Port Elizabeth must be the most overlooked city in South Africa. I have been here for about thirty hours and I am crushing hard on Nelson Mandela Bay.
Big enough to have all the amenities of a city, there is no traffic, parking abounds and the beaches are easily accessible and totally amazing.
The sand is not the ”glaring so white it hurts your eyes” like Cape Town, nor is it the “dirty yellow with black specks “ like the ones in Durban.
The PE beaches are just right. The water is not too warm and not too cold and the sand is well, a golden sand colour.
This coastline offers long stretches of beach, piers, rocky coves and tidal pools, one beach even has shaded sandy areas beneath the walkway.
Three of the beaches here have Blue Flag status, all the beaches I walked to were free of litter.
The city is very family friendly. Wet, sandy, laughing kids of all ages dotted the beaches, families walked, cycled and ran along the beachfront promenade and ice cream and coffee outlets are plentiful to keep everyone fueled for fresh air and outdoor life.
Sailing, kayaking, fishing, diving, surfing and swimming are just a few of the activities that will get the kids and adults outside and away from screens.
Walk the R67 Route.
This is an art, culture and heritage route in the CBD and it is incredible. Sixty seven public artworks are on the route, the number representing the years of Nelson Mandela’s political life and service to the country.
The walk starts at the Camapanile which has just reopened after an extensive refurbishment. I did the tour with Tony from Gecko Tours and his passion and knowledge were inspiring.
The Campanile is fifty three meters high and there are two hundred and four steps on the spiral staircase that takes you to the top. A lift is available for those unable to use the stairs.
Luckily it is not done in one continuous climb as the stairs take you to various rooms to view local artworks, the old bells and other items of interest. Make sure you look down and notice the sixty seventh step.
At the top the views of Port Elizabeth are compelling. The bells are rung every quarter of an hour and are worth hanging about on top to wait for. If you are there on the hour, the large bell will sound and the vibrations and ringing in your ears will stay with you for quite a few minutes afterwards.
I was enthralled when the bells chimed out our anthem, Nkosi Sikelele Afrika, an unforgettable moment.
From the top you can see the enormous flag at the Donkin Reserve. This flag is the largest and tallest in the country. It stands some sixty meters high and is twelve by fifteen meters in size. Pace that out, it’s huge.
Once you have been to the top of the Campanile please stop to look at the frieze on the circular wall. It depicts the past hurts and the future hopes for our nation.
This poem is written underneath the pictures and these words have touched me, made me think and inspired me. Please read them.
A poem of acknowledgement by Lelethu Mahambehlala
“History must never die
Must not remain unborn or it’s stories will remain untold
These walls will only tell tales of un-healing scars
These streets a bloody trail of gaping wounds
Worn by people who don’t want to forget, lest they have none else to live for.
It’s children today are custodians in making.
History makers in the shaping, carriers of new stories,
They are the progeny of men who saw the light as a vision in times of darkness
This art is for future generations
These walls are the scrapbooks of those who find no shame in their scars
Memory boxes of times that made us proud to shout out our names
Humbled to show our hearts
Dancing to new redemption songs
Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika is not just a prayer we say when in the dark of our paths,
But also as a thank you note for blessings upon us delivered
This art is a fortune telling healer
The rainbow we see before the rain
These walls are the canvasses of our hearts.
No hero is ever unsung.
Names may not be mentioned but memories flow unavoidable in tides.”
From the Campanile we walked below the flyover and I loved the street art on the supports towering above the cheerful fruit vendors.
One face asks “Ungubani wena ?” ………. who are you
While another one states “I am not our past “
We continue over the road where coloured tiles are embedded in the walkway with words in different languages describing our country.
Up the stairs we go, passing inspiring quotes and messages etched onto the stainless steel, and arrive in the Market Square.
The City Hall and Library are two beautiful buildings, and across the way we pop in to the Anglican Church, rich in history, big on elaborate décor.
The route progresses up St. Mary’s staircase and we enter the lower section of the Donkin Reserve.
Here the stairs are tiled in mosaics, the colours changing to represent the transition from darkness to enlightenment in the course of our history.
The Donkin Reserve is in the heart of the city and is a well used public space. There is a lot to see, including the pyramid memorial to Elizabeth Donkin, the de- commissioned lighthouse and a huge mosaic deck, the pictures celebrating all aspects of the city. Sculptures depict the long lines of all South Africans queuing to vote in the first democratic elections in 1994.
We walked to Fort Frederick but unfortunately it was all dressed up in bunting and tape for a cycling event the following day.
The Athenaeum was closed, being late on a Saturday afternoon, but we did peer through the windows at the beaded artworks and I managed to get a fuzzy shot of this sculpture through the glass door.
That’s it. All I had time for in Port Elizabeth. I have a long list of things I saw out of the taxi window that I need to visit next time.
I will do R67 again as we did not stop at everything. Allow four hours if you want to really do this properly, it is worth it.
Thank you Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism for the tour and the goody bag, and a big thanks to Tony, who also does a Craft Beer Tour, you can find out more here www.hoponbeerroute.co.za or just give Tony a call on 082 464 6022.
Next time you are looking for a holiday destination that feels like a country escape but has all the convenience of city life, look no further than Port Elizabeth.
I stayed in Humewood at The Kelway Hotel which is a very short walk from the beach. This hotel offers comfortable rooms, a restaurant, bar and pool. Most rooms have balconies with sea views. The Kelway is centrally located with easy walking access to numerous beaches, the Boardwalk Casino Complex and a variety of restaurants and pubs. It is a five minute drive from the airport and not much more to the centre of town. Highly recommended.