Eastern Cape has many a wildlife adventure to offer to those looking for something less tame on their holiday. (Photo: iStock)
Eastern Cape has a lot to live up to for being known as the 'Adventure Province', but when you take a look at all the wildlife adventures you can have from the stomping grounds in Addo to the blue and green of the Wild Coast, it's hard to argue otherwise.
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The province has managed - through concerted effort from communities, conservation agencies and hospitality businesses - to maintain and protect their wildlife populations throughout the decades, even bringing some populations back from the brink of annihilation.
If you're taking a sho't left through the province, be sure to add one of these wild spots to your itinerary or risk having a buffalo giving you serious side-eye when you fly past on the N2.
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Addo Elephant National Park
The best place to see nature's giants, Addo Elephant National Park is probably the most famous park in Eastern Cape. Once these elephant herds were viewed as 'pests' that needed to be exterminated, but when the park was established to protect the remaining 11 elephants, it led to what the park is now today - one of the foremost elephant destinations in the world.
Besides its animals, the park also has archaeological sites of importance, like the cave paintings in Zuurberg Mountains, where the new Doringnek five-hour hiking trail has been established, enabling travellers to explore and see more of the rolling hills, mountains and four of Addo's five biomes.
SEE: New Addo hiking trail your latest reason to plan an Eastern Cape adventure
Tracking cheetahs in Mountain Zebra National Park
Mountain Zebra National Park may have been originally created as a conservation area for the once-almost-extinct Cape Mountain Zebra, but it also has one of the most exciting game walks you can take in South Africa. Instead of heading to an interaction centre that keeps these long-range animals in small compounds, you can get up close to a cheetah in the wild on-foot - an experience that surpasses even the most riveting game drives.
You can also just enjoy a scenic walk through other parts of the park where cheetahs don't roam - still accompanied by an armed ranger - but this doesn't mean that it's any less exciting. You can either walk to the park's rock art paintings, or you can check out the massive boulder that rolled down the hill many years ago.
SEE: Eastern Cape Escape: Track cheetahs on foot in Mountain Zebra National Park
Inzolo Private Game Lodge
Nestled in the heart of the Eastern Cape bush, the boutique valley-facing lodge offers a unique and exceptional experience for all. The lodge brings to life a distinct sense of luxury as well as allowing visitors to truly surround themselves in serenity while overlooking expansive rolling hills where the Big Five roams in unspoilt nature.
Inzolo has successfully launched two special conservation initiatives – the interactive Buffalo breeding project and the protection of the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra. Guests are invited to help dart the buffalo to allow the conservation team to test for TB and other related diseases, making for a truly different wild experience.
SEE: Why you should add the Old Rectory and Inzolo Game Lodge to your next Eastern Cape road trip
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
'Kwandwe' means 'place of the blue crane' in Xhosa, and this quaint pristine wilderness area is just a stone's throw away from Grahamstown. A luxury private game reserve, it's a Big Five destination where you can also spot other endangered species like the Knysna woodpecker, Cape grysbok, black wildebeest, crowned eagle and of course its namesake - the blue crane.
The reserve is also quite exclusive, with only a maximum of 52 guests at a time, giving Kwandwe one of the highest land-to-guest ratios in the country. You can even request a dedicated specialist ranger with a private vehicle to escort you through the reserve for an intimate experience with the animals.
SEE: Samara: A secluded Eastern Cape escape
Great Fish Reserve
Once frontier country, the Great Fish Reserve comprises of three smaller community reserves - Vosloo Kudu Reserve, Double Drift Kudu Reserve and Double Drift Nature Reserve - all nestled along the banks of one of the big rivers of South Africa. Besides the wildlife in the water, the small reserve is full of big game - including a large population of black rhino - and various panoramic viewpoints to check out.
The reserve also has hiking trails, San rock art sites and a variety of accommodation offers to suit everyone's pockets, and its relative obscurity means you won't have to contend with crowds like the bigger parks.
SEE: New Eastern Cape wildlife economy project to usher in 'new era of conservation'
Dwesa Nature Reserve
Coastal forests, meandering rivers and open grassland create a birdwatcher's paradise in the central parts of the Wild Coast. With the Mbashe River on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, you can hike through the reserve on the lookout for its 290 recorded bird species, which includes the Narina Togon and the mangrove kingfisher.
Its marine protected section is also vital for the replenishment of collapsed fish populations, and is quite far off the beaten path for isolated walks on its coastline. It has a variety of accommodation, from chalets to camping, although most of the reserve is very undeveloped.
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Mkambati Nature Reserve
Another birder's haven, Mkambati Nature Reserve offers some of the best Pondoland scenery on the Wild Coast between Port St Johns and Port Edward. Although a coastal reserve, large swaths of the reserve is covered by grasslands with patches of indigenous forests and swamps and the beautiful ravines and crystal pools carved out by the Msikaba and Mtentu rivers.
The grasslands are populated by the majestic grazing herbivores of South Africa - eland, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, blesbok and gemsbok - and some of the bird species to excite a keen watcher include Gurney's sugarbird, greater double collared sunbird, croaking cisticola and the yellow-throated longclaw.
SEE: Pondo Paradise: Explore the rugged coastlines of the Wild Coast
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