If you’re considering a beach break combined with a bit of culture, some retail therapy and great food, then look no further than Port Elizabeth. This friendly city really does pull out all the stops when it comes to keeping its visitors entertained, chilled and loving life. With no reason to rush and endless days of sunshine, here are 11 great reasons to come and play in Port Elizabeth.
Shop for souvenirs
Don’t miss the opportunity to pick up a bargain in the Bay, as souvenir merchants are easy to find along the beachfront and offer all sorts of goodies to slip into your suitcase. Wooden carvings of African animals, beaded necklaces and a variety of other uniquely South African curios can all be purchased at less-than-average tourist prices, but be sure to have some local currency in cash handy. Informal sellers are usually willing to barter so don’t always accept the first price they offer.
The small, rocky island of St Croix is an important marine reserve as it is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. These distinct black-and-white birds are only found along the southwestern coast of Africa and, with rapidly dwindling numbers, are listed as an endangered species. A boat charter is needed to get to the island, while the surrounding waters are rich in marine life and a popular scuba diving site.
Blue Flag status is a global accolade awarded to beaches that meet strict environmental, water quality and security criteria, and the good news is that Port Elizabeth currently has three. Kings Beach, Hobie Beach and Humewood Beach all hold this prestigious honour, as well as clean, sandy shores where visitors can stretch out and work on their tan. The Indian Ocean is usually warm enough for a dip, so swim, surf, boogie board or kite surf the day away while the sounds of the city hover faintly in the background.
Natural and cultural history merge easily with slithery reptiles and underwater marine wonders at Bayworld, where you can eyeball a shark through the safety of a glass window in the oceanarium before heading off for a close encounter with one of the Eastern Cape’s indigenous snake species. Adjacent to Bayworld is the Port Elizabeth Museum, the third-oldest in South Africa, with exhibitions ranging from dinosaurs to maritime history and Xhosa bead work. Seal and penguin presentations, as well as snake interaction sessions, occur daily at set times.
So much more than just a park, this green and leafy recreational and sports facility is the sixth-oldest cricket ground in the world, housing a cricket stadium, swimming pool, walking paths to meander along and a good scattering of hungry ducks. It also includes the elegant Victorian Pearson Conservatory that was built in 1882 for the cultivation of exotic plants, and Prince Alfred’s Guard Memorial. Take a picnic and grab a spot on the grass while the kids work off energy in the playground, or catch an action-packed cricket match.
Affectionately known as ‘Sards’ by locals, this pristine stretch of beach requires a bit of legwork to get to but, once you are there, you will understand why the walk was worthwhile. Peaceful and often deserted, Sardinia Bay forms part of a marine reserve, with waters frequented by scuba divers and long stretches of sandy coastline favoured by horse riders, dog walkers and kite surfers. Ideal for romantic, early morning strolls or cuddles on the sand dunes come sunset, this is one spot to share with your honey.
South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre
The SAMREC is located within the wild and beautiful Cape Recife Conservancy with the aim of rescuing injured marine life before releasing it back into the wild. The most common patients at the centre are African penguins, an endangered species, and visitors can watch as volunteers care for and clean the birds. SAMREC is open throughout the day, but those wanting an extra special treat should aim to be there at 2:30pm when the eternally hungry penguins get fed.
The vibey Valley Market gives foodies a reason to get excited, as it dishes up platefuls of artisanal food and drink options on the first Saturday of every month. It is housed in an old industrial tramway building that comes to life with enticing aromas and colourful dishes, tempting visitors to eat their way through until their heart’s content. The wide variety of food on offer is an appealing alternative to traditional restaurants, so grab some dim sum, a gourmet burger, or spicy seafood paella and end it off with home-made gelato.
This one-stop entertainment destination is one of Port Elizabeth’s most popular playgrounds and a great place to have some fun. The flagship casino offers gambling galore and there is an excellent selection of restaurants that serve everything from breakfast smoothies through to dinner and late-night cocktails. Retail outlets, an African market, movie houses and entertainment for kids complete the scene, while the central lake lights up at night in waterfalls of shimmering colour, when the musical fountain puts on its show.
Trace the path of the 1820 British Settlers on the Donkin Heritage Trail. For those who don’t know, the settlers of 1820 were the first British colonists to arrive in the Cape and were instrumental in establishing much of what still stands in Port Elizabeth today. The five-kilometre (thee-mile) Donkin trail links 47 national monuments and historical sites that date back to the early days of Port Elizabeth and is well sign posted with information boards, making it easy to navigate and enjoy.
The wooden walkway along Port Elizabeth’s shoreline is well kept and perfect for a serene outdoor walk without all the huffing and puffing. Stroll past Hobie Beach and Shark Rock Pier while surfers catch waves and the sun sparkles off the ocean. Once you get to the lollipop beacon, the scenery changes to a wilder but equally breath-taking landscape. Look out for bottlenose dolphins in the morning, when these playful mammals enjoy riding the waves and leaping through the surf.
Beachfront walkway | Courtesy of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism