MY EASTERN CAPE BUCKET LIST

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Monday, 4th March 2019

Copywriter and online brand manager, Janet Middleton, plans her Eastern Cape Bucket List for 2019.

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Ah, the Bucket List – the ultimate travel list, dream list, to-do list. No two bucket lists are the same. As an Eastern Cape native, I have been fortunate to explore many attractions and hidden gems of the province, but there’s one thing that becomes clear to me, the more I travel the region: there’s always more to explore. So, without further ado, here is my Bucket List for 2019 (and, yes, I know I probably won’t get to them all this year). All of this in one province of South Africa…

1. A WILD COAST MEANDER

When driving east along the coast from Nelson Mandela Bay, and as you approach Port Alfred, you’ll notice the subtle change of landscape: wide rivers pour out into the ocean androlling green hills replace the coastal Fynbos of the Garden Route. This is when I know that I am approaching the Wild Coast (which officially starts at East London). It’s a place of history, culture and incredible unspoiled beauty. The Wild Coast Meander is a hotel-to-hotel coastal hike along the wildest of wild coasts. It’s the slackpacking hiking option that really appeals to me: days spent hiking, paddling and enjoying the fresh air, and nights spent cosying up at one of the iconic old Wild Coast resorts. The most popular option is a five-night, six-day trail that would allow me to explore so much more, especially Xhosa culture from local guides, and immerse myself in the magnificent coastal landscape.

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Image: Wild Coast Holidays

2. FAT-BIKE THE SHORELINE OF ROUTE 72 ON THE SUNSHINE COAST

If you’re noticing a theme, it’s because I am a bit of a thalassophile (person who loves the ocean) and the opportunity to give my sand-weary feet a rest and explore the beach at cruising speed is just too appealing to pass up. The coastline along Route 72 is picturesque and offers riders kilometres of level(ish) sand on which to ride. Also, it’s not called the Sunshine Coast for nothing, and I expect to enjoy the salty breeze, spy dolphins in the surf and stop for a swim in any number of rock pools and inlets. Just pack me a lunch, point me in the right direction and I’ll see you this evening – that’s what the Eastern Cape is all about: exploring without an itinerary, drinking in the wild air and seeing what you see.   

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Image: Woodlands Cottages

3. CYCLING THE AFROMONTANE FOREST AROUND HOGSBACK

In addition to loving the ocean, I’ve also recently invested in a mountain bike. My reasoning is that my feet can carry me only so far and I want to explore more. A place that is simply made for mountain biking (and exploring) is the charming Amathole Mountain region and the forests around Hogsback. The Afromontane forest covers only 0.5% of our South African land area and is a subregion of the Afrotropical realm. For me, this is an opportunity to test my MTB skill on gravel roads, single and jeep track while enjoying the natural surroundings of forest, stream and mountain. Sigh, sheer joy.

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Image: Hogsback Adventures

4. OVERNIGHT ON A KAROO FARM

I once had dinner at a farmhouse outside Middelburg that had been beautifully restored to its former glory and included a gas-geyser, family-sized dining table and no electricity. On a winter’s evening, we sat around the table drinking red wine, eating lamb stew, chatting, laughing and storytelling by candlelight. As the evening wore on and the stars brightened, some of us headed outside to stargaze and take some photos. The sky was alive, the Milky Way glowing in the lack of electric light. Sadly, I didn’t spend the night, but I wish I had. To fall asleep to absolute Karoo silence, snuggled under a mohair blanket and wake to the fresh, misty morning would have been glorious. I can’t wait to return.

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Image: Janet Middleton

5. OVERNIGHT ON A RIVERBOAT ON THE SUNDAYS RIVER

Did you know that there is a coastal section of the Addo National Park? With the addition of whales and dolphins, the national park can now add Big Seven viewing to its already-impressive wildlife offering. The entrance to the oceanside section is just to the east of the Sundays River and it is on this meandering river that I’d like to spend a night or three. Picture this: an afternoon sandboarding on the Colchester dunes and paddling in the river, followed by sundowners on the deck, sleeping on a riverboat, gently lulled by the currents and a sunrise looking out across the bay towards Bird Island from atop the dunes. Sounds like my kind of breakaway.

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Image: Sundays River Adventures

6. LEARN TO SURF IN JEFFREY'S BAY

I have always wanted to learn to surf. If you live within an hour of one of the most legendary surf spots in the world – JBay – then that’s got to be on the old Bucket List, in my humble opinion. Needless to say, its been there for a few years! Jeffrey’s Bay first rose to worldwide recognition in Bruce Brown’s 1966 surf classic film, Endless Summer, and has remained on the surfing world-stage ever since. I’m not saying that I’ll take on the famed Supertubes, simply that, with its beautiful beaches, golden sunrises and warm water, JBay is a pretty good place to learn to surf and immerse myself in South African surf culture for a spell.  

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7. CAMP AT STORMS RIVER REST CAMP

There is a whole community of travellers in North America who live out of their vans, campers and tents, working online and travelling from national park to national park. Oh, the potential in South Africa! Just in the Eastern Cape alone, not even taking in the rest of the country! Top of my list is Storms River Mouth: waking up in a snug tent before heading down to the bay for a swim, brewing some coffee and taking it to a quiet spot along the trail. I could spend a week there, or a month. Camping is best done in summer for swimming, Winter if your kit is good enough, and you don’t mind the night-time chill. 

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And some additional ideas for your personal Bucket List that I have done and can highly recommend...

-        Bungy jump off Bloukrans Bridge (although I haven't tried their new zipline yet ;)) 

-        Wild fly fishing in Somerset East

-        Waterfall zipline in Tsitsikamma

-        Encounter a herd of elephants at Addo

-        A helicopter flip over the Valley of Desolation, Karoo

-        Sundowners on a Karoo game drive (or an Addo game drive) 

-        Sardine Run on the Wild Coast  

-        Build a snowman in Hogsback in winter

-        Sandboarding at Sundays River

-        Walk the coastal trails of Cape St. Francis

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