I had the privilege of visiting the Eastern Cape for four days this last week. It was the first time I was visiting this part of our country and I must say, I was thoroughly impressed! The Eastern Cape is an extension of the Garden Route and has an extraordinary variety of scenic beauty, ranging from the vast and arid Great Karoo to the Knysna Forest, to the fertile lands of the Little Karoo. The two main cities are Port Elizabeth (you can fly here from Durban, Johannesburg or Cape Town) and East London, with the historical town of Grahamstown situated inland.
The properties I visited include three different and unique areas of this province. We started by visiting 7 Worcester Street Luxury Guest house. This is a historic building that offers beautifully designed luxury suites and combines wonderfully with the history of the town. It is located in the heart of the historic educational city-town of Grahamstown, which was once a British Garrison and centre of British settlers in Southern Africa. To enforce our education of the area, we were privileged to meet Alan Weyer, a renowned historian and raconteur. He gave us a captivating tour and lecture on the history of the area, which was much more spectacular and comprehensive than any of my history lessons back in High School! I was completely captivated and thrilled to learn so much about our history of this unique country! Alan conducts these tours on a regular basis and I will convince anyone who is heading towards Grahamstown to embark on an insightful journey with Alan – it is truly unforgettable.
Heading north from Grahamstown towards Graaf Reinet, we finally arrived at the superb private game reserve called Samara. This is the largest private game reserve in the Eastern Cape with 70000 acres of malaria-free wilderness. It is simply amazing the vast plains you can see from the mountain tops of this newly established game reserve that seems untouched by man. The lodge itself is a true reflection of luxury and the service is also outstanding! There are countless activities, such as early morning and afternoon game drives, guided bush walks or cheetah tracking on foot, star gazing, picnics on the hill top with outstanding vistas, tennis and guided visits to the unique historical and paleontological sites created by the Khoi San. My favourite experiences were enjoying traditional Karoo Lamb, seeing the endless Plains of Camdeboo and tracking cheetah on foot!
Our next stop was further south to the well-known Addo Elephant Park. Here we stayed at River Bend Country Lodge and sadly due to the cold and rainy weather, not many elephants were to be seen on our trip, however I was rightly assured that it was due to the weather and if we had stayed a further 2 or 3 nights, we would’ve been blessed with many more elephant sightings! Our stay at River Bend was truly a great and personal one because the six of us stayed in the Long Hope Manor, not a far distance from the main lodge. This is their private ‘villa’ with only 3 rooms (accommodating 6 persons) complete with it’s own chef and private game ranger – well at least we felt like royalty and we were beautifully hosted for dinner by the Managers themselves, Marius and Lorraine. Our ranger and chef were also superb.
Finally we ended our stay at which is a Big 5 game reserve composing of 5000 ha. The lodge is small and intimate with only 7 suites and the service was great. This is another game reserve where you are able to ‘walk and stalk’ cheetah on foot and this was a true highlight. I will admit that the weather was pretty much okay for the majority of our trip, however on our last morning game drive at Blaauwbosch, we all were seriously freezing.
Our ranger was really great in that he organised warm blankets, hot water bottles and poncho’s for our game drive, however we still managed to get quite cold – it must have something to do with being in the Karoo! But our game drive was highlighted with us seeing 5 magnificent cheetah! After a lot of persuading, I was also able to get up close and personal with these beautiful animals on foot, which is something I will never forget. The pictures we took were simply amazing (some were taken by our game ranger, Warren, since he seemed to be the only confident one to get really close!).
I came to the conclusion that the Eastern Cape is a unique place – complete with South African history and the origination of the many cultures we see there today, and a big gaming area, which leaves the Kruger National Park to be reckoned with (and it is malaria-free)!