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Port Elizabeth

© SA Tourism© SA TourismOften overlooked by travellers in search of glitz and glamour, Port Elizabeth is probably South Africa's best-kept secret. The beaches range from crowded, social and developed to long and deserted. Lovely old buildings reflect PE's past as an integral part of the development of the Eastern Cape and South Africa, and a host of cultural activities offer an insight into the lives of local people. A self-guided walk round the central part of the city takes in some great old buildings and monuments, but it’s probably not a good idea to walk it alone. Go in a reasonable sized group or do it as a guided trip, if you like. Among the interesting things you’ll see are an early 19th century settler home, the Victorian Feather Market that was built during the ostrich feather boom, a beautiful Victorian library, presided over by a statue of good old Queen Vic herself, and a fascinating monument to Prester John – believed to be the only one in the world. Well, that’s not really surprising as the only people who believed in his existence anyhow died out a few hundred years ago. In case you didn’t know, Prester John was the mythical white ruler of a Christian republic “somewhere in Africa” that led the early Portuguese explorers to proceed with (relative) confidence that they’d find a Christian, probably Catholic, ally on the “dark continent”. There is also a host of museums in the city and an aquarium that, sad to say, is home to captive dolphins. Far more interesting than watching dolphins singing for their supper is a whale and dolphin watching trip out in the bay. Mountains and Mohammed come to mind.

Port Elizabeth is a great base for day trips to Addo Elephant National Park, Shamwari, the Baviaanskloof, Port Alfred, Jeffrey’s Bay or Grahamstown. Within the metro limits there are lovely walks, horse rides, pretty good surfing, fantastic sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing, and great diving. There are some excellent golf courses, most notably Humewood, which is the only true links course in South Africa.

There is an active mountain biking community and a number of good MTB trails, including one along a green belt that cuts right through the middle of the city, and – a bit further afield – one in the Van Staden’s Wild Flower Reserve, which is just awash with beautiful blossoms in spring. There is excellent hang gliding and paragliding, scenic flights in a whole range of aircraft and a dedicated flying school, where you can do a pilot’s course at a pretty reasonable price (when compared to some venues in the northern hemisphere, anyway).

There are flights to all other major centres in South Africa from Port Elizabeth.

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