The Eastern Cape’s extremely diverse landscape is one of its defining characteristics. Sparkling beaches dot its long coastline, while the vast, arid Karoo semi-desert dominates the western side, giving way to hilly and mountainous areas encompassing the majestic Sneeuberge (Snow Mountains), Stormberge, Wintersberge, and Draakensberge (Dragon Mountains) ranges in the east between the towns of Graaf-Reinet and Rhodes.
The lush rainforest of the Tsitsikamma National Park is in the south, where it is rainier and more humid than in the west. The Eastern Cape’s weather conditions are generally favourable, though the mountainous Rhodes and Molteno areas sometimes receive heavy snowfall.
The Eastern Cape experience holds something for everyone—stylish seaside getaways, exciting game drives, water sports, city diversions, fossil-hunting, and the long history of the old ‘Settler Country’ where evidence of the co-existence of the indigenous Xhosa people and the Dutch and English settlers are still evident in its diverse architecture.
The Karoo, Bhisho, Graaff-Reinet, Grahamstown, Port Alfred, Port Elizabeth, East London
Though its vast open spaces are modern-day sheep and game farming grounds, the arid Karoo was the stomping ground of dinosaurs millions of years ago. It’s therefore no surprise that this area has whetted the inquisitive appetites of paleontologists.
The Karoo is on the very tip of the Southern Peninsula. Coal has been mined in it for decades, making it one of the pillars of the South African economy.
Bhisho is the Eastern Cape’s provincial capital, home to the provincial legislature and many government departments. South Africa’s longest international airport runway is also in this town.
Established by the Dutch East India Company in 1786, Graaff-Reinet is the country’s fourth oldest town and is known for its architecture, particularly the string of restored Karoo cottages with their brightly painted shutters and doors lining the alley of Stretch’s Court, and the Cape Dutch Reinet House Museum.
One of the best places to marvel over the Karoo would be Graaf-Reinet’s Valley of Desolation, whose naturally weathered dolerite pillars have been named a national monument.
Grahamstown was established as a military outpost in 1812, and grew steadily as British settlers began moving here a fre years later. There are 52 churches of different denominations in Grahamstown, leading to its moniker, ‘The City of Saints’. The famed Rhodes University is also located here.
The identification of the first diamond mined in Africa, the Eureka Diamond, was done in 1867 at a business establishment in Grahamstown called the Observatory. In recognition of its historic contribution to the industry, the diamond-mining firm De Beers acquired the building in the 1970s. It became a museum and a national monument after its restoration.
Art lovers visit Grahamstown in late June when the town hosts the National Arts Festival, internationally recognized on the same scale as the Edinburgh Festival. The town also hosts the huge SciFest Africa in late March or early April.
Originally a British settlement established in the 1820s, Port Alfred was once known as Port Kowie, named for the river running through the town. Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred, visited the town in later years, and the town’s name was changed in his honour.
Port Alfred has a beautiful marina with luxurious homes facing the canals, and a small boat harbour where both luxury yachts and commercial fishing vessels dock. The town is blessed with a mild climate, and is home to some great beaches, particularly the Kelly Beach. The beach has been awarded with the Blue Flag, a label given to beaches and marinas that satisfy high international standards of cleanliness, water quality and environmental management.
Development around Port Alfred has been steadily increasing, as many retirees have decided to build homes here.
Set on the shores of Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth (also known as Nelson Mandela Bay) is one of South Africa’s major seaports. It’s known as ‘the Friendly City’, as its dynamic and very welcoming atmosphere has made it one of the country’s top holiday destinations. Algoa Bay is South Africa’s watersport central.
Established as a British settlement in the 1820s, Port Elizabeth grew into a bustling commercial and industrial hub, mostly due to the motor vehicle industry and its thriving tourism sector. The town will host some matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Games, and its harbour, waterfront, city centre, and airport are consequently being upgraded.
Though it has become quite a modern town, some elegant period homes and establishments still stand as reminders of its colonial past. Shops, restaurants, museums, and theatres grace Port Elizabeth’s landscape alongside its natural attractions—parks, walking trails, botanical gardens, game reserves and some unexploited natural areas. The Addo Elephant National Park is home to hundreds of elephants, buffalo, rhinos, and many local bird species.
Also known as the Windy City, Port Elizabeth also boasts the most year-round sunshine than any coastal town in the country.
Situated along the Indian Ocean coast between the broad Buffalo and Nahoon Rivers, East London is South Africa’s only river port city. It’s also a large industrial centre, mainly known for its huge Daimler plant producing Mercedes-Benzes for the local market.
East London has become quite a tourist attraction in recent years. Its sweeping white sand beaches stretch for miles, and are definitely less crowded and polluted than others in the region. The city’s river mouths, lagoons, and gullies are popular with fishermen, and on Gonubie Beach, visitors can go whale- and dolphin-watching.
Travelers exploring the northeastern mountains and the Wild Coast use East London as the base of their operations, and golfers enjoy the splendid courses overlooking the Indian Ocean. The city’s streets are lined with shops, restaurants, theatres, and well-preserved 19th century British colonial buildings and homes that provide links to the city’s past.
Near East London is an unspoilt region full of forests, hilly grasslands, and cliffs that face tranquil white-sand beaches.