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Words: Robyn Anthony Images: Supplied

Every festive season tourists flood the Bay in search of fun, sun and surf. With the laid-back Port Elizabeth vibe and relatively low cost of living here, it’s not surprising the city is such a popular holiday destination.

Many of our gems can become a little forgotten by the locals, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Here are a few spots to check out before the tourists beat you to it.

Soak up the sun

Port Elizabeth is renowned for its pristine beaches, with Humewood, Hobie and Kings Beach among those having coveted Blue Flag status – the international hallmark of cleanliness and safety. Or take a drive to world-class Sardinia Bay with its imposing dune and endless sandy shoreline. Maitland River Mouth, the Van Stadens resort and Sunday River Mouth also make for fun family days out during the holidays.

History

For those looking to rediscover the history and artistic energy of Nelson Mandela Bay there’s a host of attractions to explore. You could do the 5km self-guided Donkin Heritage Trail or head for Route 67, an “arts journey” with 67 public artworks by local artists symbolising Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of dedication to freedom in South Africa.

The Campanile in the historic heart of the city is also worth a visit – head up its 204 steps and be rewarded by an unforgettable panoramic view of the Bay. Or, if you can’t see yourself doing the vertical trek on foot, grab the lift to the top.

Arts and culture

The Bay is home to an array of museums and many you’ll probably last have visited on a school tour in the year dot. But do yourself a favour and call on No 7 Castle Hill Museum – one of PE’s very oldest private residences – again. Don’t forget the South End Museum, the Prince Alfred’s guard museum or the Airforce Museum – always a hit with little ones who dream of becoming pilots.

Art lovers can visit numerous galleries showcasing fine local talent. The GFI gallery and Galerie Noko always have quality exhibitions, as does the Art Museum, and ArtEC does great work in providing opportunities for upcoming artists.

Uitenhage’s Cuyler Museum has an interesting collection of artefacts while Bayworld at the beachfront has a fun dinosaur display among its attractions. If you’ve never been then do yourself a favour and visit the impressive AutoPavilion next to VWSA’s main entrance in Uitenhage. It offers an exceptional glimpse both into SA’s automotive past and into the technology of the future. Open weekdays between 8.30am and 4pm, and every first Saturday of the month from 10am to 1pm, there’s no need to book for the AutoPavilion itself, though you will need to pre-book for the VWSA factory tour.

Wildlife

If you’re more into nature than tech, don’t forget that the Bay area is home to the Big 7 – lion leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino as well as the southern right whale and the great white shark. Kragga Kamma Game Reserve makes for a lovely and easily accessed family outing, or you could head out of town to visit the likes of Addo Elephant National Park, Amakhala Game Reserve, Kariega Game Reserve, world-famous Shamwari and many other private and state reserves.

Get active

Port Elizabeth boasts some fantastic hiking routes. Among the safest and most popular is the Sacramento, an 8km round trip coastal walk through the Schoenmakerskop-Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve. It offers attractive seascapes, landscapes and, depending on the season, stunning displays of dune vegetation and wild flowers.

Sports fans can catch the cricket at St George’s Park, or rugby or soccer at the Nelson Mandela Stadium. There are various golf courses in the Bay and the Port Elizabeth Golf Club in Mill Park is now also popular with mountain bikers.

Adrenaline junkies can try the wall-to-wall trampolines at Gravity Indoor Trampoline Park or test their rock climbing skills at Valley Crag. The Bay also has exhilarating ice-skating at Baywest, as well as paint-ball, laser tag and ten-pin bowling venues. You could go horse riding in Sardinia Bay or opt for a Segway tour, fat bike beach tour, zip-lining or sand-boarding on the dunes at Colchester.

Township tours

The Bay offers an ethnic mosaic of arts and culture, and guided tours are a fun way to experience township life in all its vibrancy. The “Untold Stories” tour provides a good orientation of the townships and a chance to visit local residents with extraordinary tales. Dinner or lunch is included.

The “Home Is Where the Heart Is” tour can be tailored to include drumming as well as visits to inspiring self-help projects and schools in the townships. The three- to four-hour “Shebeen Tour” is a chance to enjoy unbeatable hospitality with the locals over drinks and dinner.

There is also an “Untold Mandela Stories” tour focussing on people and events that helped shape Madiba and his peers, Raymond Mhlaba and Govan Mbeki. Highlights include Route 67 and several sites in New Brighton, including Emlotheni Memorial Park, and Red Location, the oldest part of New Brighton.

Experience it for yourself:

For a full list of activities and events in and around the Bay, visit nmbt.co.za. You can also download a handy app there to keep you up to date with things to see and do.