Mbodla Eco-Heritage Route
Monday, 7th September 2015
The Mbodla Eco-Heritage Route takes you through some of the towns founded by the 1820 settlers. Here great battles were waged back and forth across the Great Fish River. Now much of this densely forested land is being returned to nature, and its extraordinary beauty is being preserved.
Your drive on the Mbodla Eco-heritage route could begin in Grahamstown, City of Saints. The official version of how the nickname came about it is because there are many churches in the City.
Grahamstown, a university town that hosts the country's premier annual arts festival, is an architectural joy to visit. Many of the 1820 settlers, who came as farmers, were actually artisans, who continued to practice their craft after moving here.
Head north to the village of Bedford and you may end up buying a house there. Very cute, very Afro-English. Nearby is Adelaide, which has an old, friendly hotel and an excellent country hospital. The beauty of this South African eco-heritage route inspired one of the local doctors to become a fine arts photographer.
Another town much loved by tourists is Hogsback, which lies up in the misty reaches near the Amatola Mountains. It's a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with forest walks, birdlife, local crafts and log fires for those chilly winter nights, classic Eastern Cape eco-heritage.
Further up the Mbodla Eco-heritage route there is Fort Beaufort with its preserved Victorian-era military buildings. Your journey leads you up into Katberg, another magnificent mountain village.
The area is prime Eastern Cape eco-heritage: great for hunting and photographic safaris. World-class private game reserves like Kwandwe and Shamwari are part of the route, showcasing the land's immense biodiversity. Here you can find malaria-free safaris and Big Five bush experiences every bit as enjoyable as their counterparts to the north.
TRAVEL TIPS & PLANNING INFO
HOW TO GET HERE: Fly to Port Elizabeth, hire a car and drive towards Grahamstown, less than 90 minutes away.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: This region is extremely pleasant all year round, but can be very chilly in winter.
AROUND THE AREA: This route takes you inland, but bear in mind there are some great beaches nearby, at Kenton-on-Sea, Port Alfred, Port Elizabeth, and if you're on your way to the Wild Coast, East London.
TOURS TO DO: Accredited Guides, Otto Ntshebe and Gill Wylie provide fascinating information and insights about the history of the region, and will provide a meaningful context for your travels in this region.
GETTING AROUND: Having your own car offers the most options.
LENGTH OF STAY: Three to four days would be ideal. Longer if you really want to explore the area and the towns in-depth.
WHAT TO PACK: Apart from your camera, some history books on this fascinating region (you can buy them in Grahamstown). And bring your walking shoes.
WHERE TO STAY: There's something to suit every pocket here, from luxurious game lodges to budget B&Bs.
WHAT'S HAPPENING: The Grahamstown Arts Festival in early July, is a feast of theatre, dance and music.
This article has been edited. For more info: http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-mbodla-eco-heritage-routePicture: Historic Bedford on the Mbodla Eco-heritage Route (Chris Marais)