Port Elizabeth has everything a laid-back urbanite could wish for, but there’s plenty nearby for those wanting to jump, swim, walk, paddle and go a little wild
Words and Pictures: Keri Harvey
1. Walk with Cheetahs
The iconic plains of the Camdeboo near Graaff-Reinet were once home to a number of cheetah but, as a threat to livestock, they were hunted by farmers. The last cheetah sighting in the Karoo was about 125 years ago. In a bid to restore diversity, Samara Private Game Reserve introduced cheetah back to the Karoo, and believe they now number around 15. Not only can you see them in the wild, but you can track them and walk with them – an experience that didn’t exist here a decade ago.
After two-and-half hours of driving and searching, using telemetry, we heard a faint beep on the radio receiver. It was Sibella, the first cheetah introduced to Samara in 2003 and now one of a healthy cheetah population on the reserve.
As we drove on, the beeps on the receiver became louder, which is when we set off on foot with our experienced guide to find Sibella. Lying in dappled shade, she was resting under a tree but before long was on her feet again. We followed at a comfortable distance about 15m behind her, in awe of the unique experience. Walking with a cheetah, now back in the Karoo after more than 100 years, is unforgettable.
Travelling time from PE 2½ hours. Booking is essential and can only be confirmed two days in advance. No cheetah sightings are guaranteed as they roam in the wild.
023 626 6113, www.samara.co.za
2. Swim or Hike a Trail
The Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park is a hotspot for trailists, above, on and below sea level. Four magnificent day trails on terra firma suit all fitness levels and include the 3.7km Blue Duiker Trail, the short 1km Lourie Trail, a half-hour (and half-hour back) walk through forest, on boardwalk and over the suspension bridge spanning the Storms River – and you can continue up the mountain to a lookout point, which is roughly a two-hour round trip. The Waterfall Trail is the first 3km of the renowned 42km Otter Trail and traverses spectacular coastal scenery. Plus you can take a swim under a waterfall.
Below sea level is just as beautiful and diverse, with throngs of reef fish and anemones, dolphins and plenty of humpback and southern right whales. True to its essence as a marine park, and the first one in Africa, Tsitsikamma also has an underwater trail, run by Untouched Adventures. They will supply all the maps and information needed on booking and presentation of your Open Water 1 scuba diving certificate.
If you prefer being on the water surface, there’s the unique kayak and lilo trail, also in the national park. The three-hour guided trip starts with a short forest hike, followed by a kayak over the ocean to Storms River gorge. Then, on lilos, trailists explore the gorge with its sheer rock walls and bat caves. The views are spectacular.
Travelling time from PE 2 hours. Advance booking is essential for scuba, kayak and lilo trails.
073 130 0689, www.sanparks.org, www.untouchedadventures.com
3. See Rare White Lions
Shrouded in legend, white lions are considered sacred by many African tribes. It’s believed that, historically, they were only found along a narrow band of longitude that includes the Timbavati in Mpumalanga, although white lions are also said to be depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphs. White lions are the same species as tawny lions, but have a recessive gene that changes their skin and hair to white and their eyes to blue, giving them a surreal appearance. There are just a few places in South Africa to see white lions, and Seaview Predator Park near Port Elizabeth is one of them.
Exotic Bengal and Siberian tigers also live here, along with zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, various antelope and small mammals. It’s a self-drive park, so you can take your time and thoroughly enjoy the experience of seeing rare wildlife. Afterwards have lunch at the hilltop restaurant or take along your own picnic or goodies for a braai (and also wood and grill) as facilities are provided. Since white lions no longer live in the wild, this is a chance to see these extremely rare cats up close.
Travelling time from PE 30 minutes (open daily except Family Day). 041 378 1702, www.seaviewpredatorpark.com