Port Elizabeth, South Africa - Stein Travel
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Port Elizabeth

The industrial city of Port Elizabeth is the centre of the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, known in most tourist guides as 'settler country'. The city was founded by shiploads of British settler families who arrived in the Eastern Cape in the early 19th century, hoping to improve their prospects after suffering economic hardship because of the industrial revolution at home. The settlers also intended to strengthen defences against the local Xhosa people, who had been pushed back beyond the Fish River frontier. They came ashore at Algoa Bay, where there was nothing more than the small British Fort Frederick to welcome them.

The city, from its humble beginnings, has grown into a principal port and manufacturing centre. Although it is very much a working town with a large indigent population living in the outlying township areas, Port Elizabeth draws plenty of tourists because of its proximity to the attractions of the east coast and historically interesting interior. The city is justifiably known as 'the friendly city' and Algoa Bay boasts 25 miles (40km) of beautiful sandy beaches lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The attractive beachfront is the venue for the annual 'Splash' festival and world boardsailing championships, and features a long promenade and pier full of tourist facilities. Port Elizabeth has a few museums and a small oceanarium, as well as the Nelson Mandela Stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup and dominates the cityscape. The nearby Donkin Reserve provides a pleasant day trip as do Seaview Game and Lion Park and the Kragga Kamma Game Park, and slightly further afield visitors can see the 'Big Five' at Shamwari Game Reserve, Amakhala Game Reserve, and Addo Elephant Park.

Information & Facts

Climate

Port Elizabeth enjoys a moderate climate, known to have the most sunshine and fewest rainy days of any of South Africa's seaside cities. There is little difference in average temperature between summer and winter, the sea remaining warm enough for swimming all year round.

Getting Around

Port Elizabeth has a limited public bus system that was upgraded for the 2010 World Cup tournament. Schedules and routes can be found at www.algoabus.co.za. The principal means of transport for most South Africans, however, is the minibus taxi. These are usually crowded and drivers pay no attention to road rules, stopping wherever and whenever to drop off and pick up passengers. This makes them easy to catch and they are cheap, but are used at one's own risk. Passengers should not get into an empty minibus and should only travel in daylight, on well-known routes. Metered taxis are available, but are usually fairly expensive. Hiring a car is usually the best and easiest option.

Language

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.

Money

South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted, except in petrol stations where cash is required. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. Travellers cheques and some foreign currencies are accepted at larger hotels and shops, but commission is charged, otherwise all commercial banks will exchange them.

Night Life

Port Elizabeth's nightlife conjures up images of the moon and stars rather than exciting clubs - but there are several worthwhile places to explore during a night out in this famously friendly city. Locals will recommend Barney's Tavern, right on the beachfront looking out over Algoa Bay. It's central, busy and a great place to watch live sport once the sunset has done its bit. A popular nightclub is Balizza, in the Walmer, which has three bars with DJs to keep patrons energised. To get some real local flavour head for warm and fun-loving Jeya's Jazz Corner Tavern in the so-called township where you'll see a different side to Port Elizabeth. Those wanting a second round, should contact Calabash Tours for a tour of the many shebeens (speakeasy bars) that dot the township. Many report it's the highlight of their trip. Back in town, check out Tapas del Sol in Brookes Pavilion, which has live music over weekends, and cheapish beer every day of the week. There are plenty of other bars and pubs around PE, and the city is small and safe enough to explore on foot.

Shopping

Visitors to Port Elizabeth are often surprised by how small the city is, but this small town atmosphere is not reflected in its many shopping options. For convenience and a wide range of shops visit Greenacres Shopping Centre, now connected to The Bridge Mall, a useful one-stop resource if you need any travel supplies. This megamall has extended open hours on weekends and also contains cinemas and restaurants. Other shopping centres worth using are The Boardwalk, adjoining the casino near the beach, and Walmer Park Shopping Centre in the suburbs.

It's unlikely that overseas visitors will be content shopping in malls that closely resemble the shopping centres back home. For a more authentic selection of Eastern Cape and South African items, start with a visit to the Boardwalk Craft Workshop which has locally made items emblematic of the region, such as wood carvings, painted and carved egg shells and colourful fabrics. On Sundays and public holidays don't miss the Beachfront Traders Association, with 290 artisans, artists and traders this is the largest and most varied craft market in the region.

There are some specific shops in Port Elizabeth that are worth a mention: Aya's Ceramic Studio works with local women to create beautiful pottery and clay items, as does the African Earth Ware Ceramic Studio & Gallery which exports its creations all around the world. The Wildlife & Environment Society is a good bet for clothing, wood carving, ostrich eggs, DVDs and books related to South Africa's diverse and exciting fauna.

Time

Local time is GMT +2.

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