Seven reasons to visit Nelson Mandela Bay
Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch) is a very underrated destination, as I recently discovered after spending some time here. Here are seven reasons why you should consider visiting this part of the Eastern Cape.
1. You can see the Big Seven in one day
Let's start with lucky number seven. There are many places in Africa where you can see the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo), but Nelson Mandela Bay also provides opportunities to also see southern right whales and great white sharks. Together, these animals make up the Big Seven – and that makes for a pretty awesome photo album if you're lucky enough.
Raggy Charters has been taking travellers and film crews around Algoa Bay for many years, providing the opportunity to see sharks, whales and a whole lot more. Addo Elephant National Park is South Africa's third largest national park, and less than 90 minutes from Port Elizabeth.
Nelson Mandela Bay is also a malaria-free area.
2. The people are friendly
This is important. Nelson Mandela Bay is home to people from various backgrounds, but something most of them have in common is that they are welcoming and they love telling stories. Someone said to me on a recent visit: 'Here it's not about your culture or my culture; it's about our culture.'
Port Elizabeth has been dubbed 'the Friendly City', and you won't have to be here long to find out why.
3. Route 67 covers history, art and culture
Route 67 is dedicated to the 67 years Nelson Mandela spent fighting for freedom in South Africa. It features 67 pieces of public art, all by Eastern Cape artists.
The route also includes New Brighton township, known as the Red Location, which has produced some prominent struggle icons, artists and musicians.
See the full list of artworks on the Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism website.
The first international rugby (1889) and cricket (1891) matches in South Africa were both played at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth. This ground still hosts international cricket, and what sets it apart from other stadiums is the brass band that entertains the crowd, regardless of what's happening on the field. This year, Port Elizabeth will host the Boxing Day Test between South Africa and the West Indies, which starts on December 26.
Soccer and rugby are now played at the 48 000-seat Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, which hosted eight matches during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The Springboks will host Scotland in a rugby international at this stadium on 28 June 2014.
5. There are 22 000 penguins to see
There aren't many places in the world you can see wild penguins, but St Croix Island in Algoa Bay has around 22 000 African penguins. Again, Raggy Charters is the company that facilitates boat tours.
If boats aren't really your thing, you can get up close to penguins at Samrec (a marine bird rehabilitation centre) on the mainland in Port Elizabeth.
6. Eastern Cape is the mohair capital of the world
This may surprise you, but about 50% of the world's mohair is produced in the Eastern Cape. Visit the farms, photograph the Angora goats and find out how their wool is transformed into world-famous products.
The Hinterveld Mill is one of the places you can visit if you're interested in learning more about the mohair manufacturing process.
7. It's a great 'transit zone'
Port Elizabeth is a great place to start or end a road trip to or from Cape Town (10 hours) or Durban (12 hours); or you can stay here as a stop-over between these two coastal cities.
The drive between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth includes the famous Garden Route, which offers attractions such as the Bloukrans Bungee, the Knysna Heads and a number of animal sanctuaries worth a visit. Between Port Elizabeth and Durban lies the rugged Transkei, which is great for backpackers, hikers and anglers.