Encounter our Eastern Cape Info Letter – October 2022


In the October 2022 issue of Firefly the Travel Guy’s Encounter our Eastern Cape Travel Mailer

  • Learn more about Colchester’s historic Mackay Bridge

  • Discover the chess board edging in the Mountain Zebra National Park

  • View rock art in the mountains around Rhodes

  • Marvel at the Magwa Waterfall on the Wild Coast

  • Explore the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve outside Port Elizabeth

If there is something that you would like to see featured in our monthly travel mailer or have any suggestions, please drop us a mail at jonker@fireflyafrica.co.za

SUBSCRIBE to this Travel Letter

Colchester’s historic Mackay Bridge

Historic Mackay Bridge over the Sundays River at Colchester / Cannonville near Port Elizabeth

Back in the early 1800s the first river crossing over the Sundays River going east from Algoa Bay was a drift situated near Addo. As traffic increased there was a urgent need for a more direct route as the route via Addo was a bit of a detour to Grahamstown and the Albany District

By the mid 1800s the Colchester area was a very busy spot as it had the only punt over the Sundays River on this main route between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. In 1874 the original pont washed away and they started looking at plans to build a bridge. The Mackay Bridge was opened on 5 March 1895 and constructed entirely of steel and iron brought from Sheffield in England. It was named in honour of John Mackay whose efforts resulted in its construction.

Historic Mackay Bridge over the Sundays River at Colchester / Cannonville near Port Elizabeth

The original bridge was destroyed in a flood in 1932 and the construction of a replacement Mackay bridge, costing £25 000, was expedited. The bridge as it stands today was officially opened on the 5th July 1938. This bridge acted as the main road across the Sundays River until the construction of the N2 bridge. The Mackay Bridge was formally closed to traffic and is only accessible on foot or bicycle.

Cruise the Sundays River

Mountain Zebra National Park chessboard edging

Salpeterskop chessboard edging in the Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock in the Karoo Heartland

The Mountain Zebra National Park isn’t just a park rich in natural diversity, but also has a lot of history to it. On top of the 1514m high Salpeterskop you will find a chessboard (or draught board) edged onto a rock. It dates back to the start of the 1900s during the Anglo Boer War when British soldiers were stationed here as lookouts.

While hiding out here they played chess with their fellow soldiers in the old fort in Cradock, transmitting moves by means of a mirror, which had the official purpose of communicating warning signals. The story goes that a certain farmer – unbeknown to the soldiers – picked up the signals and started a game against the soldiers while sitting on the stoep of his farmhouse.

Names recorded include Corporal Pegram of the 1st Coldstream Guards, Corporal Hutchinson, Private W. Chambers of the 5th Lancaster Fusilliers, and many others with dates in 1901 and 1902. The chessboard is still visible today and can be accessed on a guided hike with a SANParks guide.

Learn more about the Mountain Zebra National Park

Rock art around Rhodes

Rhodes rock art, North Eastern Cape, Eastern Cape Highlands

The village of Rhodes is situated in one of the most remote parts of South Africa with many rock art sites within close proximity, some of which are open to the public. As they are located on public land it is therefore important to make viewing arrangements via the Rhodes Info Centre. In order to preserve the art a small fee will be charged to visitors. These paintings or rock art was painted by the san people that lived and hunted in these mountains hundreds of years ago and they are still in good condition.

Rhodes rock art, North Eastern Cape, Eastern Cape Highlands

Martindell rock art

The images at Martindell rank amongst the best preserved in southern Africa. Some images are so bright it seems they were only painted a few decades ago. Martindell is approximately 20 minutes drive from Rhodes into the scenic valley of Maartenshoek. This site is situated high up on a rock overhang. It is a bit of a climb to reach them, but worth the effort as the view of the valley is spectacular and the paintings even more so.

Glass Nevin rock art

The images at Glass Nevin are spectacular and worth a visit. The walk to the paintings is approximately 2kms through the farm and along the Bell River. Glass Nevin is approximately 15 minutes drive from Rhodes into the scenic valley of Maartenshoek.

Buttermead rock art

Buttermead is an ideal rock art site in that visitors can appreciate the art without having to drive too far out of town, approximately 3km. The fairly short walk to the paintings is not too strenuous and suitable for all ages. The painted rock shelter at Buttermead has polychrome artwork of eland, some of which have been superimposed over earlier paintings. There are many interesting images here, including birds in close association with dying eland and dogs.

Accommodation and attractions around Rhodes

Magwa Falls on the Wild Coast

Magwa Waterfall on the Wild Coast

The northern Wild Coast area between Lusikisiki and Msikaba and Mbotyi is a feast of natural wonders and waterfalls. One of the most magnificent among these sites is Magwa Waterfall. The waterfall lies in the middle of the 1 800 hectare Magwa tea plantation, South Africa’s last remaining tea estate just outside Lusikisiki.

The Magwa Waterfall truly is impressive and what makes it even more significant is that it is one of few waterfalls on the rugged Wild Coast that is accessible.

The 144 meter high waterfall forms a curtain of water dropping into a narrow canyon formed by seismic activity caused by a past sudden movement of the earth’s crust along geologic faults, or volcanic activity.

The drive to the falls is a mere 8 kilometers and worth it just to see the river lurch off the precipice and down to the river bed in the gorge below. In places you cannot even see the bottom. Although the Magwa Fallsl isn’t as big as the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, many often remark how it reminds them of it.

The closest town is Lusikisiki just north of Port St Johns. The town go it name from the sound the wind makes rustling through the reeds along the river banks in the area.

The Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve

The Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve outside Port Elizabeth with a view of the Van Stadens Bridge

Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve is situated just off the N2 about 35km west of Port Elizabeth. The 500 hectare reserve is probably the best place close to Port Elizabeth to go and marvel at the wonders of fynbos and to see flowering proteas. The reserve covers both a large plateau area covered mostly in Fynbos as well as the slopes of the Van Stadens gorge consisting of indigenous coastal forest. The reserve also boasts a birding list with 149 bird species and one of the best spots for twitchers to hang out and keep an eye out for our feathered friends is the reserve’s bird hide. The hide is the proud handy work of the Friends of Van Stadens, a group of volunteers who have helped out with the running of the Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve since 2007.

Pincushion proteas in the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve outside Port Elizabeth

Visitors can explore the reserve by taking one of the trails that cover the reserve. There are also flat gravel roads along the plateau area which can be utilised by mountain bikers or in your own car. The two main hiking trails in the reserve are the River Walk of 4 kms and the Forest Walk of 6 kms, although a number of shorter walks are also available. Both trails are suitable for reasonably fit persons who are advised to wear stout shoes and take a sun hat and drinking water. No dogs are allowed.

Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve hiking map
The Friends of Van Stadens
Firefly the Travel Guy advert
SUBSCRIBE to this Travel Letter