Note that the city options are only a 5-minute drive from the airport. Lodges and camps provide a tranquil alternative to staying in the city, yet are only 45 minutes (Addo) to 90 minutes (Kwandwe) from check-in.
While the establishments we've reviewed are the most stylish options in Port Elizabeth, if you're about to blow your budget on a luxury reserve, you might want to consider the comfortable B&B Carslogie House (tel. 041/583-5251; www.carslogie.co.za); rooms are situated around a large pool and go for as little as R900 for a double (plus it's in Summerstrand, the neighborhood of choice in P.E.). Another bargain is the family-run Chapman Hotel (tel. 041/584-0678; www.chapman.co.za). It's not manor house accommodation, as the website suggests, but all rooms have sea views, as does the pool, and at R785 for a double, it's arguably the best deal in town. It also houses a reputable seafood restaurant called Blackbeards (tel. 041/584-0623; 6pm-late): Try one of the "brodino" dishes -- your choice of fish, combined with mussels and calamari; cooked in a tomato, white-wine, and garlic sauce (herbs are secret); and served in a cast-iron pot. Better still, head for the Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment Complex, which has a clutch of recommended eateries, of which Kyoto remains a personal favorite, serving up excellent teppanyaki and sushi (tel. 041/583-1160). If you're not in the mood for Japanese, head straight for 34° South (tel. 041/583-1085), sibling to the popular Knysna restaurant/deli. At Nosh, 1 Cooper St., Richmond Hill (tel. 041/582-2444), P.E.'s fashionable set like to see and be seen over ostrich filet with chocolate chili sauce or roast duck drizzled with honey and oyster sauce. They're also drawn to Summerstrand's Ginger (tel. 041/583-1220; www.ginger-restaurant.co.za). Look out for the seared scallops on leek and sherry risotto; the line fish is also popular.
Others in search of fine dining can book a table at Shamwari Townhouse; be sure to order the Ramsay-inspired chef's crayfish and tiger prawn cake served with a seafood bisque (R125). But if all you want to see is the twinkling ocean, Mauro's, Shop 1 McArthur Baths Leisure Centre, Beach Road (tel. 041/582-2700), offers lovely views along with a predictable but good Italian menu.
A consistently good city favorite is nearby De Kelders (tel. 041/583-2750). The space is old-fashioned, intimate, and comes scattered with rose petals, while the menu offers a diverse, hearty selection of steaks, poultry, vegetables dishes, and fish -- owner Michelle says they "fight for" the freshest catch at the harbor. Finally, if you're in the mood for something really laid-back, follow the locals to Natti's Thai Kitchen (tel. 041/373-2763; dinner Mon-Sat only), where Natti (assisted by her surfer husband, Mark) has been warming palates with her Thai cuisine for over a decade.
Addo Elephant National Park
Addo was the first national park to offer concessions to private operators, thereby ensuring that the park had a few luxury alternatives to the more basic and crowded rest camp. If you're prepared to splurge, it's a bit of a toss-up between the 11-unit Gorah Camp and Nguni River Lodge (tel. 042/235-1022; www.ngunilodges.co.za; R9,520 double, R20,020 for the King suite, ask about specials). Some prefer Nguni for its eight secluded thatched suites, each with its own viewing deck and private plunge pool. With a more intimate atmosphere, the gracious, homely RiverBend Lodge (tel. 042/233-8000; www.riverbendlodge.co.za.com; from R3,600-R5,900 double, includes meals and activities), which, like Nguni, is situated within the 17,000-hectare (41,990-acre) private Nyathi concession, offers eight luxury rooms in a farmhouse-style atmosphere, superb cuisine, and personal attention. There is additional accommodation in the new and very charming Long Hope Villa, a three-bed 1940s farmhouse with a private chef, 500m (1,640 ft.) away (R8,000-R14,000 for 1-4 guests). Both options are very child friendly, although this is a destination for families that want to spend time together rather than pack the kids off on their own game drives.
If these prices give you pause, you can stay outside the park and either take a tour or drive yourself. In this case, Elephant House is probably the best option in the region; it's also the closest to Addo's main entrance. An extremely reasonable B&B for those on a budget is Halstead Farm (tel. 042/233-0114; from R900 double); the three adjoining reed ceiling rooms are individually decorated with a colonial character (rooms 1 and 3 are more spacious; no. 1 even has a piano) and they open onto lovely gardens -- but it's high-end luxury. Farther into the Sundays River Valley, off the Kirkwood Road, is Hitgeheim Country Lodge (tel. 042/234-0778; www.hitgeheim-addo.co.za; R2,500-R3,100 double; closed June). It's surrounded by a minireserve with some game, and with its spectacular views, luxurious chalets, fine food and wine, and amenable hosts (they also arrange reserve tours), it is a very good, if fairly pricey, option.
The reserves we've listed are given full reviews because they offer exceptionally high standards with Big 5 viewing, but there are a number of options that might better suit your pocket. The 9,000-hectare (22,240-acre) Kariega Private Game Reserve (tel. 046/636-7904; www.kariega.co.za) is in the Kariega River Valley, an 80-minute drive from the city, and near the beaches of Kenton-on-Sea. Of the four lodges, River Lodge (R5,400-R7,600 double all-inclusive) is the most luxurious: The thatched suites, some of which are grouped in a double-story block, ramble along the Bushman's River -- units 8, 9, and 10 are farthest from the main building and thus more private. Besides the normal game drives, this lodge also offers river trips and fishing. Ukhozi Lodge (R5,000-R7,000 double, all-inclusive) has a wonderful relaxed and rustic feel, and the 10 suites all have private plunge pools, but Kariega Main Lodge (R4,200-R6,000 double, including meals and game drives) offers better value for families, with 21 spacious timber chalets, each with its own viewing decks. Some come with plunge pools at no extra cost, so make sure to book these in advance. The final option is The Homestead, a private sole-use house with five rooms, its own chef and ranger, and a secluded position in a remote part of the reserve for extra privacy and those who want a more flexible schedule. It's all yours from R15,000 to R20,000 per night.
Growing in popularity is the 7,000-hectare (17,300-acre) Amakhala Game Reserve (tel. 042/235-1608; www.amakhala.co.za), a mere 45 minutes from P.E and with excellent game-viewing. Amakhala has six separately owned and privately managed accommodations options; the top end includes the intimate Safari Lodge (R5,160-R7,560 double, all-inclusive; rates depend on season), with accommodations in 11 thatched and luxuriously appointed safari huts, and the new Bush Lodge at Reed Valley (same rate). A tented safari camp with a very comfortable, if not unique, main lodge tucked away in the bush, it has a pleasant wooden deck where a campfire crackles at night. The voluminous tents have individual plunge pools plus double outdoor showers and heaters in winter; the only drawback is that you have to drive to the main game-viewing area. If you're on a budget, you can't beat Amakhala's Carnavon Dale (R2,600-R3,780 double), a historic Edwardian-style settler farmhouse from 1857.
There are a host of new lodges popping up in the area, many sharing game-viewing on some more established reserves. Kichaka (tel. 046/622-6024; www.kichaka.co.za; R5,500-R7,900 double, depending on season; all-inclusive) is tucked away on the northeastern side of Lalibela. The lodge, nestled among trees, has a wonderful position overlooking a waterhole, and the 10 rooms are ultraluxurious. Each has a wooden deck with a plunge pool to help beat the heat, and romantic extras abound, such as the rose-petal-strewn, steaming bath that awaits as you return from your game drive. Food is good -- even the hot breakfast is beautifully plated. You have a fair chance of seeing most of the Big 5, time allowing, but some of the game-viewing areas are unfortunately close to the highway and the reserve also has a problem with invasive alien trees. And, yes, it's pricey, especially in high season -- which may make Idwala Lodge (tel. 046/622-2163; www.idwalalodge.com; R3,800-R6,500 double) more attractive. This time on the western border of Lalibela, it's less luxurious but tiny and intimate (four secluded rooms); low-season specials are good.
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.