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Last updated : Nov 2009
Eastern Cape
Eastern Cape - TravelPuppy.com
The Eastern Cape is South Africa’s hidden gem, much of it little known and under explored by tourists, but with an astonishing variety of cultural history and picturesque beauty, ranging from the vast, dry Great Karoo to the fertile agricultural lands of the Little Karoo and the ‘Settler Country’ around Grahamstown and, above all, the brilliant cliffs and coves of the Wild Coast.

The Eastern Cape is also home to 2 of the country’s major seaports, East London and Port Elizabeth, and many brilliant small game reserves, including Addo Elephant Park. The area around East London is the homeland of the Xhosa people, several of whom, including Nelson Mandela, have played a crucial role in late South African history.

Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is better known as PE’, and is being dominated by industry and freeways and subject to strong winds for most of the year. The City Hall and Market Square are worth a visit, enclosing a replica of the Dias Cross, initially placed by the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Dias.

There are numerous other interesting buildings, including a memorial to Prester John, the Donkin Lighthouse and the Campanile Clock Tower, while the old part of town, above the city centre, has some gorgeous Victorian houses. The Oceanarium, Museum and Snake Park are also on the seafront at Humewood. The King George IV Art Gallery & Fine Arts Hall has a fantastic collection of 19th and 20th century art and Castle Hill Museum, in the city’s oldest house, has a fine collection of Cape furniture.

Settler’s Park Nature Reserve at How Avenue thrives with indigenous flora and St George’s Park has open air exhibitions and craft fairs, as well as theatrical productions. South of the city are fine beaches, such as King’s Beach and Humewood Beach. The latter features the Apple Express, 1 of the few lasting narrow gauge steam trains, which runs on occasion from Humewood to Thornhill.

To the west of Port Elizabeth

The Eastern Cape portion of the Garden Route (please see the Western Cape in addition) outstandingly includes the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park, the remnant of a once huge indigenous forest, home to immense native trees such as yellowwoods. Jeffreys Bay is a world famous surfer’s paradise, and heading north, miles and miles of sandy beaches run all the way up the coast. The Alexandria State Forest is a reserve that runs along the coast and includes a hiking trail along the beach. East from here is Dias Cross, the location of 1 of Bartholemew Dias’ stone crosses and a desolate paradise for beach lovers.

Inland, the Karoo is a vast and stunning upland area with spectacular sunsets, drier, hotter and colder than the coasts. The novelist Olive Schreiner made the area renowned and her house at Cradock has been restored. The Mountain Zebra National Park is also worth a visit, on the northern slopes of the Bankberg range.

The Addo Elephant National Park, 72 kilometres (45 miles) north of Port Elizabeth, was created in 1931 to defend the last of the eastern Cape elephants. Newly massively expanded, it offers an brilliant range of game, including buffalo, black rhino and antelope and more than 170 bird species. There are also numerous private reserves nearby, including the fantastic Shamwari and Kwandwe, both of which have very upmarket accommodation and ‘Big 5’ (leopard, rhino, elephant, lion and buffalo) game viewing.

The town of Graaff - Reinet, located in the heart of the Karoo Nature Reserve at the foot of the Sneeuberg Mountains, is 1 of the finest surviving Cape-Dutch towns in South Africa, with several attractive 18th and 19th century buildings, as well as parks and museums. Just 5 kilometres (3 miles) outside the town, it is possible for visitors to drive into the Valley of Desolation along a twisting single track road that ultimately climbs into the mountains.

From the viewpoints, it is achievable to look down over Graaff - Reinet across towering red and ochre outcrops of rock. The nearby town of Nieu Bethesda is worth a visit for the Owl House, a wonderful sculpture garden by eccentric artist Helen Martins, subject of a play by Athol Fugard.