Destination Attractions,  Eastern Cape,  South Africa,  Travel

10 Hidden Gems in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa

The Eastern Cape, South Africa’s second-largest province, has some really fantastic destinations. In fact, you have probably never even heard of them. Nevertheless, from its long stretches of remote coastline and rolling green hills to numerous wildlife reserves, the hidden gems in the Eastern Cape make exploring this corner of South Africa truly rewarding.

Visiting historical forts and hippos at Double Drift Nature Reserve

Double Drift Nature Reserve, a hidden gem in the Eastern Cape

Double Drift Nature Reserve lies just 30km from the town of Alice. A part of the Great Fish River Reserve, it derives its name from a small island that divides the Great Fish River into two channels, creating two drifts. Unlike the grandeur of some larger reserves, Double Drift thrives in its tranquil allure, free from tourist crowds. Furthermore, the region’s historical significance is evident in the remnants of forts, testifying to past conflicts between the Xhosa and British settlers. Ancient rock art sites reveal the artistic expressions of the San people who once inhabited the area. Wildlife sightings, including Buffalo, Rhino, Kudu, and Hippo, can be viewed either with game vehicles or by foot on one of the hiking trails at Double Drift. The breathtaking Adam Krantz Viewpoint is another attraction that looks over the scenic gorge and river within the reserve.

Exploring the secret Bat’s Cave

Bats gave, a hidden gem near East London

Hidden within the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve in East London, Bat’s Cave is a true hidden gem. Reaching the cave involves a hike through dune forests and along the rocky shoreline. Perhaps this is one reason why the cave remains relatively unknown. After all, worthwhile things are seldom easy, right?
The cave is an incredible sight, featuring layers of rock in contrasting colors, resulting in a stunning formation. There is a beautiful, natural swimming pool in front of the cave that is ideal for a refreshing dip after your walk to the cave.

Climbing to great heights at Gaika’s Kop

Gaikas Kop, a hidden gem in Hogsback

Gaika’s Kop, a prominent mountain peak in South Africa’s Amathole Mountains near Hogsback, is a challenging yet rewarding hiking experience. Named after the Xhosa chief, Gaika, it stands at 1954 meters and has spectacular views of the village of Hogsback and its surrounding areas. The views both on the way up and from the top are equally impressive. Prepare to have the scenery blow you away!

Basking in tranquility at Matola Reserve

Matola Game Reserve, reached within a 20 minute drive from the town of Komga, is a truly unique and special private game reserve of the Eastern Cape. While it may not have the ‘Big Five,’ Matola’s advantage lies in the freedom for visitors to safely explore the reserve at their own leisure. In fact, I saw more animals in my time at Matola than I have in some bigger and more popular reserves in the region. Activities include hiking, bird watching, mountain biking, wildlife drives, and picnics. What really sets Matola apart, though, is their hospitality. The hosts are extremely welcoming and the service is always outstanding. Add to this the magnificent setting of their lodges, and you have a winner.

Interactions with a Giraffe at Areena’s hiking trails

Giraffe interaction in the Eastern Cape

Imagine going for a hike and your trail leader is none other than a giraffe! Undoubtedly, one of the highlights for any visitor to Areena is the chance to interact with the reserve’s hand-reared giraffe, Abby. Areena offers specific paid giraffe interaction experiences for those eager to get up close and personal. However, if you’re lucky, you may have a surprise encounter with Abby along one of Areena’s hiking trails. Although not guaranteed, often you will see this curious and gentle giant staying near hikers as they cross the reserve, providing visitors with a unique and memorable hiking experience.

Uncovering history at Cove Rock

Cove Rock, a historical hidden gem in the Eastern Cape

Cove Rock near East London is more than a natural wonder; it holds profound Xhosa historical significance. Believed to house water spirits, the rock is tied to Xhosa prophet Makhanda Nxele’s attempt to summon ancestors against colonial forces. His legendary leap between rock sections ended in surrender to the British. Today, ‘Silinde ukuza kukaNxele’ signifies the perpetual wait for Nxele’s return, encapsulating Cove Rock’s enduring impact on Xhosa history.

Finding shipwreck remnants at Bead Beach

Bead Beach is a notable feature located in Morgan Bay, a coastal town situated along the Wild Coast. Bead Beach got its name because of a cool story from the past. Valuable cargo, including beads and precious stones, ended up washing up on the beach. These beads are thought to have come from ships that sank in the area a really long time ago, maybe even hundreds of years ago. Visitors to Bead Beach can go on a unique treasure hunt, searching for these beads that have become scattered along the shoreline over time.

Learning about the endemic Umtiza Tree at Inkwenkwezi Reserve

The forest within Inkwenkwezi reserve is home to one of the last remaining populations of Umtiza trees. The Umtiza Tree, revered by the Xhosa people, has historical significance for protection and healing. The 1 hour walk through the forest showcases incredible traditional plant uses, from toxic sap for hunting arrows to water-capturing leaves. The forest also provides a habitat for various wildlife, including birds, insects, snakes, and the elusive Nyala antelope. Keep an eye out for the newly discovered Veniliodes species, a cycad eating moth, which relies on a cycad within the forest for survival.

Escaping to serenity at Storms River Village

Storms River Village, a hidden gem in the Eastern Cape

Storms River Village, part of South Africa’s Garden Route, is a charming town near Tsitsikamma National Park. Despite its small size, Storms River Village is a popular stopover for Garden Route travelers. It serves as a gateway to Tsitsikamma National Park, known for its forests and dramatic coastline. The village offers various accommodation options as well as outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking,

Stepping into the Past at Thomas River Historical Village

The Old Thomas River Historical Village, located between Stutterheim and Cathcart has a fascinating history dating back to 1801. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, Thomas River was a self-contained village. It had its own residents, general store, post office, church, and schoolhouse. Over a century later, the Sansom family has undertaken a restoration of this village, returning it to its original splendor. The village now also offers accommodations, historic buildings, a restaurant, and a wedding venue all conveniently located in one place. You can visit there and freely walk around these places and more, including the private library and museums featuring San rock art, historical wagons, and vintage cars.

These hidden gems in the Eastern Cape provide something for every type of traveller. Whether you’re into history, nature or simple tranquility, there’s something to captivate you. So, which hidden gems in the Eastern Cape are calling your name?

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