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NSA Rock Climbing

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3km from East London

-32.9575, 27.8738

5 minutes walk in.

epmcsa.org.za/hiking/climbing

Moderate, Grade 17-33, Suitable for children

About

Only five kilometres from East London’s main shopping centre, with a safe, flat base and a very short, easy walk-in, NSA is a great place to take the family on a climbing outing.

With 55 sport routes, it’s the most bolted crag in the Eastern Cape. There are also 22 trad lines and 10 problems on the boulders between NSA and the Nahoon River. The face over the rock pile, Thabo’s Wall, has become the most popular sector, with a high density of worthwhile lines.

Most of the easy routes, including “Exposed” (15), the easiest line at the crag, and the more interesting “No Guts No Glory” (17) are short lines on Leon’s Corner. The nearby Thabo’s Wall is an awesome face for mid-range sport face climbs, with “Injalo” (19), “Total Onslaught” (20), “Affirmative Action” (21) and “Kalashnikov Culture” (22) - one of the last routes to be bolted but probably the best at NSA - all thoroughly worthwhile. The long “German Invaders” (grade 23 with 14 bolts), in the Madiba Sector, is another intermediate classic.

The Steve Biko sector has some excellent routes across the grade range, including “Legends of the Fall” (18), “African Mama” (21), “Haue Baloo” (26) and “Red Line Divide” (28).

Other worthy challenges in the higher grades include “For the Fallen” (28) on Thabo’s Wall and “Screaming at Whores” (28) in the Madiba Sector. Nearby is the hardest route at the crag, “Go High” (33). The smooth extension of “Warriors of Prayer” was opened by Adam Ondra at the start of the Eastern Cape Rock & Road tour in 2009. It was the Czech wonderboy’s first route in Africa. He landed, dropped off his luggage and opened the route on his second attempt - 45 minutes from car park to car park!

NSA is a year-round crag that is shaded from 10am in summer and in shade all day in winter. It can be cold in winter but is quite sheltered from the wind and dries fairly quickly after rain.

The rock is a mix of brittle, vertical mud stone and silt stone, which is smooth and often covered in a white fungus. There is a fair amount of loose rock that is still coming off the routes, as well as tons lying loose on top, so wear your helmet. Some of the routes are long so, although a 50-metre rope will do, you’ll need16 draws.

There are no restrictions on access but note that NSA is isolated and has the potential to become a crime spot, so go in a group.

To get there from the N2, take the Western Ave turn-off. Turn right towards Cambridge. At the rail bridge intersection, turn right. Go past the Cambridge Town Hall. Take the right-hand fork under the rail bridge. Soon after the Highgate Hotel, turn right into Baden Powell Rd. Drive down for about 1,5 kilometres then turn right onto the second dirt track that leads to the car park, then follow the path into dense bush and walk over the river bed to the prominent white/grey rock face. Be warned that the Nahoon River rises quickly after rain, so don’t take any chances.

Sunshine Coast

Eastern Cape

About

With the most recorded sunshine hours in South Africa, the name Sunshine Coast is no idle boast or empty promise. Situated between Port Elizabeth and East London, the quaintness of the Sunshine Coast is a welcome escape from big-city bustle. 

The area includes the inland towns of Alexandria, Salem and Bathhurst, with kilometres of beaches accessed via Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Bushmans River Mouth, Kenton-on-sea, Kasouga, Port Alfred and the Great Fish River area. The mixed derivations of these names suggest the rich cultural heritage of the area – the primary meeting point of San, Xhosa, Boer and British. The British influence is clear in the architecture of Bathhurst, Salem and Grahamstown.

Driving on the N2 or its tributaries the R67 or R72, the rolling green hills Lord Charles Somerset likened to English parklands were not exactly what the settlers expected. The unique dark golden-green shade of the Albany Thicket biome is due to the dense growth of hardy drought-resistant plants such as aloe, euphorbia and spekboom. Rain falls in winter and summer, and while not frequent, it is at times unpredictable, so the vegetation is built to withstand fickle skies.

Although unattractively scrubby to some, the Thicket contains 20% of the 316 threatened plant species found in the Eastern Cape, making it an important centre of endemism.

One is tempted to describe this beautiful and unusual landscape as “untouched”, but the area has long been farmed, with cattle, sheep, ostriches, pineapples and chicory among its historically successful concerns. Many farms have since been converted back into game reserves, such as the world-class, malaria-free Kariega and Shamwari Reserves. Game fences line the long, quiet, tarred roads and drivers are often startled at the sight of elephants, giraffes or other game grazing along the fences.

Drivers should also look out for smaller wildlife - porcupines, small antelope, hares, snakes, owls and tortoises - crossing the roads at dawn, dusk and at night.

The beaches and dunes of this coastline are magnificent. The Alexandria dunefield - famously the largest active dunefield in the world - and the exquisite Alexandria State Forest have been absorbed by the Greater Addo Elephant National Park. 

While Kenton-on-sea and Port Alfred are the main seaside attractions, the family-oriented Cannon Rocks, Boknes and Kasouga are popular places to buy holiday homes and have a few lovely self-catering and guest cottages.

The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is a replica of the padrão erected there by Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias on his 1488 cruise past the South African coast. At the Cross there is a deck for dolphin sightings and whale-spotting in late spring and early summer. In season, southern right whales are sighted all along the Sunshine Coast.

Despite its fairly good roads and obvious attractions, this area is still, miraculously, relatively unspoilt and undeveloped. With the exception of the graceful Port Alfred Marina, attempts to beat its bush and rivers into commercial shape have been abandoned and it remains gentle, peaceful, simple, pristine and soul-enriching.

Situated on the Indian Ocean, one needn’t expect the “bath water” temperatures of KwaZulu-Natal  - Sunshine Coast swims are invigoratingly cool and sometimes chilly, but seldom as achingly cold as the Western Cape.

The area doesn’t have the same flashy allure as other popular seaside destinations, but if you think of the coast as a place to relax and unwind, rather than paint the town red, there is no better place to visit.

Look out for

Addo Elephant National Park, 30 minutes from PE, features the “Big Seven” (the Big Five, plus southern right whales and great white sharks).

Explore Alexandria’s dunefields on the two-day Alexandria Hiking Trail or the seven-kilometre Dassie Day Trail, named for a rare tree dassie in the area.

Bathurst - founded in 1820, this “English country village in Africa”, 10 minutes from Port Alfred, is home to the Pig & Whistle, the oldest pub in South Africa, and the 16,7-metre-high Big Pineapple.

With unspoiled beaches, the tiny villages of Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Kleinemonde are a fisherman’s and bird-watcher’s paradise. Cannon Rocks is named for its two cannons and anchor. The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is an uplifting thee-kilometre walk from Boknes across incredible sandy beaches, or a six-kilometre walk at low tide from Bushmans River.

Bushmans River – the second-longest navigable river in South Africa, with 22 kilometres of navigable water, is a favourite with canoeists, sailors, water-skiers and fishermen.

Kasouga – maintains its rustic beginnings with dirt roads and no streetlights, hotels and shops, wonderful birdlife and an exquisite lagoon.

Port Alfred – enjoy the elegance of the Royal Alfred Marina. Famous for its annual powerboat race, Port Alfred offers provides great shopping, dining, and beauty retreats.

The Sunshine Coast, and nearby holiday meccas such as Great Fish River, St Francis Bay, Cape St Francis, Jeffreys Bay, Tsitsikamma and the Wild Coast, offers excellent surfing, adventure and water sports, fishing, nature reserves and world-class hikes, mountain biking, canoeing, beach horse-rides, bird watching, 4x4 trails, game-viewing, golf, and as well as rich local arts and culture.

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