Wind your way through these Dorpies of the Eastern Cape

2018-09-22 10:30 - Ethan van Diemen
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(Photo: iStock)

From rolling hills and mountain peaks, elephant-filled national parks and picturesque coastlines and unspoilt beaches to Afromontane forests - the Eastern Cape offers travellers a virtually endless variety of experiences to enjoy.

The cities and towns of the Eastern Cape are also replete with amazing opportunity and experiences to be enjoyed.

It can be said with certainty that the Eastern Cape is one of South Africa’s most beautiful, adventure-filled and history-rich provinces. The average, relatively well-informed traveller is likely familiar with Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Port Alfred and other locations that see a fair amount of visitors - however, this is a guide to some of the places you’re likely not too familiar with.

So read on, start planning and get ready to wind your way through the dorpies of the Eastern Cape.

Storms River (Stormrivier)

Winding its way through the Tsitsikamma Mountain Range into the Indian Ocean, the powerful Storms River is a major attraction for thrill-seekers to the Eastern Cape. Those seeking an adventure in the Eastern Cape need look no further than Storms River for their adrenaline fix. The small town that shares a name with this mighty river is the perfect small dorpie from where to establish a beachhead as you embark on a number of adventure activities.  

Wild, crashing seas and precipitous cliffs, biking and kloof trails, a suspension bridge (with attendant bungee jump) and rushing white waters are just some of the sights to see in and around this small dorpie. 

Upon entering the dorpie you may not see it for the adventure hub that it is but make no mistake - this is peak eastern cape 'adventure province' turf.  

With its big oaks and gum trees and freshly cut lawns, this small town certainly does not immediately evoke mental imagery of a place associated with heart-thumping adventure - but that's exactly what it is. To the north is Storms River Peak, part of the Tsitsikamma Mountains. To the south and east lies the natural buffer zone of the indigenous afro-montane forests. The area is blessed with an abundance of regular rains that keep the area verdant, feed rivers and contour the area with ravines and gorges all of which make this dorpie the attraction that it is. 

Top things to do in Storms River:   

Kayaking

You can't check out the town of Storms River without getting onto the river for which it is named. Why not ease into it with a kayak or lilo along the shoreline and into the Storms River Mouth? Stretch, warm up and do whatever you need to do but be ready for some fun paddling action as you and whoever is with you navigate river pools and plunge down drops into the cool dark waters. Prepare to get wet and have a lot of fun. For more information and to book this experience, follow this link

Mountain-biking

 (Photo: iStock)

A great way to appreciate the beauty of the environment while moving through it at a pace is on the back of a mountain bike. Enjoy the scenic trip of a bike ride.

Ride along the Storms River Pass as you take this 22-kilometre trip through the area before the 5-kilometre descent to the river. This part of the route takes you through indigenous forest and offers adventurers amazing views of the gorge. The low-water bridge, the Old Storms River Bridge, makes for an excellent location to cool down and swim a while but be wary of the currents and use your best judgement.

After crossing the river, the route will take you out of the valley to the coastal plateau. From here visitors are afforded amazing views of the Tsitsikamma National Park and the Storms River Mouth. The return route circles back to the Storms River Pass and back to the village.

For more information, follow this link

Canopy tours

Take to the trees with a canopy tour that will see you zoom through the forests 30 metres above the ground. There is not too much that needs to be said about this activity. 

You get briefed, strapped in and then the fun is about ready to be had. If the idea of flying among ancient Knysna loeries and yellowwoods sounds like a winner then make sure you check out the action when visiting Storms River.  For more information, follow this link

Bungee jumping

You may have heard that South Africa is home to the world's highest commercial bridge bungee but you may not be aware that the Bloukrans Bridge is in the vicinity of Storms River. See, we aren't kidding when we say that the calm-looking place is the home to adventure in South Africa. 

At 216 metres, it can be quite a frightening experience but taking the leap is most certainly worth it for the rush and sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing you did the world's highest commercial bridge bungee. 

For more information, follow this link.

Hiking and walking

 (Photo: iStock)

Take a hike - literally and experience the magnificence of the area in what is likely the most intimate way possible. feel the leaves and soil crunch underfoot, breathe in the smells of indigenous forest and cool down under waterfalls or natural pools - it's all possible.

One of the best routes to take is a light 3-kilometre coastal trail that leads to a waterfall that gently cascades into a dark pool of fresh water that eventually drains into the sea. For something different, try one or all of the three trails in the Plaatbos Nature Reserve which range from five to eight kilometres in length. Entrance to the reserve is free of charge but visitors are expected to take a self-issue permit from the box at the gate. 

The waterfall trail, however, requires a conservation fee to be paid. For more information, follow this link

SEE: A hiker’s paradise: 5 must-do Eastern Cape hikes to suit all levels of fitness

Cradock

 (Photo: iStock)

Situated on the banks of the Great Fish River, the Karoo town of Cradock brings to mind the biblical metaphor of a flourishing tree planted by streams of water. Life in town, and on the many farms around Cradock, orbits around the river. The river creates a stream of life through the heart of the usually barren Karoo, allowing farmers to grow massive irrigation crops with high annual yields.

The terrain higher up from the Fish River is more mountainous and creates the perfect farming conditions for small livestock like angora goats and the now iconic Karoo lamb of the area. The mountains, with its many valleys, also make the area excellent for game farming and hunting - a business which has earned the area plenty of credit.

Apart from Cradock and the surrounds being an ideal farming location for all sorts of agriculture and animal husbandry, the townspeople and the town in itself also reflect the liveliness of the Great Fish River that flows through it.

Established farming ‘dynasties’ have been living in Cradock since its formation in 1814. These ‘famous’ families include the Michaus, the Jordaans, the Calatas and the Goniwes. The latter heroes’ family names are held in extremely high regard by the entire town, as Fort Calata and Matthew Goniwe were Struggle heroes who fought and achieved plenty for equality in South Africa. Their families are still actively involved in charities in Cradock and the wife of the late Goniwe is still a prominent and respected leader in the Cradock community.

Situated right in the heart of the Midlands Karoo, Cradock is a halfway stop for travellers from Johannesburg driving to the Sunshine Coast, as well as the Tsitsikamma, Garden Route and Cape Town via the scenic N2.

Top things to do in Cradock:

Schreiner Grave & Bookshop

(Photo: www.thegreatkaroo.com)

Olive Schreiner is Cradock's own literary icon, and every year a writers festival is held in her honour. Her grave is situated atop a mountain on a farm just outside of town, and the hike there is truly breathtaking. If you're after a slightly less active approach in exploring Cradock's history, you can rather opt to browse the well-stocked Scheiner bookshop, where you'll find plenty of canonical pieces and writing related to the Karoo.

For more information, follow this link

Cradock Four Memorial Sculpture

See a tangible memoir of the beginning of the end of Apartheid. The sculpture commemorates Cradock teachers Matthew Goniwe and Fort Calata, railway activist Sparrow Mkonto and activist Sicelo Mhlauli, who were murdered under the cruel regime. Goniwe's death was a turning point in the struggle as President PW Botha declared a State of Emergency on the day of the funeral of the Cradock Four. It was the beginning of the end; within five years, Nelson Mandela would walk free and lead the country to liberty.

For more information, follow this link

Mountain Zebra National Park

 (Photo: iStock)

This national park was originally proclaimed in 1937 to save the dwindling Cape mountain zebra population. Now, at over 28 000 hectares, the park boasts a conservation success story, protecting over 700 zebra as well as wildlife such as endangered black rhino and cheetah. For the best views and animal sightings, opt for a late afternoon drive through the park, and this is the best time to see the cheetah hunt, and the animals drink at the water holes.

For more information, follow this link

Jurie Lombard Water Mill

(Photo: www.thegreatkaroo.com)

Mr Jurie Lombaard of the farm 'Lombardsrus' donated this historical old watermill to be exhibited in town. His great-grandfather, Hendrik Petrus Lombard, bought the yellow wood with which the old mill was built. The wood was bought when the old Dutch Reformed Church was demolished in 1863, and the wooden cross was left over.

The mill was originally driven by water from a weir in the river which was channelled to the mill. The strength of the flow governed the speed of the grinding. The wheat was ground to an unsifted texture which could then be hand-sifted to flour.

For more information, follow this link

National Monument trees of Dundas street

Dundas street is one of the most beautiful Karoo streets in South Africa. The trees growing here, in the first street from the Great Fish River, is a declared national monument. These Quercus Ilex Oak trees were planted in 1850 and are said to be some of the oldest in the world.

SEE: Cradock: a real South African dorpie

Kenton-on-Sea

kenton on sea(Photo: iStock)

Many an inebriated Rhodes University student can be found by the waters of Kenton-on-Sea but there is more to this place than just a place to enjoy the sight of young men and women staggering across the sand.

This small dorpie on the Sunshine Coast is situated between the Bushmans and Kariega Rivers and is almost halfway between East London and Port Elizabeth. With a small population of just over 5000 people it certainly qualifies to be on this list of Eastern Cape dorpies.

Kenton is a relatively well-known holiday destination amongst well-to-do Eastern Cape locals offering visitors pristine (and often empty) beaches, a nature reserve along the shore and tumbling green hills.

There isn’t much to do in the town proper but if you’re willing to head out just a bit, you will find that there is plenty to see and do.

Top things to do in Kenton:

Walking and hiking

eastern cape, kenton on sea(Photo: iStock)

This isn't the place to go out looking for an extreme, technical hiking challenge that requires a lot of equipment and time. The hikes and walks here are much more geared towards those who seek to get out and explore the area along the shore. 

A good idea is to take a walk from the mouth of the Bushmans River across the koppies overlooking the bays all the way to the beach on the mouth of the Kariega. Try walking from either direction and you just might discover something completely new. 

Bike around

Once again, this is not the ideal place for those seeking an extreme day out on the trails. Read the Storms River section above if that's more your pace. 

That being said, there is more than enough space to ride around if you feel the need to put two wheels to asphalt. Take off in the direction of Grahamstown and put the pedal to the medal.  

For more information and for alternative routes, follow this link.

Get wet and enjoy some water sports

kenton on sea

The coastline in Kenton sure does get a lot of attention, and rightly so. With beaches having greet breaks for surfing or body board action, windy conditions and flat waters for kite-surfing and Middle Beach which offers the perfect conditions for some swimming - there is much to see and to be enjoyed along the coasts of Kenton.

Barkly East

 (Photo: iStock)

Nestled between the mountains of the southern Drakensberg area, between the villages of Elliot and Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape is one of the most overlooked dorpies in the country - Barkly East. If the name isn't ringing any bells, that's okay because this guide aims to change all of that. 

Lying at an elevation of more than 5800 feet or 1767 metres above sea level, it is one of the highest lying towns in the country. In no small part due to this elevation, the temperatures tend to drop to freezing in winter. Sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of South Africa, if there are reports that it is snowing anywhere in South Africa you can be sure that the powder and frost are falling in this bucolic little town. 

When it's not attracting tourists wanting to see the snow, the town is blessed with beautiful scenery such as green valleys and picturesque, rugged mountains. The mountain streams are rich with life such as Smallmouth yellowfish and Rainbow trout that you can try your hand at catching. When the season is right and the snows have melted, the valleys are coated in a beautiful carpet of wildflowers.

Top things to do in Barkly East:

Check out the Barkly East Museum

There is no better place to develop a greater understanding of the history of Barkly East than at the Barkly East Museum. Offering visitors a fascinating glimpse into the history of the area, its founding and hosting artefacts and objects of interest found in the area - this should be the first stop for visitors.

Originally built as a municipal office and a library in 1891, it was turned into a museum in 1971. Local items of interest were collected incrementally over the years and the collection grew to be the contemporary collection of articles, photographs, domestic items and items used in the sheep and cattle farming that is rife in this area. 

Moreover, the museum has an admirable collection of items that hark back to the Anglo Boer and First and Second World Wars as well as Xhosa weapons, beadwork and artwork.  

For more information, follow this link

Flyfish on the Barkly East town dam

This part of the southern Drakensberg is renowned for its excellent fly-fishing opportunities with over 200 kilometres of mountain rivers and streams filled all year around with a variety of fish just waiting to be snagged.

Rainbow trout, Smallmouth yellowfish and more are just some of the fish you're likely to encounter on a fishing excursion during the warmer summer months. Walking along these rivers and seeking out your next fishing location is also a great way to truly immerse yourself and experience the natural beauty of the area.

From stunning river gorges to rock paintings there is much to see here. While you wait for that tell-tale nibble on the line, make sure to keep two ears and an eye out for the over 230 bird species in the area. 

For more information, follow this link.  

Do some birdwatching

As mentioned above, this area has prolific birdlife with over 230 species of birds recorded. From the Bearded Vulture to the Drakensberg Rock-jumper and Bald Ibis to the Grey Crowned Crane - who knows which bird visitors might be so fortunate to stumble across.

So put on your hiking boots and get ready to climb to the top of the high mountain peaks to get a great view of the different species. Work on your birdcall identification skills, get a reference book or download an app, whatever you do get ready to be blown away by the sheer beauty of this part of the world and the life that calls it home.  For more information, follow this link.  

Build a snowman or play in the snow

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Depending on when you decide to visit Barkly East, there is a great chance that visitors will have the chance to enjoy snow in South Africa. Due in no small part due to its elevation, the town of Barkly East receives substantial snowfall when conditions are right.

This town, the Switzerland of South Africa, is almost guaranteed to see some of the white stuff during winter, which is one of the major draw cards to the area. So when you can, take to the mountains, build a snowman and enjoy some winter wonderland fun.