You can’t beat the Bay for that Christmas break-away
Monday, 2nd November 2020
Article by Marguerite Smit
Photos © M Smit 2020
“When you travel with children, you are giving away something that can never be taken away. Experience, exposure, and way of life” — Pamela T. Chandler
If COVID-19 has highlighted anything, it’s that our lives and the schedules we wrap ourselves up in are busy, busy, busy. But busy with what exactly? Many of us had lost the genuine moments we had with our loved ones. Lockdown changed that. It gave us the time to take a breath, to reflect, and to reconnect with our family and friends in a more productive and meaningful way.
The traditional December-January shutdown (or was it actually our recovery lockdown of sorts?), is nearly upon us. As South Africans we are the lucky ones that get to take time off over the festive season. In many other parts of the world, people hardly take a break, perhaps a few day between Christmas and New Year. But certainly not the 4-weeks or more that the school and industry closures drive everyone from their city traffic jams onto our beaches. And I’m here to tell you that the Bay, Nelson Mandela Bay to be specific, is THE affordable family holiday destination to load into your GPS! It’s not known as the Sunshine Coast for nothing and it truly offers something for every member of the family!
A great place to get orientated and start the planning process is by tapping into the #PEMBBA website www.pembba.co.za. It offers an array of accommodation establishments to suit almost every pocket, and teenage internet connection. Once you know where you and your loved one’s will lay your heads to sleep, you can start looking at what to do with that precious holiday time.
The obvious place to start is with the Bay’s beaches. Nelson Mandela Bay is home to the iconic Shark Rock Pier, and its adjacent Hobie Beach is the place to first get your feet wet. But that’s only to get you started, with another two Blue Flag beaches in the Bay, and over nine other easily accessible options you have plenty to choose from. And a sundowner on Sardinia Bay’s sand dune is most certainly a bucket list end to the day.
But perhaps you don’t want to spend every day on the beach? Did you know that we also boast one of the best rehabilitation centers for penguins and sea birds, #SANCOBB (South African Foundation for the conservation of coastal birds) https://sanccob.co.za located within the Cape Recife Nature Reserve. Entrance is currently R45 for adults and R30 for children and pensioners. They frequently do rehabilitated penguin releases on the beach, and watching those tuxedo-suited swimming machines waddle back down to home is awe inspiring sight to see.
And Cape Recife Nature Reserve itself is well worth a visit! A 366 hectare reserve proclaimed in 1973, its situated next to the Pine Lodge Holiday Resort off Marine Drive in Summerstrand. A great place for birders, as it offers a 9-km circular walking trail of unspoilt beach, natural dune vegetation and rocky outcrops. Everyone’s favourite is the lighthouse, built in 1851, with a great bullet-hole-in-the-lens legend, your Instagram holiday collection ain’t worth anything without the lighthouse in the background. The weekly vehicle entrance charge is R68.00 per vehicle subject to change. Should you be visiting SANCCOB only, entrance to the reserve is free of charge, providing proof of your visit on exit. Entrance on foot and non-motorised transport is also free of charge. This makes for a wonderful family bike ride from Summerstrand or surroundings for those active families!
If you continue along Marine Drive towards Schoenmakerskop, you enter the Wild-Side of the Bay. Home to big seas, and famous shipwrecks, you can visit the cannon of the Sacramento, a Portuguese warship that ran aground just outside Port Elizabeth on the 30 June 1647. Entrance is free and there are magnificent coastal trails, linking small little secluded beaches with natural tidal pools, between Schoenies (as we locals call it) and Sardinia Bay (that best-in-the-world sundowner spot).
Then there is the ultimate way to see the Bay, namely from vantage point of the ocean itself, which offers a Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the world perspective on the city. And Stampede Cruises www.stampedecruises.co.za is the safe way to do that. They offer an array of ocean cruise options starting at R400 per person on their luxury 38ft power catamaran. #stampedecruises
For the more adventurous, enjoy whale watching with Raggy Charters www.raggycharters.co.za starting at R1500 per person and R950 for children under the age of 12. Check with Raggy Charters on their current specials, they are running a few discounted options during the months of November and December.
And for those who want to go below the surface into that magical other-world of the Bay, we have some of the most colourful soft-coral reefs and Ragged-Tooth Shark encounters in the world. #RaggyCharters
And you won’t find a more knowledgeable and professional scuba-diving outfit than Prodive Port Elizabeth https://prodive.co.za to guide you through our shark alleys. #prodive And for those who want to stretch out on top of the water, there’s a reason our Bay is a world-class triathlon destination. Is there a better open-water swimming place in the world?
How many places in the world can enjoy the beach in the morning and view wildlife in the afternoon, or visa versa? With a variety of private reserves to choose from, as well as the Addo Elephant National Park, which sits approximately 40-minutes from the Bay, this is an easy to-do on your chill-list during your holiday. But you’re not in a rush are you, so linger a while, book an overnighter at one of the reserves and get close up and personal with those elephants, and dung beetles. #addo
Addo is the 3rd largest National Park in South Africa. Entrance to park is currently R82 per adult and R41 per child per day. For adrenaline junkies how about the longest zipline in Africa en route to, or from Addo? Strap in and scream to your lungs full capacity when you visit Adrenalin Addo https://adrenalinaddo.co.za and take a flight like no other! They also offer a giant swing, one of only two superman rides in SA. Canoeing down the Sundays River is also offered and perhaps the best way to restore balance after that adrenaline rush! #adrenalineaddo And hey, then you’re at Sundays and sandboarding is another sunshine coast favourite. Sundays River Adventures https://sundaze.co.za are very passionate about what they offer and you can choose between sandboarding, sand-sledding, river cruises or canoeing the outdoor trail! #sundaysriver
For those wanting something within closer proximity to the city, Kragga Kamma Game Reserve https://www.kraggakamma.co.za always delivers and is very affordable at R120 for adults, R60 for scholars and with an optional hop-on guide at R900 you can’t go wrong here! Sightings are not limited to, but do include cheetah, lion, rhino, giraffe and plains game. This is a great place for a family visit with young children who don’t have a long attention span as its very easy to spot wildlife here. #KraggaKamma For an even more close-up and personal experience with animals for little people, Homeleigh farm https://holmeleighfarmyard.co.za is a great farm environment where children can interact one-on-one with farm animals. It is located on route to Kragga Kamma if you want to make a day of it! Hours of operation are 09:30-16:00. They are not open on a Monday so keep that in mind. #homeleighfarm
Bayworld https://www.bayworld.co.za located along the beachfront is a phenomenal educational stop for both young and old. You can visit the Algoasaurus, a unique dinosaur to the Nelson Mandela Bay Area related to the Brontosaurus, which was discovered near Dispatch in 1903. An all-time favourite amongst young boys! The snake park is also a wonderful place to visit and part of Bayworld. They offer various learning experiences so do visit their website for up to date postings! Entrance fees are R40 for adults, R30 for students and pensioners and children under the age of 3 are free of charge! #bayworld
Then just 40 kilometres out of PE, Van Staden’s Flower Reserve protects rare and endemic plants and offers well-constructed trails for easy access to our fynbos smorgasbord with a bit of walking exercise on the side. Another great excursion that is free of charge! There are various walking trails through this fynbos reserve as well as an “umzi” (traditional Xhosa homestead) where you can learn more about the traditional Xhosa culture.
For avid mountain bikers, the Bay offers an array of options! Fat Tracks has well designed and maintained biking trails in the Baakens Valley. Their trails are free of charge, offering a network of single-tracks of different levels that zigzag across and up and down the valley. Just off the William Moffet Expressway in Walmer Downs, you can park in the lot next to the Fat Tracks container and pick up their well-marked trails from there. With the right motivation you can follow the valley all the way down to Bridge Street Brewery, where you can enjoy a cold craft beer! Generally the tracks are technical single tracks, although shorter and flatter routes are also possible in the valley. Fat Tracks have recently built a great run behind their container for younger riders as well as more experienced adventure riders, which include numerous jumps! The run is free for members of Fat Tracks, otherwise riders can scan the Fat Tracks Zapper QR code and make a donation of R20-R50 per person on the day.
If mountain biking is your thing, then Crossways https://bicyclesouth.co.za/listings/crossways-country-kitchen/ in Thornhill, just outside PE is a favourite. After your ride you can stay and enjoy lunch at the Crossways Kitchen, reservations are recommended. Crossways is child and pet friendly! If you are looking for something fun for kids to do in December, join “Potties MTB Youth Camp” at Crossways, run by Johann Potgieter, 4-time SA Downhill champion. The camp runs from 7-9 December and for ages 9-17. Cost is R1700, and includes all food, accommodation, training and trail permits for 3 days. The focus of the camp will be mountain bike skills and is guaranteed to be loads of fun! Kids will be camping in tents on the field next to the Crossways Kitchen, while bicycles will be stored in a safe room with a night security guard. Contact Johan for more info at email@example.com
Hopewell https://www.hopewellconservation.co.za also offers various trail options on their 3100 ha nature reserve on the outskirts of PE, riding through fynbos, roaming game and beautiful landscapes with limited climbing are all on offer, but trails have to be pre-booked, and there is a conservation fee applicable here.
If you are new to mountain biking, or just need a closer ride, the Port Elizabeth Golf Course offers a great ride for beginners. The distance is approximately 4.5 km’s and circles around the 2nd oldest golf course in SA, and consists mostly of a non-technical ride on flat ground. There is a R20 fee, which is left in a real rarity, an honesty box. There’s also the Swartkops MTB Trail that makes its way through the 850 ha Swartkops Valley Nature Reserve with a few technical descents and steep climbs. Located on the edge of our magnificent estuary, you may even see flamingos here if you are lucky! This trail is rated moderate to difficult and it is advised to ride in a group. Entrance is also free here.
With beaches, wildlife (above and below water), screaming through the air, navigating single tracks behind you, then perhaps it’s time for the cultural to-do list, and the South End Museum http://southendmuseum.co.za (our District Six) is a great place to begin to explore what the city has on offer. Donations are accepted, but no fee is charged for the tour. Forced removals from this area and the struggle against the apartheid regime is the focus of the museum, but more importantly it’s a testament to the community and its courage in rising above this. #southendmuseum The museum visit combines easily with the other cultural must-see’s in close proximity, the Donkin Reserve, the Campanile and the Athenaeum. The beautifully restored Athenauem, regularly holds many types of different entertainment options, including stage productions, music, art and exhibitions.
And then if you’re looking for some indoor fun, Gravity Indoor Trampoline Park https://gravitype.co.za is a great way to burn off some energy. Or try ice-skating at Bay West Mall https://theicerink.co.za/wp/bay-west-ice-rink/ Entrance is R80 and skate rentals R35. Bay West also offers a large movie theatre, games arcade and first class shopping!
The Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay in particular, is truly a rare gem in the international and local tourism market. I have only touched on a few of the many activities that this remarkable part of South Africa has to offer. There’s much, much more to cover. Don’t waste any more time – come and visit this city known for its friendly people and awesome beaches! It is the place to reconnect with your loved ones and to take some time out of your busy, busy life. #sharethebay, @nelsonmandelabay, #familytravel
“Travel in the younger sort is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience” — Francis Bacon
*** All the above prices were accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change.