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Articles Blog

Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Karyn Planett

Five hundred miles due east of Cape Town, perched on the shores of Algoa Bay where it’s washed by the tepid Indian Ocean, is a city locals call “PE” … short for Port Elizabeth.  It’s one of the spots along South Africa’s Garden Route with a long history and even longer sandy beaches.  Many of the country’s vacationers spend their holidays in tidy bungalows along Humewood Beach, a beach of such renown it’s earned the coveted designation of Blue Flag status.  And, occasionally, the flags do go flying for PE is also referred to as the “windy city.”  That’s perfect for sailors, kiteboarders, and surfers who consider this the center of the universe, as far as their sport is concerned.  So, too, the game fishermen, shark divers, and wreck divers who ply these bountiful seas.

So, hang onto your hat and savor all Port Elizabeth has to offer.

What’s Behind The Name?

A gentleman named Rufane Donkin was governor little more than 100 years ago and honored his wife Elizabeth by naming the city after her, the city he founded.  The Governor and the city’s namesake would be quite proud today for PE is eco-friendly, boasts a number of graceful buildings, offers a vibrant cultural scene, and is home to a host of tempting eateries.  There’s even something called the Donkin Reserve with miles of trails and a pair of distinctive structures – a lighthouse and a pyramid.  

Market Square, surrounded by many handsome historic structures, is a good starting point for a walk-about.  City Hall, dating back to 1862, is identified by its unique clock tower.  A tragic fire in 1977 caused substantial damage to the building but a major restoration program has returned it to its former glory.  Nearby is something called the Diaz Cross, dedicated to the first European who came ashore in Algoa Bay in 1488.  Bartholomew Diaz was that Dutch explore who was sailing east on a voyage of discovery.  He came ashore at an area known as Kwaaihoek.

Another discoverer given a nod here by town fathers is Prester John, a Portuguese explorer who also called in the area while sailing past.  Dating back to 1903 is the Queen Victoria statue.  Further downhill, quite near the access point to the waterfront, is the Campanile with its impressive carillon of 23 bells.  Built in 1923 to commemorate the first British settlers who set up camp here in 1820, the bell tower stands 171 feet high. 

St. George’s Cricket Ground is the scene of some hotly contested matches, lawn bowling, Prince Alfred’s Guard Memorial, and the 1882 Victorian Pearson Conservatory.  So, too, the Horse Memorial dedicated to the thousands of horses and mules that suffered or perished in battle during the Anglo-Boer War, 1899 to 1902.  Here, a soldier is depicted kneeling before his horse, pail in hand, giving his trusty mount a welcomed drink of cold water.  Fort Frederick, the powerful stone structure built in 1799 to defend the mouth of the Baakens River, is a reminder of the city’s turbulent past.  It’s named for Frederick, the Duke of York.

And for museum buffs, there’s the former King George VI Art Gallery, now known as the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, where one could while away the afternoon taking in its displays of Oriental miniatures and fine examples of British art. 

Beyond The Beach

Africa is nothing if not for the game parks where mighty elephants follow ancient trails and lions wait out the midday heat under a shady shade tree.  Addo Elephant National Park is just 50 miles from PE and dedicated to the preservation of the Cape buffalo and the Eastern Cape elephant.  Found in the Sunday’s River Valley, the park dates back to 1931 when efforts were put into place to rescue the elephant population that had dwindled to a mere handful.  Today, it’s home to some 450 Addo elephants that are identified by their reddish color and small stature compared to other species of African elephants.  With luck, they’ll be on parade today.  And, though the Park is home to all Africa’s “Big Five”, the Cape buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino, sightings of all these members of Mother Nature’s elite are rare.  

This is not the case with the specimen on view at Bayworld’s Oceanarium.  Though schedules change and should be verified before setting out, it’s possible to see dolphin and seal presentations, even sea horses, eels and ragged tooth sharks.

If time permits, sample a bit of the sea’s tasty bounty – fresh oysters, crayfish, prawns, mussels, or calamari.  A fine South African wine might do nicely, as well.  Enjoy!