high-profile reserves hosting leopard, lion, buffalo, rhino and elephant.
The area also has an intriguing history of frontier wars with Britain having once fought her longest and most expensive colonial war here. The historic city of Grahamstown is also known as Settler City and the City of the Saints, due to its number of churches. Look out for the Victorian camera obscura, the delightful museums, charming Settler and Victorian architecture and the famous pre-historic coelacanth fish. It is also home to a new township experience project called KWAM eMakana, which offers an authentic township experience where guests can stay in a home in the townships, riding in a KWAM Taxi or visiting a KWAM tavern.
The vastness, the silence, the towering dolerite columns and sweeping vistas across arid plains - all this makes the Karoo Heartland Route God’s own cathedral. The Valley of Desolation is a must-see for this region. This breathtaking fossil assemblage of dolorite pillars barely cast shadows over the vast vistas below. Marvel at the adaptation of over 9 000 plant species - especially succulents - to the arid conditions.
The “gem” of the Karoo is South Africa’s fourth oldest town, Graaff-Reinet - a heritage nerve centre with more national monuments than any other city in South Africa. It also boasts the world’s only other Agave spirit distiller - SA’s answer to Tequila - outside Mexico. The fame of the tiny village of Nieu Bethesda, off the N9 motorway, rests on the legacy of eccentric artist Helen Martens who decorated her mystic sculptures and home with crushed glass. Her personal story and creations inspired the film The Road to Mecca.
THE N6 motorway is the backbone of this off-the-beaten-track route that offers visitors a wholesome experience including a host of outdoor activities such as fly-fishing in cold trout streams, hiking on pristine mountain trails, skiing at Southern Africa’s only ski resort, viewing San rock art, rejuvenating in hot springs and visiting African villages. The area includes towns like Aliwal North (famed for its hot springs and Anglo-Boer War Garden of Remembrance) and Lady Grey, which is rife with fossil trails and pretty churches. The snow-laden slopes of Ben MacDhui near Rhodes, Southern Africa’s only ski resort, add variety to the region during the winter months, which see the peaks of the southern Drakensberg dusted with snow.
Guest farms around Tarkastad and a game reserve boasting magnificent white rhinos introduce the traveller to striking landscapes buffered by conical hills and flat-topped mountains. There is hiking, fishing, horse riding and biking.
Amathole Mountain Escape
Set against the majestic and forested Amathole Mountains – stretching from Stutterheim in the west to Adelaide in the east – Amathole Mountain Escape offers a world-class playing field for hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, rock climbing, abseiling, kayaking and other adventure sports.
A plethora of wildlife in the area also provides the ideal opportunity for game viewing. Camping, some of the best 4x4 trails and visits to cultural villages are some of the activities available on this route. The Amathole area is alive with history - from colonial forts and battlefields to the myths and legends of the Xhosa. Museums include the King William's Town's Amathole Museum (that boasts the famously informative Xhosa Gallery). The University of Fort Hare in Alice, former president Nelson Mandela's alma mater, houses a stunning collection of African art.
East of Stutterheim is Mgwali Village where tourists can experience African traditions in a village setting. Amathole is a natural paradise for bird lovers.
This undeveloped region, dotted with rural Xhosa villages, has been locked in a time capsule since thousands of Xhosa-speaking tribes trekked over the centuries to meet up with the Khoi near the Fish and Keiskamma rivers further west. It is from the Khoi that the Xhosa language derives its unmistakable clicks, found in as many as one-sixth of all spoken and written words.
Adventure activities here include hikes, horse trails, game watching, cliff jumping, abseiling, quad biking, mountain biking, salt water fly fishing, river and sea fishing, canoeing, surfing, boat-based dolphin watching and other water sports. It is a haven for snorkelling and scuba diving enthusiasts. Apart from the coins, crockery, cannons and other relics to be discovered, divers can also view the bounty of sea life here.
Game reserves offer visitors a wealth of wild life. The Wild Coast is also home to former South African President Nelson Mandela. Tourists can visit his birthplace at Qunu and get a glimpse into his life thuogh the Nelson Mandela Museum in the same area.