FFT in SA: Port Elizabeth

Just over an hour’s flight from Jo’burg, PE, as it is abbreviated locally, is known as ‘the Friendly City’ – and that’s certainly what FFT experienced on arrival: no sooner had we met a couple of locals than we’d been invited into the Townships for a barbecue (they call it a braai) in a local shebeen.

Shenbeens are shack-like structures that acted as illegal, speakeasy-style bars under apartheid. These days, they’re still the hub of South Africa’s poorest communities, but have also become something of a tourist trap. We enjoy some beautifully-seasoned meat, plus wine-bottle sized bottles of Castle Beer (for just 80p) and great company.

It’s certainly something we’d recommend, although shebeen tours are best enjoyed through an official organiser or with local guides rather than independently. Any English ‘firm’ who fancy their chances of swaggering round a township giving it the big one are likely to be in for a nasty surprise.

PE is also known as the ‘The Ten-Minute City’ because it’s so compact, and the city’s South East Coast location is its biggest asset: it’s bang in the centre of a 25-mile stretch of Algoa Bay with fine beaches, warm water and fairly safe swimming refreshingly devoid of shark attacks and drownings (but always look out for safe swimming signs).

This is South Africa’s main watersport centre, and the sea front, with its swaying palm trees, has been rapidly done up for the World Cup. It’s a very lively place for a night out. The Boardwalk area is particularly appealing: shops, arcades, clubs, bars, mini-golf and a casino are all built around a picturesque lake. Favourite local restaurants include El Greco, Oystercatcher and Catch 22 – which all serve up seafood caught just hours earlier.

For those interested in the history of the area, the Donkin Lighthouse is a popular monument, photo opportunity and great place to view the city from, and there is a three-mile culture trail. Port Elizabeth is rich in anti-apartheid history – Nelson Mandela was born nearby – and the South End Museum helps visitors to understand these dark times.

Like Rustenburg and Cape Town, PE is also a great base for a variety of activities. It’s well worth taking a day trip into the Eastern Cape. The Addo Elephant Park is situated to the city’s north, and in nearby Cannonville, you can camp alongside or canoe down the Sundays River. The city boasts an Oceanarium with sharks and dolphins, and you’re also just an hour away from sky dives, elephant rides, canoeing trips, scuba diving outings, spas and safaris. Check out GoExperiences to see just what a variety of entertainment the area has to offer. 

Port Elizabeth still has a crime problem, and visitors should be vigilant. Officially licensed taxis are the best, safest and cheapest way to get around, and they’ll be everywhere this summer. During the tournament, the St George’s Park cricket ground (where England have played numerous test matches) will host the fans’ festival: a 24-hour party zone where you can eat, drink, and watch all the games.

The fanzone. Enjoy...

The StadiumThe spanking new, 48,000-capacity Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is gorgeous. Like Cape Town, it boasts an enviable location, with the beautiful North End Lake on one side and the sparkling sea on the other, and its subtle ‘bubble’ design has drawn comparison with South Africa’s national flower, the Proteas.

The three-tier structure’s roof is designed to keep the city’s notorious wind out, and the crowd noise in. It has a real Premiership feel to it, and you can imagine that England’s fans will generate a tremendous atmosphere here for their final, and potentially decisive, ground game. We get a peek into the dressing rooms, too – the best we’ve seen yet, with spacious layout and state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pools for the Three Lions to rest their (hopefully victorious) limbs.

As the stadium is situated out of town, the city will run numerous rapid buses (the inexpensive BRT) from the city centre for fans, but it’s almost as cheap to hop in a taxi.

AccommodationPort Elizabeth, an increasingly popular destination, is throwing up new hotels as fast as it can build them. There’s a brand new five star Radisson and some excellent accommodation situated around the Boardwalk. Many locals are renting out rooms and apartments during the tournament: log on to www.infoportelizabeth.com to find yourself a spot.

FFT's hosts were Sun International, Southern Africa’s leading hotel group.

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