The National Arts Festival is an annual feast of theatre, dance, performance art, music, visual art and more and can be packaged into a rewarding Eastern Cape holiday. Here are some ideas for what you can get up to in the Eastern Cape before or after the Festival, which runs from 28 June to 8 July.
Culture and Coast
The Eastern Cape’s endless beach options have plenty to offer. From Port Alfred to Kenton-on-Sea and Cannon Rocks you can check in at a B&B or rent a big home and pack it full of friends and family for days filled with beach walks, cook-ups and board games. Warm, sunny days are not unusual at this time and the odd swim in the Indian Ocean could even be on the cards. Excellent kite-surfing, fishing and canoeing will keep everyone active and there’s whale spotting and bird-watching for the more laconic. Visit local restaurants and experience genuine Eastern Cape hospitality.
Culture and Bush
The Addo Elephant National Park is the only nature reserve in the country to lay claim to the Big 7, although it is primarily famous for its elephants, which visitors are almost certain to spot. Stay in or around Addo for a convenient bush holiday escape.
If you are in the market for a luxurious adventure, check in at one of the area’s top game lodges. Pumba Game Reserve offers safari experiences for overnight and day visitors www.pumbagamereserve.co.za
Farm stays are another option for getting some down time even whilst enjoying the National Arts Festival as some of them are close enough to Grahamstown to use as a base.
- The Festival’s Travel&Stay brochure lists many farm and country stays and is worth a look.
Culture on a Budget
Grahamstown still has many options for reasonable accommodation, as does the surrounding Eastern Cape area. Winter is considered off-season at most beach towns with many of them offering special prices so you are sure to snap up a deal – and it’s only a scenic half-hour drive to Grahamstown. The area also boasts many backpackers’. If you have the time, a trip into the Transkei is worth considering. See the “wild coasts” of South Africa and meet its warmest people along the way.
Kids and Culture
The National Arts Festival is completely geared up for families. The Children’s Art Festival, held in association with St Andrew’s Preparatory School, offers supervised programmes for children from four to 13 years. The National Arts Festival also has a full programme of Family Fare on offer – many of which are a delight for parents too! Afterwards the beach or bush options will make for a memorable adventure, no matter the weather.
The Cultural Road Trip
If you have time to soak up the scenery and enjoy the journey, make the National Arts Festival the destination of a cultural road trip by plotting a route that includes a few interesting stops. The Platteland Preview is an annual event that takes place in Smithfield in the Free State just before the National Arts Festival. The small Karoo town opens its homes to artists performing at the National Arts Festival in return for some performances for the town itself.
Meander through Art Map SA’s Contemporary and Fine Arts Route for the Garden Route or get ahead of the rush and attend the Morgan’s Bay Footprints Festival (22-24 June) where you can enjoy live performances, traditional dancing and share in their vision for social cohesion.
Spreading out further afield, make a trip past Nieu Bethesda and the Owl House; home of artist Helen Martins who, together (for the most part) with Koos Malgas, created a fantastical collection of sculptures embarking for the mystical East from her home and garden.
Passing through Cradock, you can also visit the Olive Schreiner Museum in the home she had as a young girl.
Closer to Grahamstown, stop in at Port Elizabeth to visit the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum; home to an impressive collection, ranging from British and Oriental art to international printmaking and art from the Eastern Cape.
The National Arts Festival contributes R377.15-million to the economy of the Eastern Cape Province. (Source: The Social, Cultural and Economic Impact of the 2016 National Arts Festival by Snowball and Antrobus)
- Download our comprehensive 2018 Travel&Stay guide to accommodation, transport and more
- Makana Tourism – for more on where to stay and what to do in Grahamstown
- Eastern Cape Tourism for comprehensive information and assistance with the broader region