Most people only know Johannesburg and Cape Town when they think of South Africa, both of which are serviced by direct flights from Singapore. However, this time I decided to venture deeper into South Africa to explore other regions. Port Elizabeth caught my eye because it is a coastal city and also it was holding a marathon which coincided with my trip in South Africa. It is the fifth largest city in South Africa, lying 770km east of Cape Town where it forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, which links the city with the inland industrial towns of Uitenhage and Despatch. The coast stretches for 16 km along Algoa Bay, and is one of the major seaports in South Africa.
Port Elizabeth (PE) is not only home to stunning beaches, interesting museums and award-winning wildlife destinations, but also some of the friendliest people in the country. It’s no surprise to visitors that it’s called the “Friendly City”.
In order to make the most of your stay in PE, it would be well worth buying a Nelson Mandela Bay Pass, which offers many free activities and discounts.
1 day unlimited activities pass – R300 adults, R200 kids
2 day unlimited activities pass – R375, R230 kids
3 day unlimited pass – R450, R260 kids.
7 day unlimited pass – R800, R500 kids
Or get a pass that’s valid for 3 months but limited to 5 activities only at R450 and R300 for kids. Order a pass online here.
During my four days there, it was fun-filled with activities and there was never a dull moment. I had arrived by overnight bus from Johannesburg and checked into my The Palace guesthouse around 9am. I was greeted by a friendly couple who were managing the place and since the room was ready, they allowed me to go to the room immediately. The Palace guesthouse is conveniently located, just 3 minutes away from the beach and the stretch of restaurants.
Since it was summer time and the school holidays, the beach was packed with locals sunbathing and taking a dip in the sea. The waters of the Indian ocean were a shade of deep blue and the sand was soft. I had lunch at the veranda of the second floor of a bistro overlooking the beach. It was enjoyable to take a stroll along the beach even at night, although it can be quite chilly so remember to bring your jacket along.
Minivans (also known as combis) ply the beach avenue and the railway station. Each ride only costs R10 and it serves as a local form of transport. I took it frequently during my stay in PE to get from the beach to town. The old town has a rich British influence in the architecture and is worth checking it out. Near the town square, there is a beautiful Victorian Gothic building which is the only historic building in South Africa built as a Public Library. It is currently closed due to maintenance works as leaking pipes have been damaging the library books, but the exterior is still free for admiring.
For a panoramic view of the city, climb up to the top of Donkin lighthouse. The pyramid serves as a tribute to the wife of the founder of PE who unfortunately passed away after giving birth. The area outside the Donkin reserve is a public space for youth to gather and hang around. The bright mosaic floor outside the pyramid depicts facets of daily South African life and adds vibrancy to the area. There are also statues of people and Nelson Mandela forming a queue from the slope up to the open square, which served as a reminder of the first time when all South Africans could vote equally. Further down the park, at the base of the flagpole (home to the largest freestanding flag in Africa that is half the size of a tennis court), you will find the Route 67 art trail, so named to commemorate the 67 years that Nelson Mandela contributed to South African politics and the struggle to abolish apartheid.
Another place for checking out the city views would be Fort Federick at Belmont Terrace. It is a stone fort built in 1799 by the British to ward off potential enemies coming from the south. It contains a powder magazine and a disused blockhouse, and today it serves as a public area for locals or tourists to come here to enjoy the breeze and and the view.
Besides history and nature, PE is also home to some of the best craft breweries. And what better way to cool down on a hot summer day by having a taste of some ice cold beer. As a NMB passholder, I signed up for a beer tour. At the first stop at Dockside Brewery I met the brew master and get to ask him questions about the brewing process, tasting four different beers as well. The most unique one was chilli beer which left a spicy aftertaste and I did not really like it. The sakura one had the fragrance of sakura flowers and brought me back to Japan. He is really creative and tries to come up with new flavours all the time. Next, we headed over to Bridge Street Brewery to meet their brew master, another young guy with a passion for brewing. I had a taster set, including apple and pear cider. The owner was quite busy checking on his beers and could not entertain us much. Lastly I visited the Beer Yard, where I tasted their amber ale and got to see their beer making process. Overall it was an experiential learning journey for me through the lens of beer and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I had wanted to do diving in PE but the dive trip was cancelled due to bad weather conditions. On my last day there, I visited the Boardwalk casino, which is a one-stop entertainment destination in PE. Many families were there to enjoy the theme park-like atmosphere at the boardwalk or to have a meal at one of their many restaurants. There were also several musicians busking, while those who like to try their luck can visit the casino. It reminded me of Marina Bay Sands, except with fewer luxury stores. There is even a crafts market selling local products and handicrafts.
Addo Elephant National Park is the third-largest national park in South Africa and also incorporates St Croix and Bird islands, you can do a self-drive and camping to experience getting close to elephants in the wilderness.
Another place to check out would be Sundays River, don’t worry about the name as it is open all days of the week. As much of an adrenaline rush as snow boarding, but available all year round, weather-independent, sand boarding at the Sundays River will give you the ultimate buzz as you ramp up the speed on near-vertical dunes.
PE is also known for diving in the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean surrounded by the Algoa bay, with a variety of options such as reef and wreck dives, ragged tooth shark dives and even sardine run where you get to experience the annual sardine migration! I really wanted to experience diving in South Africa, but unfortunately my dive trip was cancelled due to bad weather. While it was a pity that I had to give the following attractions a miss, but I would definitely go back again to visit them, plus the people in PE are so friendly that it would be hard to say no to the new friends that I have made here.
Where to stay?
Palace Guesthouse (1 Brighton Rd, Port Elizabeth, 6001, South Africa)
How to get there?
Port Elizabeth is served by daily flights from major South African cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban. The airport is only 15 minutes to the city centre which makes it a convenient location.
By bus, there are daily buses from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban as well. It takes 15h from Johannesburg, I traveled with APM (depart 16h00, arrive 09h00 +1, R350). There are also other bus companies plying the route, such as Greyhound, Translux. Just choose one which suits your timing and budget. Tickets can be bought from online.compticket.com or if you happen to pass by a supermarket such as PicknPay, you can also purchase your bus tickets there.