Capital city: Bisho
Population: 6,9 million
Surface area: 169 000 square km
While perhaps being visited by fewer numbers of people than other areas in South Africa, the Eastern Cape remains a region of great natural beauty and cultural heritage. The landscape of the province varies from the arid Great Karoo to the farmlands of the Little Karoo, to the spectacular cliffs of the coastal area. The Eastern Cape includes two harbours, namely Port Elizabeth and East London, and also the Addo Elephant game reserve. The Eastern Cape is the homeland of the Xhosa tribe, and Xhosa is widely spoken in the province, as many of the place names there will show.
Nicknamed “PE”, the city of Port Elizabeth is a city mainly of industry. Highlights in the city include the City Hall and Market Square, which contains a replica of the cross planted by the first European on record to visit the coast of South Africa, namely the Portuguese sailor Bartholomew Dias. Then there is also a memorial to Prester John, the Donkin Lighthouse and the Campanile Clock Tower. In the older part of the city there are some fine old Victorian-style houses. On the beachfront in Humewood you can visit the Oceanarium and Snake Park. If you have a preference for fine art, the King George IV Art Gallery and Fine Arts Hall hosts an impressive collection of art. Or, if you prefer natural beauty, it may be worth visiting Settler’s Park Nature Reserve, situated in How Avenue. Then there is St George’s Park, which hosts exhibitions and craft markets, and also a theatre operation. To the south of the city centre there are fine beaches, especially Humewood and King’s Beach.
To the west of the city, the Garden Route emerges from the Western Cape and continues through the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park. This Park contains what remains of an originally immense forest of indigenous tree species, including the well-known yellowwood species. Surfers may know about the world famous Jeffreys Bay. North-east of the city, the coast extends for many kilometres with sandy beaches, marked by the Alexandria State Forest, a nature reserve that contains a hiking trail. To the east one finds the Dias Cross, which is where Dias placed on his stone crosses during his journey along South Africa’s coastline.
Moving inland, one encounters the Karoo, an area at higher altitude that is dry and open. This area was depicted by the novelist Olive Schreiner in her famous work, and her home in Cradock has been renovated for visitors. This are also includes the Mountain Zebra National Park, which is situated on the Bankberg range.
In an effort to safeguard the last population of elephants in the Eastern Cape, the Addo Elephant National Park, situated about 70km (45 miles) north of Port Elizabeth, was established in 1931. There is also other game in the Park besides elephants, and over 150 species of birds. Besides the Park, there are smaller private game reserves in the vicinity, such as Kwandwe and Shamwari.
The Karoo area of the Eastern Cape has its own reserve, namely the Karoo Nature Reserve, and located in the middle of this Reserve is the town of Graaff-Reinet, at the base of the Sneeuberg Mountains. The town is characterised by Cape-Dutch architecture and museums. 5km (3 miles) from the town is the Valley of Desolation, on a road that eventually travels into the mountains. From the vantage offered by the mountains, one may look out over the landscape. Close to Graaff-Reinet is the town of Nieu Bethesda, which includes so-called Owl House, a sculpture garden created by the well-known sculptor Helen Martins. The famous South African playwright Athol Fugard based a play on the Owl House.
To the east of Port Elizabeth are the towns of Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea. These towns are attractive holiday resorts, with Port Alfred located at the mouth of the Kowie River. It is possible to make a canoe trip from Port Alfred to Bathurst. The Pig and Whistle, which is situated in Bathurst, is the oldest pub in South Africa, and was established in 1831.
Moving a little way inland, one finds the Victorian-era town of Grahamstown. One of the finest Universities in South Africa is situated in Grahamstown, and every July the town hosts a massive arts festival. Those with a love of interesting architecture may enjoy a visit to Grahamstown, as the town is home to many examples of fine architecture, such as the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, which is located in the triangular Church Square, the 1820 Settlers Monument (a monument raised to the first settlers originating from Britain), and Fort Selwyn. The town is also host to a number of fine museums such as the History Museum, and the International Library of African Music. You can savour traditional Xhosa cuisine in Grahamstown.
The town of Alice is close to Grahamstown, and it was in Alice that the university of Fort Hare was established. Under the apartheid regime, the university was seen as a “black” institution, where “Blacks” could go to study. The result of this was that a number of liberation movement leaders, who opposed apartheid, studied there. Alice was the home-town of one of the most well-known liberation leaders, namely Steve Biko.
And hour’s drive away from Grahamstown lies the town of Hogsback, located in the Amatola Mountains. The town is situated at a forest of indigenous trees, with hiking trails leading on to impressive waterfalls.
Further along the east coast of South Africa is the city of East London, situated in the Wild Coast region. The city of East London lies at the mouth of the Buffalo River, and is the fourth biggest port in the country. The city is a beach resort with a relatively warmer climate and good surfing. Well-known beaches include Nahoon, Eastern Beach and Orient Beach. The city museum contains some interesting items, such as the only surviving Dodo egg in the world, and a preserved coelacanth. In addition to the city museum there is the Gately House Museum, which was founded in 1878, and the Anne Bryant Art Gallery. There is also an aquarium and a botanical garden.
To the west of East London lies a relatively undeveloped region known as the Wild Coast. If you are planning on visiting this area it is advisable to do so in an off-road vehicle, as there are no proper roads in places. The main road traverses the region, and takes one through Umtata. Situated roughly 35km (20 miles) west of Umtata is Qunu, the village in which Nelson Mandela was born, and where he has chosen to spend his retirement. The key town for tourists in this region is the town of Port St Johns. The town and its vicinity are characterised by small lodges along the coastline that offer secluded accommodation and fishing. Close to the border with KwaZulu-Natal is the Wild Coast Sun casino and water park.
Moving north, one encounters the southern extension of the Drakensberg Mountains. The only ski resort in South Africa is situated here, namely Tiffendel, and near to the resort is the little town of Rhodes.