Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy…
Pics Shaen Adey, Lloyd Edwards, Michelle van Aardt, Sakkie du Preez, www.mype.co.za
Despite its glorious beaches and magnificent mountain backdrop Port Elizabeth is often overlooked as an adventure holiday destination. But the Friendly City at the eastern end of the Garden Route has much to offer lovers of the outdoors. If you’re heading there for a summer holiday add some of these adventures to your bucket list.
Summertime or wintertime I think I’d find livin’ easy in the heart of Nelson Mandela Bay. Located on one of the most beautiful stretches of the South African coastline, backed by stunning mountains and gorges and with plenty of green lungs to hike, bike and run in, Port Elizabeth is the perfect playground for water babes and landlubbers alike.
Often billed as the Watersport Capital of Africa, the city is Mecca for sailors, windsurfers and kiteboarders and has a full calendar of local and international events.
Algoa Bay Yacht Club has hosted numerous continental and international sailing events including the J22 Worlds, Hobie 16 Worlds, Optimist Africans and Mirror Worlds. The 2007 Mirror Worlds were unique in that the same team won the Pre-Worlds regatta AND the World Championships; and it was an all-women team - Brits Anna Mackenzie and Holly Scott in Simply Gorgeous - to boot. (In sailing, men and women compete on an equal footing in most races.)
The 60th 505 World Championships which will be held at Algoa Bay Yacht Club in March and South Africa's oldest offshore sailing race - the Vasco Da Gama - will finish off of the Shark Rock Pier at Hobie Beach (a great spot to watch the colourful sails year round) for the next three years. The 2015 race will start in Durban on 25 April and yachts to are expected to finish in Algoa Bay between 27 and 30 April.
Hobie Beach also plays host to various sailing and beach volleyball events as well as the annual Splash Festival and the swimming leg of the Standard Bank Ironman – both held in April.
A beachfront promenade makes access to the beaches easy. One of the most popular is the Blue Flag King's Beach, a fabulous stretch of golden sand that extends from the harbour wall to Humewood. Since it offers safe swimming it’s popular with swimmers and bodysurfers while ‘The Pipe’ at Pollock Beach is a magnet for surfers.
A catamaran cruise out with Raggy Charters is an absolute must-do to appreciate PE’s magnificent coastal location and marine life. Three types of dolphin (bottlenose, common and humpback), Cape fur seals, Cape gannets, sharks, Bryde’s and minke whales are seen year round, while during the whale watching season between early June and early January migratory humpback and southern right whales are found in the bay, often with calves. Trips out to see the African penguins on St Croix Island - the largest breeding colony of these endangered birds in the world – pelagic bird trips and cruises to Bird Island are among the cruise options.
A little publicised fact is that Port Elizabeth offer some of the best, and most reliable scuba diving in the country thanks to a top-notch dive school, Pro-Dive and two very different dive destinations - the more sheltered Algoa Bay and the aptly named Wildside to the west of Cape Recife. Nutrient-rich cold water coming up from the Cape meets the warm waters brought down the east coast by the Agulhas Current in the making for a diverse marine life. There’s plenty for both novice and advanced divers including pretty coral and sponge-encrusted reefs, deep pinnacles, shipwrecks, shark encounters and wonderful little critters. A bonus of diving the Wildside is that the boat ride out offers spectacular views of the bay and a good chance of spotting dolphins and whales.
Hikers and trail runners are spoilt for choice. With its dramatic surrounding mountains, magnificent coastline and green urban spaces PE has a wealth of hiking trails from easy strolls along the promenade to stiff walks in the nearby nature reserves; and most of them are free!
Top trails include the magnificent Sacramento trail through the Schoenmakerskop-Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve. A large cannon salvaged from the wreck of the Sacramento, a Portuguese galleon that ran onto the rocks in 1647, marks the trailhead, then the easy 8km trail follows the coast to the lovely sandy beach of Cannon Bay and on to Sardinia Bay - another great swimming spot so pack your bathers. From there the path climbs to the ridgeline and completes the circle through dune vegetation and fynbos back to the start.
Another stunner, the easy 9km Roseate Tern Hiking Trail, winds its way through the beautiful Cape Recife Nature Reserve on the southern tip of Algoa Bay. With its attractive black and white lighthouse, diverse birdlife, pristine fynbos, rock pools and unspoilt beaches the circular hike is a fantastic family outing that is very popular with birders.
One of the best short trails is the Humpback Dolphin Trail (an extension of the beachfront promenade) from Flat Rocks to Pollock Beach. Open to walkers, runners and cyclists it is lit up at night, so is great for an evening stroll. Most of the trail is along a raised boardwalk and the high vantage on the dunes means that there are superb views over the rocky coastline from the walkway. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, including the trail’s namesake, and a host of sea birds including African black oystercatchers and both Caspian and common terns.
Many of the hiking trails can also be explored on two wheels while the purpose-built Norm Hudlin Mountain-Bike Trails in the Kragga Kamma area offer trails to suit all levels of ability. And then there’s fishing, 4x4, game viewing and a host of other adventures in the city and its environs. But these should do you for starters.