Mbodla Eco-Heritage Route

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Eastern Cape:

The main feature of the Eastern Cape is its magnificent coastline. With its wide open sandy beaches, secluded lagoons and towering cliffs, the Indian Ocean coastline provides the province with rich natural tourist attractions, and is also a paradise for watersports enthusiasts. Added to the diverse coastal experiences are more than 60 state-owned game reserves and more than thirty private game farms, which collectively cover an area greater than the Kruger National Park.

Route area:

The Fish River (Nxuba) Valley is located adjacent to a thriving game-farming area of the Eastern Cape. Prestigious world-class game farms like the Shamwari and Kwandwe Private Game Reserves have now been joined by numerous private and public initiatives, including the Greater Addo National Park and the Greater Fish River Complex. All these facilities already attract a considerable tourism clientele in the wildlife tourism sector. The Mbodla Eco-heritage Route adds an original, Afro-centric, environmental, cultural and heritage dimension to the region’s offerings.

The Fish river Valley is located within a two hours drive from the Eastern Cape’s centres such as Port Elizabeth and East London. It is strategically located on the National Route of the N2, which runs from Port Elizabeth to Durban, carrying a lot of tourism traffic, and forms one end of the Garden Route. The N2 highway also passes through the southern end of the Mhala valley, giving extremely easy access to visitors from all he major urban centres in the Eastern Cape. The area has rich historical sites that showcase the interaction between the Xhosa people and Europeans through 100 years of frontier wars.

Mhala community:

The Mhala traditional community are the main habitants and are an important embodiment of this Route. The Mhala Community, under the leadership of Chief Makinana, is named after the eldest surviving son of Chief Ndlambe, a prominent and pivotal Xhosa leader who was expelled – along with 20 000 followers – from the area between Port Elizabeth and the Fish River in 1812. This community still resides along the banks of the Fish River, in an area that represents the history of their determination to militarily resist colonial encroachment through four more frontier wars from 1819 to 1853. The assets of this route therefore lie in the rich cultural history of the valley and also in its beautiful natural attributes, including important indigenous thicket forests.

The marketing strategy of the Eastern Cape Tourism Board is to attract visitors from the Port Elizabeth hub to travel further inland for exposure to the rich history of the Xhosa people and their interaction with Europeans through 100 years of frontier wars. The Mhala community is ideally situated to attract such visitors. It is the traditional area closest to the concentration of tourists, has extraordinary scenery and is rich in the history of the frontier battles.

Mhala Development Trust:

The Mhala Development Trust is one of six community development agencies constituted under the King Sandile Development Trust. This trust has identified Heritage Tourism as one of the strongest areas for potential economic growth and development. Heritage and nature based tourism holds potential to generate income for communities as tour and field guides as well as from crafts, entertainment, and catering. The heritage tourism development project of the Mhala Trust is designed to start with providing services and opportunities for day visitors as a first phase, to be followed later by the development of overnight accommodation and a wide range of faculties.

Socio Economic context:

On the eastern side of the Fish River, in the former Ciskei, communal land-ownership under traditional leadership predominates. The population is mostly rural or semi-rural, being distributed across numerous villages of varying size. These communities have experienced marginalisation and associated poverty related to the history of the region, and some villages have complex socio-political histories related to forced removals, land restitution and tensions linked to political affiliation. There is a critical need for provision of basic services and upgrading of infrastructure in this part of the domain. The people tend to be heavily dependant on natural resources for medicinal purposes, fuel wood, building material, indigenous food plants and game meat, as well as for various cultural and spiritual purposes. The intensive use of natural resources holds the potential to lead to environmental degradation or habitat transformation, which provides a strong incentive for sustainable natural resource use.

There is a critical need to create economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable job opportunities and to provide the necessary training for people to be able to perform these jobs. The tourism potential of the area is immense (both eco-tourism and heritage tourism) and all of the affected municipalities have listed nature-or heritage-based tourism development as the main programme to drive economic development and social upliftment in their Integrated Development Plans. The other products identified in a feasibility study which have a potential to generate income include heritage sites, cultural entertainment, arts and craft production, the development of fishery projects and a nature conservation area.

Subtropical thicket vegetation (Valley Bushveld)

The subtropical thicket is a biome rich in biodiversity and vital to the livelihoods of thousands of people. Its degradation leads to the depletion of natural and cultural resources and the provisioning of important ecosystem services, hence the need to conserve it.

The Fish River region includes a wide range of vegetation types dominated by various forms of thicket and bushland, interspersed with afromontane forest in the cooler valleys and kloofs, shrubland and low fynbos, and grassland thicket.
The natural vegetation of the area also has subtropical thicket characterized by closed shrubland to low forest dominated by evergreen, sclerophyllous or succulent trees, shrubs and vines. It is often almost impenetrable, is generally not divided into strata, and has little herbaceous cover. The subtropical thicket (also known as valley bushveld), is characterized by impenetrable Spekboom. This vegetation protected the last remaining elephant and buffalo from being wiped out by hunters.

The Great Fish River Valley:

The Great Fish River meanders through the Great Fish River Reserve which is situated between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort. The Great Fish Reserve comprises 45 000ha and includes the Andries Vosloo, the Double Drift and the Sam Knott nature reserves. The river is 644km long and flows into the Indian Ocean. The river generally runs (naturally) all year round, although its headwaters rise in an arid region, and the flow could well be sluggish beyond the ebb and flow of the tidal reaches. Water from the Orange River system can be used to keep up its flow in dry periods. The river is tidal for approximately 20km.

The river’s flora is interesting and diverse with riverine thicket forming a narrow band along the River and Cape bush willow, karee and sweet thorn being the dominant trees. Grassy dwarf-shrubland is an open habitat of sparse tussock grasses and stunted shrubs. The level of the Great Fish River fluctuates markedly, such that broad sand bars are often exposed or completely covered.

The Angus Gillis Foundation - An overview:

The Angus Gillis Foundation is a rural development trust, established in 2002 by the owners of Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in response to the chronic underdevelopment in the rural areas of South Africa’s poorest province, the Eastern Cape. Working with 12 rural communities within a 50km radius towards the North of Grahamstown, the Angus Gillis Foundation focuses its energy and resources on those living in rural areas with limited access to basic goods and services. Our philosophy is simple – we believe that people are the masters of their own destiny so instead of simply giving handouts we work closely with communities helping to develop and empower individuals and above all encourage self-reliance.

The Foundation adopts an asset-based approach to development, emphasising communities’ existing assets, skills and capacities rather than their needs and deficiencies. This approach recognises that genuine development only takes place when local communities are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the task at hand.

We believe communities are built from the bottom up and from the inside out. Through a highly participatory process, the Foundation builds on communities’ existing assets, considers their needs and strengths, and encourages them to make decisions that will positively shape their future.
We take a holistic approach to development recognising the multiple physical, economic, social, and spiritual dimensions of human wellbeing.


Frontier Country Route (managed by Makana Tourism Municipality):

Frontier Country is the meeting ground of the Xhosa, Khoi San, Afrikaner and English-speaking groups. A fascinating, unique cultural history has developed as a result. Nine frontier wars were fought in the area over almost a century between 1779 and 1878.

Fort Beaufort:

Fort Beaufort was founded in 1824 and was named after the father of Lord Charles Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort. The old Victorian barracks is probably the finest to be found anywhere outside the United Kingdom. Fort Beaufort is an excellent base from which to explore the fascinating Kat River Valley and the surrounding Katberg and Amatola Mountains, which saw some of the heaviest fighting anywhere in South Africa. Sidbury: A small village set out by Richard Daniel in the early 1830's along the lines of an English country village with Daniel's house, Sidbury Park, being set a little way from the village. Sidbury boasts two splendid churches, Anglican and Methodist. The area is of importance to South African agricultural history as merino sheep were first imported to this area, which then led to a wool boom.


The Methodist Church founded Salem in the mid 1820's. It is famous for its many fine buildings and also for the historic negotiations between Richard Gush and approaching Xhosa during the War of Hintsa, when the Xhosa agreed to leave the village in peace. Salem has a village green on which cricket matches have been played since 1844.

Riebeeck East:

The Dutch Reformed Church established the village of Riebeek East in 1830 on the farm Mooimeisiesfontein, the home of the famous Voortrekker leader Piet Retief. The Riebeeck East is now in the midst of a game and sheep farming area and offers many attractions and hiking trails through the surrounding diverse and beautiful hills.


This little town is picturesquely situated at the foot of the Winterberg Mountains, with heavily forested slopes rising out of extensive grasslands. It is blessed with extensive bird life and several species of game abound in the immediate area.


Adelaide became important during the War of Mlanjeni during the battle of the Waterkloof lasting two years. It is ideally situated for anyone wishing to explore the battle-sites associated with the War of Mlanjeni. It also allows easy access to the Game Reserves of Mpofu and Tsolwana and the Kat River Valley.


A little town situated 20km to the east of Fort Beaufort. It became well known as a missionary centre, with Presbyterian missionaries founding a famous educational centre known as Lovedale. Many of the present political leaders in South Africa were educated here and at the University of Fort Hare.


This little village is situated in the foothills of The Three Hogs, which, with the adjacent Gaika's Kop, are distinctive landmarks in the Amatola Mountain range. The tranquil and pure mountain air is exhilarating, with forests, waterfalls and mist creating a truly unique setting and environment. There are many interesting walks, one of which takes you to the oldest and largest Yellowwood tree in the entire Cape.

Frontier Country:

Frontier Country is one of the most diverse ecological regions in South Africa, with a variety of biomes that provide unspoilt and spectacular scenery. Thousands of hectares are devoted to nature and game conservation, bringing with them the return of great herds of wildlife to the places where they once roamed freely. This malaria-free region is fast gaining local and international popularity for excellent game-viewing with a variety of private reserves that include the Big Five.
With Grahamstown at its centre, Frontier Country includes Adelaide, Alicedale, Alice, Bedford, Fort Beaufort, Hogsback, Peddie, Riebeeck East, Salem, Seven Fountains and Sidbury.
A hauntingly beautiful region and arguably the crucible of South African history - Frontier Country is a vibrant mix of all the best that Africa has to offer. One of the premier tourist routes in the Eastern Cape, it has a turbulent past, with more forts than the rest of the country combined.
Frontier Country is the historic heartland of the Eastern Cape and embodies the spirit of the many and varied cultures who met here and made their mark - Khoi, Xhosa, Boer and British.

The area offers much for the outdoor enthusiast and adventurer. Activities include skydiving, hunting, game viewing, fly-fishing, hang-gliding, abseiling, river rafting and mountaineering. True country hospitality is provided throughout the region in world class game lodges, top quality hotels, guest houses, farm stays and B&B's.

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve:

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve lies in the heart of South Africa’s malaria-free Eastern Cape, near Grahamstown, and is a natural conclusion to a journey along the world-famous Garden Route. A victory for far-sighted conservation, 20 000 hectares (49 000 acres) of farmland in the Great Fish River region were restored and restocked with African wildlife. Today, thousands of animals including lion, black and white rhino, buffalo and elephant roam this diverse and fascinating reserve.

Kwandwe aptly means 'Place of the Blue Crane' in Xhosa (South Africa’s highly endangered national bird) and is home to a population of these rare birds. It offers an exceptional safari experience in a region steeped in history and culture. The Great Fish River was a hotly contested border during the Frontier Wars of 1779 to 1878 between the Xhosa nation, Dutch farmers and the 1820 Settlers from England. Kwandwe’s reception building is a Frontier War-era fortified homestead, and the Reserve boasts its own intimate chapel. Kwandwe is a proud member of Relais and Chateaux.

Melton Manor, a contemporary Eastern Cape homestead, opened in June 2007. Set in a beautiful location overlooking the river and afromontane forests (between Uplands Homestead and Great Fish River Lodge), Melton Manor has a large swimming pool and central courtyard and is the perfect escape for family safaris. The elegant and simple design incorporates earthy, organic finishes; deep, inviting sofas; gorgeous Nguni rugs; dramatic photography; and celebrates the style of early frontier days. The four ensuite bedrooms feature innovative 'butler hatches' for discreet room service, and the interactive kitchen is a cozy place where guests can muck in with Melton's expert chef.

Mhala Valley:

Where Mhala fought a battle against the frontiers led by Sir Harry Smith. This was where Mhala trained his worriers.

Fish River:

This river was the boundry for the Xhosas as they were not allowed to cross the river.

Lengwayo Dam:

The source of water springs from underground curve, positioned between a dug out which was made by the British warriers in the 1800's. This is one of our natural resources where both the British soldiers and the AmaXhosa warriers used to obtain water from.

Mankazana Dam:

Ndlambe used to hide the Xhosa women and their children in this place during the frontier wars. This was a safe place to hide until one day the British found out and many of them were brutally attacked. That is where the name 'Mankazana' came from. The dam is now used for fishing.

Gqora River:

This is where Ntsikane, the first Xhosa prophet, washed the red ochre and converted from africanism to Christianity.

Hiking trail:

Hiking trails is known as 'Uhambo Loxolo' where you walk approximately 70km. This trail takes you to the Mhala cave and takes approximately 4 hours.

The information centre:

This is the office where you can get more information about the area. The office is situated at Mhala Great Place.

Suggested Reading List

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