Eastern Cape Province of South Africa

eastern cape province

Between the months of May and September, watch whales and dolphins play in the waters of the Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bhisho, but its two largest cities are Port Elizabeth and East London. It was formed in 1994 out of the Xhosa homelands of Transkei and Ciskei, together with the eastern portion of the Cape Province. Landing place and home of the 1820 settlers, the central and eastern part of the province is the traditional home of the Xhosa people.


The Eastern Cape as a South African Province came into existence in 1994 and incorporated areas from the former Xhosa homelands of the Transkei and Ciskei, together with what was previously part of the Cape Province. This resulted in several anomalies including the fact that the Province has four supreme courts (in Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Bhisho and Mthatha) and enclaves of KwaZulu-Natal in the province. The latter anomaly has fallen away with amendments to municipal and provincial boundaries. The province is also made of Mpondo clan, which primitively descended from Xhosa clan. Some of the Mpondo clan went to this province when they were running away from King Shaka’s war. Mpondo people are more closely related to Xhosa, as they use Xhosa as their main home language.

This region is the birthplace of many prominent South African politicians, such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Chris Hani, Thabo Mbeki, Steve Biko, Bantu Holomisa and Charles Coghlan.


The Eastern Cape gets progressively wetter from west to east. The west is mostly semi-arid Karoo, except in the far south, which is temperate rainforest in the Tsitsikamma region. The coast is generally rugged with interspersed beaches. Most of the province is hilly to very mountainous between Graaff-Reinet and Rhodes including the Sneeuberge, Stormberge, Winterberge and Drakensberg the highest point in the province is Ben Macdhui at 3001m. The east from East London and Queenstown towards the KwaZulu-Natal border. A region known previously as Transkei, is lush grassland on rolling hills, punctuated by deep gorges with intermittent forest.

Eastern Cape has a shoreline on its east which lines southward, creating shores leading to the South Indian Ocean. In the northeast, it borders the following districts of Lesotho:


Climate is highly varied. The west is dry with sparse rain during winter or summer, with frosty winters and hot summers. The area Tsitsikamma to Grahamstown receives more precipitation, which is also relatively evenly distributed and temperatures are mild. Further east, rainfall becomes more plentiful and humidity increases, becoming more subtropical along the coast with summer rainfall. The interior can become very cold in winter, with heavy snowfalls occasionally occurring in the mountainous regions between Molteno and Rhodes.

The Eastern Cape is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. This is largely due to the poverty found in the former homelands, where subsistence agriculture predominates.



There is much fertile land in the Eastern Cape, and agriculture remains important. The fertile Langkloof Valley in the southwest has enormous deciduous fruit orchards, while sheep farming predominates in the Karoo. The Alexandria-Grahamstown area produces pineapples, chicory and dairy products, while coffee and tea are cultivated at Magwa. People in the former Transkei region are dependent on cattle, maize and sorghum-farming. An olive nursery has been developed in collaboration with the University of Fort Hare to form a nucleus of olive production in the Eastern Cape.

Domestic stock farming is slowly giving way to game farming on large scale, fueled by the commercial benefits of eco-tourism and the lower risk needed to protect wild game against drought, the natural elements and poaching.

The basis of the province’s fishing industry is squid, some recreational and commercial fishing for line fish, the collection of marine resources, and access to line-catches of hake.


With three import/export harbours and three airports offering direct flights to the main centres, and an excellent road and rail infrastructure, the province has been earmarked as a key area for growth and economic development in modern South Africa.

The two major industrial centres, Port Elizabeth and East London have well-developed economies based on the automotive industry. General Motors and Volkswagen both have major assembly lines in the Port Elizabeth area, while East London is dominated by the large DaimlerChrysler plant, now known as Mercedes-Benz South Africa.

Environmental-friendly projects include the Fish River Spatial Development Initiative, the Wild Coast SDI, and two industrial development zones, the East London Industrial Development Zone and the Coega IDZ near Port Elizabeth. Coega is the largest infrastructure development in post-apartheid South Africa. The construction of the deepwater Port of Ngqura was completed and the first commercial ship anchored in October 2009. It is expected that this development will give the province a major economic boost.

Other important sectors include finance, real estate, business services, wholesale and retail trade, eco-tourism (nature reserves and game ranches) and hotels and restaurants.


The landscape is extremely diverse. The western interior is largely arid Karoo, while the east is well-watered and green. The Eastern Cape offers a wide array of attractions, including 800 km of untouched and pristine coastline along with some particularly splendid beaches, and “big-five” viewing in a malaria-free environment.

The Addo Elephant National Park, situated 73 km from Port Elizabeth, was proclaimed in 1931. Its 743 km² offers sanctuary to 170 elephants, 400 Cape buffalo and 21 black rhino of the very scarce Kenyan sub-species.

The province is the location of South Africa’s only Snow skiing resort, Tiffindell, which is situated near the hamlet of Rhodes in the Southern Drakensberg on the slopes of Ben Macdhui, the highest mountain peak in the Eastern Cape (3001 m).

The National Arts Festival, held annually in Grahamstown, is Africa’s largest and most colourful cultural event, offering a choice of the very best of both indigenous and imported talent. Every year for 11 days the town’s population almost doubles, as over 50,000 people flock to the region for a feast of arts, crafts and sheer entertainment.

The Tsitsikamma National Park is an 80 km long coastal strip between Nature’s Valley and the mouth of the Storms River. In the park the visitor finds an almost untouched natural landscape. Near the park is the Bloukrans Bridge and Bloukrans Bridge Bungy which is the world’s third highest bungee jump,

Jeffreys Bay is an area with some of the country’s wildest coastline, which is backed by some of Africa’s most spectacular sub-tropical rainforest. Famous for its “supertubes”, probably South Africa’s longest and most consistently good wave, it’s charged with a surf vibe as relaxed as it is friendly, and this tends to soften the effect of the wealthy set who have made this part of the coast their own.

Aliwal North, lying on a splendid agricultural plateau on the southern bank of the Orange River, is one of the country’s most popular inland resorts and is famous for its hot springs.

The rugged and unspoilt Wild Coast is a place of spectacular scenery, and a graveyard for many vessels.

Whittlesea, Eastern Cape, situated in the beautiful Amatola Mountains,is now famous for the first wine estate in the province.

16 Free things to do in the Eastern Cape

If you’re on a budget, plan your next holiday to the Eastern Cape around these awesome 16 free things to do.

Send a letter from South Africa’s oldest letterbox

Post a letter from South Africa’s oldest official letterbox that stands on St Andrew’s College corner in Grahamstown. Its fluted design is one of the earliest of 19 types to have been supplied to the British Post Office in the 1820s. Letters posted here receive a special frank.

Stare at a steeple in Grahamstown

Admire the Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Grahamstown’s High Street, built in the 1800s.

Take in the view from on Gunfire Hill

For views of the surrounding mountains, stop at the 1820 Settlers National Monument on Gunfire Hill, built to remember South Africa’s first English settlers.

Get lost in a maze in Hogsback

Some people walk around a labyrinth as a form of meditation, others for inspiration and for a few it’s a journey of spiritual discovery – for you it may just be an afternoon of fun. Hogsback Labyrinth at The Edge, reputed to be one of the largest of its kind, is similar in design to the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France. The walk to the centre and out again is roughly 1,4 kilometres.

Check out cars of old at the the St Croix Motor Museum

Visit the St Croix Motor Museum in Newton Park, Port Elizabeth, for an interesting display of vintage and classic cars dating back to the early 1900s.

Appreciate art at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum

Eastern Cape art is in the limelight at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth. Collections are housed in two buildings and also include South African, British and oriental art.

Spend the day at Van Staden’s Wild Flower Reserve

Bird-watching, biking, walking trails and picnics make for a fun family day out at Van Staden’s Wild Flower Reserve, about 40 kilometres outside Port Elizabeth on the N2 to Cape Town.

Hike the Donkin Heritage Trail

The Donkin Heritage Trail is an easy five-kilometre meander in the footsteps of the 1820 settlers, passing 47 historical sites in Port Elizabeth, including Donkin Lighthouse, Donkin Pyramid, the city market Square, City Hall and Fort Frederick. A map can be obtained from the tourist office located at the lighthouse.

Spot a special species at Settlers Park

Bird-watchers will enjoy the two-kilometre walk through Settlers Park. More than 100 bird species can be spotted, such as peregrine falcon, Knysna woodpecker and southern tchagra.

Surf St Francis Bay

Experienced surfers know that St Francis Bay offers some of the best waves in the country, so pick up a board and hightail it to the sea.

Go diving at Nelson Mandela Bay

For certified divers, there’s no shortage of great diving spots around Nelson Mandela Bay, one of which is Bell Buoy Reef just off Hobie Beach, with depths of up to 20 metres.

Get an introduction to scuba diving

If you’re not certified, but would like to give scuba diving a try, call Pro Dive. It offers free introductions to scuba diving in the safety of a swimming pool.

Visit a lighthouse in Port St Johns

In Port St Johns, admire the pretty stone Cape Hermes Lighthouse, named after the HMS Hermes, which keeps a watchful eye over the rocky bay.

Go shell spotting at Hazel Jeffries Shell Museum

Visit Hazel Jeffries Shell Museum in Kei Mouth to see hundreds of shells on display.

Watch out for whales in St Francis Bay

Between the months of May and September, watch whales and dolphins play in the waters of St Francis Bay.

Hike the Sacramento Trail

Hike the eight-kilometre Sacramento Trail that hugs the coast between Schoenmakerskop and Sardinia Bay. Gannets and dolphins can often be seen out at sea from the circular route.


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