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Tuesday, 2nd April 2019

A water-lover’s guide to the Eastern Cape

With so many enticing destinations on offer, travellers have a difficult time deciding where to spend their precious vacation time. A tropical island? A vibrant city? A wildlife safari? The choices and combinations are endless, so we’ll skip the part where I tell you about the Eastern Cape’s many attractions: wildlife, city, cultural and coastal, and say straight out that this article is for those who can’t imagine planning their holiday without packing at least one piece of swimwear. It is an Eastern Cape guide for those who like to float in a rockpool, feel the cool breeze over water and thunder through the waves – this is a water-lover’s guide to the Eastern Cape…Just fly in to Port Elizabeth or East London and take off…into the blue.

The Eastern Cape is home to some 800km of pristine, unspoilt coastline and some of the best beaches in South Africa, if not the world. From the dramatic coastline of Tsitsikamma, through the surfers’ paradise of Kouga and the endless discoveries of the Addo and Sunshine Coast regions to the unfettered beauty of the Wild Coast, there is a stretch of sun, sand and sun-kissed sea for every traveller.  And that’s not counting the meandering rivers, pools and mountain streams of our inland regions – it’s always a good time for a rejuvenating dip.  Catch a wave, catch a tan, lounge in an azure rockpool; here are some of the most unforgettable oceanic locations to be explored anywhere along the coastline of South Africa…

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Let’s start along the incomparable Wild Coast, shall we? Dramatic coastal cliffs give way to wide meandering rivers and lagoons that open onto desolate, unspoiled beaches complete with awesome swimming spots, surfing, fishing, shipwrecks and, best of all, the greatest wildlife migration on the planet: the Sardine Run. The Wild Coast is dotted with classic, old-school resorts that combine both modern convenience and nostalgia for a slice of holiday bliss right on the beach. www.wildcoastholiday.co.za

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INSIDER TIP: If you’re visiting Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast, book a walk to the Mpuzi cliff and caves for secret pools, caverns and an adrenaline-inducing cliff jump into the Mpuzi River.

A little further down the coast, past East London, you’ll travel along Route 72, famously known as ‘The Sunshine Coast’ – and with good reason. The weather is superb, the beaches are more like bays and lagoons, the rock pools are practically magical, and the kitesurfing and fishing are superb. These are some of the best beaches for a secluded, sunshine holiday without sacrificing on action such as surfing, scuba-diving, stand-up paddling and lots more. www.route72.org

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INSIDER TIP: Make your way to Middle Beach, and Blue Pool, in Kenton for a special snorkel or swim in this famous rock pool. Best enjoyed at mid to low tide.

The waters of Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth/Algoa Bay) are next on our map. The scuba diving and marine life in the bay are outstanding and it’s even known as the ‘Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World’. You may be familiar with Port Elizabeth’s wonderful recreational beachfront - pier, public pools and summer-splash vibe, but a little-known treat is the ‘wild side’ of town. This stretch of coastline is dotted with tiny hamlets (Seaview, Kini Bay, Schoenmakerskop) joined by a nature reserve and a walk through this nature reserve, along the coast, is known as the Sacremento Trail. It will leave you breathless with endless vistas of curving inlets, pools and lush coastal fynbos. Take some time to stop here for a few days to simply stroll, swim and soak up the sunshine. www.nmbt.co.za

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Image: @FireflyAfrica

INSIDER TIP: Sardinia Bay is one of Nelson Mandela Bay’s best-kept secrets – a sweeping stretch of coastline with a sheltering rock ledge which creates beautiful blue lagoons that are perfect for swimming and snorkelling.

Next up is the glorious Kouga region, home to the famous surfers’ paradise of Jeffreys Bay, St Francis and Cape St Francis. The finest wide-hand break in the world, endless golden beaches, waves and warm water – this is a paradise for paddlers, standup paddlers and surfers alike. Immerse yourself in the surf culture, catch a tan and enjoy those perfectly summery Eastern Cape vibes. www.surfandsafari.co.za

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Image: @chappypix

INSIDER TIP: If your heart is set on a visit from our local dolphins, head to Dolphin Beach in Jeffrey’s Bay, Kouga, for a good chance of encountering our marine friends.

Finally, we cross into the Garden Route; a place where ocean, forest, Fynbos and mountains blend together to create a certain kind of South African paradise: Tsitsikamma. Snorkel or scuba dive Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Area or lounge and swim the lovely rockpools of Eersterivier – this is immersion in nature at its finest.  www.tsitsikamma.info

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INSIDER TIP: The bay at Storms River Mouth is home to a vast array of marine life and, when the water is clear and conditions right, visitors will often spot many smooth-hound sharks in the waters beneath the suspension bridge.

Catch a tan, catch a wave, swim, paddle, surf, snorkel, dive, float your way around the Eastern Cape.

If your travel plans are taking you away from the coast, don’t worry about a thing. The Fish River transects the arid Karoo Heartland and is excellent for paddling, white-water rafting and tubing. In the highlands of the Amathole Mountain Range, you’ll find mountain streams, waterfalls and rock pools cool and clear amongst the forest ferns.

INSIDER TIP: Wherever you are headed in the Eastern Cape, especially in our warmer months, pack a swimsuit as many of our accommodation establishments have swimming pools or farm dams to revive you after a day of exploring under the South African sun!

Awesome beaches, wonderful lagoons, magical rockpools and most excellent extreme adventures, cultural wonders and wonderful South African wildlife … where else would you rather be?

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