Monday, February 4, 2013

Port Elizabeth - Firefly's top 10 attractions

Geogypsy was one of the very first blogs I followed and still is one of my absolute favorites.  Gaelyn is a traveller at heart and spends half the year working as a park ranger at the Grand Canyon National Park.  If somebody gave her half the chance she would travel the world professionally and write about as she goes.  A couple of years ago she visited South Africa for a month but by the time she passed Port Elizabeth her time was starting to run out and we didn't get to meet.  She has decided to return to South Africa for a 6 week adventure and has been writing about the places she is planning to visit.  This time around she is stopping in Port Elizabeth for a couple of days and asked me to do a bit of a guest post for her blog about the city.  Not to let a good fair original any writing go to waste I decided to post it on here as well just for good measure.   

I love Port Elizabeth. Yes I do. Love may be a bit of an understatement though so let’s rephrase it.  I have an absolute passion for the city.  There was a time when people said, “Will the last person to leave PE please switch off the lights and release the dolphins.”  PE may not have dolphins anymore, but nobody would be switching off any lights because we aren’t going nowhere.  With about 1,3 millions people, Port Elizabeth is South Africa’s 5th largest city and part of the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area.  It’s a city with all the big city amenities yet still is a town at heart.  You can get anywhere in the city within 15 minutes and our general way of life is just a lot more relaxed than in the big cities, which means PE has the all round lifestyle package. 
The first building in Algoa Bay, as the bay is known, was Fort Frederick, built in 1799 to protect the bay from invasion.  For the next 21 years the village consisted of nothing more than a couple of wooden buildings and tents on the beach.  That was until the arrival of the British Settlers in 1820 which brought the start of the development to what we have today.  The then acting governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Rufane Donkin, came to the bay to welcome the Settlers, finding a village with no name.  He decided to name the town after his recently deceased wife Lady Elizabeth Donkin.  Meaning, Port Elizabeth wasn’t named after Queen Elizabeth as many thinks.  One of the things that irk me most is the fact that the city gets referred to as a small industrial city.  This with the fact that we don’t have any big “must-see” well known attractions like Table Mountain or Sun City gives people the idea that it’s a boring and dirty place with nothing to do.  And the truth can’t be any further away.  The city has a magnificent coastline with beautiful beaches, many historical and cultural attractions, museums, art galleries, nature reserves and is surrounded by absolutely stunning game reserves.  Algoa Bay is home to the biggest breeding colony of African Penguins in the world, the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an hour away and the start of Alexandria Dunefield, the biggest coastal dune field in the Southern Hemisphere, can be seen across the bay from the city.  Addo Elephant National Park which borders the metro is home to the Big 7 while malaria free luxury Big 5 game reserves dot the horizon.  And then there are the people. Port Elizabeth isn’t called the Friendly City for nothing.  What makes Port Elizabeth even better as a destination is that it’s the gateway to the Garden Route and within easy reach of the Karoo and Sunshine Coast.  It truly is a destination that deserves a lot more credit than what most people give it.
My 10 favourite attractions / things to do (in no particular order):
1.       Addo Elephant National Park
Addo borders on Nelson Mandela Bay so is literally only a stone throw away.  The park is home to the biggest concentration of African elephants in the world and is best appreciated from the comfort of your own car. Relax at a water hole with camera ready and watch a group move in to drink or sit and experience a herd walk across the road right in front of your car.  The park is also home to lion, buffalo, black rhino, hyena and many small game and antelope species.  It’s also a bird watchers paradise with over 160 different species of birds documented.  Addo truly is a park not to be missed.
2.       The Donkin Reserve and Route 67

The Donkin Reserve is probably the most iconic site in Port Elizabeth.  It has very close links with the early history of Port Elizabeth as Sir Rufane had a monument built here for his wife Lady Elizabeth in 1820.  He also declared the spot an open space.  Next to the Donkin Memorial stands the old Hill Lighthouse, built in 1861, which has some of the most stunning views in the city from the top.  The newly developed Route 67 ends at the Donkin Reserve and is an art route with 67 art pieces placed along it.  The 67 refers to the 67 years that Nelson Mandela spent in the public eye.  The most prominent pieces is a huge mosaic next to the Donkin Memorial, the tallest flag pole in Africa (with the biggest SA flag in the world) and the Voting Line with Madiba himself at the point.
3.       Cape Recife Nature Reserve and SAMREC
Cape Recife is the western point of Algoa Bay and the surrounding nature reserve is home to the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre.  SAMREC works for the conservation of the African Penguin and rescue and rehabilitate penguins for release back into Algoa Bay.  The reserve has a 9km hiking trail that takes in the coastline and coastal bush as well as the Cape Recife Lighthouse, built in 1851, and the ruins of a World War 2 observation post.  
4.       The beachfront
Port Elizabeth has 40km of sandy beaches. Enough said.  But I’ll say more.  The main beachfront isn’t as over developed like most other coastal cities in South Africa and the best way to take in all the beaches is with a walk along the promenade.  The new redevelopment that has taken place alongside Kings Beach truly has enhanced the beachfront with its new lake, features and kids playgrounds.  Humewood Beach is South Africa’s oldest Blue Flag Beach while Pollok Beach at the far side is a bit more rugged and a popular surf spot.  Between the latter two is Hobie Beach with its famous Shark Rock Pier while the Boardwalk Entertainment Complex across the road is a must visit for its new musical organ fountains that operates every night.
5.       Sundays River Ferry

There is little as relaxing as cruising leisurely down the Sundays River, keeping an eye out for birds while sipping a cold drink. A trip on the Sundays River Ferry also includes a stop at the Colchester sand dunes (the western part of the Alexandria Dunefield).  Here visitors get the opportunity to climb these giant dunes and be rewarded with a bird eye view of the dunes with Algoa Bay and Port Elizabeth beyond.  The easiest and most fun way back down is by sand board before the return cruise.  The Sundays River Ferry trip truly has the potential to become one of Port Elizabeth’s iconic attractions.
6.       Port Elizabeth’s southern coastline, known as the Sunshine Saunter and the Wildside
The Sunshine Saunter starts on Port Elizabeth’s main beachfront and follows Marine Drive along the southern coastline.  This piece of coastline is referred to as the Wildside as it is a rugged and rocky yet very beautiful coastline.  The route then takes one slightly inland to rural (mink and manure) Port Elizabeth through indigenous coastal bush before heading past Seaview and on to Maitland with its giant dune.  A day out on the Sunshine Saunter is best enjoyed combined with a visit to Cape Recife as well as Kragga Kamma Game Park.
7.       Township outing

The best way to experience Port Elizabeth’s townships is from the ground and not just looking at it through a bus window.  The ideal visit would start at the Red Location Museum, a museum purpose built to remember the freedom struggle in Nelson Mandela Bay.  Other “attractions” and stops while driving through the township could include visiting an informal corner take-away; a container where ladies sell vetkoek (fat cakes) and roosterkoek (bread made on a grill or over coals); a township artist; and Njoli Square with its traditional herb market, smilies (cooked sheep heads), taxi rank and informal shops.  Something else to try is ending a visit off with a drink at a township tavern or a traditional tshisa njama (a Zulu or Xhosa word for what we know in South Africa as a braai and elsewhere as a barbecue).
8.       Kragga Kamma Game Park
Not everybody has the time to visit Addo or the money to go to a luxurious private game reserve.  Kragga Kamma Game Park can be found just outside Port Elizabeth and is the ideal morning or afternoon getaway.  The park has white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, cheetah and a number of small game species. Because it’s a relatively small park it’s also an ideal spot for photographers to get some good close up animal pictures.
9.       Port Elizabeth’s historical buildings and monuments
The city has some truly beautiful historical buildings and very interesting monument.  The Public Library with its stained glass windows, St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, the Prester John Monument, City Hall, No 7 Castle Hill, Fort Frederick, the Horse Memorial, the PAG Memorial are just a few of the sights one could see on a tour of the city.
10.   Sacramento Trail
The Sacramento Trail starts in the village of Schoenmakerskop and follows the rugged coastline for 4km to Sardinia Bay Beach.  From here the return journey takes one along the escarpment on a bridle path with beautiful views of the coast.  The Sacramento is probably Port Elizabeth’s most popular trail, but this doesn’t mean it’s crowded.  Along the way you will find a cannon from the Portuguese Galleon Sacramento which wrecked here in 1647, Khoi San shell middens, lots of interesting coastal plants and birds, beautiful views and perhaps a glimpse of a passing otter, dolphin or whale.


  1. Fantastic Firefly!!! You are truly an asset to our metro.

  2. these are really top 10. :) thanx for showing!

  3. Great post and it shows just how much there is to see in your area. Well done Diane

  4. Fantastic guide to a great city :-)

  5. Nicely done and very interesting!