Did you know?
Port Elizabeth played a critical struggle role against apartheid, and its municipality is named the Nelson Mandela Metro.
People sometimes ask Paul and Thandi Miedema, who founded Calabash Tours in Port Elizabeth, whether township tours aren't perhaps a little voyeuristic. Paul's response is heartfelt.
'Township people are delighted to see visitors. They feel happy their histories and lives are now receiving attention, and also that these previously overlooked areas are now seen as tourism attractions in their own right.'
But he also points out that Calabash Tours doesn't do conventional 'township tours'. Calabash offers a 'real city tour'. It takes in most parts of Port Elizabeth, showing the context and history of all its people. It just so happens that 75% of the city is populated by Xhosa people.
You will see heart-wrenching poverty, but also hear inspirational stories and be exposed to areas being populated by a growing middle class and the elite. You’ll visit schools, you’ll see barbers, seamstresses and wire artists at work, you’ll experience real African hospitality, and you’ll interact with locals.
Nelson Sebezela and Mongezi Lumka, locals themselves, are seasoned guides and have been working with Paul almost since he started the business back in 1997.
Paul loves exposing people to 'his' Port Elizabeth. 'There is such energy and spirit in the townships,' he says. 'It really can be life-changing, and I want to share what I've experienced myself.'
Calabash Tours is one of South Africa's leading responsible tourism operators, and has won many awards, in addition to being certified by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa.
Part of the fee paid by visitors goes towards the Calabash Trust, which in turn goes to supporting feeding schemes, food gardens and other upliftment projects in the Port Elizabeth area. Calabash Tours also operates one of the country’s most highly regarded responsible voluntourism initiatives.
In the spirit of exposing visitors to local people in relaxed situations, another of Calabash's exciting tours is the Shebeen Tour. Here, with music and a convivial atmosphere, you can meet and mingle with friendly locals over a cider or beer.
The magic of a Calabash Tour is that you see South African life as it is – not packaged or contrived. You'll learn about the historical context, but also see how ordinary – and extraordinary – people live now. It's an insight into Port Elizabeth in under four hours.
And once you've seen this fascinating coastal city with new eyes – its beaches, monuments, heritage and a cross-section of its people – you can head on to the nearby Addo Elephant National Park or head west, down the Garden Route.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Paul or Thandi Miedema
Tel: +27 (0)41 585 6162
Cell: +27 (0)84 552 4414
How to get here
Calabash Tours will pick you up from your hotel or guest house in Port Elizabeth, or can do transfers from the airport.
Best time to visit
Port Elizabeth is a year-round destination. It's especially pleasant in the summer months (December to March).
Around the area
Port Elizabeth is perfectly situated for anyone heading to the Addo Elephant National Park, Cape Town via the Garden Route, or the Wild Coast.
You will be transported in Calabash Tours’ spacious vehicles, and accompanied by a guide at all times.
What will it cost
A morning tour (Real City Tour) around the township costs approx. R420 per person. The Shebeen Tour in the afternoon into the evening costs approx. R500, including a hearty meal. Drinks are for your account.
Length of stay
Both tours offered by Calabash typically take under 4 hours, with the Real City Tour in the morning and the Shebeen Tour starting in the early afternoon, going into the evening.
What to pack
Dress comfortably and bring along your camera. You’ll definitely want to capture these memories.
Where to stay
Port Elizabeth has plenty of hotels, guest houses and backpacker establishments. If in doubt, Calabash could recommend something in your price range.