Image: Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency

In June 2010 the world came to the Eastern Cape. Greece, South Korea, Germany, Uruguay, the Netherlands and Brazil and several other soccer teams from all over the world descended on Port Elizabeth. What made it possible for Port Elizabeth to host eight matches during the 2010 FIFA World Cup was the building of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (pictured).

In the decade that has passed since then, rugby test matches and international rugby tournaments have been played there and the stadium and stadium precinct have become popular as sites for events, music concerts and product launches. Built on the site of the Prince Alfred Park, the 42 000-seater stadium is quite rare in being between two bodies of water, the North End Lake and the Indian Ocean. Prince Alfred Park was one of three large city parks built in the second half of the 19th century.

St George’s Park, in the centre of town, is famous for hosting South Africa’s first cricket test match in 1889. In 2017 the ground was again a boundary-breaker when South Africa hosted Zimbabwe for the first-ever day-night test match. The innovative lighting system deployed for the match will also allow for greater flexibility in lighting music concerts with lighting programmes that can be tuned to musicians’ needs.

The lighting at St George’s Park includes theatrics. Image: Maritz Electrical.

The FIFA World Cup created a surge in the number of foreign visitors to the country. The Eastern Cape hosted 260 000 foreign visitors in that year. However, studies show that the province is not attracting as many foreign tourists as rival provinces. This is somewhat offset by findings that when foreign tourists do visit the Eastern Cape, they tend to stay for longer than they do when visiting most other provinces. An SA Tourism fact sheet in 2018 gave a figure of 16 nights as an average stay.

Image: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium

With regard to domestic tourism, the Eastern Cape’s 12.1% share of the pie is fairly close to the leader (17.2%) and it’s easy to see why. Unmatched beaches, the pristine Wild Coast and a wide variety of national parks and private game reserves make for a superb natural offering. Branding the province as the “Adventure Province” has helped in attracting bungy-jumpers, divers, abseilers and rock climbers.

The province’s growing events calendar is creating opportunities in the sector. Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) hosts the National Arts Festival every year. It is an 11-day extravaganza of art, music, film, lectures, craft fairs and workshops. More than 200 000 people attend the event to watch 2 000 performances in 90 venues. A study five years ago found the economic impact of the festival to be R349.9-million.

Hobie Beach in Port Elizabeth is the main venue of the Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship. Enthusiastic crowds line the route and the event boosts the local economy. The 2018 winner, Great Britain’s Lucy Charles-Barclay, defended her title in 2019 and earned a cheque for $30 000. Other popular events in Port Elizabeth include the Herald Cycle Tour and the Ocean Racing Series (a world championship).

Hotels, lodges and casinos

A new luxury hotel is being built in St Francis Bay. The 60-room St Francis Links Hotel by Mantis overlooks the dam on the golf course’s final hole and has views of the Indian Ocean and Kouga Mountains. The existing clubhouse of the St Francis Links Estate will provide facilities such as reception, restaurants and conferencing. St Francis Links is a regular award winner as a wedding venue and for its Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

The interior of the Eastern Cape is home to several high-end private game reserves such as Mount Camdeboo, Kariega Game Reserve and Shamwari, which recently announced a R370-million refurbishment programme.

Some luxury game lodges are located within national parks, such as the Gorah Elephant Camp, which is run by Hunter Hotels and forms part of the Addo Elephant National Park. Luxury brands sometimes create a chain for their customers, so visitors might stay at the boutique Summerstand Hotel in Port Elizabeth, No5 By Mantis, on their way to another Mantis property, the Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve.

South Africa’s large branded hotel groups have a strong presence in the Eastern Cape but there are also regionally focussed groups together with independent hotels and resorts such as East London’s Blue Lagoon Hotel and Conference Centre, located in a prime spot at the mouth of the Nahoon River.

Kat Leisure Group’s offering extends from the Kennaway Hotelon East London’s beachfront to the Queens Casino and Hotel in Queenstown and properties in the mountainous interior of Katberg and Hogsback.

Premier Hotels has two hotels in East London, the Mpanga Private Game Reserve and it manages the East London International Convention Centre. The Radisson Blu in Port Elizabeth offers five-star luxury overlooking Pollock Beach.

Tsogo Sun has five Eastern Cape properties. In East London the four-star Southern Sun Hemingways is next to the Hemingways Casino complex and the city has one Garden Court, as does Mthatha. Port Elizabeth has a Garden Court and a SUN1, both near Humewood Beach.

The Courtyard Hotel, City Lodge Hotel and Road Lodge are close to one another on Port Elizabeth’s beachfront and allow the group to cater to three distinct markets with a total of 442 rooms. East London has a Road Lodge.

Sun International runs the Wild Coast Sun and the five-star Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World in Port Elizabeth, which includes conference and events facilities.

The Eastern Cape: Yours to explore

The Eastern Cape uniquely caters to the whims of sun worshippers looking to bask in the regular sunshine, adventure-seekers looking for a thrill, nature-lovers looking to discover numerous wildlife, birdlife and plant species, as well as a solace for those looking to shut out the hassles of everyday life.

Everyone is able to find something that suits their needs here, from rugged beauty, a pristine coastline, premier surfing, to virgin bush and subtropical forests that exist as though untouched by time. This province is truly every explorer’s dream.

Rich heritage and culture

The Eastern Cape offers a unique cultural and heritage experience and is home to authentic Xhosa culture. It is the birth and the burial place of Nobel award-winning father of the nation, Nelson Mandela, and boasts the world-class Mandela Museum in Mthatha.

The Eastern Cape is positioned as the Adventure Province and offers a wide range of adventure activities, ranging from mild to wild. The province is also home to the highest commercial bungy jump in the world, the Bloukrans Bridge. It is Africa’s biggest bridge and stands proudly 216 m above the Bloukrans River.

The Eastern Cape has over 800 km of pristine coastline and is home to numerous Blue Flag beaches. The province is popular with international surfers and watersport enthusiasts and offers some of the best surfing spots in the world. The Wild Coast is a rustic, rugged and untouched stretch of coastline boasting amazing hiking trails, village experiences, cliffs and waterfalls.

The Eastern Cape is home to the Big 7 which comprises rhino, leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant, southern right whale and great white shark. The Eastern Cape offers you four national parks: Mount Camdeboo, Zebra National Park, Garden Route National Park and Addo Elephant National Park. The province is also home to various world-class private nature reserves offering unique beach and bush experiences.

The Eastern Cape is home to the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve. The nature reserve has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Baviaanskloof is just under 200 km in length and is bounded by two mountain ranges.

Access

  • 3 airports (Port Elizabeth, East London, Mthatha)
  • 2 ports (Port Elizabeth and East London)
  • Road access – national roads (N2 and N6)

Explore the Eastern Cape! Visit the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency (ECPTA) for more information: www.visiteasterncape.co.za