10 Picturesque Towns to Explore in the Eastern Cape

Posted on 20 February 2024 By Tsoku Maela

The Eastern Cape attracts travellers and adventurers with its splendid landscapes, rich history, and cultural nuances. Explore the unique towns in the Eastern Cape, and you’ll uncover many hidden gems. Each presents an unparalleled experience.

1. Coffee Bay

Coffee Bay - Towns to Explore in the Eastern Cape

Hole in the Wall is a spectacular natural landmark near to Coffee Bay, which is well worth the visit.

Nestled on the rugged Wild Coast, the enchanting town of Coffee Bay emerges. With a modest population of 258, this coastal gem brims with lore and legend. Yet, Coffee Bay transcends its history and scenic beauty. It evokes emotion, a captivating realm where nature’s magic and culture dance together.

Surfers find a sanctuary on its pristine beaches, riding some of the country’s most exhilarating waves. The scent of fresh seafood caught by local fishermen fills the air, hinting at culinary delights many only dream of. Whether you seek adventure, crave the coast’s soothing rhythms, or desire a soul-soothing retreat, Coffee Bay awaits. Here, each moment crafts a lasting memory.

ALSO READ: 10 quaint and quiet towns worth exploring in the Western Cape

2. Tsitsikamma

Tsitsikamma - Towns to Explore in the Eastern Cape

Tsitsikamma paints a mesmerizing canvas with green and blue hues. It nestles between the towering Tsitsikamma Mountains and the sea’s vast embrace. Its name, sourced from the ancient San language, fittingly translates to “place of abundant water.” As you explore its landscapes, you witness this beauty firsthand.

The Tsitsikamma Forest, the heart of the Eastern Cape, showcases nature’s wonders. Deep gorges, shimmering icy pools, and cascading waterfalls attest to nature’s craftsmanship within this protected conservation realm. This lush paradise nestles within the Eastern Cape’s twin jewels.

The Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park spans 75km of untouched coastline and enjoys a mild yearly climate. This climate, combined with the region’s allure, makes the Storms River and Tsitsikamma a refuge for the bold. Here, rugged trails lure adventurers and nature enthusiasts, inviting them to hike, wander, and immerse themselves in the coast’s untouched beauty. Tsitsikamma transcends a mere destination; it offers an experience that etches memories deep into the soul.

3. Cape Saint Francis

Towns to Explore in the Eastern Cape - Cape St. Francis

ED4JFW Evening light at the Seal Point Lighthouse in Cape St. Francis at the Garden Route, South Africa.

Perched on a striking headland, Cape St. Francis is more than just a village. It offers a serene coastal retreat, blending nature with architecture, and beckons surfers and nature lovers. Waves caress its pristine beaches, creating a visual spectacle and making it one of the region’s top surfing destinations.

The iconic Seal Point Lighthouse dominates the view, guiding and offering hope to past sailors with its beacon. Nearby, the Irma Booysen Floral Reserve bursts with colours, showcasing a wide variety of flora that highlights the region’s biodiversity.

Modern Cape St. Francis blends its historical essence with modern allure. Picturesque homes, with bold black roofs and clean white walls, decorate the village, symbolizing a marriage of tradition and modern design. Journeying towards Santareme and Port St. Francis, this aesthetic persists as dunes and fynbos shelter homes infused with Mediterranean and Tuscan architectural warmth.

4. Kareedouw

Towns to Explore in the Eastern Cape - Kareedouw

Somewhere between Kareedouw and Joubertina.

Nestled between the majestic Tsitsikamma and Zuuranys mountains, the quaint town of Kareedouw stands proudly. Many know it as the ‘Jewel of South Africa’, and its undeniable charm captivates all. It serves as the beating heart of administration for the Kou-Kamma Municipality in the Sarah Baartman District, showcasing the region’s rich historical and cultural fabric.

The town’s evocative name, taken from the Khoe phrase, illustrates pathways surrounded by the iconic Karee trees, highlighting Kareedouw’s profound bond with nature. Memories of the late Prime Minister John Vorster, who led South Africa from 1966 to 1978, linger, as he rests in the Dutch Reformed Church’s stone-walled memorial garden.

5. Patensie

Towns to Explore in the Eastern Cape - Patensie

Public open days at the Dragon Fruit Farm in Patensie often result in ‘panic picking’.

The charming town of Patensie sits nestled within the Sarah Baartman District Municipality. It strategically positions itself along the R331 road, just a whisper south of Noorshoek. The sprawling Kouga Dam, a few kilometres to the west, further enhances its charm. With an evocative name from the Khoi language that means “cattle resting place”, Patensie proudly showcases the region’s pastoral legacy.

Before one reaches the wild terrains of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness area, Patensie stands out, its identity intertwined with the imposing silhouette of the Cockscomb mountain that watches over it. The town pulses to the rhythm of the Citrus Industry, celebrating its fertile soils and hardworking community. Even as it faces the challenges of floods, the town’s resilient spirit shines. Fields, brimming with vegetables, chicory, and tobacco, extend beyond the citrus groves. Moreover, the introduction of game farming has transformed Patensie into a sought-after tourist destination.

6. Cradock

Towns to Explore in the Eastern Cape - Cradock

Cradock’s historic Victoria Manor hotel and the Dutch Reformed Church that mimics London’s
St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The town of Cradock graces the upper valley of the iconic Great Fish River. This town isn’t just a geographical landmark, situated a scenic 250-kilometre drive northeast of Port Elizabeth. It serves as the administrative heartbeat of the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality, nestled within the Chris Hani District.

The history of Cradock is steeped in tales of explorers and settlers. Established in 1813, this charming town was carved out beside the Great Fish River, offering a sanctuary for migratory farmers. They were lured by the allure of its rugged landscapes, complemented by fertile grazing lands, bounteous water supplies, and a climate that promised good health.

7. KwaMaqoma (Fort Beaufort)

Deeply rooted in history, the town previously called Fort Beaufort honours the 5th Duke of Beaufort, Henry Somerset, an ancestor of the Cape Governor, Lord Charles Somerset. But as times change, so do the stories of places. In 2023, the town adopted the name KwaMaqoma, celebrating the formidable Xhosa warrior chief, Maqoma.

The citrus-rich Katriver Valley serves as KwaMaqoma’s backdrop, recounting stories from 1822. The British marked their territory during this period, setting up a frontier post. They stayed until 1870, witnessing confrontations between the colonists under their rule and the steadfast Xhosa.

KwaMaqoma’s surroundings are a poetic masterpiece. The Katriver Valley displays a rich mosaic of rivers, untouched forests, cascading waterfalls, and ravines, all echoing stories from the past. These natural spectacles invite travellers to embark on invigorating hikes or leisurely walks, basking in nature’s glory. With the Kat River flowing nearby, the town sits protected by the grandeur of the Katberg and Amatola mountain ranges. Its charm deepens with its closeness to famed neighbours: the enchanting Hogsback, historic Grahamstown, and lively East London.

8. Kirkwood

Karoo Slaghuis in Kirkwood – a veritable church of biltong.

Tucked away by the winding Sundays River, Kirkwood is a treasured gem. The town beats with the pulse of the Sundays River Valley, echoing the river’s name. It shines brightly in the Sundays River Valley Municipality, part of the expansive Sarah Baartman District Municipality.

Often hailed as the Eastern Cape’s citrus crown, Kirkwood moves harmoniously with nature. From its high points, you can immerse in sweeping views of the lush valley. Tractors laden with sun-kissed oranges traverse the town streets and the local co-op hums with energy and excitement.

Beyond its citrus tales, Kirkwood tempts with relaxing activities. A 9-hole golf course invites enthusiasts, while an old-world gravel road leads to the village. Within, a timeless church stands, its yellowwood rafters, teak windows, and shining brass lamps recalling countless sacraments and resonating Kirkwood’s soul.

9. Hogsback

Perched high amidst the Amatola Mountains, Hogsback weaves a tapestry of magic and mystery. This quaint village invites one to wander through its fairy-kissed forests and take refreshing plunges under cascading waterfalls. When winter unfurls its blanket, the landscape transforms, offering the simple joy of crafting snow angels.

Hogsback, a sanctuary ensconced within the lofty Amatola range, is enveloped by the lush embrace of indigenous afromontane forests. This verdant cocoon casts a spell, offering a serenity that touches the very soul and breathes life into weary spirits. For the adventurous at heart, myriad trails beckon, guiding them through nature’s marvels – from cascading waterfalls to trees that have stood the test of time.

10. Nieu Bethesda

Nieu-Bethesda, with its thick growth of trees and the church spire poking through.

Nestled at the foothills of the Sneeuberge lies Nieu-Bethesda, a village steeped in history and charm. Just a scenic 50-kilometre journey north from Graaff Reinet transports you to this enclave that began its tale in 1875. Much like its Karoo siblings, it took root as a church town, cementing its place in the annals of local governance by 1886. The village’s name whispers tales from the Bible, symbolizing a “place of flowing water”.

Once, the rhythms of Nieu Bethesda were set by agriculture, with Angora goats and the iconic Karoo lamb. But as time flowed, the village transformed, with artistry becoming its new heartbeat. Today, its lanes are adorned with craft shops; its corners boast galleries and pottery studios that echo with creativity. But perhaps its most poignant artistic landmark is the mesmerizing “Owl House”, a testament to the late Helen Martins’ unique vision.

As you explore these towns in the Eastern Cape, each destination offers a chapter in a grand story to be cherished.

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ALSO READ: 5 hidden gems that you can visit in the Western Cape

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