The ultimate Eastern Cape road trip

Posted on 17 September 2022 By David Henning

South Africa is blessed with endless road trip options, from R62 through the Klein Karoo, to KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands meander and Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route. With breathtaking landscapes and quaint padstals dotted along these well-known routes, it’s easy to understand why South Africans love those areas of the country.

But for the more adventurous road trippers who like the exhilarating thrill of dodging Nguni cattle and livestock that freely roam the fields and streets, the long windy roads of the Eastern Cape will make for a road trip like no other.

Here is a little glimpse of what the province has on offer.

Leg 1: Graaff-Reinet and the Valley of Desolation

Why not start in the oldest town in the Eastern Cape and the fifth oldest in South Africa to get you acquainted with the province?

The Valley of Desolation lies just outside Graaff-Reinet. Picture: Sout African Tourism

Established in 1786, the town is a time capsule with its Victorian buildings and lime-washed walls. There are plenty of culinary options in the area and the surrounding Cambadoo mountains to explore. While passing this Karoo dorpie, be sure to visit the Valley of Desolation, 14km outside of town.

READ: Stoep sitting in Graaff-Reinet, a town on a mission

With dolerite columns rising 120m from the valley floor, against the backdrop of the Cambedoo mountains, The Cambedoo National Park is a destination in its self.

Leg 2: Graaff-Reinet to Addo National Park (214 km)

A comprehensive Eastern Cape road trip would not be complete without a stop at Addo National Park, only a 90-minute drive away. If you wanted to see elephants during your trip, then South Africa’s third-largest national park is the place to stop. Lodges and tented camps are some of the options for a stopover.

Addo started out with just 11 elephants. It now has around 700. There have been various translocations throughout the years, including moving bulls from Kruger to keep Addo’s elephant gene pool healthy. Picture: Getaway Gallery

Home to one of the densest populations of elephants in South Africa and other large mammals such as buffalo, leopard and rhino, the lodges and tented camps make it a convenient and adventurous stopover.

Leg 3: Addo National Park to Hogsback (287 km)

The next day will take you to the Amatola mountains, to a town that was once the home of renowned author, JR Tolkien. Some even say that the surrounding landscape is what inspired him to write ‘The Hobbit’. As wishful as this may be, it’s hard to argue against it once you’ve been there.

One of the cottages at The Edge Mountain Retreat in Hogsback. Picture: Getaway gallery

With pockets of indigenous Afro-montane forests and waterfalls scattered throughout the Amatola, no wonder the Amatola hiking trail is ranked as one of South Africa’s best and toughest trails

It will be difficult to leave this place, realising that you just found paradise. But to do this would be an injustice to the rest of the province, which will make you fall in love with it all over again.

Leg 4: Hogsback to Coffee Bay (378 km)

From one paradise to another, Coffee Bay is one of the most beloved villages along the Wild Coast and the perfect place to induct you into one of the most beautiful and whimsical regions of the country.

The iconic Hole in the Wall is always worthy of a visit. Image: SA Tourism

With a coastline scattered with villages, backpackers, and vibey places to pitch your tent, Coffee Bay is the perfect place to base yourself as you venture the Wild Coast to suit your own timeline.

There is also the option of a five-day wild coast hike, that takes you from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay, and takes you along a beautiful stretch of coastline and stops over at rural villages, where you are welcomed with a Xhosa dinner each evening, and into the cosy homes if its people.

Leg 5: Wild Coast to Tiffendell ski-resort (300 km)

A time will come when you have to leave the warm waters of the Wild Coast and set off to the Southern Drakensberg mountains on the edge of the province, and home to South Africa’s only ski resort.

Naude’s Nek pass is South Africa’s highest lying road, at 2596 m. Picture: Mark Pijper/ Flickr Commons

Getting to Tiffendell Ski resort will likely be the longest travel day of your Eastern Cape road trip, taking five to six hours, depending on where you are along the Wild Coast.

No to fret about the long travel day, the route will take you through the region of SANParks newest proposed national park, NE Cape Grasslands National Park.

Taking the scenic Naude’s Nek pass to get to Tiffendell, you can get a sneak peek of South Africa’s newest national park and take you through the country’s highest lying road, at 2596 metres above sea level.

If you manage to time your road trip for winter, you could find yourself skiing at Tiffindell Ski Resort, the only ski resort in South Africa.

Even though this entire route can be completed within a week, with a total driving time of 20 hours, it will be so much more rewarding to set aside some more time, with added flexibility. You never know which place will call out for you to stay longer!


Wild routes in the Eastern Cape: Rich experiences on a tight budget

Forgotten provinces: Eastern Cape


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