The country’s second largest province probably displays the greatest natural and cultural diversity. In many ways, this is the place where South Africa’s history – and therefore present-day political reality – was thrashed out. It was here, in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries that white settlers first came up against black Africans, with the Khoi-Khoi and the Khoi-San stuck in the middle. It was here – in this frontier land – that Britain decided to dump a bunch of unsuspecting settlers in a wild, inhospitable area that – quite frankly – was not the greatest farming land in the region. And the Eastern Cape has been a centre of resistance ever since.
So this is a great cultural destination. You can relive battles both ancient and modern, you can trace Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom, or ponder on Steve Biko’s short walk to martyrdom. But there is more to the cultural attractions than conflict and confrontation. The second largest cultural festival in the world takes place in Grahamstown, when the town bursts into song and dance and fluffs its colourful tail feathers for the world. There are literally hundreds of beautiful old buildings, art galleries and museums. And, of course, the older art galleries. While it’s not as prolific as KZN or the Western Cape, there is interesting rock art in many parts of the province.
But it is also an incredibly beautiful place. The long and lovely coastline offers immense opportunity for surfing, diving, hiking and just general lounging around and chilling. The beaches range from a few slightly over-developed urban strands to long, lovely expanses where you can walk for a day and not see another soul. And walking the beaches is something that is taken seriously here. The entire Wild Coast is a series of hikes that can be mixed and matched, and the Dolphin Trail in the Tsitsikamma National Park is a coastal gem.
But there are also hiking opportunities in the lovely montane forests, in the rather arid Karoo and in the high grasslands of the Drakensberg. And there is great fly fishing and even snow skiing. The Game viewing in this province is legendary and – best of all – malaria-free. The Addo Elephant National Park, which has grown extensively over the last few years, is home to the big five and much, much more. And the increasing number of private luxury lodges that offer equally good game viewing do so with a touch more style, but at a correspondingly higher price.