Port Elizabeth | 150km

Port Elizabeth beach.

PORT ELIZABETH

...a favourite South African holidays destination, lies on the shores of the sweeping bay originally named Baia da Lagoa (Bay of the Lagoon) by Manuel de Mesquita PerestrÍlo in 1576, a reference to the lagoon at the mouth of the Baakens River. A small settlement developed around Fort Frederick, built on the heights above the Baakens River in 1799 to prevent a possible landing by French troops. The history of Port Elizabeth is inextricably linked to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers - 4 000 emigrants who left Britain for the Eastern Cape in 21 ships between December 1819 and March 1820.

Sir Rufane Donkin, the Acting Governor of the Cape, visited the settlement on 6 June 1820; at his request, it was renamed Port Elizabeth in memory of his wife, who had died of fever in India two years earlier. An important city landmark is the 51,8-m-high Campanile, which was erected in 1923 to commemorate the landing of the 1820 Settlers. Among the many other historical buildings and sites are the row of double-storey terraced houses in Donkin Street, built between 1860 and 1880; the Pyramid in the Donkin Reserve, dedicated to Elizabeth Donkin; and the row of townhouses in Cora Terrace, built in the Regency style from about 1856 onwards.

The complex of Settler houses in Castle Hill is an interesting example of early Eastern Cape townhouses. No 7 Castle Hill, built in 1830, is the oldest house in the city and appropriately serves as a period-house museum. Facing the Market Square are the historic Library (1848), the statue of Queen Victoria and the City Hall (1862). An excellent way to appreciate the city's many historic buildings is to follow the Donkin Heritage Trail, linking 43 places of interest.

SOUTHERN BEACHES

Many visitors on South African holidays are attracted to Port Elizabeth by its sandy beaches. King's Beach stretches for 1,6 km from the harbour breakwater to Humewood Beach and offers safe swimming and sunbathing. The city's best-known beach, Humewood, features a promenade and attracts large crowds of sunbathers. About 2 km beyond Humewood lies Port Elizabeth's third sandy beach, Summerstrand. Hobie Beach is a popular venue with boardsailing and hobie cat enthusiasts, while the adjacent Pollock Beach offers excellent surfing.

BAYWORLD

...in Humewood comprises the Oceanarium, Snake Park, Tropical House and Museum. The Oceanarium is famous for its performing bottlenose dolphins and seals, while two large aquaria provide fascinating views of colourful fish, sharks and other forms of marine life. An extensive collection of snakes, including python, black mamba, cobra and puff adder, as well as crocodile and other reptiles, can be seen at the Snake Park, and regular demonstrations are given by snake handlers.

In the Tropical House, with its 7-m-high artificial outcrop, streams, waterfalls and bridges, visitors can follow a winding path through lush tropical vegetation. The Museum contains fascinating displays on marine biology and the history of Port Elizabeth, a collection of period costumes, beadwork and genealogies of the Xhosa-speaking people of the Eastern Cape, and a life-size replica of an Algoasaurus dinosaur.

CAPE RECIFE

...is a promontory that forms the southernmost extremity of Algoa Bay. The name is a corruption of the earlier Portuguese name Cabo de Recife, which means 'cape of the reef', a reference to dangers such as Recife Point and Thunderbolt Reef not far offshore. An area of 336 ha has been set aside as the Cape Recife Nature Reserve to preserve the shoreline, coastal dunes and vegetation.

Visitors on South African holidays can explore the reserve on foot by following the 7-km-long Roseate Tern Trail, or do birding from a hide. The 24-m-high octagonal lighthouse at Cape Recife† is the third oldest along the South African coast. Designed by the Surveyor General of the Cape Colony, Colonel Charles Michell, it came into service on 1 April 1851. The remains of a World War II military observation post can be seen on the heights behind the lighthouse.

WESTERN BEACHES

Several popular holiday resorts nestle along the coast west of Cape Recife. Set amid green lawns, the Willows Holiday Resort lies in a sheltered rocky bay with two tidal pools. Schoenmakerskop village lies along a rocky stretch of coast, with numerous pools and gullies offering excellent opportunities for swimming. It has been suggested that the hill after which the village was named owes its name to Johannes Schumacher, a soldier and artist who accompanied Colonel Robert Gordon when he explored the area in 1778.

A cannon points to the site where the Portuguese galleon, Sacramento, ran aground in July 1647. Continuing further west, Sardinia Bay is a small rocky bay with a sandy beach. Fishing is prohibited in the marine reserve, which extends 2 km out to sea. The Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve provides protection for 320 ha of coastal dune fynbos. Still further west, the residential village of Sea View lies along a stretch of rocky coast, but visitors can swim in the tidal pool. A landmark in the village is the hotel, formerly the HMS Good Hope, which served as a training 'ship' for officers of the Royal Navy during World War II.

SEAVIEW GAME AND LION PARK

...is home to some 40 species of African wildlife, including lion, cheetah, giraffe, zebra and a variety of antelope such as springbok, kudu, wildebeest and blesbok. Visitors can do self-drive game-viewing in the 46-ha park, and get close-up views of two of Africa's large cat species in the cheetah and lion enclosures. A programme to breed the rare white lion was introduced in 1999. Night game drives offer visitors an opportunity to see nocturnal animals and birds.

MAITLAND RIVER MOUTH

Flanked by rocky coastline to the east and kilometres of sandy beach to the west, this resort at the mouth of the Maitland River is a popular destination for both rock and surf anglers. A short distance inland from the river mouth, the scenery is dominated by towering sand dunes, while the Maitland Nature Reserve covers 127 ha of coastal forest and scrub. There are two nature trails along which visitors can explore the forest's Cape chestnut, white stinkwood, forest elder and candlewood trees.

An old wagon road leads to a long-abandoned lead mine in the reserve. The river and the nature reserve were named after Lieutenant-General Sir Peregrine Maitland, Governor of the Cape from March 1844 to January 1847.

VAN STADENS RIVER MOUTH

...is a popular coastal South African holidays resort with a magnificent setting at the mouth of the Van Stadens River. Its 6-km stretch of unspoilt beach is popular with sunbathers and anglers, while the beautiful lagoon offers safe swimming, boardsailing and canoeing. The high dunes along the western shores of the lagoon provide exciting opportunities for sandboarding.

VAN STADENS WILD FLOWER RESERVE

...lies on the coastal plateau at the foot of the Van Stadens Mountain. Bounded by the Van Stadens River Gorge in the west, the reserve covers 500 ha of fynbos, indigenous forest and cultivated gardens. A profusion of proteas, ericas, pincushions, ground orchids and other fynbos species cover the gentle slopes to the north of the N2. Among the reserve's botanical rarities are the Van Stadens conebush (Leucadendron orientale) and a fire lily (Cyrtanthus stadensis).

The southern plateau slopes and the banks of the river are draped in indigenous forest, consisting of species such as white pear, kooboo berry, Cape plane and cheesewood. The mountain and the river owe their name to Marthinus van Staden, who was awarded a loan farm in the area around 1744.

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