Port Elizabeth - Abbey Travel, Ireland

Port Elizabeth

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Welcome to Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth

The industrial city of Port Elizabeth is the centre of the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, known in most tourist guides as 'settler country'. The city was founded by shiploads of British settler families who arrived in the Eastern Cape in the early 19th century, hoping to improve their prospects after suffering economic hardship because of the industrial revolution at home. The settlers also intended to strengthen defences against the local Xhosa people, who had been pushed back beyond the Fish River frontier. They came ashore at Algoa Bay, where there was nothing more than the small British Fort Frederick to welcome them.

The city, from its humble beginnings, has grown into a principal port and manufacturing centre. Although it is very much a working town with a large indigent population living in the outlying township areas, Port Elizabeth draws plenty of tourists because of its proximity to the attractions of the east coast and historically interesting interior. The city is justifiably known as 'the friendly city' and Algoa Bay boasts 25 miles (40km) of beautiful sandy beaches lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The attractive beachfront is the venue for the annual 'Splash' festival and world boardsailing championships, and features a long promenade and pier full of tourist facilities. Port Elizabeth has a few museums and a small oceanarium, as well as the Nelson Mandela Stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup and dominates the cityscape. The nearby Donkin Reserve provides a pleasant day trip as do Seaview Game and Lion Park and the Kragga Kamma Game Park, and slightly further afield visitors can see the 'Big Five' at Shamwari Game Reserve, Amakhala Game Reserve, and Addo Elephant Park.

Information & Facts


Port Elizabeth enjoys a moderate climate, known to have the most sunshine and fewest rainy days of any of South Africa's seaside cities. There is little difference in average temperature between summer and winter, the sea remaining warm enough for swimming all year round.

Getting Around

Port Elizabeth has a limited public bus system that was upgraded for the 2010 World Cup tournament. Schedules and routes can be found at www.algoabus.co.za. The principal means of transport for most South Africans, however, is the minibus taxi. These are usually crowded and drivers pay no attention to road rules, stopping wherever and whenever to drop off and pick up passengers. This makes them easy to catch and they are cheap, but are used at one's own risk. Passengers should not get into an empty minibus and should only travel in daylight, on well-known routes. Metered taxis are available, but are usually fairly expensive. Hiring a car is usually the best and easiest option.

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.

South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted, except in petrol stations where cash is required. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. Travellers cheques and some foreign currencies are accepted at larger hotels and shops, but commission is charged, otherwise all commercial banks will exchange them.


Port Elizabeth's nightlife conjures up images of the moon and stars rather than exciting clubs - but there are several worthwhile places to explore during a night out in this famously friendly city. Locals will recommend Barney's Tavern, right on the beachfront looking out over Algoa Bay. It's central, busy and a great place to watch live sport once the sunset has done its bit. A popular nightclub is Balizza, in the Walmer, which has three bars with DJs to keep patrons energised. To get some real local flavour head for warm and fun-loving Jeya's Jazz Corner Tavern in the so-called township where you'll see a different side to Port Elizabeth. Those wanting a second round, should contact Calabash Tours for a tour of the many shebeens (speakeasy bars) that dot the township. Many report it's the highlight of their trip. Back in town, check out Tapas del Sol in Brookes Pavilion, which has live music over weekends, and cheapish beer every day of the week. There are plenty of other bars and pubs around PE, and the city is small and safe enough to explore on foot.


Visitors to Port Elizabeth are often surprised by how small the city is, but this small town atmosphere is not reflected in its many shopping options. For convenience and a wide range of shops visit Greenacres Shopping Centre, now connected to The Bridge Mall, a useful one-stop resource if you need any travel supplies. This megamall has extended open hours on weekends and also contains cinemas and restaurants. Other shopping centres worth using are The Boardwalk, adjoining the casino near the beach, and Walmer Park Shopping Centre in the suburbs.

It's unlikely that overseas visitors will be content shopping in malls that closely resemble the shopping centres back home. For a more authentic selection of Eastern Cape and South African items, start with a visit to the Boardwalk Craft Workshop which has locally made items emblematic of the region, such as wood carvings, painted and carved egg shells and colourful fabrics. On Sundays and public holidays don't miss the Beachfront Traders Association, with 290 artisans, artists and traders this is the largest and most varied craft market in the region.

There are some specific shops in Port Elizabeth that are worth a mention: Aya's Ceramic Studio works with local women to create beautiful pottery and clay items, as does the African Earth Ware Ceramic Studio & Gallery which exports its creations all around the world. The Wildlife & Environment Society is a good bet for clothing, wood carving, ostrich eggs, DVDs and books related to South Africa's diverse and exciting fauna.

Local time is GMT +2.

The most popular game reserve in the Port Elizabeth area is the Addo Elephant Park, just a 45-minute drive from the city. There are currently about 500 celephants in residence in the park, which was recently enlarged. Addo was proclaimed in 1931 in an effort to save the remaining 11 elephants indigenous to the area. The elephants are drawn to watering holes at certain times and sightings are virtually guaranteed all year round. There are other animals in the park too, including lion, leopard, black rhino, buffalo, zebra, warthog and several types of buck. Guided game drives are available or visitors can do a self-drive tour using the map issued at the entrance. Serviced accommodation is available and there is a restaurant and picnic site at the Park.

Port Elizabeth's most popular attraction consists of a complex on the beachfront that includes the Oceanarium, a museum, and a snake park. The Bayworld Oceanarium is famed for its performing Bottlenose dolphin shows, enjoyed by thousands every year. Besides the large dolphin pool with its underwater viewing area, the oceanarium also features an aquarium tank where visitors can watch a vast array of marine life through glass portholes as they glide by, including sharks, turtles and rays. The snake park contains an impressive variety of indigenous reptiles in natural-looking enclosures. The PE Museum focuses on cultural and natural history with a wide variety of exhibits, from models of sailing ships and period costumes to giant replicas of dinosaurs that roamed the area in prehistoric times; it is the third-oldest museum in the country.

On a hill above the centre of the city stands a stone pyramid monument with an adjacent lighthouse. The open public space was proclaimed in perpetuity by Sir Rufane Donkin, acting British Governor of the Cape, when the 1820 Settlers arrived in Algoa Bay. Donkin named the new settlement after his wife, Elizabeth, who had died in India two years' previously, and erected the pyramid in her memory. The lighthouse was built in 1861, and today houses the city's Tourist Information Centre. Maps are available from the centre describing a three-mile (five km) discovery trail through the hill area and central city, taking in 47 historic sites and architectural delights.

The historic settler town of Grahamstown, 78 miles (125km) northeast of Port Elizabeth, is presided over, from the top of Gunfire Hill, by the 1820 Settler's National Monument, an arts and theatre complex which forms the focus of the town's annual internationally recognised Arts Festival held in July. Grahamstown was founded in 1815 as a garrison to drive the Xhosa eastwards across the Fish River frontier, giving rise to a century of frontier war. The town has an English colonial flavour, and is home to the renowned Rhodes University and some top private boarding schools. There are several museums, including the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology where two stuffed specimens of the coelacanth are on display. The town also boasts the only Victorian camera obscura in the southern hemisphere.

A short drive to the west of Port Elizabeth is the surfing Mecca of Jeffrey's Bay (known colloquially as 'J-Bay'). The seaside town plays host to the world Billabong Professional surfing contest every July, and is famed for its 'supertubes', South Africa's perfect wave. The town is bustling, with several stores selling branded surfing gear, and several flashy cafes and restaurants. The long stretches of sandy beach around the town are also renowned for their shells.

Port Elizabeth's architectural heritage can be traced by taking a walk around the central city Market Square, which features several historic buildings. The centrepiece of the square is the aesthetically pleasing City Hall, dating from 1858, topped with an attractive clock tower. Also in the square is a replica of the Diaz Cross that commemorates the first European to set foot in Algoa Bay in 1488, when Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz stopped over on his way east. Alongside the city hall is the Prester John Memorial, dedicated to the Portuguese explorers who landed in South Africa. On the northwest flank of the square is the city's public library, built in 1835 and originally used as a courthouse. The beautiful building is regarded as an excellent example of Victorian Gothic architecture and is interesting in that its façade was manufactured in England and shipped to Port Elizabeth to be recreated piece by piece. In front of the library stands a marble statue of Queen Victoria, which was unveiled in 1903. Slightly downhill from the square, at the entrance to the harbour, stands the Campanile, containing the biggest carillon of bells (23) in the country. Visitors can climb 204 steps to enjoy the view from the top of this monument, which commemorates the landing of the 1820 settlers.

The multi-award winning private game reserve of Shamwari lies less than an hour's drive from Port Elizabeth and has been responsible for re-introducing numerous species into the Eastern Cape plains, including all of the Big Five - lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo. The reserve offers luxury accommodation, but also hosts visitors on day trips from the city. Day tours include a visit to an African art and culture village to sample Xhosa culture and traditionally brewed beer, and a visit to the Born Free centre for abused animals.

St George's Park has been a recreational centre for the city for more than 150 years, boasting well-landscaped gardens covering 73 hectares. On site is the world famous Port Elizabeth Cricket Club, scene of many an exciting test match series, and the oldest bowling green in South Africa. The park also features the 1882 Edwardian Pearson Conservatory, a national monument filled with orchids, water lilies and other exotic plants. Every second Sunday of the month the park plays host to a vibrant arts and crafts fair. The other major park in Port Elizabeth is Settler's Park, set in the Baakens River valley, which boasts indigenous flora and fauna and offers a delightful stroll along the riverbank.

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