Road Tripping around the Eastern Cape

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Thursday, 18th February 2016

Port Elizabeth’s surrounding areas offer great variety for the adventurous traveller who loves to take to the open road on journey of exploration. There are numerous nature reserves, Big Seven game reserves, tranquil towns, desolate valleys, indigenous forests and a number of laid-back coastal towns.

Situated in the Eastern Cape Province, Port Elizabeth is one of Nelson Mandela Bay's four towns comprising an area named in honour of former South African president and world-renowned humanitarian Nelson Mandela. The other three are Uitenhage, Despatch and Colchester.

Port Elizabeth lies 763 km east of Cape Town and is commonly known as the gateway to the scenic Eastern Cape and its famed Garden Route. The Garden Route lies to the west and to the east, the Sunshine Coast, Frontier Country and more than a million hectares of malaria-free game reserves.

The Garden Route features majestic mountains, stunning vistas, deep valleys, lakes, rivers and forests with giant yellowwood and milkwood trees. Predictably this unspoilt part of South Africa is a paradise for bird-lovers and nature lovers.

The Sunshine Coast comprises small coastal hamlets with rivers, beaches and hiking trails that take advantage of the natural beauty created by the Tsitsikamma forest. Popular resorts like Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred are seaside holiday options, while surfers, windsurfers and nature lovers prefer the eco-walks and wave action of St Francis Bay, Cape St Francis and Jeffreys Bay.

Port Elizabeth's beaches are one of its biggest drawcards, with more than 80 kilometres of sand to choose from. Popular swimming beaches include Kings Beach, Hobie Beach, Humewood Beach, Pollock Beach and Denville Beach. More secluded options include Wildside, Sardinia Bay, Maitlands, Blue Horizon Bay, St Georges Strand, Kini Bay, Bluewater Bay, Beachview, and Schoenmakerskop.

Nature reserves include the Van Staden's Wild Flower Reserve, 35 km from town, a 500-hectare sanctuary that celebrates the region's indigenous flora and fauna. It has a visitors' centre, nursery and picnic site. Make the most of the reserve by taking both walks on offer, one through the forest and a second along the river.

Nature trails are another popular way of exploring the area. The 8 km-long Sacramento Trail takes a coastal route along the vegetated dunes of the Sardinia Bay Reserve. You could also overnight at the scenic Woody Cape Nature Reserve, which stretches from Sunday's River Mouth to the Bushman's River. The reserve incorporates one of the largest coastal dune fields in the world.

If you're looking for a safari experience, make your way to the Addo Elephant National Park, Shamwari Private Game Reserve, Kwantu Private Game Reserve or a host of other wild places.

Nelson Mandela Bay is also home to the Big Seven of the animal kingdom which roam free just 55 km away in the Addo Elephant National Park. The Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros) are joined by the southern right whale and great white shark in the offshore waters. Addo covers about 180 000 hectares and includes Bird Island and St Croix Island.

Further inland, about 120 km north-east of Port Elizabeth, you'll find the Arts Festival town of Grahamstown which comes alive with literary figures, plays, music, art and performers from around the country. Another notable stop-over is the town of Graaff Reinet in the foothills of the Sneeuberg Mountains. The Valley of Desolation and the Camdeboo National Park are within easy reach of Graaff Reinet.

Grahamstown is in close proximity to the charming seaside towns of Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea, where there are more sand, sea and water sports on offer.

And of course, international surfing capital, Jeffrey's Bay, is also within easy reach.


Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)41 582 2575

How to get here

Fly in to Port Elizabeth from South Africa’s main airports in Durban, Johannesburg or Cape Town. Alternatively you can get there by road along the N2.

Best time to visit

Winter is a good time to visit Port Elizabeth, although it is the rainy season – there’s still lots to see and do.

Around the area

There’s so much to see including the Addo Elephant National Park, the Valley of Desolation, Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve and the seaside towns of Kenton-on-Sea and Jeffrey’s Bay.

Tours to do

Travel the Garden Route.

Get around

Having your own car to explore the surrounding areas is a good idea. Alternatively take an organised bus tour.

Length of stay

Spend three to four nights in Port Elizabeth and then take a journey of exploration through the Eastern Cape.

Where to stay

Enquire about accommodation at the various national parks and game reserves. The nature reserves also offer camping and rustic accommodation.

What to eat

Seafood if on the coast and a traditional South African braai (barbeque) are always good options.

What's happening

Nelson Mandela Bay & Eastern Cape Annual Events


Friendly City Marathon


Herald Cycle Tour

River Mile


Aanibrand Fees

Splash Festival – Easter weekend

Donkin Downhill Dash

Scifest - Grahamstown


Ironman South Africa

Algoa Bay Yacht Club Sailing Regatta


Medieval Fayre

Spar Ladies Run

Bridal Fair


Noordhoek Dive Fest

Richmond Hill Music Festival

National Arts Festival – Grahamstown

Kirkwood Wildsfees - Kirkwood


Volkswagen Rally

Homemakers Expo

Gamtoos Citrus Festival - Patendie

Biltong Festival – Somerset East


Nelson Mandela Bay City Marathon


Urban Run

PE to Plett Mountain Bike Challenge

Northern Arts Festival

Shell Festival – Jeffreys Bay

Naartjie Festival - Loerie


October Fest (German Club)

Addo Rose Show (Addo)

Start of Ocean Racing Series


NMB Pride

World Cup Horse Jumping Qualifier

Uitenhage Street Carnival


Nelson Mandela Bay SA Rugby 7’s

Summer Season

Opening of the Season

New Year’s Eve celebrations

Best buys

Xhosa crafts

Article and photo courtesy of South African Tourism.

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