Covering all seven of South Africa’s biomes, it’s no wonder the Eastern Cape is teeming with fauna and flora. Private game reserves dot the province’s diverse landscape comprised of riverine forests, endless coastline and acacia woodland, granting easy access to the country’s natural treasures in a malaria-free environment.
With many reserves offering specialised activities for children, the little ones will never be bored, giving parents time to indulge in the soothing pastimes available at various lodgings. Avid birders flock to the area with some areas providing a home for over 400 different bird species including kingfishers, the African fish eagle and blue-cheeked bee-eaters. For water enthusiasts, there are boat cruises and canoeing trips available along the Kariega and Bushman’s Rivers.
Popular destinations in the Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape’s Addo Elephant Park is home to the Big 7 (the Big 5 and the southern right whale and great white shark) and one of the highest densities of elephants on the planet. Yet, most of the region, which extends all the way from the Zuurberg Mountains to the mouth of the Sundays River, lies untouched. Visitors are sure to be enthralled by this incredibly diverse Karoo landscape of succulents and shrubs, rolling plains, and subtropical forest brimming with a wild variety of fauna.
The Great Fish River is flanked by the illustrious Kwandwe Game Reserve. Under an hour away from the university town of Grahamstown, the breeze from the nearby Indian Ocean has turned Kwandwe’s south-facing slopes into fierce thickets of Euphorbia trees. In contrast, it’s north-facing slopes are blanketed in bushveld. The blue crane, South Africa’s national bird, along with all of the Big 5 find sanctuary here.
Shamwari Game Reserve allows visitors to indulge their penchant for wildlife thanks to close encounters with the Big 5, a variety of antelope, and a profusion of birdlife such as the white-fronted bee-eater. With five ecosystems, it is no wonder the reserve boasts such a stunning variety of fauna and flora. See, feel and smell the wild allure of South Africa with guided walks, following in the tracks of the elusive leopard and stout buffalo. ‘Shamwari’ means ‘friend’ in the Shona language and true to its name, this reserve creates a warm, welcoming and hospitable ambience for man and animal alike.
Just north of Port Elizabeth and on the doorstep of the Addo Elephant Park, visitors will find Amakhala Game Reserve. Patches of forest, robust Nama Karoo, dense thickets of valley, thorn-tree terrain, and sweeping grassland cover the area. The vegetation here is almost as compelling as the reserve’s wildlife inhabitants.
In the upper reaches of the Kariega Game Reserve, looking down at the hills and winding rivers below rests Kariega Game Reserve. Located along the picturesque Garden Route, the 10,000ha reserve stretches over wondrous African wilderness and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Visitors are treated to vistas of forest and savannah grassland, all in a malaria-free area a mere 10-minute drive from the coast.
7,500 hectares of riverine forest, acacia woodland, fynbos, and valley merge together to form the exquisite Lalibela Game Reserve. With five of the Eastern Cape’s seven biomes, Lalibela is able to sustain a wide variety of plant, animal, and bird life. Predator and prey roam freely proffering thrilling game-viewing opportunities when the two collide.
Lying in a particularly extraordinary setting comprised of sweeping grasslands and knots of forest, the Pumba Game Reserve is ironically not known for its warthogs (as Lion King fans will be sad to find out) - although they can often be seen with their snout to the ground, eagerly searching for roots, or trotting perkily amid the grassland, tails standing to attention. Instead, visitors flock to Pumba to see the rare white lion.
A natural extension of the beautiful Garden Route, the Sibuya Game Reserve is solely accessible by boat through the wide Kariega River. The journey starts at the river’s estuary where sightings of dolphins, whales, and turtles fade as the boat slowly meanders upriver. While the river’s waters are calm and quiet, stretching out towards the flat horizon, its banks most certainly are not. Bontebok and rare Oribi graze peacefully, only briefly lifting their heads to gaze at passers-by. African fish eagles soar above while otters paddle to their burrows.