Consider taking a trip to Port Elizabeth, there’s more there than you might think …
I was invited to Port Elizabeth by Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism to check out what life is like in the slow lane. Well, they didn’t exactly say slow lane, but I had heard that life in P.E. is incredibly chilled, even by Cape Town standards. To my surprise, I spent an action-packed couple of days there filled with a host of things to do and places to see, all supplemented by a rich undercurrent of history.
It’s easy to see why Port Elizabeth is called The Friendly City. The city exudes a relaxed atmosphere and out-of-your-way hospitality. It must be all those hours of sunshine (apparently they get more hours of sunshine than any other South African city). So, for the historian, the bush-lover, the sport fanatic and even the adrenaline junkie, here are 10 things not to miss.
Explore the Donkin Heritage Trail
If you want to get to know Port Elizabeth on personal level, take on the five-kilometre trail that follows in the footsteps of the 1820 Settlers. It links no less than 47 national monuments and historical sites in central Port Elizabeth and is named after the acting governor of the Cape Colony at the time, Sir Rufane Donkin. Whether you like historical tours or not, this trail includes some fascinating facts about the area that will enlighten you about the city. Points of interest along the trail are signposted with information boards, making the trail very easy to self-navigate and a pretty neat way to get you walking around town.
See the ellies at Addo Elephant Park
Escape to the bush and spend hours scouring the pristine Eastern Cape landscape for wildlife at Addo Elephant Park, home to over 550 elephant. It is the third largest national park in South Africa and has expanded to conserve a wide range of wildlife and flora from the semi-desert Karoo down to the coastline of Sunday’s River Valley Mouth.
Chill out on a Sunday’s River Cruise
Cruising along the Sunday’s River on a ferry is a perfect way to take in the scenery along the marine section of the Addo Elephant National Park without lifting a finger … except of course to snap a picture or two. Head up to the upper viewing deck and take in the view out towards the city and Algoa Bay. Twitchers, look out for the myriad birdlife along the river banks. The 2.5 hour, 20-kilometre cruise offers both self-catering and catered trips and the captain, Les, is a bundle of fun.
Conquer the Maitland Sand Dunes
If you’re looking for a dash of adrenaline then try your hand (foot?) at sandboarding at Maitland Sand Dunes. The dunes are easily accessible and provide hours of fun. It’s a challenging trek up to the top, but the views and scenery are worth every breath. The way down, of course, is the best part. Anything that you can slide on will do – trays, pieces of cardboard or the obvious choice, sandboards. There are also three hiking trails (check out Port Elizabeth’s top six day walks) that wind their way into the forests of Maitland Nature Reserve. The Sir Peregrine Maitland Nature Trail is a three-kilometre trail which follows an old wagon road, while the Igolomi Trial will take you on a four-kilometre stretch through Maitland’s dense forest. The more exuberant can try out the nine-kilometre De Stades Nature Trail which rewards hikers with a unique view of St Francis Bay.
Tel 041-584-0584, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Live the local life on a township tour
Take a drive into the townships of Port Elizabeth, mingle with the locals and step into a culture that many tourists may not have experienced before. Taste home-brewed beers at a shebeen, eat a traditional Xhosa meal and visit the Red Location Apartheid Museum. It is an eye-opening experience and a chance to experience authentic Xhosa hospitality.
Pop in at Kragga Kamma Game Reserve
Take a short drive through the Kragga Kamma Game Reserve, located just outside the city centre. It’s a small reserve that’s home to free-roaming buffalo, giraffe, zebra, nyala and bontebok, amongst others. The short loop through the park guarantees wildlife sightings. Visitors can choose to drive in their own vehicle or take a two-hour guided drive. The park is also home to a family of cheetah which have been hand-reared by dedicated volunteers. Stop off at the Bush Cafe for a bite and take a sky walk over the monkey bridge through the lush forest section at Kragga, which is home to monkeys and a wealth of bird species.
Tel 041-379-5646, www.kraggakamma.com
Feel the heat at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Built specifically for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the impressive Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (read more about Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium) now plays host to a variety of sporting events including rugby’s biggest party, the IRB Sevens Rugby World Series. If you’re there on a weekend, catch the E.P. Kings in a local rugby match up. Alternatively, take a 30 minute stadium tour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 13h00 and 16h00.
Tel 041-408-8900, email email@example.com
Light it up at the Cape Recife Lighthouse
The Cape Recife Lighthouse is one of South Africa’s most iconic lighthouses, with a deep history to boot. It’s situated on the south entrance to Algoa Bay on the treacherous Thunderbolt Reef, approximately 15 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. The unmistakable black and white banded tower stands near the site where, in 1902, numerous sailors and rescuers lost their lives to a hurricane that wrecked both moored and sea-faring vessels. Ironically, the monolith that now steers vessels clear of this dangerous reef was erected on April Fools’ Day in 1851.
Chat up the birds at SAMREC
The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC) is located near the Cape Recife Lighthouse and is the temporary home to many sick or injured African penguins and other sea birds, most as a result of human influence. The non-profit organisation is open from 09h30 until 17h00 every day and the volunteers that dedicate their days to the rehabilition of these birds are super friendly (of course) and more than willing to show visitors around the centre and introduce them to its special inhabitants. The best time to visit is at 14h30, when you can watch the staff feed the birds while grabbing a bite for yourself at the Flying Penguin (another smart irony) coffee shop.
Bask on a Blue Flag beach
Of the six Blue Flag beaches located in the Eastern Cape two are situated in Port Elizabeth. Humewood Beach and Wells Estate Beach have both passed the 14-point criteria and been awarded Blue Flag status. Visitors can enjoy a stretch of coast that has impeccable water quality, visible environmental information and safety services, including excellent life-saving standards, ample parking and sparkling ablution facilities. So take advantage of the Port Elizabeth sunshine, head to the beach and catch that long lost tan that winter has robbed you of.
For more cool images and updates from The Friendly City, visit fireflyafrica.blogspot.com and for more info contact the team at Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism. As the name of their city implies, they’re always more than happy to help.
Need to get around in Port Elizabeth? Find useful contact numbers for transport here.
Check out our selection of affordable places to stay in Port Elizabeth.