South Africa’s Eastern Cape province is dotted with many inland and coastal towns that offer natural beauty and scenic landscapes, abundant wildlife and exciting experiences.
The road trip along the N2 from Port Elizabeth to Port St Johns takes travellers on an inland trip, and via the Wild Coast, guaranteeing an adventure of a lifetime.
Port Elizabeth to Addo Elephant National Park
Distance: Via the N2 highway and R355 – about 40km
As you leave Port Elizabeth eastwards along the N2 national road, be sure to make a stop at the Addo Elephant National Park, a mere 40km from the Friendly City. Addo Elephant National Park is home to the Big Five, as well as a variety of bird species, reptiles and amphibians, making it an ideal stopover if you’re a lover of nature and wild spaces.
Addo Elephant National Park to East London
Distance: Via the N2 – about 250km
From Addo Elephant National Park, rejoin the N2 highway and make your way towards East London, about 250km away. It’s worth stopping off at the Nanaga Farm Stall for refreshments, ranging from home-made roosterkoek (traditional bread cooked over coals) and freshly baked pies to biltong. Or simply visit the gift shop for items to buy and keep as a reminder of your travels in this part of the country.
Another stop along this route is the quaint university town of Makhanda, formerly known as Grahamstown. This historic inland settlement is rich in history with plenty of experiences to explore – visit the Albany Museum, which features the history and art of the Xhosa people of the Eastern Cape, including their unique and colourful beadwork and embroidery. Makhanda also hosts the annual National Arts Festival, Africa’s largest arts festival, which runs in June and July every year.
You might want to stay over in the town for a night or two. Once you’re done exploring, drive on for about 160km to the coastal town of East London, home to a number of pristine, warm Indian Ocean beaches, including Nahoon Beach – one of the city’s most popular and a renowned surfing site.
You can also visit the East London Zoo, the East London Museum (hosting a fascinating exhibition on the coelacanth, a fish species previously believed to have become extinct some 80-million years ago) and the Venom Pit Snake Park, one of Africa’s largest snake parks offering educational and interactive snake demonstrations.
East London to Mthatha
Distance: Via N2 through Butterworth – about 230km
The journey between East London and Mthatha moves inland along the N2 and is dotted with various small towns where you can stop to refuel, grab a coffee and simply enjoy the region’s scenic village landscapes.
When travelling along this route, you have a variety of options, passing small towns such as Komga, Butterworth and Idutywa, before reaching Mthatha. Idutywa may be small, but it is the hometown of former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
As you travel along the N2, you’ll reach the Village of Qunu, just 30km outside Mthatha. Qunu is the village where Nelson Mandela’s grew up as a young boy – it is home to the Nelson Mandela Youth and Heritage Centre.
The centre is built on the same grounds as Madiba’s old primary school and offers tours that take visitors to historical sites in the village, as well as to the school (where his teacher gave him the name “Nelson” on his first day) and places of interest that shaped how Madiba grew up.
Once you reach Mthatha, visit the Nelson Mandela Museum located in the central business district, and join a guided tour that will take you through various exhibitions, including a cultural experience detailing the traditions of the Xhosa people and explaining more about Nelson Mandela and his legacy.
There are also traditional Xhosa dancers, as well as a craft shop where Xhosa regalia and beaded artwork is sold.
Details of the Nelson Mandela Museum can be found here.
Mthatha to Coffee Bay
Travelling Distance: via Tutor Ndamase Avenue – about 84km
This leg of the journey will see you leaving the N2 to join Tutor Ndamase Avenue that will take you to the Wild Coast town of Coffee Bay.
The road to Coffee bay from Mthatha passes through the Xhosa villages of Qokolweni, Tukuba and Ngcwanguba, before reaching a land of magnificent beaches and scenic views, and the chance to surf, fish and camp in breathtaking Coffee Bay.
Make a stop at the Hole in the Wall – this popular tourist attraction is a tidal island with a natural arch pierced through a wall of sandstone and shale by waves.
For an enjoyable stay in Coffee Bay, book at the Hole in the Wall hotel and holiday village, but bear in mind that you’re advised to access this lovely spot by 4x4 vehicle. It has a spa and a restaurant serving a range of dishes, including seafood, meat, wood-oven pizzas and vegetarian options.
For thrill-seekers, Coffee Bay also offers hiking trails; abseiling down “baby hole”, a 45m-high cliff that drops into the ocean; surfing and fishing. You can also hike up to the Mapuzi cliffs and caves and, if you’re brave enough, jump from the 14m-high cliffs into the warm water of the Indian Ocean below for a swim. Alternatively, cool off at the natural, warm-water “jacuzzi” pool towards the end of the trail.
Coffee Bay to Port St Johns
Distance: Via the R61 – about 140km
To connect between these two Wild Coast towns, follow Umzimvubu Drive from Coffee Bay for about 50km before taking a right turn onto the R61 road. Once on the R61, continue on to Port St Johns, known as “the jewel of the Wild Coast”.
Port St Johns is famous for its friendly locals, and a must-visit destination along the Wild Coast, boasting attractions that cater to travellers and adventurers.
Visit the town’s famous blowhole, known for shooting water 20m into the air. Enjoy spectacular views of the Mzimvubu River when visiting the Cape Hermes Lighthouse, which has been standing for more than a century. Or take a sho’t left to the 400ha Silaka Nature Reserve with its indigenous coastal forests. It’s known for its rich birdlife, including the Knysna turaco, the cinnamon dove and the half-collared kingfisher.