Taking A Township Tour
To gain real insight into the city, the following tours are highly recommended: If you're prepared to make a night of it, Mzolifi Quza, of Molo Tours (tel. 082/970-4037; email@example.com), offers one of the best township tours in the country. After visiting an initiation camp, he will lead you on a tour through the Walmer township, visiting a youth center, new housing projects, schools, and a local shebeen (informal drinking house) along the way. You can also book dinner with a Xhosa family. Calabash Tours (tel. 041/585-6162) offers an excellent morning tour: The 3- to 4-hour Real City Tour starts in the city center and looks at Port Elizabeth's history and the forced removal of residents out of the city to coloured and black townships.
Rites of Passage -- It is not unusual to pass young men covered in white clay on the road -- in rural as well as urban areas of the Eastern and Western Cape. These are Xhosa initiates, teenage boys who are about to learn the customs of their clan, culminating in the ancient but controversial practice of removing the foreskin (without anesthetic) to mark their transition to manhood.
A Walk Through Settler History
If you're interested in P.E'.s early history, take the 5km (3-mile) Donkin Heritage Trail, a self-guided walk marked with a blue staggered line that takes you past 47 places of historical interest in the old Hill area of central P.E. You can pick up a map from the tourism office in the Donkin Lighthouse Building, which is in the Donkin Reserve, located below Belmont Terrace and Donkin Street -- a quaint row of Victorian houses collectively declared a national monument. The reserve was proclaimed an open space in perpetuity by Sir Rufane Donkin, the Cape's acting governor in 1820. Take a stroll to the large stone pyramid monument the governor erected to his late wife, Elizabeth, after whom he also named the city -- look for the touching inscription. From here, you might want to visit the No. 7 Castle Hill Museum (tel. 041/582-2515; Mon-Fri 10am-1pm and 2-4:30pm [4pm on Fri]; admission R9 adults, R5 children), one of the oldest settler cottages in the city, dating back to 1825.
At the bottom of the hill, you can either turn right to browse the Wezandla African Art and Craft Gallery (tel. 041/585-1185) or turn left to view the pretty City Hall and the City Library, both on Govan Mbeki Avenue (recently renamed after the father of former president Thabo Mbeki). It's worth entering the library, a Gothic-Revival building from 1902, to take a look at the stained-glass dome on the second floor.
The Crushing of Black Consciousness -- Take a detour from the Heritage Trail and visit the sixth floor of the otherwise charmless building located on 44 Strand St.: This is where Steve Biko -- the charismatic black-consciousness leader of the 1970s -- died while being interrogated by the security police. This, combined with the Soweto uprising, led to the imposition of the arms embargo by the U.N. Security Council. Until the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, the official version of events was that Biko slipped and fell, and no one was ever arrested. You can visit the room in which Biko was interrogated; it houses items relating to the man and his past.
The Red Location Museum
This fascinating museum shares its name with the township that surrounds it -- Red Location was named after the color of rusted corrugated iron and was home to many famous anti-apartheid activists. The museum (which has won much praise in architecture circles) is made up of 12 unmarked, rusted "memory boxes" within a larger exhibition space; each is home to a collection of memories or stories -- the spaces between are for reflection. Exhibitions focus on local heroes of the struggle against apartheid, music and jazz, trade unions, sport, cultural life, and much more; some of the exhibits have a strong oral narrative component. Find it on the corner of Olof Palme and Singaphi streets, New Brighton (tel. 041/408-8400; Mon-Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 9am-3pm). Admission is R12 per adult.
Exploring The Beachfront
Enjoying an average of 7 1/2 hours of sunshine a day, and lapped by relatively warm waters, Port Elizabeth beaches see a lot of action. The first crescent is King's Beach. A safe swimming beach, it has good family facilities, including the McArthur Baths Swimming Pool Complex (tel. 041/582-2282), which stretches south to Humewood Beach, the best swimming beach, and is proud of its Blue Flag status. Opposite you will find Bay World Museum Complex (tel. 041/584-0650; daily 9am-4:30pm; R45), which houses the Oceanarium, a snake park and a museum featuring fossils, scale reconstructions of shipwrecks, and a display on the Xhosa. A little farther along is the beachfront entrance to the Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World, with a number of restaurants, a cinema, shops, and, of course, a casino. Additional attractions at Humewood include a scenic day trip on the Apple Express (tel. 041/583-4480; R160 adult, children under 11 R80), a restored narrow-gauge steam train.
To escape the crowds, keep traveling the beachfront road until it becomes Marine Drive, and then take Sardinia Bay Road to visit the big dunes of Sardinia Bay -- this is a great picnic spot and walking beach, with warm waters. Declared a marine reserve, it's the start of the Sacramento Trail, an 8km (5-mile) coastal walk.
Big-Game Day Trips
The nearest and biggest Big 5 game reserve (a mere 45 min. from the center of town), and the only one in which you can self-drive (though guided trips are also available), is Addo Elephant National Park (tel. 042/233-0556; www.addoelephantpark.com; daily 7am-7pm). It costs only R130 to enter. Over the past 10 years, the park has grown phenomenally (edging toward the 500,000-hectare/1,240,000-acre mark) and currently extends from Darlington Dam in the Karoo all the way to Woody Cape on the coast, including the island groups of St Croix and Bird Island, home to the largest gannet-breeding colony in the world. Be aware that fences between various areas are still up, and the full Big 5 are to be found in a relatively concentrated area linked to the main rest camp and central areas -- ask exactly what animals are in the section you are planning to visit. Addo has the densest concentration of elephants in Africa; they are in evidence year-round, but the most attractive time of the year to visit is spring, when the harsh Eastern Cape bushveld is softened with flowers and herds can be seen standing in carpets of yellow daisies. Other animals to look for are the black rhino, buffalo, lion, hyena, zebra, red hartebeest, eland, kudu, bushbuck, warthog, and -- on a guided trip -- a few endemic species such as the flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo. To ensure the best sightings, head for the watering holes (pick up a map at the entrance), or take a private tour to get off the beaten (and, unfortunately, now tarred) track. Three-hour guided game drives in open-topped vehicles are also provided by the park; these are not as good as heading out with a private operator, but they're cheap; just make sure it's in one of the smaller vehicles (R190-R270). Game drives take place at sunrise, midafternoon, at sundown, or at night -- the only time to view the nocturnal activities of such carnivores as the black-backed jackal and bat-eared fox.
The most famous of the private game reserves, the 25,000-hectare (61,780-acre) Shamwari reserve no longer accepts day-trippers. Two good alternatives (though less than a third of Shamwari's size) are Amakhala and Pumba, both on the road to Grahamstown. First up is the turnoff to Amakhala (tel. 046/636-2750; www.amakhala.co.za), the nearest private Big 5 reserve, offering day trips for R980. The 7,000-hectare (17,300-acre) reserve is only 45 minutes from the city center. Safaris leave from Reed Valley at 11am in winter and noon in summer; they include game drives, a lunch buffet, and a river cruise. Farther along, only 15 minutes from Grahamstown (about 70 min. from P.E.), you'll see the Alicedale/Pumba turnoff: Park your car at the Day Safari Arrivals Centre for Pumba (tel. 046/603-2000; www.pumbagamereserve.co.za), or call from P.E. and arrange a transfer. Pumba is a 6,500-hectare (14,820-acre) reserve but boasts the additional attractions of white lions (a genetic mutation) and cheetahs. The day safari comprises a 2-hour game drive to the bush restaurant, where you will be served a meal before embarking on another 90-minute game drive back to the Arrival Centre. Day safaris depart at 7am and 4pm in summer and 10am and 3pm in winter, and cost R850 for adults and R550 for children (over 8 only).
Schotia (tel. 042/235-1436; www.schotia.com), a small (1,700-hectare/4,199-acre) reserve east of Addo, offers a 6-hour experience in which you're likely to see one of the reserve's lions on the prowl, as well as rhinos, giraffes, and hippos. The drive costs R600 and includes supper around the fire. For R1,200, you can include a morning game drive through Addo to view buffaloes and elephants (neither of which occurs in Schotia), as well as transfers from P.E. and lunch.
Elephant lovers should look into booking an Addo Elephant Back Safari (www.addoelephantbacksafaris.co.za), a 3-hour experience that includes walking with elephants that were saved from hunting by the Knysna Elephant Park, getting to know them and their handlers, and taking a short ride to the watering hole. The cost is R875 per person. Wear trousers and comfortable walking shoes.
A Little Golf with Your Game?
Bushman Sands (tel. 042/231-8000; www.bushmansands.com; R1,700-R1,850 luxury double, including breakfast; standard rooms are less), a golfing estate and 4,000-hectare (9,880-acre) reserve in Alicedale, 90 minutes from P.E., is another successful attempt by visionary businessman Adrian Gardiner (owner of Shamwari) to develop sustainable tourism initiatives. Once a thriving railway town, Alicedale was faced with high unemployment when Spoornet moved; Gardiner provided a lifeline. The hotel now has new owners, but it still offers affordable accommodations. Be aware that the hotel is not in a game reserve as such, so this is not a typical safari experience. The reserve has elephant, rhino, and buffalo, but no big cats -- you'll have to do a day safari at Pumba for those -- but you do have a Gary Player-designed course (some say it's not the same standard as Garden Route courses such as Pezula, but that the last 9 holes are challenging). Game drives are extra, at R300 per adult for a 2-hour drive.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.