Port Elizabeth: The Eastern Cape’s Unknown Jewel
Port Elizabeth on the Sunshine Coast of South Africa is often overshadowed by its far more popular sister, Cape Town. Called both the Friendly City and the Windy City, a lot of Port Elizabeth’s best attractions make it onto ‘Top 10’ lists, but the truly amazing gems are relatively well guarded secrets that most tourists stumble across by accident. And when a friend recently mentioned that they were planning a vacation there, I started browsing through old photos and made a list of my personal ‘Port Elizabeth Must Do’s’ which I’ll be sharing with you all. If, as a prospective visitor, you’re apprehensive about the price of such a trip, don’t worry – you can save on the flights, transportation, clothing and equipment by using appropriate coupons from Discountrue.com. And coming here really is worth it!
Now my first tip was to travel to Port Elizabeth during May. Not only does May fall smack dab in the middle of the least windy months of the year (April to June have the lowest wind probability and wind speeds), it is also out of tourist season (no school holidays and only one public holiday) and although winter is just around the corner, the temperatures are still warm enough to be wearing shorts and enjoying a day on the beach.
The Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World
The Boardwalk Casino is no secret, in fact it is probably one of the main attractions in P.E., and while I’m not really one to waste delicious sunlight by sitting in a casino while on holiday, the classic Victorian style architecture overlooking romantic manmade lakes and beautiful gardens lit by Tivoli lights makes it one of my favourite places to go.
There you’ll find a selection of adorable curio shops and specialty stores, as well as several restaurants and coffee shops where you can simply enjoy the view during the day, or watch the magical multimedia musical fountain spectaculars in the evenings. The fact that children’s entertainment is one of the Boardwalks top priorities and offers activities for everyone from toddlers to teens is another reason that I adore it. It’s a night time or day time tourists delight and that is without ever having step foot in the casino portion of the complex!
Stage Door @ The Phoenix Hotel
Housed in The Phoenix Hotel which was established in 1937 (making it the oldest hotel in P.E.), Stage Door is somewhere that the locals of the Friendly City have tried very hard to keep a secret. And from the moment you walk in, you can understand exactly why they have kept this gem to themselves! Most of the clientele are long time loyal locals, the food is fantastic (plus you get decent portions!) and the prices are perfect for vacationers on even the smallest budget.
The floor is covered in sawdust and the walls are decorated with a collection of vintage movie, theatre and music posters, faded front page newspaper headlines, old number plates and more than a few ironic ‘meme’ style signs to keep you entertained, even on a night when there is no live music scheduled. One of the first things you’ll see is a sign saying that you shouldn’t expect special treatment (it’s on the menu and staff uniforms as well), but out of all the places we’ve dined at in P.E., Stage Door has the best service!
Barnacles Restaurant, Seaview
Another local secret, Barnacles is a destination that has managed to stay hidden due to the fact that it is a little off the beaten track for the average tourist. This pub and grub style restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is decorated with marine themed bric-a-brac which is a delight in itself, although reading all the messages from past patrons scrawled on the wall and adding to the collection is great fun. But the best part of Barnacles is the view. It is breath-taking, awe inspiring, astounding and utterly beautiful. There are no words really – you have to experience it for yourself!
If you’re going to head to Barnacles for your breakfast, lunch or dinner then take along a pair of binoculars and enjoy an up close view of dolphins almost every day, or else if you’re in town between August and December you’ll get to watch the migrating whales as they head towards their breeding grounds. Even if there are no oceanic mammals to watch, the uninterrupted view in itself is worth the visit! And if you happen to be on the deck with a cocktail in hand as the sun sets, then be prepared for the truly breath-taking experience only an African sunset can deliver!
Seaview Game & Lion Park
When I’m on vacation at the coast, I’m not normally interested in wildlife and game drives and the like, but the Seaview Game & Lion Park is in a class of its own. Essentially a big cat, and specifically lion sanctuary, its main purpose is the breeding of the very rare and incredibly beautiful white lion. Permanent residents of the park have included a tiger who was originally a household pet (bad idea by the way), a few lions rescued after suffering serious injuries as well as giraffe, zebra, various antelope, caracals and leopards.
There are two main reasons that this destination makes the list and that is the elevated walkway that allows you to get a bird’s eye view of a number of wild animals in their natural habitat, and also the fact that if you ask really nicely (pay a small fee actually!) you’ll get to play with any of the hand reared cubs who are older than 4 months. And based on the fact that the park is home to about 50 lions, chances are good that there will be some around! There is also quite a nice restaurant for those who get the munchies, and if you enjoy roughing it you could always make use of the small camping grounds located in the park.
There are a number of other places and activities that make my list such as Barney’s Tavern, King’s Beach (which is a Blue Flag rated beach and also a fun kite surfing destination), Fort Frederick and early morning fishing on the harbour. But these are more ‘If you have time’ destinations while the ones I actually described are on my ‘Do NOT miss’ list.
At the end of the day, my advice is to head to one of the beachfront pubs and make friends with a local – then ask them what their favourite touristy activity is. That’s how we discover the majority of the places we love, and is the best way to find the truly unique features of any tourist destination.
About The Author: Megan Govender is a born and bred South African, and she loves absolutely everything about her home. The climate, the people, the natural beauty, ‘African time’ (frustrating for many!), the eclectic mix of first world advances beside third world staples. She has vacationed all around the country, and lived in three different provinces so she has experienced SA in all its forms – beautiful and frustrating. You could offer her the world and she would ALWAYS choose SA!
Photo Source: Google Commons