Port Elizabeth, the largest city in the Eastern Cape, is set on the beautiful coastline of Algoa Bay. Algoa Bay, discovered by the Portuguese in 1482, was for a long time the last port of call for ships sailing to India. When the British captured the Cape in 1795 a stone fort (Fort Frederick) was built on the hill overlooking the Algoa Bay anchorage and a thriving settlement soon grew here. In 1820, after the arrival of over 4 000 British Settlers, a town was officially established and named Port Elizabeth after the late wife of the acting Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Rufane Donkin.
Port Elizabeth is a year-round water sport paradise with its magnificent 40-km long coastline that offers a perfect combination of warm water and protected beaches. In addition to its beaches and the sea, the city also offers a diverse mix of eco-attractions that include scenic nature trails with magnificent wildlife and a rich and varied historical heritage. It is also often referred to as Sport Elizabeth because of its many sporting venues and facilities.
The city, affectionately known as the “Friendly City”, is renowned for its friendly service and the hospitality of its easy-going people.
An added “friendly” factor is the weather. The city is rated as having the most temperate climate in Africa and the fourth best weather conditions in the world. Port Elizabeth enjoys an annual daily average of seven and a half hours of sunshine – more sunshine and less rain during summer than any other major South African destination! The strong southeaster and offshore southwester winds create unpredictable, but generally favourable, sailing and yachting conditions.
Port Elizabeth has recently been identified as a concentrated urbanisation intercity activity area and is now part of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, the area between the Sundays and Van Stadens Rivers and which includes the Algoa Bay area, now affectionately referred to as Nelson Mandela Bay, Uitenhage, Despatch and Kouga .
Today, Port Elizabeth is regarded as the economic capital of the Eastern Cape as well as an important cultural, administrative, business and tourist centre and has the fifth largest urban population in the country. The city is renowned for its motor-manufacturing industry and the many other products manufactured and exported from its seaport. Port Elizabeth is linked to other major cities and centres in South Africa by air, road and rail. It is situated some 260 km from Knysna and approximately 800 km from Cape Town.
Adventure And Sport
Algoa Grand Prix: This motor-sport venue is equipped with an indoor circuit with a very high standard of track and kart maintenance and has the latest technology in timing systems.
Bushbuck Hiking Trail: The trail traverses the lush green indigenous forests of the Island Forest Reserve.
Coastal and inland walking trails: Port Elizabeth offers a variety of walks that meander through coastal and valley areas. All the trails are clearly marked and hikers can attempt them on their own or can make prior arrangements to obtain the services of a guide. These trails are the 7,5-km Guinea Fowl Trail through the Baakens River Valley and the Sacramento Trail, an 8-km round trip through the Schoenmakers-Sardinia Nature Reserve, renowned for its beautiful scenery. At Schoenmakerskop, a cannon points towards the spot where the Sacramento, a Portuguese ship, sank in 1647.
Cricket, swimming, bowling and rugby: The 73-ha St George’s Park in the heart of Port Elizabeth, is home to the country’s oldest cricket club, the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club. It also houses the St George’s Swimming Baths, the oldest bowling green in the country, Founders’ Green, as well as rugby fields and tennis courts. Many international sporting events have been hosted here.
4×4 routes: Tourists are often unaware of the adventures and the beauty they miss by travelling only well-worn paths and roads. The answer to this lies in the 4×4 routes designed to help visitors discover the large areas that are usually inaccessible to ordinary vehicles. These routes take visitors through unspoilt countryside and along the giddy heights of mountain passes and also to more conventional tourist attractions. The Eastern Cape has it all and 4×4 lovers can take their pick of forests, waterfalls, big-game country, semi-desert areas or miles of sandy beaches. The organised tours range from one-day tours to adventurous five-day tours.
Golf Clubs: Humewood Golf Club, situated on the Algoa Bay shoreline, is rated among South Africa’s best golf courses and is also one of only a few genuine link courses. Wedgwood Park Country Club and Port Elizabeth Golf Club are rated as being of international standard. Golfers may also make use of the Walmer Country Club and Walmer Golf Club facilities.
Horse racing: The city has two racecourses: St Andrew’s Racing Club in Arlington and Port Elizabeth’s Turf Club in Fairview.
Mountain bike trails: Well-established and exciting mountain-bike trails in the vicinity include the Baakens River Mountain-Bike Trail, the Zwartkops Mountain-Bike Trails, the Longmore Forest Mountain-Bike Trail and the Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve Trail.
Otter Hiking Trail: The popular five-day Otter Trail between the Storms River mouth and Nature’s Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park offers stunning views of the coast, cliff-top scrub forests, ferns, “fynbos” and spring flowers. It is one of the best-known hiking trails in the country.
Sailing and other water sport: Algoa Bay is regarded as one of the world’s best sailing venues and offers excellent conditions for sailing, board-sailing and most other forms of water sport. Its waters are also ideal for scuba-diving and snorkelling among old shipwrecks and beautiful reefs with colourful coral species.
Surfing: Various surfing spots have been identified in and around Port Elizabeth. The Fence is a hollow beach break and one of PE’s most popular surfing spots.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Museum Complex: Prepare to spend many fascinating hours in this magnificent complex. Within the complex is the Port Elizabeth Museum that houses one of the largest marine mammal collections in the world, a nationally important herpetological collection and the life-sized models of prehistoric mammals such as Algoa Bay’s own 14-m-long dinosaur. The museum also exhibits a valuable reference collection of fish otoliths (ear bones) and squid beaks that were part of the stomach contents of marine predators. Another significant exhibit depicts the stages of development of life on earth since some 300 million years ago.
Art And Crafts
King George VI Art Gallery: The gallery houses a permanent collection of 19th and 20th century British art as well as collections of Oriental, South African and other art. The gallery often presents lectures, films and concerts pertaining to these collections and is considered one of the best art galleries in South Africa.
Wezandla Gallery and Craft Centre: The centre was set up to ensure the survival and preservation of African, and specifically, local Xhosa culture. It also hosts live cultural evenings that feature African dancing and are catered for with traditional African food. Wezandla sells superior examples of crafts made by local and other African artists. A good local “buy” to take home is a long-stemmed, wooden Xhosa tobacco pipe. These pipes, traditionally smoked by mature Xhosa women, represent two art forms: carving and beadwork and are quite unlike European pipes.
Entertainment And Shopping
Apple Express: A trip on the famous antique steam train, the Apple Express, is an absolute must. The train journey takes visitors on a 52-km trip to the quaint village of Thornhill. The outing also includes a walk over the Van Staden’s River Bridge, the highest narrow-gauge railway bridge in the world.
Happy Valley: Take the family for a leisurely stroll from Humewood Beach to Happy Valley. There are waterfalls, lily ponds, rockeries, gigantic palms, flower beds, pools and a giant chessboard along the way, as well as coloured lights and set scenes depicting favourite nursery rhymes and fairy tales during the holiday season.
Live shows: The city offers many live shows such as opera and symphony concerts in the stately Opera House and Feather Market Hall, as well as cabaret and dancing in its many night clubs. St George’s Park: The park houses the Prince Alfred’s Guard Memorial and cenotaph, King George VI Art Gallery and Fine Arts Hall as well as the beautiful Victorian Pearson Conservatory built in 1882 and the world-famous St George’s Park cricket ground. A large flea market and “art-in-the-park” exhibition is held in the park on the first Sunday of every month.
Fauna And Flora
Bird Island Nature Reserve: Chartered trips take visitors to the Bird Island Nature Reserve to observe the colony of approximately 140 000 gannets and their daily activities.
Cape Recife Nature Reserve: The 366-ha Cape Recife Nature Reserve is a premier bird-watching destination. It was proclaimed in 1973 to preserve the indigenous bird life of the area. Numerous bird hides allow unobtrusive views of the many birds and the unspoilt beaches and natural dune vegetation. An added attraction is the Cape Recife lighthouse, built in 1851, with its characteristic big black and white horizontal stripes – applied to distinguish the lighthouse from the dunes behind it. Beachfront cruises to the reserve and the lighthouse are popular tourist activities.
Eastern Cape Island Forest Reserve: The lush green indigenous forests of the Eastern Cape Island Forest Reserve cover 480 ha along the Alexandria coastline and offer numerous walks, including the well-known Bushbuck Hiking Trail. There are several picnic sites and barbecue areas in the reserve.
Maitland Nature Reserve: This is a 127-ha indigenous coastal forest reserve in which many species of birds nest. The nature trails through the forest open up this wondrous world to hikers. The most popular route leads to the lead mines and the giant Maitland sand dunes.
Ocean safaris: Since the launching of ocean safaris from the harbour, the antics of the dolphins and penguins in Port Elizabeth’s Algoa Bay have remained in the spotlight. The local environmentalist, who heads these charter trips, has an enduring passion for marine life and his talks inspire, entertain and educate visitors and locals alike. He often refers to the bay as an “ecological dream”, pointing out that it is inhabited by many attractive marine species, such as humpback- and bottlenose dolphins, marine birds and seals and the largest breeding colony of endangered African penguins on the planet, at St Croix Island Marine Reserve.
Oceanarium: If you missed seeing dolphins at any of the lookout points on the coast, the Oceanarium offers you another opportunity. The daily shows, during which the dolphins and seals show off their natural talents and the tricks that they have been taught, are not to be missed.
Pearson Conservatory: Located in St George’s Park, the conservatory houses a vast collection of plants and water lilies.
Seaview Game and Lion Park: This park is situated 25 km from Port Elizabeth. The proudest addition to its population is a pride of endangered white lions. The first two white lions were discovered in 1975 at the Timbavati Game Reserve near the Kruger National Park and there are about 90 in the world. White lions are not albinos but carry a rare, recessive white gene that creates a condition known as leucism. They have near-normal eye colour but lack pigment in their hair and skin. The Park has also become an orphanage for lost wild animals. The reserve offers exciting activities, such as self-drive game viewing, camping, caravanning, African cuisine, “boma” evenings and night game drives.
Settler’s Park Nature Reserve: This beautiful 76-ha park and reserve, in the city centre, sports a prolific bird life and lovely indigenous flora, rock pools, a network of footpaths and the Baakens River that flows through the park. The park also boasts a statuette replica of the 1820 Settlers Monument in Grahamstown, Anglo-Boer War trenches, and a section of the 18-km Guinea Fowl Hiking Trail.
Shamwari Game Reserve: Shamwari is the only private game reserve in the Eastern Cape where the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros) can be viewed. The name means “My friend” and the reserve is certainly a friend to the animals who have found sanctuary here. Luxury accommodation and highly-trained rangers afford visitors an unforgettable holiday. The reserve is internationally acclaimed for its conservation efforts and has won numerous international travel/tourism awards. It is situated near the Addo Elephant Reserve, about 45-minutes drive from Port Elizabeth.
Snake Park and Tropical House: Situated in the Museum Complex in Humewood the Snake Park houses a wide variety of exotic and indigenous snakes and an impressive number of Eastern Cape reptiles and the Tropical House boasts a large variety of exotic plants and birds.
Tsitsikamma National Park: The park is South Africa’s first marine reserve and is responsible for the protection of the unique, southern coastal forest, as well as of the area’s riverine and marine life. The dreams of the French Comte de Vasselot de Regne, Superintendent of Forests of the Cape Colony in 1880, were finally realised when the park was proclaimed. The landscape of the park includes a narrow coastal strip of indigenous forest along the steep cliffs as well as large beaches on the country’s south coast. It lies on the edge of the wave terrace and protects the marine conservation area from urban development and growing plantations. The park also protects a rich archaeological heritage where signs have been found to indicate that Stone Age people lived here as far back as 130 000 years ago. Some of the prehistoric signs include ash-heaps and deposits in caves. Several popular and renowned hiking trails, such as the famous Otter and Tsitsikamma Trails, have been mapped out in the reserve.
Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve: Situated 35 km from Port Elizabeth, the landscape of the reserve alternates dramatically, ranging from green river banks to a large open plateau and wooded slopes, each with its own type of vegetation. The descriptive term, “floral wonderland”, is certainly not an exaggeration, given the park’s spectacular range of unique, mostly endangered indigenous species, including natural fynbos and succulents. Trails with numerous picnic sites along the way have been set up to encourage visitors to experience the feel and fragrance of these unique plants.
Whale-watching cruises: Southern right whales visit these waters from July to November and humpback whales from June to December. Coastal cruise operators are well informed and equipped to take visitors to the best spots for whale-watching. Stopping within 300 m of the whales, they switch off the echo sounders of their craft so that they do not interfere with the whales’ sonar signals.
History And Architecture
Air Force Museum: This museum is situated behind the Port Elizabeth Airport and houses numerous complete aircraft and other aviation items.
Campanile: The 51,8-m-high campanile is situated at the entrance to the harbour. It houses a carillon of 23 bells and was erected to commemorate the centenary of the landing of the 1820 British Settlers. Take the 204 steps to the top for a panoramic view.
Donkin Heritage Trail: The 5-km Donkin Heritage Trail winds its way through the leafy streets and historical heart of the city. The trail leads to some 47 sites of historical importance including monuments, architectural works of art, gardens and churches and visitors may explore at their leisure.
Donkin Reserve: The reserve is an open square that overlooks the city and the bay where Sir Rufane Donkin erected a stone pyramid, with a very touching inscription, in memory of his wife Elizabeth, who had died in India. Port Elizabeth was named after her.
Donkin Street: A row of charming double-storied Victorian terrace houses faces the Donkin Reserve.
Drill Hall, Prospect Hill: Headquarters of the second oldest volunteer regiment in South Africa, Prince Alfred’s Guard, the hall houses a collection of ceremonial badges, weapons and war photographs.
Fort Frederick: Erected in 1799 to guard against a sea invasion and situated on Belmont Terrace, the fort overlooks the Baakens River Mouth. The fort is named after Frederick, Duke of York. Interestingly enough, no shot has ever been fired in anger from the fort.
Horse Memorial: When it was unveiled the Horse Memorial was the only memorial of its kind in the world. A Port Elizabeth woman was so moved when she learned of the hundreds of thousands of horses that died during the Anglo-Boer War, that she raised the money to commission the sculptor Joseph Whitehead to create a sculpture in their honour. The sculpture features a horse drinking from a bucket held by a British soldier.
Jewish Heritage Museum: The museum Is housed in a deconsecrated Jewish synagogue just off Russell Road.
Motor Museum: Situated in Mowbray Street, Newton Park, the museum displays a collection of vintage and classic vehicles.
Museum Complex: Situated on the beachfront at Humewood the Museum Complex comprises the Port Elizabeth Museum, Oceanarium, Aquarium, Snake Park and Reptile Rotunda and the Tropical House, a walk-through jungle environment. The museum depicts the natural, maritime and cultural history of the area with the use of exciting displays. One of the displays, Amaskiko, is an innovative exhibition of traditional storytelling and local culture. The history of local Xhosa beadwork and culture is displayed together with the genealogies of the various clans.
Opera House: Visit the Victorian building in White Street that houses the oldest functioning opera house in the country; a fine example of a Victorian theatre.
Piet Retief Monument: Located in Marine Drive in the gardens in front of the Summerstrand Village Shopping Centre, the monument commemorates the Voortrekker leader who led his people out of the Eastern Cape on the Great Trek to the interior of the country.
Prester John Monument: Port Elizabeth’s most unusual monument honours a man who never lived — a mythical king-priest who was partly responsible for luring Portuguese seafarers to the Southern African coast in their quest to find his mythical kingdom.
Settler Cottage: One of the oldest surviving Settler cottages in Port Elizabeth is situated at No 7, Castle Hill. The house, dating back to 1827, has been restored to its earlier grandeur and contains authentic period furniture as well as a lovely collection of dolls.
Victorian architecture: Port Elizabeth features the finest collection of Victorian architecture to be found in any major South African city outside Cape Town.
White House: The building is one of the best examples of art nouveau architecture in South Africa.
“Khaya Lendaba”: South Africa’s only centre for traditional healing and the training of sangomas (African herbalists and traditional healers) is located in the Shamwari Private Game Reserve. The house was built by Credo Mutwa, the renowned South African sangoma, artist and oral historian. Daily tours are conducted around the village (decorated with Mutwa’s spectacular sculptures) and visitors are introduced to local culture and African herbalism and may spend some time with the traditional healer. Traditional dishes and beer are also on offer.
Township tours: Various accredited tour guides and operators offer visitors the opportunity to meet the local inhabitants, learn about their different cultures and get a feel of life in the townships. The tours expose visitors to the full spectrum of life in Port Elizabeth’s townships and include club and “shebeen” tours, weekend tours and visits to weddings or funerals as well as “contrasting worlds” tours that take visitors to both white and black areas. During the evening shebeen tours, visitors are encouraged to relax and mingle with the locals. Most township tours will include a visit to New Brighton, the oldest, official black township in Port Elizabeth where a wall of fame has recently been erected to honour those who helped to “shape” the township. Ample time is allowed for enjoying refreshments and to buy art and crafts from local artists. Visitors are advised to contact the local tourism board for a list of reputable township tour operators who know the area, before entering a township or informal settlement.