The wonders of the Eastern Cape leave my jaw in awe on the floor quite often.
The more I explore this province I call home, the more I realise just how incredible the Eastern Cape is. It’s a little bit of everything; it inspires, it tells stories from some of our country’s greatest leaders, it is biodiverse with natural wonders and geological phenomena, a wildlife mecca, a haven for off the beaten track getaways, small town escapes and cultural experiences.
Slow-paced and a bit behind its neighbours to the west and the north in terms of development, the wonders of the Eastern Cape have stood the test of time and continues to inspire with numerous destinations, towns and establishments working hard towards the aim to preserve our natural heritage, to improve quality of life and practice sustainability in the urban and rural communities through tourism.
Coming from the Eastern Cape I might sound biased when I use words such as “best” and “most”, but Fodor’s Travel Guide to the Eastern Cape just confirms it, “The Eastern Cape is South Africa’s most diverse province and has some of its best vacation destinations, yet it is perhaps the most glossed over by overseas visitors.”
While other provinces boast fancy mountains, the Eastern Cape boasts moving mountains. Seriously, how fortunate are those who live in Nelson Mandela Bay to be able to experience one of the wonders of the Eastern Cape, the big seven, within 30 minutes of driving? More than 700 elephants – the moving mountains – are on the doorstep of Port Elizabeth.
10 Unofficial Wonders of the Eastern Cape
In 2009 the Cacadu District Municipality launched the Seven Wonders Of Our World tourism campaign which included Addo, Baviaans and Gamtoos Valley, Grahamstown, Jeffreys Bay and St Francis, the Karoo, Sunshine Coast and the Tsitsikamma area. And while these wonders are definitely wondrous, I thought I would share a few unofficial wonders of the Eastern Cape, wonders that make the Eastern Cape what it is, which is: SIMPLY INCREDIBLE.
1. The Enchanting Forests of Hogsback
This is where fairies live, in Hogsback’s magical world of forests, streams, waterfalls and mountains in the Amathola district. It is no wonder that it is believed that J. R. R. Tolkien’s (who was born in South Africa) got his inspiration for The Lord of the Rings from here.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: The 6-day Amathola Hiking Trail. There are also shorter options and day hikes available.
Also read: Hogsback, Magic in the Eastern Cape.
2. The Big Seven of Addo
As South Africa’s third largest National Park, it is also the only park in the world which has the big seven; lion, elephant, buffalo, thing with precious horns, leopard, great white shark and southern right whale. It is also a Malaria-free destination within close proximity to Port Elizabeth. It is best to explore the park on a self-guided game drive and/or a guided game drive.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: Nanaga Farm Stall and sandboarding at Sundays River.
Also read: Another WOW in Addo, Nyathi Rest Camp.
3. Snowy Tiffendell
There’s no need to leave the country and break the bank if you want to ski or go snow-boarding, Tiffendell is South Africa’s first and only ski resort and it is a year round alpine resort. As a ski resort, voted as one of the World’s best ski run in 2014 by CNN, it has snow, ski lifts, a restaurant, ski shop and ski school offering three months of skiing and snowboarding during June, July and August. During summer, autumn and spring you can enjoy other activities such as hiking, biking, fly fishing and quad biking.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: Visit the small town of Rhodes and, since you’re in the area, you can also head over to Lesotho if you have time.
4. Word Heritage Wilderness in Baviaanskloof
The Baviaanskloof is an ecological wonder containing seven out of eight of South Africa’s biomes; the 210 000 hectares is a World Heritage Site with a mix of farming and conservation as it is home to the most diverse species of plants per square kilometer. It is a great place to visit for those who prefer to spend time in nature, want to do a bit off-road driving, hiking and camping (there are also more traditional accommodation available as well as the chance to sleep in a cave and a treehouse).
If you’re in the area don’t miss: The farms stalls of Hankey and Patensie.
Also read: Diesel and Dust in Baviaanskloof.
5. Garden Route’s Tsitsikamma
Tsitsikamma is the gateway to the Garden Route, adventure capital of South Africa and home to the Otter Trail, a dramatic coastline, fynbos, the world’s highest bungee jumping from a bridge and an 800-year-old Yellowwood towering through the canopy of a lush indigenous forest. If nature and adventure is what you’re after, stop looking and visit Tsitsikamma Village and Storms River Mouth National Park.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: Eersterivier and Oudebosch Farm Stall.
Also read: Time for some Tsitsikamma Tranquility.
6. The Unexplored Wild Coast
If you’re visiting the Wild Coast then you can look forward to being amazed by a few wonders of the Eastern Cape; it is a stretch of coastline consisting of waterfalls, gorges, cliffs, rock formations, forests, landscapes, land and sea animals, culture, traditions, rivers, crashing waves, sunsets, sunrises, mangrove swamps and beaches. It’s wild and often a bumpy ride where a high clearance vehicle might be best, but there are still a number of places accessible to those with a lower clearance vehicle.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: Visit the Eastern Cape Reserves along the Wild Coast, you won’t be disappointed by its beauty.
7. Fruit and Wine Route of the Langkloof
The Eastern Cape section of the Langkloof stretches from Haarlem and passes small towns and farming communities such as Misgund, Louterwater, Krakeel, Joubertina, Twee Riviere and Kareedouw. It forms part of Route 62 – the longest wine route in the world – and it brings you fresh country air, fresh fruit and fresh hospitality from the farming community.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: Bo-Kouga for a mountain escape and The Belfry Kitchen in Twee Riviere.
Also read: Let’s talk about the Langkloof.
8. The Open Spaces of the Karoo
There is something about the Karoo and its “nothingness” that makes visitors return time and again; it is a combination of the beauty of its arid soil, the big open spaces and starry night sky, the warm welcome you receive upon arrival, the geological wonders, the isolation, the art, the wildlife, the freedom and the good old “windpomp” squeaking under the scorching sun.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: There are too many special towns to name, but some of my favourites include Graaff-Reinet, Steytlerville, Nieu-Bethesda, Somerset East, Bedford and Cradock.
Also read: Steytlerville – A 24-hour Karoo Discovery in South Africa, Graaff-Reinet: Under the Karoo’s Spell, Switching off in Somerset East, Letters to Graaff-Reinet, Willowmore, South Africa – Not Just a Quickie, Things to do in Uniondale, South Africa and Nieu Bethesda.
9. The Birthplace of Madiba
The Eastern Cape is a cultural melting pot with a rich history and heritage and it is the birthplace of a few of South African legends such as Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Govan Mbeki, Danie Gerber, Arnold Vosloo, Shaun Pollock and of course, the father of our nation, Nelson Mandela who was born in Qunu.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: The Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha.
10. Sunshine on the Sunshine Coast
Ever wondered where in South Africa one can get the most hours of sunshine? In Port Alfred! The sunshine coast stretches from Jeffreys Bay to East London and boasts a number of Blue Flag beaches great for surfing, small coastal towns, adventure and outdoor activities, an abundance of natural areas and rich coral reefs. The sunshine coast is what everyone is looking for in a summer vacation beach spot.
If you’re in the area don’t miss: Friesland Milkshakes in East London and the longest stretch of untouched dune fields in the Southern Hemisphere in Woody Cape.
Also read: Royal Affair in Port Alfred.