48 hours in Port Elizabeth

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Known as the Friendly City of South Africa, Port Elizabeth forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and is jam-packed with activities and adventure. It is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and adrenalin junkies, epitomised by its role as host to the gruelling triathlon, IRONMAN South Africa.

Cycling for IRONMAN South Africa. Photo by The Hippie Triathlete.
Cycling for IRONMAN South Africa. Photo by The Hippie Triathlete.

Even though it caters in myriad ways to cyclists, swimmers, hikers and the like, there is plenty more to keep the less sporty engaged, and, ultimately, 48 hours is just not enough to appreciate PE.

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Upon Arrival

Driving to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town will take you along the verdant splendour of the Garden Route; while coming from the north offers the wonders of the Karoo or the company of the east coast. In addition, the city has an airport serving local and international flights.

Having forgotten to eat en route, or averted plane food, your stomach will be rumbling for a good meal; but before you explore the city for a dining spot, check in and dump your luggage. Whatever your preference – a luxury hotel or a charming guest house – you have plenty of accommodation choices in Port Elizabeth, including various options within walking distance of the beach such as The Waterhouse, Chapman Hotel and Beachwalk Bed and Breakfast.

Sleep in style. Photo by The Waterhouse.
Sleep in style. Photo by The Waterhouse.

If you’re staying at the Chapman Hotel you can have dinner at their restaurant, Blackbeards, one of the best seafood restaurants in South Africa; but if you want to trawl through the town to try other cuisine, there is lots more to choose from. Eat burgers at Friendly Stranger and steak at Blue Waters Café, or load up on carbs at Charlie’s Pizza and Pasta, before turning in early for a good night’s rest.

Ready, Set, Go

Outdoor aficionados are no strangers to getting up early, and you won’t be able to stay in bed long with the thought of all the excitement that lies ahead. Get the day started with a range of invigorating activities such as tackling the 22-kilometre Zwartkops Mountain Bike Trail or hiking along the 8-kilometre Sacremento Trail through the Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve.

Sacramento Trail. Photo by Barnardinho.
Sacramento Trail. Photo by Barnardinho.

For something less arduous you can take a stroll along the 2.3-kilometre Humpback Dolphin Trail, a walkway constructed of recycled plastic that winds its way along the city’s coastal promenade. You can also tap into your inner child by sliding down the Maitland Sand Dunes on anything from pieces of cardboard or plywood to trays and actual sand-boards.

Divers can explore the marvels of the Indian Ocean at Shark Gulley, also known as Roman Rock. One of the oldest diving spots in PE, it affords divers the chance to glimpse starfish, soft coral, anemones, nudibranchs, as well as the conger eel at Square Hole and plenty of ragged-tooth sharks. There’s also the extensive reef system at Riy Banks, and the Paris Maru wreck to explore.

The great outdoors are certainly calling from every corner in PE, but if sporting or physical exercise don’t appeal to you, there are other ways to satiate the thirst for all things outdoorsy. Kragga Kamma Game Park offers self-drives and guided safaris, taking you through the park to search for rhinos, buffalos, cheetahs, giraffe, zebras and various antelope species.

White rhinos at Kraga Kamma. Photo by Robert Tyabji.
White rhinos at Kraga Kamma. Photo by Robert Tyabji.

 Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest national park in South Africa and the only one to be home to the Big Seven: the elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo, as well as the southern right whale and great white shark off the coast of Algoa Bay.

A memory of elephants. Photo by Marco Derksen.
A memory of elephants. Photo by Marco Derksen.

For more marine life head to the Cape Recife Lighthouse and visit SAMREC (South African Marine Rehabilitation Centre), where an abundance of marine life – such as penguins, seals and turtles – are rescued and rehabilitated. Visitors to the centre can attend guided tours learning about the various species and their conservation.

African penguins at SAMREC. Photo by flowcomm.
African penguins at SAMREC. Photo by flowcomm.

After an eventful morning you can wind down with a boat trip out the Port Elizabeth harbour, before hitting the sack for a well-deserved siesta.

On the Town

There’s no better way to wrap up the day than with a night on the town, and PE hands you the brush to paint the town red any way you want. You can go big at The Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World to eat, drink, gamble or take in a show.

For a more trendy and easy-going vibe, try out Café Zanzibar, Bridge Street Brewery, For the Love of Wine or The Music Kitchen. If you’d like to end your evening on a more elegant and sedate note then why not try some of the city’s top fine dining spots such as The Jazz Room; Ginger; or Old Austria, the oldest restaurant in PE.

Beach Bliss

Start the morning slowly by sleeping in and then grabbing a late breakfast or brunch at The Coffee Society, Deli Street Café, or Bocadillos. Then it’s time to hit the beach, because you can’t leave PE without enjoying the sunshine and sand. Along the main beachfront you can throw out your towel at King’s Beach, Hobie Beach and Humewood Beach; while the beach at Schoenmakerskop is the perfect place for picnics, spotting dolphins and exploring rock pools and coves.

A Historic End

Before you start packing up take one more chance to spend time in the city absorbing the historical and cultural influence of the Xhosa and the British. The Sakhume Museum and Xhosa Culture Centre provides insight into the heritage and history of the people, including a focus on Walmer Township, which is renowned for successfully resisting forced removal during Apartheid.

Walmer Township sunset. Photo by max_thinks_sees.
Walmer Township sunset. Photo by max_thinks_sees.

This turbulent period of South Africa’s history can also be explored at the Red Location Apartheid Museum. The Donkin Heritage Trail, meanwhile, is a historical meander through the lives and times of the 1820 colonial settlers, who founded Port Elizabeth after abandoning agriculture.

Red Location Apartheid Museum in New Brighton township. Photo by max_thinks_sees.
Red Location Apartheid Museum in New Brighton township. Photo by max_thinks_sees.

Now almost 200 years old, the city is bursting with life and growing every day. Its people are of every colour and creed, and pay testament to why it has been dubbed the Friendly City, making it so much easier to extend your stay or return for another round.
(Feature image: flowcomm)

48 hours in Port Elizabeth was last modified: November 25th, 2016 by Claudia Hauter
Author: Claudia Hauter (42 posts)

Lover of literature. Fundi of film. Mad about music. Proudly Mzansi. You can also find her blogging at Dinner and a Movie.