Port Elizabeth, South Africa’s friendly city

Between February and June schools of dolphins and a shiver of sharks team up to enjoy the feeding frenzy that is the annual sardine run along the eastern coast of South Africa. Alone, these predators cannot take advantage of the bounty. Hunting in packs, they are able to feast.

Working in tandem they surround the school of sardines, increasing speed and narrowing their angle of attack with each pass. In this way they push the sardines closer to the surface and into a tight ball, and dinner is ready. The resultant feeding frenzy takes place close enough to Port Elizabeth’s shore that tour guides offer diving trips to see it close at hand. It is one of the many adventure highlights visitors to the city can enjoy when they’re not lazing on the beach or visiting the many memorials.

Dolphins and sharks work together to drive a ball of sardines towards the sea surface, making and easier meal. (Image courtesy Sergey Artemenko, South African Tourism)

Dolphins and sharks work together to drive a ball of sardines towards the sea surface, making and easier meal. (Image courtesy Sergey Artemenko, South African Tourism)

The Eastern Cape has quietly built a reputation as a dream destination for adventure travellers, tourists and business travellers alike. It is Big Five safaris, a professional conference industry, kite surfing and long evenings enjoying the energy of its night life.

And Port Elizabeth, the province’s capital, is the “friendly city”, the “windy city”, a city of industry and the gateway to Eastern Cape adventure. The Addo Elephant National Park is an hour’s drive from the airport and offer more than just the opportunity to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant). Its borders have been extended to the coastline at St Croix and Bird Island.

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A bull elephant looms over visitors at the Eastern Cape’s Addo Elephant National Park. (Image: South African Tourism)

So to the Big Five land animals, at Addo you can add great white sharks and southern right whales, swimming through a waddle of African penguins or a plunging of gannets. The area is home to a pod of Bryde’s whales, smaller and faster than their ocean-going cousins who visit between June and November.

Port Elizabeth sits between the Garden Route and the Wild Coast, offering urban pleasures and the natural wonders of the Eastern Cape landscape, such as the quiet stark beauty of the Karoo. Visit the city and enjoy the Blue Flag beaches of Hobie, Humewood and Wells Estate. If lazing on the beach gets boring, then trek to the top of the Maitland Sand Dunes and sand board for hours.

Shark Rock pier juts out into the surf at Port Elizabeth's Hobie Beach, one of the city's three beaches awarded prestigious global Blue Flag status. (Image: Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism)

Shark Rock pier juts out into the surf at Port Elizabeth’s Hobie Beach, one of the city’s three beaches awarded prestigious global Blue Flag status. (Image: Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism)

If cities leave you exhausted then head off to the Maitland Nature Reserve and its trails that follow an old wagon road or through the dense underbrush to St Francis Bay.

Port Elizabeth has developed walking trails to rival the more famous routes in the Western Cape. Spend hours discovering the variety of unique flora in the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve. Or walk along the city coastline on the Humpback Dolphin Trail between Pollok Beach and Flat Rocks along a cycle and walking trail that is lit up at night.

It's clear why the Eastern Cape coastal road that runs through Port Elizabeth is known as the Garden Route. (Image: South African Tourism)

It’s clear why the Eastern Cape coastal road that runs through Port Elizabeth is known as the Garden Route. (Image: South African Tourism)

The city’s proximity to the deep water port of Ngqura and the Coega Industrial Development Zone has made Port Elizabeth a business destination as well. The city has encouraged the development of infrastructure to accommodate the influx of business travellers. Everything from top hotels to the Boardwalk Convention Centre has made it easy to do business in the Eastern Cape with PE as your base.

The view over the Indian Ocean from the Boardwalk Convention Centre in Port Elizabeth. (Image: South African Tourism)

The view over the Indian Ocean from the Boardwalk Convention Centre in Port Elizabeth. (Image: South African Tourism)

All those hours of sunshine – an average of 2 818 hours of sunlight per year, (more than any other South African city) means a slowed down, friendly city waits to welcome you. If its adrenaline that gets you out of bed, business that gets your heart pumping or following in the footsteps of history (new and old) Port Elizabeth should loom in your future.

TOP IMAGE: The city hall, at left, and central public library, right, frame a statue of Queen Victoria in Port Elizabeth. (Image:South African Tourism)

  • Words by Sulaiman Philip
  • Editing, fact-checking, photo research, captions, by Mary Alexander