Eastern Cape

The remainder of the Garden Route, known as the Tsitsikamma. The former homelands, the Wild Coast, spectacular coastlines without the tourist crowd. Superb beaches in Port Elizabeth, East London, and Jeffreys Bay, the surfing mecca of South Africa. Great parks like Addo Elephant National Park and Tsitsikamma National Park.



After the Fourth Frontier War of 1812, Colonel John Graham established a military post on an abandoned farm near the southeast coast. In an attempt to stabilize the region, the Cape government enticed 4,500 British families to the farmlands. Many of these “1820 Settlers” preferred an urban life, and Grahamstown became a thriving trading center, home to the largest concentration of artisans outside Cape Town.


Tsitsikamma is a San word meaning “place of abundant waters”. It is part of the Garden Route National Park and extends for 42 miles from Nature’s Valley to Oubosstrand, and stretches seawards for some 3 miles, offering licensed snorkellers and divers a unique “underwater trail”. Within the park’s boundaries lie two of South Africa’s most popular hikes, the Tsitsikamma and Otter trails. Primeval forest, rugged mountain scenery and panoramic views con tribute to their popularity with hikers.


The third-largest port and fifth-largest city in the country, Port Elizabeth, part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, faces east across the 37-mile wide sweep of Algoa Bay. Modern Port Elizabeth has spread inland and northwards along the coast from the original settlement. It is often referred to as the “Friendly City” and its wide-open beaches are popular with visitors. Among the many attractions in this sedate industrial city are a host of well-preserved historic buildings, splendid architecture, Bayworld, Donkin Reserve, and the SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre.


In the past, elephants lived throughout the Cape Colony, but as the land was settled they were hunted to extinction. In 1919 Major Philip Pretorius was appointed to exterminate the last survivors and he shot 120 over 11 months. Only 15 terrified elephants survived in the densest thickets. When public opinion turned in the elephants’ favor, a tract of surplus land was declared national park territory in 1931. However, the animals raided nearby farms at night, and a suitable fence was needed to prevent escapes. Over the years, the park was enlarged and is now home to more than 450 elephants.


This once sleepy seaside town, reputedly named after the whaler Captain Jeffreys and referred to as “J-Bay” by locals, is now the centre of South Africa’s surfer scene. It is often ranked among the world’s top 10 surfing spots, with a tubing right-hand break that offers a ride more than half a mile long in the right conditions. The town is busiest in early July, when the World Surf League (WSL) holds its only African championship tour event there. Jeffreys Bay’s blue flag beach is perfect for sunbathing and swimming, while the Jeffreys Bay Shell Museum, established in 1945 by Charlotte Kritzinger, is the finest collection of its sort in the country, showcasing 600 plus shells from all around the world.


Running along a wide sandy beach 19 miles south of Jeffreys Bay, this picturesque seaside town of thatched and white-washed houses is known for its superb surfing, though it lacks the trendy scene associated with its northern neighbor, Jeffreys Bay. It is also very popular with hikers and nature-lovers thanks to the five nature reserves and abundant walking trails in the immediate vicinity. The pick among these is the Cape St Francis Nature Reserve, which protects a rocky headland and unspoiled coastline immediately south of town. Bottlenose dolphins and, from August–December, southern right whales, are often spotted offshore, while terrestrial wildlife includes Cape grysbok, yellow mongoose, African black oystercatcher, and African penguin. Since 1878, the Cape has been guarded by the 92 ft tall Seal Point Lighthouse, which houses a small museum and offers fantastic views of the bay.


Port Alfred, a charming, upmarket sea side resort in the Eastern Cape, is well known for its superb beaches. Those west of the river mouth are more developed; those to the east are unspoiled and excellent for long walks. Kelly’s Beach offers safe bathing. The entire stretch of coast is perfect for surfing and is popular with rock and surf fishermen.


East London was originally founded as a military camp on the banks of the Buffalo River in 1847, and its strategic position as a river port was soon recognized. Today, the secondlargest city in the Eastern Cape is predominantly an industrial centre, but it does have good swimming beaches, washed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Among several historic sites is the statue of Black Conscious ness leader Steve Biko in front of the City Hall. Born in the Eastern Cape, he died under dubious circumstances while in police custody. The statue was unveiled by Nelson Mandela in 1997 to mark the 20th anniversary of Biko’s death. The East London Museum, established in 1921, has an interesting collection of natural and cultural exhibits, including fossils found in the region. There are also displays on maritime history and on the Xhosa people.


These coastal villages lie on a stretch of coast renowned for its scenery. At Kei Mouth, a pont transports vehicles across the Great Kei River to the for mer Xhosa “homeland” known as Transkei. The Morgan Bay Hotel adjoins the beach, and the Ntshala Lagoon offers safe swim ming. Walks along the cliffs afford superb views of the sea. Further south, at Double Mouth, a spur overlooking the ocean and estuary provides one of the finest views in the whole country.


Allegedly named after a ship carrying coffee which was wrecked at the site in 1863, Coffee Bay is popular for fishing, swimming and beach walks. There are a number of superbly sited hotels set above the sandy beaches. A prominent detached cliff, separated from the mainland by erosion, has been named Hole in the Wall; it is a cons picuous landmark located 4 miles south along the coast. Many centuries of swirling wave action have carved an arch through the centre of the cliff.


The Karoo National Park was established on the outskirts of Beaufort West in 1979, to conserve a representative sample of the region’s unique heritage. It has been enlarged over the years and now en compasses vast, flat plains as well as the rugged Nuweveld Mountains. Animals such as mountain reedbuck, grey rhe bok, kudu, steenbok, jackal and aardwolf occur naturally, while reintroduced species include lion, black rhino, springbok, harte beest, gemsboks (oryx), black wildebeest, Cape mountain zebra and the endangered briverine rab bit. Some 196 bird species have been recorded, and the park also sustains more than 20 black eagle pairs. A 4WD trail has been laid out in the rugged western region of the park, and night drives provide the very best chances of seeing many of the region’s shy nocturnal animals, such as the aardwolf. The short Fossil and Bossie trails are accessible from the rest camp and allow visitors to learn about the Karoo’s fascinating 250-millionyear-old geological history and its unique vegetation. The Fossil Trail is designed to accommodate wheelchairs and incorporates Braille boards.


In a bid to conserve typical Karoo landforms and wild life, an area of 56 sq miles around Graaff-Reinet was set aside. West of the town is the Valley of Desolation, where spectacular columns of weath ered dolerite tower 390 ft over the valley floor. A 9-mile road leads to a view site and a short walk, while the circular day hike is reached from the Berg-en-dal gate on the western edge of town. A two- to three-day hike explores the scenic mountainous terrain in the southeast. The eastern region of the nature reserve includes the Driekoppe peaks, which rise 1,950 ft above the plains. This section sustains more than 220 species of bird. The populations of Cape mountain zebra, buffalo, harte beest, springbok, kudu and blesbok are expanding, and many of them may be seen. There are game-viewing roads and picnic sites situated around the Nqweba Dam in the centre of the reserve, and both boating and fishing are permitted.


Nieu Bethesda was founded by Reverend Charles Murray, minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Graaff-Reinet. The fertile valley in the arid terrain reminded him of the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2), and so he named the town after it. In 1875 he acquired a farm in the valley and by 1905 the church (now in Parsonage Street) was completed. It cost £5,600 to build, but at the time of its consecration twothirds of the amount was still outstanding. To raise funds, arable church land was divided into plots and sold at a public auction. The debt was finally settled in 1929. Today, Martin Street, the quaint main road, is lined with pear trees, and many of the bordering properties are framed by quince hedges. Irrigated fields and golden poplar trees complement and soften the rugged Karoo mountains, which create a bold contrast. Pienaar Street crosses over the Gat River to its western bank, and passes an old water mill that was built in 1860 by the owner of the original farm, Uitkyk. The first water wheel was made of wood, but was later replaced with the existing steel wheel. The peaceful village has attracted much artistic talent, including one of South Africa’s leading play wrights, Athol Fugard, who achieved world acclaim for his thoughtprovoking plays such as Master Harold and the Boys.


In 1786, a landdrost (magistrate) was appointed by the Dutch East India Company to enforce Dutch law and administration along the remote eastern Karoo frontier. The settlement that grew up around the magistrate’s court was named after Governor Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff and his wife, Hester Cornelia Reinet. Nine years later, the citizens of Graaff-Reinet expelled the landdrost and declared the first Boer Republic in South Africa. Within a matter of a few months, however, colonial control was re-established.


While the national park west of Cradock is the second-smallest in the country, its modest acreage in no way detracts from the visitor’s enjoyment. It was originally conceived as a sanctuary that was intended to rescue the Cape mountain zebra from imminent extinction. When the park was proclaimed in 1937, there were six zebras; by 1949 only two remained. Conservation efforts were successful, however, and the park now protects about 300 zebras. The plains and mountains of this Karoo landscape also support a wide variety of other mammals, including cheetah, black wildebeest, kudu, eland, red hartebeest, springbok, buffalo, black rhino and caracal. More than 200 species of bird have been recorded here, including many raptors and the endangered blue crane.


In 1812, towards the end of the Fourth Frontier War, Sir John Cradock established two military outposts to secure the eastern border. One was at Grahamstown, the other at Cradock. Merino sheep flourished in this region, and Cradock soon developed into a sheep-farming centre. The Dutch Reformed Church was inspired by London’s St Martinin-the-Fields. Completed in 1867, it dominates the town’s central square. The Great Fish River Museum behind the town hall preserves the history of the early pioneers.


The quiet village of Hogsback lies at an altitude of 4,000 ft in the beautiful forested surroundings of the Amatola Mountains. Its name derives from one mountain peak that resembles the back of a hog when viewed from a particular angle. The earliest known written reference to “Hogsback” was found in the journal of the painter Thomas Baines, who passed the “Hogs Back” while on his travels deeper inside South Africa in 1848. The Amatola Forest is often claimed as J R R Tolkien’s inspiration for The Lord of the Rings, in particular for his fictional forest of Mirkwood. Tolkien was born in South Africa. The village is made up of a string of cottages, guesthouses, tea gardens and crafts shops. It is well-known for its lovely English-style gardens of flowering plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas and its orchards of soft fruits such as blackcurrants, blackberries and gooseberries. There are delicious jams for sale in Hogsback’s shops. Local hikes from 30 minutes to two hours lead up to some pretty waterfalls in the forests.