The metropole of Nelson Mandela Bay was established in 2000 and comprises the seaport city of Port Elizabeth (fondly referred to as the windy city or P.E), the inland towns of Uitenhage and Despatch and the riverside villages of Colchester and Cannonville. The area has grown rapidly over the past few years and has earned a reputation for being a family orientated tourism destination.
Regarded as the gateway to several important areas and attractions, Nelson Mandela Bay is the economic powerhouse of the Eastern Cape Province. The area plays host to the multi-billion dollar Coega Industrial Development Zone, the new deep water port of Ngqura and is the hub of the largest automotive industry in Africa.
Nelson Mandela Bay has also been dubbed the water sport capital of Africa and lies within a 30 minute drive of several ‘Big 7’ sanctuaries which offer elephants, Cape Buffalo, leopard, Black Rhino, lions, Great White Sharks and Southern Right Whales. One of the area’s most notable landmarks is the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, a multi-purpose stadium which resembles a blooming sunflower.
Port Elizabeth is a particularly appealing city. A Johannesburg born and bred girl, I am accustomed to the rat race which characterises the City of Gold so the lack of tension I noticed in P.E on a recent trip was refreshing.
In P.E, there is far less traffic on the roads and the majority of people walk around wearing shorts, slops and t-shirts. I noticed that corporate outfits were few and far between. Closer to the beachfront, swimming costumes and wetsuits are the norm and the people are friendly and laid back.
Driving around the city I noticed something else. A distinct lack of major security protocols. In Johannesburg, we are accustomed to living in houses which would put Fort Knox to shame. Bear traps, trained dogs, double electric fences, bars and razor sharp palisade fencing are not out of place at your average crèche in Johannesburg. Not so in P.E. Many homes didn’t have perimeter walls let alone window bars or electric fences. Similarly, many shops boasted bare, gleaming expanses of glass.
Of course the seeming lack of extreme security measures doesn’t mean P.E is crime free. Incidents can and do happen and you have to keep your wits about you. Indeed, a number of incidents have occurred along P.E’s beautiful beachfront and tourists are warned against frequenting the area late at night.
Keeping this in mind, a visit to P.E’s beaches is well worth it. At the time of my visit they were busy but not impossibly so. The beaches were clean and the waterfront area appears to be undergoing a revamp. Other beach related facilities include a pool/ slide park, tidal pool, Shark Rock Pier and diving concession. Visitors can also take their pick of good beach front restaurants and cafes and buy beach paraphernalia at any of the nearby surf and beach shops.
Also within close reach of the beach is Bayworld which incorporates a natural and cultural history museum, a snake park and dinosaur park. Bayworld also includes an oceanarium which unfortunately was closed to the public in April 2011 due to deterioration and escalating costs. It has since reopened sans the dolphin lake and tropical and predator fish tanks.
From an architectural stand point, P.E also appeals. Lovely old residential apartment blocks and hotels are prevalent, many of which still bear their year of construction dates on their facades. Some have been well maintained; others not. Regardless they infuse the city with an old-world charm.
In addition to its many grand old residential and commercial buildings, P.E also plays host to a number of historical attractions including the St Croix Motor Museum, the Prestor John Memorial, the Horse Memorial, Fort Frederick, the Campanile, the Donkin Reserve, the South African Airforce Museum, the Red Location Museum and South End Museum amongst others.
Growth and development also appears to be alive and well in P.E. A number of new hotels and commercial establishments have mushroomed since my last visit many years ago and another new five star hotel is currently being built at The Boardwalk near the beach. That said, P.E hasn’t escaped the recession unscathed. A number of shops were closed and ‘specials’ signs prevailed.
Overall I was left with a good impression of P.E and will go back given the chance. It appears to be fairly well maintained, offers an appealing family lifestyle and can keep visitors entertained for days on end.