Port Elizabeth’s surrounding areas offer great variety for the adventurous traveller who loves to take to the open road on journey of exploration. There are numerous nature reserves, Big Seven game reserves, tranquil towns, desolate valleys, indigenous forests and a number of laid-back coastal towns.

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The Apple Express train runs across the highest narrow gauge bridge in the world, Van Stadens Bridge.

Situated in the Eastern Cape province, Port Elizabeth is one of Nelson Mandela Bay's four towns comprising an area named in honour of former South African president and world-renowned humanitarian Nelson Mandela. The other three are Uitenhage, Despatch and Colchester.

Port Elizabeth lies 763 km east of Cape Town and is commonly known as the gateway to the scenic Eastern Cape and its famed Garden Route. The Garden Route lies to the west and to the east, the Sunshine Coast, Frontier Country and more than a million hectares of malaria-free game reserves.

The Garden Route features majestic mountains, stunning vistas, deep valleys, lakes, rivers and forests with giant yellowwood and milkwood trees. Predictably this unspoilt part of South Africa is a paradise for bird-lovers and nature lovers.

The Sunshine Coast comprises small coastal hamlets with rivers, beaches and hiking trails that take advantage of the natural beauty created by the Tsitsikamma forest. Popular resorts like Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred are seaside holiday options, while surfers, windsurfers and nature lovers prefer the eco-walks and wave action of St Francis Bay, Cape St Francis and Jeffreys Bay.

Port Elizabeth's beaches are one of its biggest drawcards, with more than 80 kilometres of sand to choose from. Popular swimming beaches include Kings Beach, Hobie Beach, Humewood Beach, Pollock Beach and Denville Beach. More secluded options include Wildside, Sardinia Bay, Maitlands, Blue Horizon Bay, St Georges Strand, Kini Bay, Bluewater Bay, Beachview, and Schoenmakerskop.

Nature reserves include the Van Staden's Wild Flower Reserve, 35 km from town, a 500-hectare sanctuary that celebrates the region's indigenous flora and fauna. It has a visitors' centre, nursery and picnic site. Make the most of the reserve by taking both walks on offer, one through the forest and a second along the river.

Nature trails are another popular way of exploring the area. The 8 km-long Sacramento Trail takes a coastal route along the vegetated dunes of the Sardinia Bay Reserve. You could also overnight at the scenic Woody Cape Nature Reserve, which stretches from Sunday's River Mouth to the Bushman's River. The reserve incorporates one of the largest coastal dune fields in the world.

If you're looking for a safari experience, make your way to the Addo Elephant National Park, Shamwari Private Game Reserve, Kwantu Private Game Reserve or a host of other wild places.

Nelson Mandela Bay is also home to the Big Seven of the animal kingdom which roam free just 55 km away in the Addo Elephant National Park. The Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros) are joined by the southern right whale and great white shark in the offshore waters. Addo covers about 180 000 hectares and includes Bird Island and St Croix Island.

Further inland, about 120 km north-east of Port Elizabeth, you'll find the Arts Festival town of Grahamstown which comes alive with literary figures, plays, music, art and performers from around the country. Another notable stop-over is the town of Graaff Reinet in the foothills of the Sneeuberg Mountains. The Valley of Desolation and the Camdeboo National Park are within easy reach of Graaff Reinet.

Grahamstown is in close proximity to the charming seaside towns of Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea, where there are more sand, sea and water sports on offer.

And of course, international surfing capital, Jeffrey's Bay, is also within easy reach.

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