Having lived in the windy city for 18 years, I may have somewhat of a biased view of Port Elizabeth in terms of tourism. We tend to take our hometowns for granted- I spent most of my schooling years waiting to live in a big city like Johannesburg or Cape Town.
Now, after being a resident Joburger for 10 years, when I return to Port Elizabeth, I can appreciate it from the perspective of an outsider, and I now realize that it isn’t so bad after all.
If you’re after a laid back, relaxed beach holiday with a little bit of a city vibe, PE is a pretty good choice. You won’t have to deal with any form of traffic, and the city is small enough for you to zip from one end to another in 20 minutes.
Where to stay:
The beachfront area is the best option for accommodation, as it’s close to the airport, the historic city centre where you can do some sightseeing, as well as the city’s best shopping mall, Walmer Park. The Boardwalk Hotel is PE’s newest hotel, opened under the Sun International umbrella. The oversized rooms have private patios overlooking the magnificent Indian Ocean, which are great vantage points from which to watch the sunrise.
The 5 star hotel is connected to the Boardwalk entertainment centre, which houses a casino, multiple restaurants and shops, plus a tenpin bowling alley. In terms of nightlife, this is as good as it gets in PE, and you’ll spot hundreds of locals strolling along the wooden deck encircling a lake, which is the centrepoint of the Boardwalk.
Make a point of visiting at 7pm from Sunday – Thursday or at 8pm, 9pm or 10pm from Friday- Saturday, when you’ll be able to witness the Boardwalk’s French designed musical fountain. Over 80 pumps shoot a thousand tons of water an hour through 100 individual water jets, up to 60 meters into the air. Add 800 colourful lights to this, plus multimedia presentations which are shown on a 144 square metre screen created from water, and you have a must see multimedia spectacular.
If you’re in the mood to treat yourself, make sure to book a treatment at the hotel’s in house Africology spa, after which you can enjoy the spa’s facilities, including an indoor heated pool, fitness centre, healing herb garden, unique hydrotherapy cold water walkway, sauna area and steam room. Guests can choose from a wide variety of Africology holistic massage treatments- the one thing these have in common is the use of plant life and essential oils, which Africology believes promotes skin rejuvenation and relaxation.
Where to eat:
For a great vibe and the option to stroll along a quaint street until you find a restaurant that tickles your fancy, head to Stanley Street in Richmond Hill, home to the very first Vovo Telo artisan bakery in South Africa. The restaurant is situated in a converted house, and is the perfect weekend breakfast spot.
For fantastic sushi, Fushin is your best bet. Head chef, Mark Oosthuizen lives and breathes sushi, which is evident in the eatery’s tantalizing and exotic menu. Try the Fushin style tempura prawns, or the Peruvian scallops.
Not too far from Stanley Street, you’ll find Flava, a bistro and café which dishes up light meals daily- fresh, flavourful salads and traditional South African meaty mains. Meals are moreish and comforting, like the beef curry served on a bed of rice with chunky baby veggies, sambals and chutney.
What to do:
Once you’re done with the obligatory promenade walk along King’s Beach, it’s time to venture beyond the beachfront. Addo Elephant Park is only an hour away from PE, and is the third largest national park in the country, sanctuary to over 600 elephants. You’re almost guaranteed to spot a herd meters away from your car, especially if you drive past the Hapoor dam, where the animals like to spend their time. The park also offers hiking routes and horse trails, making it a good option for a day out the city.
For a taste of Port Elizabeth’s history, walk along the 5km Donkin Heritage Trail, which links 51 places of historical interest in the old Hill area of central PE. You can print out a map and walk the trail yourself, stopping at sites that interest you. Some highlights on the route include one of the oldest and most glamourous buildings in the city, the Feather Market Centre, which was proclaimed a national monument in 1980, as well as the Donkin Reserve, Pyramid and Lighthouse, which visitors can climb for a panoramic view of the Bay.
If you’re in the mood for something more relaxed, Port Elizabeth is surrounded by some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, which are easily accessible. Sardinia Bay is an easy thirty minute drive from the city centre, and is known for its iconic sand dunes with powdery white sand. It is also the starting point of the very popular eight-kilometer Sacramento hiking trail.
In the opposite direction, a little further out, you’ll find Plettenberg Bay, a stop along the popular Garden Route which links Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. The tiny town is an adventure hub, and offers everything from bungee jumping to parasailing, plus surfing and diving. The hour long commute from PE makes a visit to “Plett” completely doable as a day trip,
Avid surfers should definitely visit Jeffrey’s Bay, situated only 30 minutes from PE. The tiny town frequently makes it onto “top surfing spots in the world” lists and hosts the annual Billabong Pro ASP World Tour every year in July, which attracts spectators and professional surfers from all over the world.