Affectionately known as the escapade Province, the Eastern Cape flourishes with family-friendly adventures and abundance of child-friendly hotels and accommodation providers – Southern Sun Hemingways in East London and Sun International Boardwalk hotel in Port Elizabeth are some of such. With 800km of pristine coastline, authentic cultural experiences, battlefields, heritage trails, ancient rock art, over 40 game reserves, the Province is a wonderland of experiences for everyone.
Eastern Cape is a home to the Big Seven – great white shark, southern right whale, buffalo, lion, rhino, elephant and leopard. A trip to the Province is not whole without catching a glimpse of these animals in their indigenous environment. The character of the region is embodied in these majestic creatures, taking you back to untamed Africa in its purest form. Spanning both land and ocean, the Big Seven is an African marvel that continues to inspire and intrigue.
My family (wife and two kids) and I embarked on a six-day expedition to the Province. We entered the Province through Aliwal North, situated on the border between the Free State and Eastern Cape. It has spectacular scenery and is the centre of a prosperous farming community whose main products are wool, maize, wheat, beef and dairy.
Courtesy of Isuzu, we put the brand’s latest masterpiece – the MU-X seven-seater SUV – to test by driving all the way from Johannesburg to Eastern Cape. The car is very attractive with a robust character that defines the styling of the MU-X, which embodies the familiar DNA of the Isuzu brand. The Aluminium side-steps, 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass and LED rear combination lamps further enhance the MU-X’s dynamic appeal.
A 9-hour and 39-minute drive from Johannesburg to East London proved that the Isuzu MU-X simply doesn’t know when to quit. As for the ride and handling, the MU-X simply devours bad roads – thanks to its fat tyres and a fully independent suspension all round. The car was able to absorb potholes and road imperfections with absolute ease.
The MU-X is powered by Isuzu’s proven 3.0-litre four-cylinder intercooled turbodiesel diesel engine that produces 130 kW of power and 380 Nm of torque. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission which has a sequential sport mode. An impressive three-tonne towing capacity makes it a great choice for towing trailers or caravans.
The interior of Isuzu’s new SUV offering matches practicality with comfort and luxury. The seven-seat configuration will appeal to both families and adventure-oriented buyers alike, thanks to the flexibility of the folding the centre and rear rows of seats. The electronic climate control system caters for front and rear occupants – the latter having access to their own cooling vents for added comfort.
A multi-function infotainment unit is a stand-out feature of the MU-X, boasting a nine-inch colour touchscreen display that provides access to the imbedded satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Front and rear USB slots are provided, in conjunction with an auxiliary iPod input and HDMI port.
The Isuzu MU-X 4WD is kitted with leather seats and the driver seat offers six-way electric adjustment. The leather-trimmed steering wheel has convenient fingertip controls for the audio and phone functions, as well as the cruise control.
Everyday convenience is provided by the keyless entry and start system, along with touch sensor opening and push-button locking functions on the door handles. As expected of a leisure-oriented SUV, a multitude of storage compartments are located throughout the cabin.
The Isuzu MU-X is packed with an extensive range of active safety features, including ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA). This is complemented by Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Hill Descent Control (HDC) which can be engaged in low-range 4×4 mode. A rear-facing camera aids reversing and parking via the nine-inch full colour display.
If you are looking for a powerful 7-seater SUV for your family with a dominant personality and off-roading abilities, as well as modern tech features, I’d recommend the Isuzu Mu-X.
On arrival, we checked-in at the Southern Sun Hemingways, a beautifully-appointed and luxurious four-star hotel, conveniently located on the Hemingways Casino complex grounds. Southern Sun Hemingways is widely regarded as the best family-friendly place to stay in East London and is currently rated as the top East London hotel on TripAdvisor.
The hotel is a great base from which to explore the gems of East London and surrounding Eastern Cape attractions. The architecture and decor of the hotel is inspired by the Key West home of Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway, with the sub-tropical ambience of a relaxed, yet sophisticated island lifestyle.
It offers guests first class East London accommodation in 108 luxurious rooms with en-suite bathrooms, as well as seven Suites and a Presidential Suite, which has a circular lounge area looking down the valley towards Nahoon and the Indian Ocean.
The hotel restaurant, Key Largo, overlooks the beautiful gardens and offers a superb dining experience with a wide variety of choices from the grill buffet or the a la carte menu. The restaurant offers unique cuisine and a flavourful blend of tastes dine in style with East London’s only live action grill buffet. Another eatery, Latitudes Restaurant, is situated between the hotel and the casino, has a family friendly menu with burgers, steaks and ribs and boasts a large selection of local and international drinks.
Guests can enjoy relaxed privacy while being in close proximity to restaurants, the Hemingways Casino, an indoor adventure centre, shopping complex consisting of 150 retail outlets, a cinema with 2D and 3D screens and a fully-equipped crèche on complex. The hotel swimming pool and fitness centre are ideal for guests who wish to simply relax, or maintain their fitness programme.
For extra convenience, free high-speed WiFi internet access is offered daily per room.
The sub-tropical styled hotel offers a unique island lifestyle break, right in the heart of South Africa. It also affords easy access to all the major highways, national roads and the airport.
A visit to Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve
Nestled along South Africa’s breathtaking Wild Coast, Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve is one of its own class Big Five Private Game Reserves with an emphasis on luxury and thoughtful detail. The reserve is situated in a prime, malaria free zone and offers many unique opportunities as it encompasses five different regional eco-systems and a tidal estuary.
We experienced true tranquillity at the reserve as we saw the abundance of wildlife from the open 4×4 vehicle. We were able to spot a variety of animals including antelopes, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, wildebeests, warthogs, springboks, impalas, gemsboks, kudus as well as lions at a close range.
Inkwenkwezi, which translates from Xhosa to mean “under the stars”, grew out of a dream of the Umtata born Stanton brothers, Graham and Keith. Graham and Keith hail from farming stock from the Umtata area and, after completing their schooling at Umtata High School, started a dairy business – distributing milk and supplying vegetables and produce to local traders.
Visitors to Inkwenkwezi are given the opportunity to enjoy a range of activities, including game drives, bird watching including the rarely sighted Stanley Bustard as well as Knysna Turaco and Kingfisher to mention only a few of the 276 bird species that has been recorded in the reserve. The guides have the knowledge and passion of the African Bush.
Quick facts about Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve
- The yellow-billed kite, one of the birds on Inkwenkwezi’s list of more than 280 species, undertakes the longest migration of all the big raptors, leaving our shores in May to fly north to Morocco and returning in September.
- White lions are not albinos; they get their pale colouring from a rare recessive gene.
- The wild pomegranate gets its common name from the taste of the nectar when you suck the bright orange tubular flowers.
- If you thought proteas grow only in the Western Cape, think again. Asugarbush protea also grows on a hill in the reserve against a view of the Indian Ocean.
- Ostriches have a great sense of humour: Stacey, the tame ostrich that likes to wander into Inkwenkwezi venues to check out the humans, once waltzed up the red carpet during a wedding ceremony and caused much hilarity by laying a very large egg at the precise moment the minister intoned the words about reproducing.
A visit to Areena Riverside Resort – day 3
We started the day at the Areena Riverside Resort with their popular quad-bike game drive which was fun and adventure for the whole family. The guide taught us how to drive the semi-automatic quads and took us on a guided game drive through the reserve. The speed of the quad-bike game drive is much like that of a vehicle-driven game drive. We drove at a steady pace and that allowed us to take in the scenery and see as many game species as possible.
Our route began with a 20-minute drive that led us up to the top of the scenic abseil site on a more advanced trail. We rode through picturesque hills rolling along an ancient river course along the less travelled section of the property. Once you leave the abseil site after appreciating its breath-taking views, you will navigate even rougher terrain and go through a bamboo forest.
We were lucky enough to meet Abby, the reserve’s famous giraffe. Abby is a hand reared male Giraffe who is comfortable having humans at close proximity. He has free reign of the 350ha property that is Areena’s Private Game Reserve and of course being a rather large creature that is designed to eat off trees. He and his herd of female giraffe roam freely over a large distance browsing on a variety of trees, shrubs and bushes.
We were able to feed him and in return got his sloppy kisses.
We ended the day at the Nahoon beach where we swam and built sand castles. Nahoon beach is a surfer’s and swimmer’s paradise, and is arguably East London’s most popular beach. It is about kilometres of uncrowded and unpolluted sand and sea that produces some of the best waves, particularly at the famous Nahoon reef where surfing can be fairly tough, hence its having served as a venue for many of the national surfing competitions.
The Nahoon River mouth is not only a favourite haunt amongst fishermen and safe swimming for those a little afraid of the pounding surf, but it also provides access upstream at low tide.
A trip to Port Elizabeth – day 4
The following morning, we had a breakfast at Southern Sun Hemingways’ Key Largo restaurant, checked out and hit the road for Port Elizabeth. The city lies on the shores of Algoa Bay, which is home to some of the most modern harbour facilities in the country. This coastal access has made the region the epicentre of the motoring industry in the country, with many international brands having production facilities in the area.
We checked in at Sun International Boardwalk hotel – a prime location overlooking the swimming-friendly Indian Ocean. The Boardwalk offers fantastic family holiday accommodation in Summerstrand. Besides being a luxury beachfront hotel, The Boardwalk is also an exciting entertainment venue, and offers visitors a wide range of activities for everyone in the family to enjoy, from restaurants and bars to arcade games and an exciting casino.
The hotel captures the grace and detail of Victorian architecture whilst incorporating every modern convenience. The result is a refreshing blend of refinement and urban vogue set against the azure backdrop of the Indian Ocean. Boasting 140 sea-facing guestrooms with an average room size of 39m², the hotel’s unique variety of accommodation options satisfy every requirement and offer modern conveniences such as plasma screen TVs, luxurious beds, mini bars and bijou balconies.
The Hotel provides a luxurious experience of health and wellness. This luxurious spa complex was designed to ensure your utmost relaxation and rejuvenation. The facility incorporates an indoor heated pool, fitness centre, herb garden, steam rooms and private treatment rooms. Guests may choose from a wide selection of beauty, wellness and massage treatments with all guaranteed to enhance your overall enjoyment of your visit to this prestigious hotel.
The five-star Boardwalk Hotel is the most exciting leisure attraction in the Eastern Cape, offering 24-hour entertainment and superior conference space. The hotel is situated close to the famous Boardwalk and Resort Complex, and as a result, there is great entertainment which is at the foot of the Hotel’s doorstep.
Being known as “the friendly city”, Port Elizabeth has and has something for everyone. There is a broad range of water activities available for those travellers who love the water, such as; swimming, boating, whale & dolphin watching and marine safaris. All visitors can also be confident of a warm welcome when visiting the various restaurants and other attractions that the city has to offer.
Afternoon ice skating at Baywest Mall
After refreshing at the at Sun International Boardwalk hotel, the kids were eager to have some fun so the Baywest Mall’s Ice Skating Rink was a better option. The last time Port Elizabeth had a permanent ice rink was in the 1990s, with the Jadene Ice Rink at the old tramways building near the harbour entrance.
The Baywest ice rink is “North American-sized”, measuring 27m x 54m – the standard size for South African ice rinks. The skating academy consists of an eight-week course, were skaters are taught how to skate.
With CCTV and one side of the rink consisting of sheer glass, the chances for anti-social or bad behaviour are absolutely minimal.
Special discount rates are available to schools, party groups and other ice hockey sports teams. Social skating sessions last from 10am to 5pm and from 7.30pm to 11pm. The time 5pm to 7.30pm is normally set aside for sports and the skating academy.
Parents are able to drop off their children at the rink while they explore the Baywest shops and restaurants, safe in the knowledge that the rink is a safe and secure environment for their kids.
Dinner at Blue Waters Café
We ended the day at Blue Waters Café for dinner. The restaurant is situated on the shores of Port Elizabeth’s pristine coastline. With clear views of the harbour, the famous Pier as well as the most popular beaches Port Elizabeth has to offer, Blue Waters Café is undoubtedly one of the best-situated restaurants along the beachfront.
The food is a pleasant variety of meat, seafood, salads and snacks, but with unique twists that make each dish delicious and a cut above the rest. Dishes range from fresh foccaccia to Crayfish Thermidor and everything in-between.
We had a two-course meal and for main, we had grilled rump and sirloin steaks topped with tempura onion rings; prawn tails and chicken strips dish (curry) that comes with carrots and green peppers in a mild curry sauce on a bed of rice; as well as kiddies burger with grilled chicken fillet and chips.
For deserts, we shared yummy full cream vanilla ice-cream topped with a Lindt chocolate sauce; and Phyllo parcels filled with Lindt chocolate, finished with berry ice cream and mixed berry compote.
Service was the best and the waitress frequently checked on us, making sure that we were still fine. We were also impressed by the environment, as well as the immaculately laid structure which enabled us to enjoy our meals while watching the ocean waves and activities at the same time. The dining area is very open and is surrounded by glass panels, enabling the best possible views to accompany fabulous flavours. Alternatively, there is an outdoor section for hot summer days.
Ocean safari at Raggy Charters – day 5
The following morning after breakfast at Kiplings Brasserie Restaurant situated within the Sun International’s Boardwalk hotel, we left for ocean safari with Raggy Charters’ team where kids were excited to see whales, dolphins and penguins.
The tour began at the Algoa Bay Yacht Club, in the PE harbour, at 8:30am. We were taken on a catamaran to St. Croix Island to see the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. We watched penguins and different kind of birds slipping and sliding as they got in and out of the water. The kids were very pleased to see African penguins, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, humpback dolphins, whales, penguins and various species of pelagic birds including Terns, Petrels, Skuas, Shearwaters and Albatrosses.
Now endangered, the Algoa Bay lost about 70 percent of African penguins in 10 years, and could become rapidly extinct without intervention. Raggy Charters has been assisting Dr Lorien Pichegru since 2008, with her vital research to help explain and reverse this trend. This research has been aiming to explain the dramatic decline in numbers and reverse the trend.
St Croix Island is the largest of 3 islands located in Algoa Bay, some 3.9km from the shore of Port Elizabeth. The 12ha Island is rocky with very little vegetation. Two old stone buildings are still remaining, used in the past by guano collectors and currently as shelter by researchers. A wooden cross replica can be seen, to remind us that the island was found by Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, who planted one on the island which he called “Santa Cruz” (Saint Cross, Saint Croix) island. The rocky island also inspired the explorer to call the bay, “the bay of the Rock”, which later became the “bay lagune” in Portuguese as “Bahia de Lagoa”, to eventually become the “Algoa Bay” we know today.
Raggy Charters is a licensed boat-based whale watching permit holder and now also has a permit for shark cage diving in Port Elizabeth. The most amazing marine life can be found in the Algoa Bay, also known as the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World – this was an initiative of Raggy Charters in 2016.
Raggy Charters undertakes regular beach clean-ups in the Port Elizabeth area and has started an initiative to offset the carbon footprint by planting one indigenous tree for every boat cruise they do. Funds generated from whale watching boat cruises, African penguin boat cruises and other marine eco-tours with Raggy Charters are used to fund the Baywatch Project and the Penguin Research Fund.
Addo Elephant National Park – day 6
On the sixth day, we drove off to Addo Elephant National Park and the kids were excited to get close and personal with elephants and other animals. The park is a magnificently diverse and offers a wide variety of game viewing, outdoor adventure, accommodation and cultural experiences. The park includes Bird Island and St. Croix Island in Algoa Bay and is home to the Big 7 – Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard, Humpback Whale and Great White Shark.
Now the third largest national park in South Africa, Addo Elephant National Park has expanded to conserve a wide diversity of biodiversity, landscapes, fauna and flora. Stretching from the semi-arid karoo area in the north around Darlington Dam, over the rugged Zuurberg Mountains, through the Sundays River valley and south to the coast between Sundays River mouth and Bushman’s river mouth, Addo covers about 180 000 hectares (444 700 acres) and includes the Bird and St Croix Island groups.
The Park is situated in a malaria free area just one hour’s drive from the coastal city of Port Elizabeth. You will be amazed at the variety of natural landscapes and wildlife species that can be experienced in one easily accessible destination. Whether you are looking for luxury, comfortable family accommodation, or rustic settings, you are sure to find what your heart desires in the main rest camp, in the rugged Zuurberg section of the park, or in one of the concession sites.
Addo’s Main Game Area and Colchester Section are the regions that most people think about when envisioning the park. Together they are roughly 24000 hectares and the self-drive route is also doable in a sedan and will help you see the best big animals in the park.
Addo Elephant National Park is managed by South African National Parks (SANParks), a public entity under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Affairs. SANParks manages a system of 19 functional national parks in seven of the nine Provinces of South Africa with a total area of just over 4 million hectares comprising 67% of the protected areas under state management. Today, SANParks is recognised as a world leader in conservation and protected area management. In the last two decades, seven new national parks have been established, totalling over 700 000 hectares, with much of this being in the under conserved biomes such as the Succulent Karoo and Fynbos.
Dinner at Company Social Brasserie
We ended our journey at the upmarket Company Social Brasserie on 49 beach road humewood in Port Elizabeth where we had dinner. At the entrance, we were warmly greeted by one of the staff members who helped us find a table for the family. The service was excellent and environment impeccable.
The restaurant is beautifully laid out and diners can enjoy their meals while noticing soothing sounds of waves crashing on the beach.
For main, we had succulent rosemary charred lamb chops served with slow roasted baby onion, green peppercorn rubbed pork cutlets served with thyme infused apple compote, grilled leeks and sweet mustard sauce, as well as roasted red pepper and chicken pizza with bacon and feta, finished off with fresh basil and avocado. The thin base pizza was the best – you should try it one day you are in PE.
For dessert, we had Trio of artisanal ice cream and chocolate brownie served with rooibos and honey ice cream.
Company Social Brasserie delivered to our expectations and I have no doubt that the new menu the restaurant will be launching soon will not disappoint.
As the name suggests, Company Social Brasserie believes in the forgotten art of social dining. The restaurant believes sharing a meal leads to shared conversation, shared ideas and connections. It’s all about connecting perfect strangers to unique and unforgettable dining experiences. Sharing good food and good company is what it is all about.
The restaurant is run by individuals who are passionate about serving delicious and beautifully presented dishes, complimented by a relaxed and attentive service. Company Social Brasserie prides itself on serving fresh local produce. Their artisanal breads are sourced fresh from the neighbourhood bakery daily.