South Africa Outdoors

Eastern Cape Province National Parks & Reserves
Map of Eastern Cape Province
Special Feature
Choice spots for viewing wildlife in Eastern Cape Province.

The Eastern Cape, which falls in a summer rainfall area, has its own distinct trails and terrain. Near Alexandria in the south, brilliant red trusses of the coral tree adorn the Alexandria State Forest, and emphasize the stark contrast between the dense coastal forest and sparse dune vegetation. Travel down the coast a bit and you'll reach Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park, a long, narrow strip of high coastal cliffs fringed with plunging streams. Deep within the interior dense evergreen forests clothe the slopes of the Keiskammahoek, Pirie, and the mountains of the Hogsback, the latter often covered with snow. Further east the mangrove swamps of the Transkei Wild Coast, and a visually splendid shoreline cast their own particular spell.

Some more experienced trailers prefer the wilderness of untrammelled mountains, to strike a path for themselves and sleep under the stars, instead of in huts available on the official routes. To them the rugged terrains of the Baviaanskloof and Kouga Mountains, the Swartberg and Kammanassie may all be favourite haunts. Seasonally snow may fall on the high mountain peaks and hikers must also be wary of enveloping mists.

Wild Coast/Transkei

This region used to be called the Republic of Transkei, and is the cultural homeland of the Xhosa people. Its cultural character is still primarily indigenous Xhosa, who are a herding and farming peoples. The best way to explore this region is on foot, especially on the Wild Coast Trail. The whole thing takes about two weeks, but you can just grab a piece of it. The Coffee Bay Trail would be a good choice.

Cwebe & Dwesa Nature Reserves
Adjoining reserves separated by the Mbashe take in 14,800 acres along the coast. Cwebe features the Mbanyana Falls, a stand of mangroves, and great beach for collecting cowrie shells. Dwesa is bounded by rivers, and has substantial stands of mangroves. The forests of this reserve are thick with wildlife.

This is a kind of isolated reserve featuring rocky coast (wild, remember) giving into a lagoon, softening into a saltmarsh, which in turn becomes a healthy forest. Worth the detour.

Malekgonyane Nature Reserve
25,000-acre reserve, alive with wildflowers and birds in spring and summer. Hiking trails weave through the hills, under and around cliffs. A good place to get lost.

Mkambati takes its name from a kind of coconut palm that only occurs on this reserve. This is a clue: the flora here is rare and wonderful. As well as the unique coconut palm, you'll see unusual orchids, tree ferns date palms, proteas. Also a canoeing option. Almost 20,000 acres along the coast, taking in the gorges of the Msikaba and Mtentu Rivers.

Ntsikeni & Umtamvuna Nature Reserves
These are twin reserves. Umtamvuna is actually in KwaZulu/Natal. The flora here is spectacular, with newly discovered species being added to the roster all the time. The reserves' wetlands and cliffs provide prime habitats for the endangered wattled crane and many other birds.

Silaka Nature Reserve
A small but exquisite reserve, for lovers of tidal pools and otters. Plus exceptional bird-watching.

Transkei Hiking Trail
Route: From Port St. Johns to Coffee Bay.
Length & Duration: 5 days approximately 12 km a day
Accommodation & equipment: Huts equipped with bunks and mattresses.
Max. Trail Capacity: 12

Camdeboo National Park
Views from the valley overlook piled dolerite columns framing the Great Karoo plain at Camdeboo National Park, which practically surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet. Visitors can game-watch from 19 km of gravel roads.  

Luchaba Nature Reserve
On the Umtata Dam adjoining a watersport recreation area. Inland, you'll find the antelopes, and also zebras and wildebeests. The wetlands and grasslands support many different birds, including the rare Stanley's bustard and the longtailed widow.

Nduli Nature Reserve
Packed into 530 acres is a surprising amount of various antelope species and many different birds. Gardeners and others curious about South Africa flora will enjoy a stroll through the indigenous plant garden.

Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park

Hit the Otter Trail—if you can get a reservation: it's booked months in advance. But there are other trails you can follow to explore this renowned park. The park is 60 km long and covers the coastal terrain from 30 miles off the coast, up the sea cliffs, on up to the edge of the coastal plateau. This area of South Africa gets a lot of rainfall, and the terrain is cut with ravines and waterfalls supporting lush plantlife. Expect to see baboons, antelope, many beautiful birds. And if you bring along a snorkel to explore the tidal pools, this park really opens up. . .


Route: From Storms River Mouth to the Grootrivier Mouth in the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park.
Length & Duration: 48 km 4 and a half days
Accommodation & equipment: Huts are simple wooden structures. Toilet facilities, bunks, mattresses, and fireplaces are provided. Hikers must provide their own food, cooking utensils, camp stoves, sleeping bags, and first-aid equipment.
Max. Trail Capacity: 12

Route: From Nature's Valley to Storms River Bridge. (However, it is possible to start and end at various other points for hikes of 2 to 5 days).
Length & Duration: 72 km 5 days
Accommodation & equipment: Huts equipped with bunks and mattresses. Hikers must provide their own food, sleeping bags, lighting, stoves, cooking utensils, and first-aid equipment. Rivers may be dangerous during rain storms.

Bushpig, Ferntree, Blue Duiker, The Mouth, Loerie
Route: various in Tsitsikamma Forest and Coastal National Park
Length & Duration: Approximately 30 min each
Accommodation & equipment: No facilities available.
Max. Trail Capacity: No restriction

Near Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is a busy shipping center and auto manufacturing center. Not so interesting in town. But venture a little out, and find true GORP happiness. Practically within the metropolitan borders, the Groendal Wilderness preserves 61,775 acres of pristine habitat. Addo Elephant National Park, a mere 43 miles away, is home to a couple hundred elephants stomping around on a mere 30,000 acres, chowing down on lush stands of pink-flowered spekboom. This park is a sure bet if you want to see elephants. For those who want a more sybartic experience, consider staying at the Shamwari Game Reserve , a private reserve near Addo and committed to refurbishing the same habitat. It provides luxury that is not under-priced, but hey, it's for a good cause.

And there are some great hikes—one, called the Shipwreck, featuring beach camping—and even a canoe trail, nearby. . .

Route: Circular route from Alexandria Forest Station across a section of Woody Cape Nature Reserve.
Length & Duration: 35 km 2 days
Accommodation & equipment: Huts equipped with bunks at starting and overnight points. Hikers must provide their own food and other equipment required for the hike.
Max. Trail Capacity: 12

Route: From Isidenge State Forest to Kologha.
Length & Duration: 35 km 2 days
Accommodation & equipment: Hut is equipped with bunks and mattresses. Hikers must provide their own food, sleeping bags, lighting, stoves, cooking utensils, and first-aid equipment.
Max. Trail Capacity: 30

Route: From Pirie Forest to Evelyn Valley.
Length & Duration: 114 km 6 days 2, 3, 4, and 5 day hikes possible
Accommodation & equipment: Huts equipped with bunks and mattresses.
Max. Trail Capacity: 30

The Shipwreck
Route: Fish River to Tyolomnqa River or to East London.
Length & Duration: 53 km 3 days
Accommodation & equipment: Hikers must camp on beach and must provide their own food and equipment.
Max. Trail Capacity: Not established

Double Drift
Route: Double Drift to Grootdraai camp or back to Double Drift.
Length & Duration: approximately 37 km 2 days or 54 km 3days
Accommodation & equipment: Hikers camp en route. Hikers must provide their own food and equipment.
Max. Trail Capacity: Not established

Route: 25 km from Port Elizabeth. Circular route in the Island State Forest.
Length & Duration: 16 km
Accommodation & equipment: No facilities available.
Max. Trail Capacity: No restriction

Kowie River Canoe Trail
Route: Circular route in the Waters Meeting Nature Reserve in the Bathurst State Forest near Bathurst.
Length & Duration: 12 km Approximately 3 hours
Accommodation & equipment: Overnight camp provided with a thatched eating shelter, toilets, braai places, and fresh water. Hikers must provide their own tents. Canoes are supplied.
Max. Trail Capacity: 12 persons i.e. 6 two-person canoes

Route: Eastern Cape Keiskammahoek Mountains. Pirie Forest.
Length & Duration: 9 km 4 hours
Accommodation & equipment: Information at Kiosk.
Max. Trail Capacity: No restriction

Mountain Zebra National Park

A highland desert park, set aside for—you guessed it—zebras. Mountain Zebra Trail climbs the slopes of the magnificent Bankberg on the second day.

Mountain Zebra Trail
Route: Circular Route in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock.
Length & Duration: 25 km 3 days
Accommodation & equipment: The hut is equipped with bunks, a shower and toilet facilities. Hikers must provide their own food, first-aid equipment, and sleeping bags.
Max. Trail Capacity: 12

Special thanks to the South African Tourist Board (SATOUR) for helping GORP develop South Africa park & hiking trails information.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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