Whether you're in the mood for an informal seaside escape, an encounter with the ‘Big Five’ on safari, or a choice of scintillating city diversions, you're sure to find what you're looking for in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The shoreline of this province extends from the Umtamvuna River in KwaZulu Natal, to the Storms River mouth on the scenic Garden Route, in the west, and stretching inland, to the north, bordering on Lesotho. Today, the Eastern Cape incorporates the previously independent `homelands’ of the Ciskei and Transkei.
Scenic diversity is one of the most striking characteristics of the Eastern Cape, ranging from the lush, evergreen Tsitsikamma Forest to the rugged Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, the southern slopes of the Drakensberg and the arid Great Karoo. Alternating between sweeping sand, river mouths, rocks and covers, the coastline is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. Among them, surfers ride the perfect waves, anglers reel in king-size catches, and board sailors revel in the challenge of the wind. Sunshine all year round and splendid facilities ensure that the great outdoors is always in style.
The Western Region offers one of the liveliest coastlines in the world and stretches from Port Alfred to the Tsitsikamma National Park - a place of awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur. On the outskirts of the forest, beauty of a gentler kind is found in the Langkloof, renowned for its orchards and a rich indigenous flora.
In the hinterland, the Great Karoo epitomises the essence of Africa - vast open spaces, sparse veld bushes and distant brooding mountains. Sheep and game farming are carried out on a grand scale in the region, where millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the plains, leaving in their wake fossils which attract the attention of paleontologists from all over the world.
The tranquil landscape of Settler Country, studded with historical towns and villages, invites a close scrutiny of its intriguing background of conflict, courage, despair and success. This is where the Xhosa, Dutch and British had their first encounters, leading at first to frequent clashes and later to a cultural learning curve and mutual acceptance. Cape Dutch homes, ornate Victorian buildings and the lime-washed homesteads of the rural Xhosa provide tangible symbols of three vastly different cultures coming together in peaceful coexistence.
East London is the ideal base from which to explore the north-eastern mountains and the Wild Coast. The city has bowling greens, tennis and squash courts and golf clubs with grand views of the Indian Ocean. The city's ancestry is evident. Against a typically African backdrop, strong links with England and traces of the German lineage are found. Several well-preserved examples of 19th-century architecture enhance the charm of the city.
When the sun goes down, there are theatres, cinemas and a selection of restaurants to pamper the discerning palate. If it's the one-armed bandits you crave, roulette, black jack and the chance of making a mint, Bisho's casino is practically on the doorstep.
From East London, the road parallel to the Wild Coast leads through a region of unspoilt grandeur - thick indigenous forests, hilly grasslands and sheer cliffs falling to white, pristine beaches. The Wild Coast is one of South Africa's most exciting and unexploited areas, with a special appeal for fishermen all year round. Crowned cranes are frequently seen along the coast. The Xhosa people of the district believe that if one of these birds is killed, death will afflict the hunter's family. An easy drive leads to the great sweep of the Amatola Mountains, embellished by stately yellowwood and white stinkwood trees.
Scattered about in the foothills and beyond, Xhosa homesteads, circular and thatched, are often grouped around a cattle kraal, usually situated on the ridge of a hill, leaving the fertile valleys free for cultivation.
The north-eastern region, dominated by the southern Drakensberg, is characterised by mountains, sandstone cliffs, green valleys, crystal-clear streams and crisp, clean air. The wildwater fly-fishing is the finest in the country; an unbeatable combination of enormous trout and scenic surroundings. Charming country hotels, hot springs, Bushman paintings, hiking trails and enchanting little towns await your arrival. Exciting discoveries are guaranteed.
When pleasures of a more sophisticated kind appeal, you'll find plenty to entertain you in Port Elizabeth and East London. Both are ideal for family holidays, large enough to offer all the amenities of a city, yet small enough to be genuinely welcoming and friendly. They also provide convenient access to unspoiled areas of exceptional natural beauty.
Superbly set on the shores of Algoa Bay, "The Friendly City" is the fifth biggest city in South Africa and the largest on the coast between Cape Town and Durban. A popular leisure resort, Port Elizabeth beckons with an attractive atmosphere of year-round holiday fun against a backdrop of urban activity. Its warm, welcoming nature is matched by a climate which boasts more sunshine than any other coastal town in the country. Algoa Bay encourages all forms of water sport - in, on and under the sea, where there is a colourful diving region. The beaches are always alive with sun worshippers, and conditions are excellent for surfing, sailing, diving and angling. Close by, the Swartkops River offers endless opportunities for enjoyment. In addition to sport, land-based leisure options encompass a wide range.
Port Elizabeth has beautiful parks, botanical gardens and nature reserves with an abundance of bird life. Many inland and coastal walking trails can be explored in the area. In Port Elizabeth, the 1820 Settlers were introduced to their new land, and there they built some of the graceful period homes that still enhance the city's landscape. Since then, the tiny settlement has grown into a busy city with attractive shops, parks, theatres, museums and restaurants.
From historical and architectural points of view, Grahamstown and Graaff Reinet should not be missed.
The Eastern Cape offers 800km of untouched and pristine coastline and some of the world’s best beaches, it also boasts the most concentrated elephant reserve in Africa today, and it’s a place that should be on everyone’s travel agenda.