Grahamstown, the central attraction of Frontier Country, is about 90 minutes’ drive from PE on the N2. It is a place of unpretentious, offbeat charm.
Also known as ‘the city of saints’ due to its 50 places of worship, the spire of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George towers above the city centre. Its tolling bells and the haunting whistles of red-winged starlings are memorable sounds.
The town was at one stage second only to Cape Town in importance. Grahamstown burgeoned after some of the 1820 Settlers found that the Zuurveld on which they had been settled was unsuitable for farming, and formed a town around the military garrison.
Today, the city’s major ‘industry’ is education. It is home to many prestigious schools and to Rhodes University. The university buildings are over 100 years old and were designed by Sir Herbert Baker. Architecture is a point of pride in Grahamstown, with many buildings proclaimed as National Monuments.
Frequent festivals rouse this sleepy hollow, including the National Arts, Science and Schools Festivals. ‘Festinos’ are undaunted by the weather, which, although generally moderate, is known to be unpredictable as the town lies between winter and summer rainfall zones.
Look out for
The National Arts Festival – an annual mid-winter 10-day cultural happening of artistic, musical and dramatic talent. The magic of ‘Fest’ is basking in the warm mood on the streets. Flea markets sell South African arts, crafts, and food, and imported bric-a-brac.
Albany Museum Complex - the Albany Natural Science and History Museums contain displays of local importance. The Observatory Museum was the site of the identification of the Eureka, South Africa's first authenticated diamond, in 1867. Its tower houses the only Victorian Camera Obscura in the southern hemisphere. Fort Selwyn and the 1820 Settler Monument are historically interesting, offer good views and exhibit important South African art.
Grahamstown is within 60km of Kenton-on-Sea, Kasouga Beach and Port Alfred. Close by are a number of Nature Reserves of varying exclusivity: Thomas Baines, Ecca, Kwandwe, Kariega, Amakhala, Lalibela, Shamwari and the Great Fish River Reserve. Addo Elephant National Park is 104km away.
The International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University has more than 200 traditional African musical instruments and a variety of recordings.
Makana Botanical Gardens - the second-oldest botanical gardens in South Africa are pleasant for strolling and birdwatching. The Provost Prison, a famous example of a panoptican prison, is situated near the garden’s gates. It is an enjoyable walk to the toposcope at Signal Hill on Mountain Drive - an old military communications point.