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Van Stadens Gorge Rock Climbing

30km from Port Elizabeth

-33.889, 25.2123

35 minutes walk in.

Moderate, Grade 17-34, Suitable for children


The extensive crags of Van Stadens River Gorge have 154 sport routes ranging from grade 17 to grade 34. There are some easy routes at the Apple Express, under the train bridge, but the highest concentration of quality bolted routes is on the Cleopatra Wall. Climbing is largely on overhanging quartzite, and while there’s not much for beginners, there are plenty of classics in the 21-25 grade range.

“Noodle” (18) is the best easy route, while “Mene” and “Tekel” (both 22), “Peres” (23) and three superb grade 25s, “Luck of the Buffalo”, “Send & Receive” and “King of the Sky” (25) will amuse intermediates for a while. “Troll” (34) was opened by Adam Ondra and is the hardest route in the Eastern Cape. There are also some amazing grade 33 projects that still need to be opened, as well as about 30 rather trad routes. Various other crags in the area are worth climbing, notably The Beach, which offers eight lines with grades varying from 18 to 29.

The routes are shaded from about 1pm in summer and are sunny all day in winter. The crags are very sheltered, so Van Stadens is a year-round climbing area. You can climb even in rain and high wind - only very heavy rain stops play.

This is Nelson Mandela Metro Municipality land, so you must get a permit to enter. Permits are free but must be obtained from the municipal offices during office hours.

To get there, head towards Cape Town on the N2 and take the Van Stadens Pass off-ramp. Turn right under the highway and continue for about five kilometres until the road crosses a rail track. Turn left on to a wide dirt road 50 metres further on and continue to the gate that blocks the road. Park 100 metres before the warden’s house on the left-hand side and then walk down the dirt road past the warden’s house until it descends steeply to a concrete weir and pump house. Find your way over these obstacles onto a sandy path on the upstream side.

Follow the river upstream to a large dam wall and then scramble up the left-hand bank about 60 metres below the dam wall. Cleopatra’s Wall is about 150 metres upstream from the dam wall and about 15 metres above the water when the dam is full.

Sunshine Coast

Eastern Cape


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.

When to go

To Do

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