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Eastern Cape

Photo © Utrecht

Travel Guide Africa South Africa Eastern Cape

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Introduction

Elephant mother and her young, Addo

Elephant mother and her young, Addo

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The Eastern Cape is South Africa's poorest province, but it has a fantastic diversity regarding landscapes, climate, culture and activities. The splendid Wild Coast is one of the country's least explored areas, but without reason because it is also some of the country's best examples of the 'real Africa'. Although the Garden Route extends into the Western Cape, most of it is located in the Eastern Cape: a fantastic drive along the beautiful southern coastline, where ancient forests, surf spots, hiking and bungeejumping can all be combined within days. Inland it extends into the Karoo and the mountains near Lesotho and both the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha and the Addo Elephant National Park alone make this province worth a visit.

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Geography

The Eastern Cape gets progressively wetter from west to east. The west is mostly semi-arid Karoo, except in the far south, which is temperate rainforest in the Tsitsikamma region. The coast is generally rugged with interspersed beaches. Most of the province is hilly to very mountainous between Graaff-Reinet and Rhodes including the Sneeuberge (English: Snow Mountains), Stormberge, Winterberge and Drakensberg (English: Dragon Mountains). The highest point in the province is Ben Macdhui at 3,001 metres. The east from East London and Queenstown towards the KwaZulu-Natal border – a region known previously as Transkei – is lush grassland on rolling hills, punctuated by deep gorges with intermittent forest. Eastern Cape has a shoreline on its east which lines southward, creating shores leading to the South Indian Ocean. In the northeast, it borders Lesotho.

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Cities and Towns

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Sights and Activities

Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park is located in the south of the country, close to Port Elizabeth. Although the park is famous for its elephants, there are many more animals here and species include buffalo, the endangered black rhino, antelope species and lion and spotted hyena are here in small numbers as well. The park is about to be called Greater Addo Elephant National Park as it has been expanded to include several islands and marine wildlife, including African penguins! And whales and great white sharks are in those waters as well and as a consequence the park is promoted as the only park to see the Big 7, which includes the famous Big 5 (elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard) and the whale and great white shark as mentioned above. A truly unique park which is a very easy to visit and located in a malariafree area.
Check Sanparks' Addo Elephant National Park website for more information about getting and staying here.

Mountain Zebra National Park

The Mountain Zebra National Park is another park in the East Cape Province, just like Addo Elephant NP, and therefore makes for a good combination to visit this park as well. Although it is much smaller, it is especially made a national park to preserve the endangered Mountain Zebra, a subspecies of the common zebra. Apart from zebra, you are likely to see many other mammals within the park like caracal, buffalo, black rhino, eland, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, gemsbok and grey rhebok.
Have a look at Sanparks' Moutain Zebra National Park website for more detailed information.

Bungy Jumping

The world's third highest commercial bungy jump is located about 20 kilometres outside a small village of Storm's River. The jump on Bloukran's Bridge is 216 metres high, with about a six-second free fall. There is no public transport, but the Bazbus does stop in Storm's river, where your hostel/hotel can help organise transport. No pre-booking is required, and if you don't feel up for doing quite the jump, there is a flying fox wire below the bridge for a swing, connecting the two platforms.

Garden Route

Wilderness coastline

Wilderness coastline

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The Garden Route is a popular scenic drive along a stretch of the southern coastline of South Africa. Although the Garden Route extends into the Western Cape, most of it is actually located in the Eastern Cape: a fantastic drive along the beautiful southern coastline, where ancient forests, surf spots, hiking and bungeejumping can all be combined within days. The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains are located inland of the coast. The Garden Route is in between the mountains and the Indian Ocean. The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma indigenous forests are a unique mixture of Cape fynbos and temperate forest and offer hiking trails and other activities. Nearly 300 species of bird life are to be found in a variety of habitats ranging from fynbos to forest to wetlands and 10 nature reserves protect these biodiverse ecosystems of the area as well as unique marine reserves, home to coral reefs, dolphins, seals and many other forms of aquactic life. Various bays along the Garden Route are breeding grounds of the endangered Southern Right Whale which come there to calve in the winter and spring (July to December).

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Events and Festivals

World Cup 2010

The big upcoming event on the South African horizon is of course the FIFA World Cup beginning on the 11th of June 2010. One of the most prestigious and popular world sporting events, the World Cup 2010 promises to bring throngs of passionate supporters from around the globe. Held once every four years, it's a football tournament (known as soccer in South Africa) where 32 world nations vie for the famous golden trophy.

Port Elizabeth will be hosting some of the World Cup matches at the Nelso Mandela Bay Stadium, which has a capacity of 48,000.

Ironman South Africa

The Ironman South Africa annual event takes place in Port Elizabeth. It attracts 1000+ triathlon competitors to the city for a superb and challenging event. This year, the Ironman event takes place on Sunday, 5 April. For more information, visit the Ironman website.

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Weather

Climate is highly varied. The west is dry with sparse rain during winter or summer, with frosty winters and hot summers. The area Tsitsikamma to Grahamstown receives more precipitation, which is also relatively evenly distributed and temperatures are mild. Further east, rainfall becomes more plentiful and humidity increases, becoming more subtropical along the coast with summer rainfall. The interior can become very cold in winter, with heavy snowfalls occasionally occurring in the mountainous regions between Molteno and Rhodes.

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Getting There

By Plane

Port Elizabeth Airport (IATA: PLZ) offers a range of flights. Destinations include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, East London, Lanseria and Durban.

By Train

Shosholoza Meyl has the following trains:

  • Cape Town - East London via Matjiesfontein, De Aar and Queenstown, 28 hours, economy class only, once weekly
  • Cape Town - Port Elizabeth via Oudtshoorn, 24 hours, premier class only, once weekly
  • Johannesburg - East London via Bloemfontein, 20 hours, economy sleeper class, daily except Saturday
  • Johannesburg - Port Elizabeth via Kroonstad, Bloemfontein and Craddock, 21 hours, tourist class twice a week and daily economy class (except Saturday)

By Car

The main motorway in the province is the N2. It runs along the coast from Cape Town via the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth, the Transkei and further through KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. The road condition is mainly excellent except in the Transkei (Do not travel the Transkei portion of the N2 at night as the potholes can be deep and there are often stray animals ie cows and goats wandering around).
From Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, follow the N1 toll road south until Colesberg, then follow the N9 from there towards Graaff-Reinet and George or follow first the N9 and then the N10 towards Port Elizabeth. Avoid driving the N9 and N10 at night as game often wander onto the road at night and accidents are not uncommon. A full grown kudu or other large antelope and cause some severe damage to you and your vehicle.

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Getting Around

By Train

With the limited range of railways this isn't really a viable option for touring the province. However, the route from Grahamstown to Alicedale is very scenic and well worth doing. The newly-opened line from East London to Mthatha also traverses some dramatic scenery through the Wild Coast.

By Car

If you would like to travel around by car, there are numerous car rental companies available from the airports and downtown locations. Just make sure that you have sufficient insurance to cover you if the need arises. Some of them offer the possibility to reduce excess (the amount you pay when involved in an accident) for a daily fee. Car hire companies include Avis, Imperial, CABS, First Car Rental as well as many other international and local ones. Usually, the local ones are cheaper but don't have the same standard as the international ones, which have more branches throughout the country and therefore are able to help you more quickly if needed.

If travelling by car, be sure to plan your routes carefully to insure that there are sufficient places to fill the tank with petrol as some towns are located quite a distance apart with no filling stations in between. It's a good idea to fill up with fuel when you have about half a tank left if possible.

By Bus

The main companies cross the Eastern Cape on their way from Cape Town to Durban. There are other main routes from Port Elizabeth and East London to Johannesburg.
The Baz Bus traverses the province on its Cape Town - Port Elizabeth - Durban run ; Port Elizabeth is a compulsory overnight stop.
Minibus services are available for local transport between neighbouring towns (and also on several longer distances).

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Sleep

The Garden Route is a major tourist destination with a broad range of accommodation in all ranges as is Port Elizabeth.
North of East London is the spectacular Wild Coast which begins near Morgan's Bay and Kei mouth.
Accommodation is a little bit more limited inland, but there will always be an option.

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Contributors

as well as Ofelia (4%), Hien (3%)

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This is version 22. Last edited at 9:39 on May 11, 16 by Utrecht. 22 articles link to this page.

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