One Way to do Port Elizabeth, South Africa

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On a recent cruise my wife and I made our maiden call to Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. For most cruise  ship visits the big attraction for many passengers is the port’s close proximity to a number  of wildlife reserves that are home to elephants, rhinos and other big game.

However, we have in the past ticked off those type of visits and our goal on this time was to see what Port Elizabeth itself had to offer.

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Our research indicated that there would be plenty to keep us occupied, whilst giving us the degree of exercise we so often crave when cruising.  Central to this was The Donkin Heritage Trail…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donkin_Heritage_Trail

The Donkin Heritage Trail is a 5 km self-guided walking trail along the old hill of central Port Elizabeth. The trail is named after the acting Governor of the Cape Colony, Rufane Shaw Donkin, who named the city after his late beloved wife, Lady Elizabeth Donkin: the trail links 51 places of historical interest while showcasing settler history from as early as 1820.

Prior to joining our cruise we duly plotted our possible routes to take in as many places as possible…

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Firstly though I would like to point out that we ignored our cruise line’s  ‘red herring’ shuttle bus schedule. The shuttle buses are part sponsored by an ‘out-of-town’  shopping mall and don’t go anywhere near the historical centre.

We decided  instead to walk the 15 minutes through the docks to the town centre calling first at the Campanile…

…which is very conveniently adjacent the dock gates. On arrival we discovered that we were an hour early for opening time so we continued across the road and into the Market  Square fronted on one side by  Port Elizabeth’s City Hall…

The Market Square  dates back to 1858 and directly behind City Hall  is the Old Post Office Building…

Originally opened in 1900 its style is typical of public buildings of the late Victorian era. Later in its life  the building incorporated the former Magistrate’s Court building erected in 1885 and the police station and barracks.

Between City Hall and the Old Post Office is the Prester John Memorial…

The Prester John Memorial is a Coptic Cross with two figures inside it…

…which  commemorates the Portuguese explorers who discovered South Africa as well as the story of a far older mythical figure named Prester John who was the ‘patron’ of Christian exploration of the world.

Directly behind the Prester John Memorial is a rather colourful orange building which is another feature of the Donkin Trail, the Feather Market…

The Feather Market Centre, again  located in the edge of Market Square,  was so named for its history as a trading and auction house for ostrich feathers from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

On the same side of the Market Square are two more Donkin Trail sites, the Public Library…

…and, in its forecourt, The Queen Victoria Statue…

(apologies for the last two photographs but, as can be seen, some pretty intense renovation work on the building was underway at the time of our visit)

Having now expended some time in and around the Market Square we returned the short distance to the Campanile which was due to open imminently…

The 53.5m structure was erected to commemorate the landing of British settlers in 1820.

There are some 204 steps to reach the topmost viewing area and, during the climb,  the opportunity to view the largest ‘carillon of bells’ in South Africa…

The view over Port Elizabeth isn’t bad either…

(Just to give some idea of the short walk into town, that’s our cruise ship berthed top centre).

The Campanile has undergone considerable renovation recently and  on show on different levels were  various artistic murals depicting Port Elizabeth historic events …

In addition there has also been installed an interactive visual-technology array dubbed  ‘Ghost Bells’ …

The bell ‘proxies’,  installed under the actual bell carillon,  visually light up during chiming or when visitors press keys  on an interactive silver console.  The pitch of a key matches with the corresponding bell.

Our visit to the Campanile complete we retraced our steps to the Market Square. To the left of the Public Library  John Kani Road, leads up the hill and, a left turn just before reaching the Opera House will lead to the path up to Donkin Hill…

This pleasant hilltop park is a great place to get your bearings, particularly if you fancy climbing to the top of the lighthouse.

…which in turn leads to the Donkin Reserve…

…where a number of features form the central platform of the ‘Heritage Walk’…

…including numerous historically appropriate statues and sculptures…

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It was also Sir Rufane Donkin who constructed the stone pyramid on the hill  and established a grassy reserve around it. The lighthouse was built in 1861 and  the pyramid was declared a National Monument in 1938.

The base of the lighthouse is a ‘Visitor Centre and Tourism Office’ and visitors are able to climb to the top of the lighthouse to savour excellent views of the city, docks and the bay…

…over the King Edward Hotel…

…and over the historical residences in Donkin Street…

A board near the visitor Centre indicates the positions of places of interest included in the ‘Donkin Heritage Trail’…

…and there are leaflets available in the centre.

If only to engender and encourage others to follow the trail,  I have no intention of recording all the sites visited on our day. Some, of course, were of only minor interest but to generate a feel for what’s on offer here are a few more of the 51 heritage sites…

Fort Frederick…

The fort was built at the mouth of the Baakens River in 1799 and is one of the oldest structures in Port Elizabeth. Its original purpose was  to defend against any French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars…

In addition to its historical significance it certainly affords some great views…

The Athenæum…

…was declared as a National Monument in 1980 and  is one of the few examples of the classical style of architecture in the city.

Sterley Cottages…

...Nos 10 and 12 Castle Hill Road were originally owned by Police Constable Sterley and date from about 1840. Together with the adjacent house,  at 7 Castle Hill, they are typical examples of early English settler architecture of their time.

Prince Alfred’s Guard Drill Hall…

…is located on the corners of Castle Hill, Prospect and Daly Streets in the center of Port Elizabeth. Built in 1880, the building is the headquarters of one of the oldest volunteer regiments in South Africa – the Prince Alfred’s Guard (PAG) Regiment…

A comfortable walk past the famous St Georges Park Cricket Stadium led into St Georges Park, the furthest distance  from our earlier starting  point. There are a number of the trail’s features within the park, here are a few…

Pearson Conservatory…

…a glass framed Victorian conservatory was constructed in 1882 and is a Grade II listed structure of significance.  Also in St Georges Park…

The Prince Albert Guard Memorial…

…and just a few hundred yards on the opposite side of the park and just outside…

The Horse Memorial…

The Horse Memorial is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of horses that were transported to Port Elizabeth  during the Anglo-Boer War between 1899 and 1902.  The life-size bronze statue, designed by British sculptor Joseph Whitehead, sits on a granite horse trough and shows a soldier kneeling at the head of a tired and thirsty horse.

As we retuned in the direction of the town centre we took in many more of the Donkin sites including…

Cora Terrace…

The Georgian homes were built in the 1850s to house soldiers guarding the port of Port Elizabeth…

The St Georges Club…

Originally established in  1866 and known as the Port Elizabeth Club it was the only such gentleman’s club in the city. In 1892  a second club, the St George’s, was founded and this was essentially for the younger generation of rising businessmen. The two clubs ran successfully for many years, but eventually, due to economic circumstances, it was decided  to amalgamate them and in 1998 the St George’s Club joined the Port Elizabeth Club in the premises of the latter generally known as “The Club”.

And finally for this blog…

The Holy Rosary Convent… 

…a Catholic school founded in 1867.

That basically completed our ‘Donkin Trail’ and, just for the record, I’m including the read- out of my wife’s Fitbit for the day…

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So having achieved our aim we returned to our cruise ship for reasonably  late lunch. On boarding  we noted the ‘shuttle bus service’ was still in operation so, having eaten,  we made a decision to investigate the shuttle bus service to the Boardwalk Shopping Centre.

The Daily Programme clearly stated that “the shuttle bus transfer will take approximately 40 minutes each way and the last shuttle will return at 6.15pm”.

As it turned out the shuttle took around 20 minutes to reach what was essentially a collection of boutique fashion stores, various jewellery and craft outlets and numerous bars and restaurants…

…though it was in close proximity to a beach point known as ‘Shark Point’…

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In terms of ‘interest value’ we’d probably rate it around 2 out of 10: but for those who may have been desperately in search of free wifi (well, while paying to drink beer or coffee) then it must have proved pure gold.

That completes the review of Port Elizabeth and, as previously stated, in order to encourage others to follow the trail I’ve not included photographs of all the places we visited. Needless to say what has been included are the furthest points as per the compass  on the guide map. It’s a fun day out, particularly for those who have either already visited South African wildlife reserves or indeed have no wish to.

I’d venture to say that we also found no concerns as to our safety while wandering around all the areas and were generally greeted or acknowledged with smiles and helpful  assistance.

If you have enjoyed this review of our experience in Port Elizabeth and would like to be amongst the first to hear of a rescheduled   Emerald river cruise along the Eastern Danube later in 2021,  another venture onboard MSC, plus P&O’s latest offering, Iona, as well as  Solent Richard’s next port guide review of Charlottetown, Capital of Canada’s Prince Edward Island in his ‘One way to do…’ series, why not join over 620 followers by clicking on the ‘Follow’ link on the front page.

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©2020 – 21 * Solent Richard’s Cruise Blog * All Rights Reserved

Duplication in part or whole without prior written consent is prohibited by international laws.

Disclosure to potential conflict of interest:

It is common throughout the travel industry for travel journalists and many cruise bloggers to be provided with complimentary cruises for the purpose of their reviews.

Solent Richard has no ‘conflict of interest’ as he is not an accredited journalist, he pays for his cruises, and is happy to confirm that all his reviews are his own given without fear or favour.

5 responses to “One Way to do Port Elizabeth, South Africa

  1. Hi Richard,
    We were on the same cruise and loved it. We did the Hong Kong to Cape Town leg. Port Elizabeth has recently been renamed Gqeberha — derived from the Xhosa language. The new name has caused a lot of comments about how to pronounce it and lawsuits to try to overturn the new name.
    Best wishes,
    David (UK) and Walid (Syria)

  2. Wow! 😮 Your wife’s Fitbit read out!

    Really enjoyed the blog post. Looking forward to reading about your Danube cruise.

  3. Thanks for posting the link to this on Cruise Critic. We are doing a South Africa cruise and wanted options other than viewing wildlife at every port. This was very helpful to us.

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