“Imonti”, the Xhosa name for East London, was derived from the Dutch word “mond” (mouth) and refers to the position of the city on the mouth of the Buffalo River. In 1836, George Rex was sent to survey the river mouth area. Not long after, the Union Jack was hoisted on Signal Hill, signifying the start of a new settlement. As the years passed, more people moved to the area, including a substantial German complement. Dredging of the harbour began in 1886 and in 1935 the only double-+deck bridge in the country was built here. Today, East London is South Africa’s only river port and is home to many industries. Many products and materials, such as wood, citrus fruit and mineral ore are exported from here.
East London is the gateway to the Eastern Cape hinterland with its picturesque Xhosa villages and towns of British, Dutch and German origin and equidistant between the Sunshine Coast to the west and the Wild Coast to the east.
Pockets of natural vegetation are preserved within the immediate surrounds of the city and include typical indigenous trees and shrubs, as well as three distinct species of ancient cycads. The city also boasts some of the best sporting facilities in the Eastern Cape and provincial, national and international sporting events are often hosted here. It is much in demand as a conference, exhibition and incentive travel venue.
In addition being an ideal holiday destination with a lovely temperate climate (average summer temperatures vary from 18 to 25 degrees Celsius and winter temperatures from 10 to 21 degrees Celsius in July, the coldest month of the year), East London is also a vibrant business centre that has been singled out as an industrial development zone. The East London Industrial Development Zone Corporation (IDZ) has identified the following as its focus sectors: automotive, textile, pharmaceutical, electronic, agro-processing and timber-related products.
Gonubie is a well-established resort town on the lagoon at the Gonubie River Mouth. The name of the town was derived from Qunube, the Xhosa word for brambleberries.
Adventure And Sport
Beaches and resorts: Barbecuing, hiking, pony riding and boating can be enjoyed along the beautiful beach at the Avalon resort. Less strenuous activities include stopping at the restaurant and shopping for curios. Orient, Glengariff Bay, Nahoon, Bonza Bay, Gonubie, Fullers Bay and Shelley beaches provide safe swimming and long clean stretches of sand.
Bridle Drift Dam: Situated 25km from East London, the dam is popular among boating, yachting and wind-surfing enthusiasts.
Water sport at Gonubie: The boardwalk offers a vantage point from which to enjoy the lovely view of Gonubie Lagoon. This lovely beach with its large dunes, safe swimming waters and channels that can easily be navigated by small boats, is a popular tourist destination.
Hiking: There are many hiking trails, both guided and unguided, in and around the city to choose from and many more as one travels further inland. Try the interesting Umtiza Forest walk through an area with unique cycads and trees or walk through the small Gonubie Sanctuary for a close encounter with crowned cranes, jacanas and many other birds. Flower lovers will be enchanted by the plants in the Dierama Reserve. Expert hiking trail guides are available to make the more strenuous hikes both safe and more informative.
Shipwreck Trail: This 3-day, 53-km hiking trail runs along the Sunshine Coast from East London to Port Alfred. The remains of several shipwrecks are visible in the surf at low tide.
Strandloper Hiking Trail: One of the most renowned trails of the Sunshine Coast is the Strandloper Hiking Trail between Kei Mouth and Gonubie. This 5-day hike starts at the Strandloper Eco-tourism Centre at Cape Morgan/Morgan’s Bay near Kei Mouth and is one of the best-known hiking trails in the country – billed an “ultimate coastal adventure”. The splendid scenery along the way, exquisite tidal pools, pristine estuaries, lush forests and white dunes and the four comfortable overnight stops make the trip well worthwhile. The term Strandloper (Beachcomber) refers more to a way of life than to a specific linguistic or racial group and embraces all who have combed the beaches and survived by foraging and fishing on the beach. This presupposes such diverse groups as Bushmen, the Khoi-Khoi and the Xhosa, as well as shipwrecked sailors and seaside settlers. Trained guides are available to accompany hikers on their trips.
Surfing: Surfing is a very popular activity along this coastline and the two most renowned surfing beaches are Eastern Beach and Nahoon Beach. Some of the best breakers in the country are found at Nahoon Beach but be warned, there are sharks in this vicinity.
Kwa Zunga Nature Trail: This relatively mild, two-hour (guided) off-road trail starts at a spot approximately 30-minutes drive from East London. The trail passes through lush fynbos vegetation as well as indigenous forests. The trail also offers possibilities for swimming and canoeing.
Art And Crafts
Ann Bryant Art Gallery: The gallery is housed in a beautiful old Edwardian home, built in 1905. Mr Edward Bryant bequeathed the house, originally named “The Gables”, to the city on the death of his wife. His only condition was that it should be turned into an art museum. The gallery houses a valuable collection of works dating from 1880 to the present. The building itself is well worth a visit, the pressed steel ceilings and stained-glass windows being works of art in their own right.
History And Architecture
Khaya la Bantu: This is an intimate Xhosa village, an actual family homestead on a working farm that has not been developed for tourist purposes. Instead, the two families that make up the group allow visitors to share in their daily routine. Interpreters accompany the visitors to explain the layout of the village as well as the traditional activities that the inhabitants engage in. Demonstrations of traditional singing and dancing and sheep-shearing (in season) are popular among visitors.
Township Tours: Trained guides take visitors on tours of the township, filling them in on the history, culture and way of life of the local inhabitants and accompanying them to venues such as pubs and restaurants to meet the people.
Entertainment And Shopping
Craft markets: There are many formal and informal craft markets in and around the city and near the beaches, especially near the popular tourist venues.
Latimer’s Landing: Historic Latimer’s Landing is an old fishing dock on the banks of the Buffalo River. This historic site is now an exciting waterfront development housing a variety of restaurants and pubs. A flea market is held here every Saturday and Sunday.
Nightlife: East London is a modern city with a busy nightlife and all types of entertainment, both cultural and in a lighter vein, are catered for.
Shops and malls: Bargain hunters will love the factory shops, especially those of the local textile industry, and the shops and malls in the inner city.
Fauna And Flora
Amalinda Nature Conservation Station: The 134-ha Amalinda Nature Conservation Station is a breeding centre for fish, a nature reserve and a research centre. The coastal forest is the natural habitat of many game species. In addition to the wildlife, visitors can also enjoy angling and picnicking.
Gonubie Nature Reserve: The wetland and coastal grassland of the Gonubie Nature Reserve is a safe haven for many birds such as crowned cranes and jacanas. The reserve is also recognised for the abundance of its indigenous flora.
Nahoon River Estuary: Many indigenous species of wildlife have chosen the fertile Nahoon River Estuary as their home.
Queens Park Zoo: Queens Park incorporates a 34-ha botanical garden as well as a zoo with over 1 200 animals. The zoo lies between the city centre and the Buffalo River. Pony rides and a refreshment kiosk provide some added entertainment.
Umtiza Nature Reserve: A series of short nature trails has been mapped out to allow visitors to explore the Umtiza Nature Reserve at their leisure. The reserve lies 15 km from East London.
History And Architecture
Anglo-Boer War Memorial: A life-size statue of a horse, sculpted by W Reynolds-Stevens, was erected to honour the local men who died in the Anglo-Boer War.
Calgary Museum of Transport: The museum lies 13 km out of town on the Stutterheim road. The museum houses an assortment of animal-drawn vehicles, handcarts, wagons, saddles and agricultural machines, all used in the border area at some time or another. A blacksmith’s shop and gypsy caravan are also included.
City Hall: The City Hall is a strikingly-designed, maroon-coloured edifice, featuring a beautiful marble staircase and a Victorian Hall and Clock Tower, built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
East London Museum: The museum certainly deserves its reputation as one of the country’s finest museums. The exhibits range from the only remaining dodo egg in the world to the first coelacanth caught off Chalumna Mouth in 1938. Until then, this prehistoric species fish was thought to have been extinct for 70 million years. The museum also includes exhibits on the ethno-cultural history of the Xhosa people, marine wreckage and colonial history.
Fort Glamorgan: The fort was built in the 1840s and houses a powder magazine.
German Memorial: The memorial recognises the important contribution that the German immigrants made to the development of the town and was unveiled in 1960.
Historical buildings: The architectural heritage of East London includes well-preserved examples of late Victorian, ornate and neo-classical buildings, some of which are open to visitors as house museums.
Hood Point Lighthouse: The lighthouse has been in service since 1895, warning ships to steer clear of Nahoon Reef. The “keyhole” windows, the upper gallery, the upper structure made of steel and the weathervane on top are typical lighthouse features.
John Gately House: This house was once the home of John Gately, an Irish Settler who became mayor of East London in 1875. The house is an historical museum and was declared a national monument in 1973.
Lock Street Gaol: The first prison for women in South Africa, Lock Street Gaol, was built in 1880. It is one of East London’s oldest buildings. The building was recently put to a more positive use when it was turned into a shopping complex where crafts and curios can be bought. The original gallows and the cells on death row are still on view. The infamous Daisy de Melker, who poisoned three of her husbands, was hanged here. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (former wife of Nelson Mandela) was also jailed here during the Apartheid years.
Pier at Orient Beach: The Russian ship, Orient, sank off the coast in 1907. The pier at Orient Beach was built over the wreck of the Orient.
St Peters Church: This is the oldest church in the city and was completed in 1857.
Signal Hill Memorial: The memorial marks the spot where the Union Jack was hoisted in 1836 to proclaim the town British territory.
Steve Biko Statue: The statue was only recently unveiled and pays tribute to one of the great heroes of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. Steve Biko was born in Ginsberg on the outskirts of town. He inspired black people to throw off the mental shackles of Apartheid and to start believing in themselves and their right to control their own destinies. Sadly, he died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody, before he could see his dreams come to fruition. His tiny house and his grave are open to the public and is part of an accompanied tour that will take visitors to many other related places of interest.
War Memorial: The memorial was built to honour the memory of the brave soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War.