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Eastern Cape

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If you only have a week in the Eastern Cape, the big choice has to be between a coastal and an inland break. The coastline can be roughly divided into the undeveloped northern Wild Coast between East London and Port Edward, and the gentler southern Sunshine & Tsitsikamma coastlines from East London to Storms River.

The Wild Coast still enjoys a traditional way of life. The landscape is dotted with low-density mud-brick and thatch homesteads – although some of these are slowly making way for modern brick structures. The lifestyle is pastoral. The tranquil scenery often belies the hardship of coping with no running water, poor sanitation and cooking on open fires. Poverty and population pressure usually go hand in hand with pollution, a problem that is not improved by inadequate service provision. The northern part of the Wild Coast, in particular, suffers from this.

That said, many homesteads are freshly painted and well maintained. It is clear that the social development effort that has been invested in this, the poorest of South Africa’s nine provinces, is bearing some fruit.

When travelling bear in mind that there is no road infrastructure to speak of along the coastline. Hopping from one coastal destination to the next involves a long drive to the ‘main road’, a short traverse along this road, and then another long drive back to the next destination. For example, you can walk between Mazeppa Bay and the Qora river mouth in just over an hour – while the 80km drive takes about two and a half hours. If anything, this adds to the charm of the place.

You can walk for miles along the beaches and cliff faces of the coastline and be free of motorised traffic. However, it does mean that it takes time to drive between destinations. It is undoubtedly better to choose one or two destinations for a break than to try and fit in more.

The Sunshine and Tsitsikamma coastlines have better road and logistical infrastructure, and are easier to get around. Beaches are beautiful and less congested in high season than elsewhere in the country.

Large tracts of the interior of the Eastern Cape are given over to the plains of the Karoo Heartland around towns such as Graaff-Reinet, Cradock and Nieu-Bethesda. Here the landscape is utterly beautiful in its starkness.

For some this is an acquired taste; others immediately wax lyrical about the open vistas, the clean air and the crisp clear nights. Nowhere on earth do the stars seem closer than here.

Further south are two of the province’s flagship reserves. In addition to the land-based Big 5, the Addo Elephant Park boasts the southern right whale and the great white shark among its attractions. You are only likely to see the whales between September and November and the sharks almost never – but it is a nice thought.

The Baviaanskloof wilderness area is more rugged in character. It is a stark land, lightly populated. Come equipped for an extended stay off the beaten track.

The northern end of the province encompasses the southern foothills of the Drakensberg. Although not as imposing as the better known KwaZulu-Natal side of the ‘berg, it does boast magnificent mountain scenery and is arguably the top fly-fishing spot in the country.

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