My wife was born and raised in South Africa and still has lots of family living there. Any trip to South Africa will invariably be a mix of family catch ups and us being tourists. First port of call was Port Elizabeth, my wife’s hometown. Many tourists travel along ‘The Garden Route’ which runs from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, and contains some wonderful scenery both along the inland and coastal routes. I would imagine those driving the Garden Route spend a limited time in Port Elizabeth as we didn’t see many other tourists here.
Port Elizabeth has changed beyond recognition from the time when my wife grew up there. Yes apartheid is over, but life has not got any better for large sections of the community, and has actually become worse for many people. Even having that local knowledge with us, and many friends and family in the City, we still needed to be careful. Certain areas (including the city centre) we were told to avoid.
The safest part of the city is Summerstrand along the sea front, where you will find the (small number of) tourists and Port Elizabeth’s only 5 star hotel, The Boardwalk. The Boardwalk is part of a larger complex which includes a casino and numerous shops and restaurants. This seems to be the ‘go to’ place for tourists and locals alike. We stayed just up the road at the Radisson Blu (because the Boardwalk was fully booked not because I am stingy), which is a 4 star hotel near the seafront. We had a bit of a mixed experience at the Radisson Blu, everything looked 4 star standard, but those little details you would expect just weren’t there. We had issues with the housekeeping, the food, and the general standard of the ‘details’. It was fine, don’t get me wrong, but not to 4 star (western) standards in my opinion.
Near Port Elizabeth is the Addo Elephant National Park, which we were keen to visit. You can’t come to South Africa and go home without having seen any wildlife. Don’t be fooled by the Park name, there are lots of other animals here, not just elephants. The park is huge, with a northern and a southern entrance and would take a few days to explore fully, especially since most of the internal roads are not made up. You don’t need a 4WD vehicle (we didn’t) but it would certainly make some of those potholes less of a problem.
If I’m totally honest, it was less than I had hoped for. We didn’t see any big cats, although we spoke to some people who did. They had arrived very early in the morning specifically to see some lions, and I guess we were just too late. We saw several elephants (some fairly close), zebra, buffalo, warthogs, meerkats, antelope etc.
There is an onsite restaurant and souvenir shop, and we decided to stay for lunch. The food is tasty and reasonably priced. Overall a pleasant excursion.
Whilst attending a family get together in Port Elizabeth, my wife mentioned how much she missed koeksisters (a South African doughnut like snack). During her childhood, every Sunday church service would be followed by a koeksisters and coffee. One of the family members, Jeff, (who we had not previously met) insisted he would bring us some koeksisters before we left Port Elizabeth. Alcohol had been flowing freely, so we didn’t give too much credence to this promise.
A few days later we were awoken at our hotel by the front desk ringing our room. It was around 8am and, although we are usually up by then, we were enjoying a lie in. The receptionist sounded a little bemused, telling us that there was a gentleman in reception asking for us. We assumed this must have been some kind of mistake as we were not expecting anyone, and told the receptionist he must be mistaken. A slight pause, then the receptionist says . . “the gentleman says he has your koeksisters sir”. We could hardly contain our laughter and rushed down to reception to find no less than a dozen koeksisters and a smiling Jeff. “I told you I would bring you koeksisters” he proudly declared.
Although Jeff couldn’t stay for breakfast with us, we enjoyed them with a coffee, and dropped off the ones we couldn’t eat to family members. It was so refreshing to find someone who kept his word, even though we certainly didn’t expect him to.
Whilst we enjoyed catching up with family and friends in Port Elizabeth, there really isn’t too much here to warrant tourists using it for anything more than a start or end point to The Garden Route.