Demand for wildlife experiences in the Eastern Cape is on the increase. South African Tourism reports that 2.5% more international tourists visited the Eastern Cape in 2016 compared with 2015, while the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency (ECPTA) reports that wildlife experiences are among the top-three activities sought by international visitors to the province in 2016.
One of the great attractions of the Eastern Cape is the availability of fantastic wildlife, adventure and beach experiences, all close to one another. And with 800km of untamed coastline and rich marine life offshore that includes 27 species of whales and dolphins, the Eastern Cape is hard to beat for those seeking diverse and thrilling experiences.
Nopasika Mxunyelwa, ECPTA’s Chief Marketing Officer, says 24% of international visitors to the province in 2016 sought out adventure experiences, 20.8% wanted beach experiences and 20.7% wildlife experiences.
Ease of access
Karien le Grand, Tourvest Destination Management Product Development Manager, says the company has seen growing demand for the inclusion of Big 5 game viewing experiences as part of a Garden Route itinerary. “Private game reserves and the Addo Elephant National Park are within easy reach of Port Elizabeth and East London airports, making it possible to add a wildlife experience either before or after visiting the Garden Route.”
Vernon Wait, Lalibela Game Reserve Marketing Director, says some nationalities have traditionally favoured the Eastern Cape as a game-viewing destination while others have not. “It cannot be ignored, however, that one of the reasons there are more visitors to the Eastern Cape has been the relative shortage of accommodation in areas like the Kruger and Sabi Sand.
Victoria Rodenacker, Market Manager for Spain, South America, Australia and New Zealand at Tourvest DMC agrees but adds that a wildlife experience in the Eastern Cape is easier to combine with a visit to Cape Town, cutting down on travel time and costs. Wait adds that the proximity to Cape Town can actually save a day on an itinerary, which is appealing in markets where vacation days are limited. And with direct flights to Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay, the Eastern Cape is the ideal safari-add on for a Cape Town stay, says Saskia Brown, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve Sales and Marketing Manager.
Hara Jackson, Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group Sales Manager, says driving the Garden Route from Cape Town is also very popular, with much less traffic and more exclusivity when it comes to wildlife sightings. Here the group operates the
five-star family-friendly Kuzuko Lodge, in a private section of the Addo Elephant National Park, with excellent facilities for the physically challenged. Three of the 24 luxurious chalets are wheelchair friendly.
Plett Air Safaris offers direct shuttle services to Kwandwe private airstrip, Shamwari and Mount Camdeboo (via Graaff-Reinet) private game reserves, making these easily accessible from Plettenberg Bay along the Garden Route.
Margie Whitehouse, SA Tourism’s Chief Marketing Officer, says the popularity of the Eastern Cape can be attributed to the wide range of nature and game reserves spread throughout the province – both government and privately owned.
Seven of South Africa’s eight plant biomes can be found in the Eastern Cape. “With five of these converging in the game-viewing areas of the province,” says Wait, “you find a vast variety of plant, animal and bird species, many not found elsewhere in South Africa.”
All seven biomes of the Eastern Cape’s birding route attract a wide variety of bird species.
Another attraction is the region’s renowned conservation efforts with many endangered wildlife species. “Visitors have the opportunity for a hands-on experience of conservation in action on many of the private reserves, including Kwandwe. And with the Eastern Cape being malaria free, it's perfect for family safaris and those not wanting to take to take malaria prophylactics,” says Brown.
See the Big 7
The Addo Elephant National Park is home to the Big 7, which includes the Big Five, plus Great White sharks and Southern Right whales. Addo, which is famous for its more than 600 elephants, is just a 30-minute drive from Port Elizabeth airport.
“Guests not only get the bush experience while visiting the park, but within a short drive have access to beautiful beaches and oceans as well,” says Fayroush Ludick, SANParks Frontier Region Communications Manager.
Visitors can book a Big 7 tour with Raggy Charters, which operates marine eco tours in the Port Elizabeth area, and go in search of the Southern Right whales and Great White sharks before visiting Addo in search of the Big 5. Raggy Tours also offers whale, dolphin and African penguin-watching marine tours off the Port Elizabeth coastline.
“Bush and beach packages are really popular, with Addo great for families with children,” says Anita Lennox, Manager of Cape St Francis Resort.
Combining wildlife with adventure
The Eastern Cape has an incredible variety of adventure activities that can be combined with a wildlife safari such as black-water tubing in the Storms River, bungee jumping at the Storms River Bridge, a canopy tour in the Tsitsikamma Forest, skydiving in Grahamstown, winter snow skiing (May to September) at Tiffindell or a game of golf at the St Francis Links at Cape St Francis.
Wildlife experiences can also be combined with visits to the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu and Mthatha, a visit to the Hole in the Wall on the Wild Coast, and sundowners at the Valley of Desolation near Graaff-Reinet.
The Eastern Cape’s private game reserves also offer a range of activities and adventures such as river cruising, spa treatments, cheetah tracking, family film making and volunteering.