The Big 5: Eastern Cape

Experience the diversity of South Africa’s second-largest province – from the warm welcome of a beach-loving settler town, to unfettered escape on the edge of the wildest coast…

Safari

Over the years, the transformation of abundant farmlands into wildlife sanctuaries has created some incredible safari hubs in the Eastern Cape – the low-lying scrubland, dotted with aloes and euphorbia forests, offers vast vistas for excellent game viewing in a malaria-free environment. Many private reserves are clustered around Addo Elephant National Park, meaning they’re within easy reach of Port Elizabeth, too. The latest beauty to open its doors is Inzolo Exclusive Game Lodge – four chalets set within a private conservancy deep in a secluded valley in the heart of Big Five country. inzololodge.co.za

City break

Having easy access to Port Elizabeth’s beachfront is one reason to base yourself in or as near as possible to Summerstrand, a pleasant seaside neighbourhood where days begin with walks along the boardwalk promenade. You can set off from King’s Beach and head south all the way to Cape Recife, a nature reserve at the edge of the city. Or simply unfurl your towel and sprawl out on Humewood, the city’s top swimming beach. PE is also a prime scuba diving location, while nearby St Croix Island is home to the world’s biggest colony of endangered African penguins. And, from June through January, humpback whales arrive in Nelson Mandela Bay to mate and calve. nmbt.co.za

Wild Coast

The overwhelming sensation here is of disappearing into a timeless, primordial world. Rolling hills kiss the ocean; forests lie in a tangle of ancient trees and vines, palms and birdlife; rivers spill into wide estuaries; and waterfalls plummet into the tempestuous sea. Magically, the Wild Coast has retained its rural charm, right down to the ambling Nguni cattle that share roads and beaches with humans. If you’re keen on an environmentally-friendly stay in paradise, Swell Eco Lodge offers self-catering traditionally-styled rondavels set just back from the beach in the rolling hills of Mngcibe, north of Mdumbi River. It’s an idyllic spot for beachcombing, horseback riding, mountain biking and kayaking. They even offer massages and surfing lessons. swellecolodge.com

Baviaanskloof 

A long, narrow ravine flanked by majestic mountains, the 270 000-hectare Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve is a magnificent wilderness with the Baviaans River running through it. Its varying terrain and penetrating silence make it a superb hiking destination. Birdlife is incredible, and it’s also home to Cape mountain zebra, red hartebeest, eland and other antelopes. There are heaps of baboons, whose presence gave the area its name, plus shy leopards. Mountain biking is popular, though not for the faint-hearted – aside from the 180km gravel stretch between Patensie at the eastern end and Willowmore to the west, there are awkward river crossings, dense woodlands, fierce uphills and heart-thumping downhills. baviaanskloof-info.co.za

Karoo

Many consider it a barren semi-desert where sheep are raised to produce the world’s best lamb chops. But the Karoo always surprises. Aside from strange geological formations, such as the tall rock towers in Graaff-Reinet’s Valley of Desolation, there’s the entire Camdeboo mountainscape, which forms a magnificent backdrop to game viewing at Samara Private Game Reserve. Huge, mercurial skies shelter a surreal landscape of soaring peaks and open plains that are home to over 60 mammal species, including cheetah which can be tracked on foot. The reserve offers accommodation in Victorian-style Karoo suites with outdoor showers so you can stare up at an inky sky, alive with stars. samara.co.za 

Image: Baviaanskloof
Image: Baviaanskloof

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