WORDS: LOUISE LIEBENBERG IMAGES: SALVELIO MEYER

Situated in the Baakens Valley at the bottom of Target Kloof, this hidden gem is surrounded by nature, adding much of the appeal of living in this verdant part of Port Elizabeth.

Ancient cliffs, the Baakens River and its tributaries, Settlers Park Nature Reserve which flanks Essexvale on one side, and Wellington Park overlooking it towards the back, are the main natural elements that contribute to making life in this area special.

Essexvale comprises three streets at best and residents like to quip they live in Port Elizabeth’s tiniest suburb! Though lying alongside busy Target Kloof Road, Essexvale is peaceful and quiet thanks to its natural buffers. Essexvale’s location at the bottom of Target Kloof means you can effortlessly reach Walmer going one way, and Five Ways/Cape Road/Central when heading up the kloof in the opposite direction. Five Ways is an important crossing from which the city’s main freeways are easily accessed. The first plots were laid out from the mid-1920s and houses built from then on. Some still have original 1930s, ’40s and ’50s features; one or two others were designed by noted architects towards the end of the 1960s and beyond.

Johan Gerryts and his partner of 22 years Penny Sawyer, have lived in Chelmsford Avenue since 2001. “It was overgrown, leafy, private and very central, which we loved, and the house was on the Baakens River, which made for a unique location that appealed to us and our style of living,” Johan says.

“Essexvale and the street names Chelmsford and Colchester, are very English, but I’m not sure why and how these were named as such. What we enjoy most is that you can sit on the stoep and not know you are in the middle of a city.”

Their garden is much bigger than average, but they keep it simple and indigenous to the local vegetation.

Essexvale may not appeal to everyone, Johan says. “Although we believe it’s the best place in the world to live, there are some disadvantages – it’s cold in winter, hot in summer, we have traffic on Target Kloof and occasional flooding of the bridge in Chelmsford Avenue.

“We also have dassies, water leguaans, snakes, otters and other wildlife. All these make it special for us, but perhaps not for everyone. Many people do not even know about our little neighbourhood’s existence – and that’s fine too!”

Property

Essexvale is made up of free-standing homes, with no townhouses or flats. In terms of municipal demarcation it falls under Mill Park, which overlooks it from the opposite side of Target Kloof. Walmer is its other neighbour.

However, Essexvale prices are more reasonable than what you would pay in Mill Park. Johan and Penny bought before PE’s “property boom” and values have gone up considerably since. They paid just R359,000 in 2001, spent a further R300,000 and their house is now worth about R2,8m.

Atlas and ADT maintain a security presence and there’s a very active WhatsApp group informing residents about everything from security alerts to otter sightings!

Schools

Essexvale has no schools, but is very close to some of PE’s top schools, among them Clarendon Park Primary, Grey Primary and High School for boys, and St George’s Preparatory and College. Other schools under 4km away are Settlers Park Primary, Greenwood Primary, DF Malherbe High, Theodor Herzl Primary and High, Victoria Park High and the PE Montessori School.

Explore

Settlers Park is home to indigenous plant, bird and animal species. Start at the bottom of Settlers Park, accessed from Chelmsford Avenue, then make your way right to the top. Look out for Boer War trenches built as a preventative measure even though PE never went on to see Boer War action. When walking or cycling here it’s best to make up a group for safety.

Settlers Park and the valley are also excellent for mountain biking, with groups heading through several times a week.

The Baakens Valley is a birdwatchers’ dream. Residents often see loeries, guinea fowl, hamerkops, and even raptors and owls in their gardens and in the reserve.

For the more culturally inclined, Art on Target, at 2 Target Kloof Road, is the home, studio and art school of artist Bretten-Anne Moolman. It’s an important component of PE’s annual Arts Meander, and hosts regular musical gatherings and exhibitions.

Essexvale is a unique little neighbourhood in nature and close to everything. It’s very protected from the wind but, being at the bottom of the valley, it also gets cold here in winter and hot in summer. JOHAN GERRYTS, RESIDENT

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