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TTake a slow ride through ‘frontier country’ in the heart of Eastern Cape province, from Port Elizabeth in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality to Grahamstown/Makhanda, and you will travel from exquisite dune fields, to a sunset gathering of elephants, to a feast in an olive grove outside an old Victorian railway village.
If you’re in a hurry to get from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown/Makhanda – called ‘frontier country’ because the area was literally the hotly contested frontier between European settlers and the indigenous Xhosa people for more than a century – you could get there in under 90 minutes. After all, the drive along the N2 is a mere 130km.
But let’s say you’re interested in the wildlife offerings of Eastern Cape, long lunches in olive groves, farm stalls offering all sorts of delicious delights, golden coastal dunes, and a round of golf in a little Victorian village in the mountains.
If any of the above catch your fancy, then the slow road between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown/Makhanda beckons: ‘the Wildlife Route’. But be warned: you might want to set aside a few days for this journey.
The first day is all about the Greater Addo Route, beginning at Colchester, a little town on the banks of the Sundays River. At sunset the massive dunes in the area glow gold. More than 200 species of birds, some small antelope and suricates like mongooses and meerkats call these dunes home.
Less than 15km north of Colchester, stop over at Nanaga Farm Stall for one of its legendary pies, along with a supply of pickles, cheeses, wine and breads to enjoy over the coming days.
Back on track, head to the Addo Elephant National Park, to book in at a chalet for the night. Drop your luggage, grab your camera bags and head off immediately for a late afternoon drive to the Hapoor Dam.
Elephants – scores of them – come to drink at the dam. You can sit and watch them in the evening light, as they splash water on themselves and each other, nudge their young to the fore and carry on like one big, happy family, completely oblivious to human watchers. Hapoor Dam is almost always an incredible elephant experience.
After an early morning game drive and a quick breakfast, you can leave the park and head back through Paterson, turning right to the village of Alicedale.
Pop in at Bushman Sands Country Estate for a quick round of golf on this Gary Player course – with its great views of the area’s hills and thickets.
For lunch, you might want to arrange a tour of the Springvale Olive Estate, just outside Alicedale.
First, you’ll tour the olive-processing facilities. Then you can buy some the naturally fermented olive products on sale and combine them with what’s left of your food haul from Nanaga, before sitting down to a memorable picnic among the groves. Burp.
Sleep over at the nearby Shamwari Game Reserve. If you who have the time, you might want to book a 2-day walking experience with the Shamwari Explorer Camp – in which you go on guided walks for about 4 hours a day and sleep in a mobile tented camp. This is probably the best way to learn about the bush, the birds and the history of the area.
After Shamwari, make the short 45km drive to Grahamstown/Makhanda, where you’ll find all manner of cultural, historical and literary encounters. See you on the road...
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Nanaga Farm Stall
Tel: +27 (0)41 468 0353
Addo Elephant National Park
Tel: +27 (0)42 233 8600
Bushman Sands Golf Lodge (River Hotels central reservations)
Tel: +27 (0)861 748 374
Springvale Olive Estate
Tel: +27 (0)83 256 6566
Shamwari Game Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)42 203 1111
How to get here
Take the N2 route from Port Elizabeth towards Grahamstown/Makhanda until Nanaga, then take the N10 to Paterson and turn left to Addo. After your visit to Addo, return to Paterson on the N10 and then take the turn-off to Alicedale shortly thereafter. From Alicedale it’s about 45km to Grahamstown/Makhanda.
Best time to visit
This route is a year-round option. Grahamstown/Makhanda lies in the middle of four biomes, so the weather varies constantly.
Around the area
Go on a hike through the Woody Cape Reserve near Colchester.
Tours to do
See the listed websites for historical, cultural or nature tours in the area.
It is advisable to hire a car in Port Elizabeth.
Length of stay
You should set aside at least 3 days for this route, but if you can take a week, you’ll get to see more of what’s on offer.
What to pack
Pack for the bush, pack seasonally (cool clothes in summer, from November to March, and warm clothes in winter, from May to August) and don’t forget that night jacket for the evening game drive and the hat and sunscreen for the daylight hours, no matter what the season.
Where to stay
There are many accommodation options along this route, including the Addo Elephant National Park, the Elephant House just outside the park and Shamwari (a 5-star game lodge) near Alicedale.
What to eat
Try the great pies at Nanaga Farm Stall.
The biggest events around here are the Kirkwood Game Festival and the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown/Makhanda – check the listed websites for details.
One of the many glossy books on the Addo Elephant National Park at the gift shop in the main camp.