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City Guide: Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Port Elizabeth is definitely one of the country’s hidden gems and is fast developing into an exciting multi-cultural tourism hotspot. PE, as the locals still fondly call it, is part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and home to thousands of bottlenose dolphins who lazily cruise the shoreline throughout the day.

PE is lapped by the warm Indian Ocean so it’s great for sunbathing, swimming and surfing. It’s also a good base for some excellent wildlife viewing or exploring the desert-like Karoo inland.

City Guide – Port Elizabeth

Getting there 

South African Airways and its subsidiaries Airlink and SA Express all fly daily to /from Cape Town, Durban and Jo’burg. Port Elizabeth Airport is about 5km from the city centre.

When to go 

Port Elizabeth has excellent sub-tropical weather. Winters are cool to chilly, but the days still reach about 18°C. It can rain in any month, and rain is heaviest during the winter (from June-August). Summer from December to February can bring heat waves of 35°C and warm, balmy nights. Its nickname, the “Windy City”, correctly hints at frequent winds, with a light wind blowing most afternoons. Strong winds can occur in Summer.

Language

English is widely spoken as is Afrikaans and Xhosa – 2 of the 11 official South African languages.

Currency & Costs

The currency is the Rand and you’re going to get great value for money. ATMs are ubiquitous and credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change, hotels and banks.

Safety tips

Crime in South Africa, like many other places in today’s world, can be a problem, but all you really need to do is take the usual sensible precautions and follow some basic safety rules. Know where you’re going before you set off, particularly at night, watch your possessions, don’t walk alone in dodgy areas, lock your doors at night. And, like anywhere else, there are some areas of the major cities which are known to be more risky than others. It is easy to avoid these and still have a good time. If you cannot avoid such areas, then avoid wearing visible jewellery or carrying cameras and bags over your shoulder. Keep mobile phones and wallets tucked away where no one can see them. Port Elizabeth has been officially rated as Africa’s safest city. South African drivers are not amongst the best or most courteous, and you do need to be careful and observant when driving, cycling or walking.

Getting around

A taxi from the airport will get you to the centre in about 10 minutes. Car hire companies also have offices at the terminal. Hiring a car is a good idea so you have the freedom to visit the area’s attractions, which are out of the city itself. PE is nicknamed the Windy City, but the locals will have you believe that refers to the frequent but gentle breezes, rather than any real risk of actual gales. It boasts about 300 days of sunshine every year.

Mobile phone & Internet access 

Mobile networks have the city covered. Roaming calls and data are expensive, so buy a local sim card if you want to make local calls. Take some form of ID with you to do that. There are plenty of free wifi hotspots in cafes and in the hotels, but you’ll find the speeds sluggish if you’re from a first world country.

Where to eat

The soon-to-be-named Merchants on Main (154 Main Road Walmer, opposite Bloomingdales Nursery) is an eclectic mix of shops, where you can easily spend a lazy morning browsing through the fresh florals at Casa Rose, shopping for that special bottle of boutique wine at Life is Grape to go with that grain fed, perfectly aged steak from 2 Fat Butchers next door.

Then you simply have to walk into the adjacent Banneton Bakery & Cafe and ask the fabulous server behind the counter for one of their famous doughnuts (think light as air dough filled with heavenly salted caramel cream!) They have the most delicious array of wood-fired, handcrafted breads with hand-braided challah available on Fridays and serve a heady assortment of fine teas and coffees. Sit down or take away, their menu has something for everyone. Tel: +27 (0)41-450 6737.

What better way to start the day than with a handcrafted blend of your favourite java served with a smile. Mike Chizeya has spent the past nine years sharing his passion for coffee, having worked as a coffee barista at various Woolies stores in PE. Mike has now opened the first coffee ‘drive-through’ specialising in single-origin coffees, with his Banting Bulletproof Coffee proving to be a huge success. Find the Micoffee Coffee Drive-through at 154 Main Rd, Walmer.

Ever heard of a ‘growler’. Well, neither had I until I popped in to Benn Koppen in the same centre. A growler is simply a refillable amber glass beer bottle, and what makes this appealing for craft beer drinkers is that after you’ve purchased your first filled bottle, you only pay for your refills. That’s what you’ll find at Ben Koppen. It’s basically a filling station for beer – a first in Southern Africa – specialising in fresh craft beer on the go! Tel: +27 (0)82 778 0204.

If you love eating in a place steeped in history, you simply don’t get any better than Savages Fine Food. This opulent restaurant was home to William Savage and his family of 17 children in 1885. Now beautifully restored, Savages serves breakfasts and lunches in understated sumptuousness. Executive Chef Vanessa Marx, Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star Award 2013 winner, ensures that guests are always surprised by her seasonal menu genius. Hint: going to the restroom here is just as glamorous! Find them at 70 Park Drive. Tel: +27 (0)41-373 1473.

The Boardwalk Entertainment Complex has a wide variety of lovely restaurants all overlooking a beautiful lake. Here you can enjoy a delicious meal and be treated to a spectacular fountain and light show set to music at the same time. Spur, Col’Cacchio, Craft (a trendy gastro-diner offering legendary burgers, ribs & beer) and News Café are just a few of the myriad dining options available. Need something on the go, there are also a number of take-away options too!

You can’t be on the coast and not enjoy some freshly caught seafood. COAST at The Boardwalk Entertainment Complex serves the freshest and most delicious array of seafood dishes, with their new winter seafood chowder served with crispy ciabbatta simply to die for. Try it with a glass of their Louis 57 Sauvignon Blanc, you won’t be disappointed. Tel: +27 (0)41-507 7508.

Bustling Stanley Street has long been a favourite on the foodie scene, with a strip of restaurants catering for everything from pre-dinner drinks at the cool For the Love of Wine – with its beautiful wraparound balcony overlooking the bustling street below (above The Art Gallery) – to a sensational steak at Flava, and the best sushi in town at Fushin (their New York roll is world famous).

One place you have to try is Muse. Opened by husband and wife team, Alan and Simone Bezuidenhout, this little gem is fast-becoming a favourite among locals. Chef Alan is the creative genius on the savoury side while his better half, Simone, is undoubtedly one of the most talented pastry chefs in PE (and quite possibly the country.) They serve lunch and dinner, but also lovely cakes and pastries any time in-between. Find them at 1B Stanley Street, Richmond Hill. Tel: +27 (0)73 991 5011.

Fancy a quick bite after work? Upstairs in the Summerstrand Village, opposite the famous Pollock Beach, Charlie’s Pizza & Pasta has long been a local favourite and serves the best pizza south of Italy. Best eaten fresh, their pizzas are thin-based, crispy and absolutely delicious. Try their Twinkle cocktail made from vodka and Elderflower extract – perfect while you relax on the sunny deck during happy hour from 5-6pm. Find them at Shop 29, Summerstrand Village, 8th Avenue. Tel: +27 (0)41-583 2832.

Almost hidden down an alley off Stanley Street, Mellas Dim Sum & Noodle Bar is definitely another of my firm favourites. This Asian restaurant serves the most incredible fresh selection of classics (their pot stickers are a must, as is their spicy beef brisket cooked low and slow with fresh coriander, soft boiled egg, beansprouts, pak choi and the freshest egg noodles on the planet). Find them at 15 Bain Street, Richmond Hill. Tel: +27 (0)41-582 2736.

Where to stay 

The Boardwalk Hotel & Spa is undoubtedly an icon along Port Elizabeth’s golden mile and at night transforms into a fairytale castle when all the lights flicker on. Reserve your seat at one of the most indulgent high teas (enjoy a coffee in the lounge, which comes with a complementary macaroon) or at Kipling’s Brasserie Restaurant (a colonial-inspired feel with a contemporary seasonal menu). You can also enjoy sundowners on the deck overlooking Hobie Beach and Shark Rock Pier. Even better, why not check in and experience the luxury for yourself? Find them at: Marine Drive, Summerstrand. Tel: +27 (0)41–507 7777.

Yearning to stay where you can walk out of your room and be five steps from the ocean? The Sands @ St Francis is a 5-star boutique hotel nestled in the quaint seaside village of St Francis. With only five luxurious rooms, each opening onto a private deck with stunning views of the beach, and an infinity pool below, this is home away from home, on the beach! Ask Heidi to introduce you to their own celebrity Pumpkin. Find them at 8 Frank Road, St Francis Bay. Tel: +27 (0)42-294 1888.

Where to go 

One of my favourite sanctuaries for some well-deserved pampering is a bespoke treatment at Africology Spa. The spa is in the Boardwalk Hotel, but you can’t miss it, just follow your nose and the heady aromas of their own unique products – scented candles, diffusers and a huge selection of beauty products. Treatments include complementary access to the steam room, sauna, ice bath and Jacuzzi. Ask for Monique, she’s one of the best therapists I have ever encountered. Tel: +27 (0)41-507 7777.

Nelson Mandela Bay is the only city in the world that is home to the colossal Big Seven of the animal kingdom, which roam free just 55km from the city in the Addo Elephant National Park. The Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros) rule the five-biome land and the Southern Right whale and Great White shark are denizens of the deep in the Bay waters.

Who wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with these majestic mammals during their seasonal movement (starting in June) along our coast? Humpback whales can be seen in Algoa Bay between June and early January, reaching peaks in July and August and again in November and December when they make their return journey, with calves in tow. Southern right whales can be seen from July to October with Raggy Charters (Algoa Bay Yacht Club). Tel: +27 (0)73 152 2277 or +27 (0)73 152 2277.

An outing along the winding seafront round out past “Schoenies” is one of the most unique and family-friendly venues on a sunny day. Grass Roof Farm Stall & Restaurant in Sardinia Bay is a perfect space for families, where an adventurous and well-planned play space keeps the little ones busy for hours. Take a moment to browse through their gift shop for a beautiful selection of collectables and then into their deli for delicious farm-fresh fare. (And yes, that is a real roof covered in grass and wild flowers!) Find them at Cnr New Seaview and Heron Rds, Sardinia Bay. Tel: +27 (0)41-366 2379.

Where better for the little ones to enjoy the outdoors, climbing, racing and riding on the various beautifully built structures than at Kidz Play Park at Windsor. Moms can buy a coffee from the quaint coffee shop and sit under a tree on one the picnic benches scattered around the area while the little ones play, and maybe even plan their next birthday party or play date. Find them at 43 Circular Drive. Tel: +27 (0)72 227 0198.

An exciting, new family favourite is the Tree House Kids Fun Centre that forms part of the popular Sera Maior Restaurant next door. This play centre is convenient in that you’re able to drop off your little one and know they will be surrounded by art, fun, story time and caring child minders. As one might expect from the name there is an amazing hand crafted and sturdy treehouse taking centre stage. Find them at Bloomingdales Lifestyle Village, 145 Walmer Main Road. Tel: +27 (0)82 909 4956.

Where to shop

9th Avenue Shopping Complex (cnr Main & 9th Ave, Walmer) is one of those secrets that the locals keep to themselves. 9th Avenue houses a lovely variety of shops, from Calyx Boutique contact: +27 (0)41-581 8996 specialises in dressing real women and has a beautiful collection of dresses, jeans, tops and accessories. If you’re pregnant, broody, a mom, gran or aunty then pop into the gorgeous Blume co contact: +27 (0)73 155 1870 for a stunning array of bespoke baby clothes, accessories, decor and stylish Lou Harvey baby bags. Next door, Pollen, contact: +27 (0)41-581 8284, is as the name suggests, a beautiful flower boutique where you can order creative, stylish and affordable floral arrangements to be delivered to your door. Seattle Coffee is opening a sit-down café which will be perfect while your better half waits for you to complete your makeover at Bliss Hair & Skincare, tel: +27 (0)41 581 3427.

What to do 

No. 5 Boutique Art Hotel is a member of the esteemed Mantis Collection and is also home to a secret little gem, a private theatre modelled on Prince Charles’ cinema in Clarence House, London. Here you can dine in 5-star luxury in their sumptuous private cinema while you enjoy your favourite movie and your tipple of choice. Have more friends, then why not dine in their private cellar? It simply doesn’t get better than that! Find them at 5 Brighton Rd. Tel: +27 (0)41-502 6000.

Another local “best-kept secret” is Stadium Butchery a family-owned and run butchery that has the tastiest biltong I’ve ever had. Take a moment to browse their lovely collection of farm-style goodies, braai and potjie accessories and obviously some of the best cuts of meat on the market. Find them at Forest Hill Drive. Tel: +27 (0)83 651 0365.

The famous Mastertons Coffee Merchants are importers, roasters and blenders of top quality Arabica coffee since 1924. Pop in for a chat or browse their wide selection of flavoured dessert coffees, premium decaf and a variety of fine tea, brewing equipment and accessories. The best thing is that you can also order online, so you’ll never be without your favourite blend. Find them at 114 Russell Rd. Tel: +27 (0)41 – 585 4044.

 

by Collette Hoppé

Main image courtesy of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism.

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