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Port Elizabeth - The Friendly City

Posted: 22nd January 2015 16:31

Situated on the Indian Ocean coast half-way between Cape Town and Durban, Port Elizabeth – or the ‘Friendly City’ as it is affectionately known by South Africans – is defined by its sweeping beaches and eclectic heritage.  An almost heavenly climate means the city is blessed with mild winters and warm summers without the humidity experienced in other parts of the country.  Its various African names – Bhayi, iBhyai and Die Baai – refer to the stunning Algoa Bay along which the city stretches.  A diverse but relatively small population speaking a range of languages means Port Elizabeth consistently lives up to its friendly tag; the locals will be more than willing to show you around as you meander through the beautiful Victorian streets and green spaces of the ‘Central’ district, or ride the waves on one of the bay’s many surf-friendly beaches.       

A Port of Discovery

Adventure and discovery are in the DNA of Port Elizabeth.  The area was first settled over 100,000 years ago and has long been home to the native Xhosa peoples.  In 1488 Portuguese explorers entered Algoa Bay and the region soon became integral to both the Portuguese and Dutch trading empires.  In 1820, a party of 4,000 British settlers arrived by sea and a town was founded by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, who named it after his late wife, Elizabeth.  Her town is therefore the perfect place to take a trip back into South Africa’s varied colonial past.  Donkin’s moving tribute to his wife forms part of the Donkin Reserve, a small open public space which features serene walking paths, a lighthouse dating back to 1861 and the pyramid memorial dedicated to Elizabeth.  The views from the top of the lighthouse are spectacular and make for excellent photographs, whilst the entire area is a testament to the intensely personal story of the city’s past.  Maintaining this personal narrative is the South End Museum, a true community museum depicting life in the district before the clearances of the apartheid era.  Exhibits cover a range of topics that were central to the thriving cultural life of South End, including fishing, music, dance and sport, and visitors get a real sense of the vibrant community.

Wildlife

Like most of South Africa, and even the continent as a whole, Port Elizabeth is home to an incredible array of wildlife.  The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre is the city’s new home for marine birds, many of which are rescued and brought into the centre to recover in the care of a team of dedicated staff.  Visitors are invited to learn more about local wildlife through a number of exhibitions, whilst a tour of the hospital allows you to see the volunteers hard at work.  A particular highlight is seeing the endangered African penguin up close.  For those wishing to venture out of Port Elizabeth, the Kragga Kamma Game Park is only a 20 minute drive from the city and allows visitors to see antelopes, cheetahs, buffalos, rhinos and warthogs, whilst the Kwantu Private Game Reserve offers guests the chance to take an elephant ride with one of the professional and knowledgeable guides.  The nearby Addo Elephant National Park, the country’s third largest national park, runs over the rugged Zuurberg Mountains and is home to over 550 elephants and a range of animals including hyenas, lions, antelope and zebras.   Visitors can enjoy self-drive game viewing, horse trails and hiking, whilst accommodation can be sought at one of the park’s many luxury lodges. 

Sport and Adventure in the Friendly City

Possibly the most popular attraction for Port Elizabeth’s sport enthusiasts is the St Francis Links golf course, designed by the game’s most legendary figure, Jack Nicklaus.  Set between the beach and nearby arable land, this is a true links course with stunning views of the Indian Ocean and the natural vegetation that provides a home to many different species of bird.  No two holes are the same and the combination of strategic bunkering, natural waterways and changeable Eastern Cape winds makes this a challenge not to be missed.  For those wanting to experience an invigorating dip in the warm waters that dominate the views from Port Elizabeth, there is a wide range of activities on offer at the city’s many long, sandy beaches.  Hobie and Humewood are the main swimming areas, whilst Pollock beach is popular with local surfers.  The city is also home to one of South Africa’s oldest diving schools, and the coastline offers a number of high-quality scuba diving locations.  Back on dry land, hiking trails can be found in and around the city, whilst those seeking a unique thrill can try their hand at sand boarding on the Maitland dune mountain.