With an overwhelming choice in daring activities and undiscovered corners waiting to be found, the Eastern Cape calls to the adventurous souls. Somewhat under estimated next to its neighbour, the popular Western Cape, the Eastern Cape proudly holds claim to 500km of pristine coastline, stunning beaches and dunes. And who doesn’t want to visit a place that offers more sunshine per year than anywhere else in South Africa, hence proudly earning its name, ‘Sunshine Coast’.
This province of glorious contrasts also draws you inland and takes you on a journey of surprises in beautiful valleys and spectacular mountaintops. You can get lost in the forests of trees, swept away by rivers and stranded in Karoo desert. Eastern Cape boasts five ecosystems between Storms River and East London–yes, five different ecosystems.
Visiting the mosaic art on Route 67 at The Donkin Reserve, lighthouse and pyramid great way to explore the heriatge and history.
Are you asking yourself, why have I not visited this marvelous place yet? I am asking myself why I haven’t gone back yet. It is one of the best places to road trip, witnessing the change of scenery through your car window.
General travel tips for the road:
Being on the long road can be a bit mucky. Stock up on hand wipes and hand sanitizer.
Have enough water and snacks in the car.
Use day backpacks. They are easier to carry around, especially if you have an unplanned stop along the road, like a walk up to a waterfall.
Have your car serviced and make sure that your car insurance is still in place. This could be very useful, especially if you need assistance on the road—roadside assist can be heaven-sent sometimes.
Here are some highlights taken from my visits to the Eastern Cape during my lifetime—there will most certainly be more to come.
Protea flowers among many others can be found at the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve
Free things to do in the Eastern Cape:
Send a letter from South Africa’s oldest letterbox
Stare at a steeple in Grahamstown
Take in the view from Gunfire Hill
Get lost in a maze in Hogsback
Check out cars at the AutoPavilion – known as the place of cars and legends
Appreciate art at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum
Spend the day at Van Staden’s Wild Flower Reserve
Surf Jeffrey’s Bay
Get an introduction to scuba diving
Visit a lighthouse in Port St Johns
Go shell spotting at Hazel Jeffries Shell Museum
Watch whales in St Francis Bay
VW Autopavilion known as the Place of cars and Legends is an interesting stop on any road trip.
Catching the right wave
Jeffrey’s Bay: I’m not much of a surfer—in fact I’ve never tried—but I have always had the burning desire to just get out beyond the waves. I wait for hours for the perfect wave, catching the right wave I jump up, first time, like Kelly Slater—and then I wake up. Enough about my childhood dream to be a world class surfer; I actually do have the best childhood memories from Jeffrey’s Bay, surfer’s paradise, the place where life revolves around the waves. For those not brave enough to jump in without a little guidance, there is always Jeffrey’s Bay Surf School, where they can teach you to be a real surfer, bru. Jeffrey’s is a real beach town, the fastest growing one with a real surfer vibe sprinkled all over it. For the land lovers, I remember walking and collecting shells with my cousins and ouma on the beaches for hours, or shopping for all my favourite surfer brands in the selection of surf factory shops.
A surfing lesson or try stand-up paddling
Just walking on the beach, for as far as you can
Places to stay:
There are plenty of guesthouses, like ‘On the Beach’ or Stone Olive. Just make sure to book well in advance during peak season.
Backpacking: If you are looking for good vibes, and fun and friendly staff and/or guests, then it is worth checking out one of the oldest places in the Jeffrey’s Bay backpacker scene, aptly named Jeffrey’s Bay Backpacker .
Holiday house rentals: This would be more for a longer stay. Many locals migrate during peak season and rent out their homes to the holidaymakers.
Your surf board (if you have one), sunscreen and bikini / board shorts. That’s actually all you need to pack.
Eastern Cape is road tripping paradise for any surfer.
Wild is relative
Coffee Bay: In the heart of the Wild Coast lies a little place called Coffee Bay. By the time you get there you are wondering what on earth makes this place so special. Then you are faced with something quite simple yet extraordinary. Tucked away in the Transkei is a place so rural, so traditional, so wild, you don’t quite know what to make of it.
The term ‘wild’ is relative. For some it is wild parties, for others it could be wild animals, and to some it is being unpredictable or losing control. Coffee Bay offers all these things but, at its core, it is just pure, raw, wild nature including ‘wild’ cows (yes, wild cows that love the beach).
I had the most picturesque and fulfilling hike of my life from The Coffee Shack, where we were staying, to the ‘hole in the wall’. Don’t forget those comfortable shoes because this is a must do. It is a tough 10km walk, but it is so rewarding. When you reach the end you see the beautiful cove, the ‘hole in the wall’, where you can relax, swim and snack on some braai broodjies made by the local guides. You can also get that epic photo of you in the hole—it’s a lot trickier than you think.
Swim to the ‘hole in the wall’. If the tide allows, it’s a little scary but can be done.
Suck it up and hike to the hole instead of driving. The views are worth it and it makes that swim even more refreshing.
Local cultural tours or surf lessons.
Places to stay:
Looking to upgrade for a night or two, try the Ocean View Hotel. Another reason I mention this hotel is because my parents stayed there on their honeymoon back in 1983. I went to check it out and see what the fuss was about in 2014 and, under new management, it looks fabulous while still offering that rustic romance.
Backpacking: The Coffee Shack is worth the bumpy ride. Staff are friendly and always up for entertaining you. It is also a great place to make new friends from all around the world (as most good backpackers’ places are).
Be careful driving to places like Coffee Bay. The roads are tough and hard on any car, but you don’t need a 4×4—my little Toyota RunX made it.
Double check the routes that the GPS takes you on. You could get taken through a shallow, rocky river where a herd of cows has decided to park off for the evening meal.
Grahamstown: I had such a small taste of Grahamstown on our road trip back in 2010 and there is now this gap in my cultural education. It was like starting to read a good book and, just as it gets interesting, you misplace it.
The home to Rhodes University and the renowned National Art Festival, Grahamstown is a vibrant and diverse little town 128km outside of Port Elizabeth , packed with thousands of students. Strangely enough, there are also many churches, including the Cathedral of St Michael that took all of 128 years to build. So, if churches are your thing, you’ll have plenty to do. The town has a lot of history with little attractions like the oldest postbox in South Africa. For creative inspiration there is an abundance of art studios and craft shops.
From the festive town you can also visit the Addo Elephant National Park, as well as the Great Fish River Reserve, and magical Hogsback which requires one or two nights on its own.
Addo Elephant Park.
National Art Festival in July.
Pub crawling or live music at a local bar. Many of our local talented musos come from the surrounding areas, so be the first to see the next big SA act.
For the brave there’s always skydiving.
Addo Elephant National Park is great for drive through for a wild life andventure on a road trip with family or friends.
Places to stay:
Guesthouses, student accommodation (during varsity holidays) or bed and breakfast.
Backpacking: The Old Gaol Backpackers is opposite the university and is an old prison with the original graffiti still scratched on its walls. Blue Skies Backpackers is also a great option.
If you are going to hang out with the students remember to elect a designated driver, or all put your drinking hats on and use Uber—no drunk driving.
Book ahead for the National Art Festival. Check out accommodation, and the shows and events, and book before you get there—lesson I learnt the hard way.