With the diversity of the region it is unsurprising that the climate varies across the province with heavy rain in the mountains, low rainfall on the edges of Karoo and a subtropical climate on the coast. Temperatures in Port Elizabeth and East London range from 18°c in the winter to 26°c in the summer with temperatures inland being prone to more fluctuation and ranging from as low as 6°c up to 40°c in the summer.
The Eastern Cape is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa and is the birthplace of the Xhosa culture. Nelson Mandela, Govan and Thabo Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko and Chris Hani all started life in this province.
The Eastern Cape, which incorporates the famous Garden Route, is one of the most varied areas in terms of topography, climate, flora and fauna, encompassing the wild North-Eastern highlands, the Tsitsikamma National Park and the semi arid Karoo.
The province offers great watersports opportunities and is a paradise for surfers and divers alike. In addition it is home to a number of National Parks and Nature Reserves that host a wide variety of species and offer the visitor great wildlife viewing.
Tsitsikamma National Park
Tsitsikamma National Park protects an area of coastline along the edge of the Eastern Cape and also includes a marine protected area. The park is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna as well as a vast number of bird species including the African Black Oystercatcher. Mammals include baboons, monkeys, a variety of antelope species and the cape clawless otters.
The park is a great area for walking and there are a number of hikes on offer including the Otter Trail, the Tsitskimma Trail and the Dolphin Trail. These vary in distance and also standards of accommodation. The trails require differing levels of fitness and often get booked up many months in advance so if you are interested you need to plan early.
Port Elizabeth is the fifth biggest city in South Africa and the largest on the coast between Cape Town & Durban. It is home to beautiful parks, botanic gardens and a number of museums including, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Bayworld and the South End Museum.
Algoa Bay is a great area for watersports especially diving.
Around 75km from Port Elizabeth Addo Elephant Park is the third largest national park in South Africa covering an area of around 180,000 hectares. It is home to lions, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, zebra and antelope alongside over 500 elephants.
Addo Elephant Park
Shamwari is one of the most successful private reserves in South Africa. It has been recognised by a number of organisations and received awards for it’s conservation credentials – in 2010 it was recognised as Africas Leading Conservation Company. The reserve encompasses an area of 250km², and includes 5 biomes. The big 5 can all be found here along with numerous other species.
If you want to get involved yourself there are opportunities for volunteering at the reserve as well as the possibility of visiting the Born Free Foundation Animal & Rescue Education Centre.
Shamwari Game Reserve
Mountain Zebra National Park
The park is home to rare mountain zebra as well as cheetah, buffalo, black rhino and a variety of antelope. The park has some stunning scenery ranging from plains and valleys to craggy mountains and can be explored on foot as well as by car with a range of different hiking trails available.
Camdeboo National Park
This park is quite unusual in the way that it surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet. With the majority of the park being between 740 and 1480 metres above sea level, it offers an incredibly scenic view. The park can be divided into 3 sections. The first is the wildlife viewing area – this comprises of around 19km of gravel road. Secondly, the Valley of Desolation – a beautiful valley with a spectacular view surrounded by huge columns of volcanic rock. Thirdly, the Nqweba Dam – covering an area of around 10km² offers a wide range of watersports. There are also a number of hiking trails available both day trails and longer overnight trails.
Tsolwane Nature Reserve, Great Fish River Reserve & Mpofu Nature Reserve
These 3 reserves are all located within the Amathole region. All of these reserves offer great wildlife viewing opportunities as well as hiking and walking trails for both the beginner and experienced hiker.
East London is South Africa’s only river port. The main draw here is the expanse of white sands which offer a variety of watersports all year round. The town also boasts a variety of museums and galleries for the visitor.
Dwesa & Cwebe Nature Reserves
These reserves are an ornithologists dream – between them they hold close to 300 bird species. In addition species such as rhino, zebra, leopard, buffalo and crocodile can also be found here. The two reserves offer forest areas, beaches and hiking trails.
Hluleka Nature Reserve
Hluleka Nature Reserve is an area of around 8km². The reserve is diverse with ecosystems including rocky seashores, lagoons and forest areas. The hilltops are great for dolphin and whale viewing. Birdlife in the reserve is abundant and is probably the biggest draw to the reserve. A range of wildlife is also present including blue duiker, genet, bushpig, zebra, bushbuck, civet and eland.
Silaka Nature Reserve
The main aim of the Silaka Nature Reserve is to conserve the biodiversity of an example of near pristine Eastern Cape Coastal Forest. Bird Rock on the southern part of the beach within the reserve offers visitors spectacular bird viewing. As well as forest walks and swimming, fishing can also be found within the reserve.
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This area, characterised by mountain scenery, runs up to Lesotho. There are a few small towns that make interesting stops on your journey, however, the main visitors to this area do so to ski in the winter or to partake in trout fishing and hiking during the summer months.