Settlers Parks is unexpectedly found pretty much in the middle of one of Port Elizabeth’s older and more stately suburbs and offers a welcome escape from the sounds of the surrounding city. It is situated within the Baakens River Valley, where rich flora provides ideal habitats for many smaller species of animals and birds. Take time to slow down and marvel at the smaller things in life such as dewdrops caught on a cobweb shimmering in the morning light, while the call of weavers and hornbills echo through the valley.
Pack a picnic and go and enjoy a few hours in the picturesque surrounds of Victoria Park. Here the well-manicured lawns invite visitors to slip off their shoes and throw down a blanket while they stare off into the endless blue sky and ponder the simple things in life. The landscaped gardens feature pretty lily ponds that can be crossed along quaint stone walkways and the park is also well known for its good variety of bird life.
Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve
This wild garden is sculpted by nature and fed from natural rainfall and offers a sanctuary for an assortment of flora and fauna. Half of the reserve is comprised of fynbos (indigenous coastal vegetation) while the remainder is swathed in mystical forest and holds a number of endemic, rare and threatened plant species. Proteas and ground orchids are abundant while only the lucky will catch sight of the endangered Smith’s Dwarf chameleon and Hewitt’s Ghost frog. Don’t miss the interpretive Xhosa cultural display and the cave with a petroglyph, believed to be the most southerly located engraving in Africa.
A short drive from Port Elizabeth in the direction of Jeffreys Bay will lead bird lovers to the quiet haven of African Dawn. As you enter through a man-made grotto and emerge on the other side, the sounds of birdsong will greet you while your eyes adjust to the sun and you take in the gorgeous garden, pond and mountainous surrounds. Stroll the circuit around the garden to view a huge variety of birds and other interesting creatures such as monkeys and porcupines before finding a spot under a shady tree.
African Dawn, Lot 13 Strandfontein, Thornhill +27 42 286 0710
Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve
The Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve forms part of the Cape Floral Region, with no less than seven of South Africa’s eight biomes found in this remarkable valley. It is a World Heritage Site and one of the richest plant regions on the planet, featuring grassy savannahs, sparkling streams and steep mountain passes that may very well have you gritting your teeth. Cape mountain zebra, eland and savannah buffalo roam freely here and there are plenty of outdoor activities to try, ranging from hiking, mountain biking and 4×4 trails to birding and walking through a forest of ancient wild fig trees.
The Pearson Conservancy is located in St Georges Park was first opened in 1882 and houses a collection of exotic plants such as orchids and water lilies. It consists of a central building with a skylight and a wing on each side and the beautiful glass and moulded teak structure is in itself a sight to behold. Once visitors have perused the colourful plants that thrive inside they can explore the rest of the park at their leisure, which features plenty of grassy lawns and cobbled pathways.
Quin Sculpture Garden
Lush, leafy gardens compliment bronze abstract art at this unusual garden in Alexandria. Situated approximately an hour from Port Elizabeth, this garden gallery is a feast for the eyes and exudes a perfect synergy between sculpture and nature. The works are all creations of Maureen Quin, an award-winning South African artist whose series of sculptures ‘The Hunt’ graced the occasion of South Africa’s Freedom Day in Berlin in April 2017. Visitors are invited to take their time, enjoy refreshments in the verdant surrounds and if tempted, commission a piece for themselves.
Quin Sculpture Garden, 5 Suid Street, Alexandria +27 46 653 0121
Maitlands Park Nature Reserve
Walk, hike and slide down sand dunes at the Maitlands Park Nature Reserve. Situated on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, this wild and rugged reserve offers unspoilt beaches, some fabulous sand dunes and indigenous coastal forest. There are three walking trails to choose from that vary in length and fitness requirements, making Maitlands ideal for a great outdoor escape. The reserve is rich in bird life and also boasts animals such as blue duiker, wild bush pig and a variety of reptiles.