Port Elizabeth goes by many monikers; the Windy City, the Friendly City, or just PE, but although it is one of South Africa’s lesser known cities it is both a key strategic port for the country and home to South Africa’s motor vehicle industry. The city itself is a charming place for business and an excellent leisure destination.
Getting there and away
The Port Elizabeth Airport is less than four kilometres from the city centre. Nicknamed the “ten minute airport”, it is so-named as it is never more than ten minutes from most major areas of the city. The airport is served by numerous airlines (Airlink, British Airways, and Mango to name a few) with flights between Cape Town, Johannesburg, East London and Durban. South Africa’s roads are generally in good condition so PE is easily accessible from other major cities. As with any city airport, car rental is an easy option to get around, with most major brands represented, but otherwise there are numerous taxi options into the city.
If you aren’t able to make use of car rental options, there are several public transport options in the city. Thanks to extensive upgrades to the city for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, PE has a well-functioning bus service that is used by tourists and locals alike. However, the main form of public transport is the minibus taxis, which are cheap but crowded and somewhat hair-raising. However, standards are improving so you might want to give it a go. Otherwise, metred taxis can be ordered. Try King Cab or grab an Uber if you have the app.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for a taste of colonial South Africa, Hacklewood Hill Country House was built in 1898 and is one of the few remaining Victorian Manor Houses in the city. Beautiful grounds and excellent service make for a memorable stay. With a stunning oceanfront setting, the Radisson Blu offers all the usual business amenities, and for something more personal and luxurious, No. 5 Boutique Art Hotel is also suitable for business travellers – but within a boutique setting. Located in the trendy, upmarket suburb of Summerstrand, the hotel is less than ten minutes from the airport and a mere 100 metres from the ocean.
There are many, many restaurants to choose from in PE but a good place to start is the well-regarded Fushin, a trendy sushi place. Although a bit pricey, this is the city’s best place to find sushi rolls, mussels, Japanese carpaccio, vegetables and Sashimi paired with a great selection of wines. Ginger is an excellent option for those who want to try the freshest fish with an Eastern Cape influence. The service is great, the sea views pleasant and the food spectacular. If steaks are more your speed, try De Kelder, which serves a variety of meat dishes including duck and kudu; good value for money and a cosy atmosphere.
Don’t be fooled: PE’s quiet exterior hides a vibrant and varied nightlife with plenty of great ways to spend a night out. Gondwana Café, along the city’s beachfront is a favourite live music venue with a focus on jazz. For a more pub-style experience, try Barney’s Tavern, a beachfront staple and one of Port Elizabeth’s oldest restaurants. Signature pub-style dishes and live music all week add to the flavour. Parliament Street is where you’ll find the trendy clubs and bars, but Club Shakes is where you want to be for PE’s “premier nightclub experience”. Hosting a variety of international DJs, Club Shakes is the city’s only “super club”.
In the city
There is plenty to do in PE; tourists are well-catered for. The city is South Africa’s water sport capital with surfing, yachting and snorkelling just some of the activities you can do in the Nelson Mandela Bay area. Numerous cruises and boating trips allow for whale and dolphin watching and even a couple of shipwrecks. PE’s surrounding dunes offer quad biking, sand boarding and horse riding while abseiling and hiking can be done in the surrounding indigenous forests. If museums are more your speed, try the South African Airforce Museum or the Sukume Museum and Xhosa Culture Centre for a glimpse into the Xhosa culture.
Port Elizabeth doesn’t lack for shopping malls. All your basic needs can be met at Greenacres Shopping Centre or Walmer Park Shopping Centre. The Boardwalk entertainment complex on Marine Drive offers several fast food restaurants, hotels and a major casino, as well as a number of retail outlets offering clothing, curios and specialty stores. The Wezandla Gallery and Craft Centre is an excellent place to find a wide range of African crafts – although beware of tourist prices. Cheaper curios and trinkets are available along the beaches as well, with prices open to bartering.
Out of the city
Port Elizabeth is part of South Africa’s famed Garden Route, a popular and scenic stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa. It stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the extreme western reach of the neighbouring Eastern Cape. Take a drive to towns along the route including Mossel Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg Bay, Nature’s Valley and George. The Shamwari Game Reserve is 75km from the city and has often been voted the World’s Leading Safari and Game Reserve and Conservation Company. For world class surfing, hop over to neighbouring town Jeffrey’s Bay – the “surf mecca of the world”. Contact Stormsriver to book your next epic adventure.
History and culture
Founded in 1820 to house British settlers to strengthen the border between the cape Colony and the Xhosa people, Port Elizabeth was named after the late wife of Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, the Acting Governor of the Cape Colony. Before this, the region was first settled by ancestors to the San people about 100,000 years ago with a gradual displacement by Xhosa ancestors about 2,000 years ago. In the city today, European heritage and influences can be seen throughout the city architecture, food and cultural displays while a concerted effort is simultaneously being made to celebrate local Xhosa culture.
Health and safety
Like many cities in South Africa, all the usual precautions against petty crime should be observed, especially on the beaches. Do not walk around with valuables and make sure your guides, etc. are reputable. At night, make sure you stay within well-lit and well-frequented public areas. Health-wise, Port Elizabeth is equipped with many private hospitals. It is not a hotspot for malaria but travellers coming from countries where yellow fever is widespread will need to show proof of vaccination.