Last Stop: Port Elizabeth. We decided to end our trip there with a trip to the Addo Elephant Park and then fly back home. We thought we might use this opportunity to check out Port Elizabeth and spend three nights there…in hindsight, I think one day would have been enough.
Port Elizabeth is not a very pretty city. It´s located at the Indian Ocean which is a plus but it is a very industrial, big, flat place. I also didn´t really feel at home there. I´ve talked about my “cities-are-just-like-people-theory” before and somehow, the chemistry wasn’t right. I´m sure other people have other experiences and locals could probably pinpoint me to all these amazing spots and things to do in PE. But I also understand, that most people use Port Elizabeth as a base to visit the Addo Elephant Park.
Like I said, PE does have the advantage of being located right at the sea and it has some really pretty beaches. It is also called “the windy city” for a reason. We spent our time in PE doing a township tour, visiting the same café three times, going to the beach and watching Fantastic Beasts and where to find them in the coldest cinema ever.
Beaches – Yes, the beaches are really pretty. They also have the huge advantage of being at the Indian Ocean, meaning that the water is actually well tempered in contrast to Cape Town.
Food – When we arrived in PE we were pretty hungry and I found this place that sells burgers and craft beers, where on Mondays you can get two burgers for the price of one. I will not(!) recommend eating the veggie burger there, in fact, I don´t recommend eating a veggie burger anywhere in South Africa. Or at least, I only had horrible experiences. But, if you eat meat, the burgers are pretty tasty according to my boyfriend and I really liked the atmosphere of the place. There are also other options for vegetarians, e.g. the pizza which sounded quite tasty.
I read about this Café when googling for places to eat in PE and when we stumbled upon it by accident we decided to check it out. It was so good that we returned for an amazing breakfast/brunch on our last day. Breakfast, lunch, cake, cookies, everything was just all around delicious!
I briefly talked about the complexities of doing a township tour in my Cape Town Guide but I will go more into depths here. We decided to do a township tour in Port Elizabeth for a number of reasons.
Township tours are kind of a double edged sword. On the one hand, they are a possibility for the local population to earn money, to have a slice of pie from the tourist industry. On the other hand, they also have this weird zoo feeling, of wealthy (probably mostly white) tourist watching people living in poverty. Doing a tour also doesn´t guarantee that the money you spend actually ends up where it´s needed since there are also a lot of sketchy people out there.
We thought about it for quite a long time before deciding that we actually wanted to go on a tour. In the beginning, I was strictly against it. After spending two weeks in the country, I slowly changed my mind. As a white tourist in South Africa, you spend most of your time in a white “bubble” so to speak. You have the resources and opportunity to get nice accommodations, go on fun trips and do activities, go out to eat or go on one wine tasting after another, all opportunities that a lot of the local population don´t have. Having the resources and opportunities to travel is a big privilege and I don´t think I´ve ever been to a country where this privilege became so obvious. Obviously South Africa has a very turbulent, complex and difficult history which I am sure I know only so little of. The country still lives with the legacy of the Apartheid Era and although many things have positively changed, a lot of the (mostly black) population, still does not enjoy the same privileges as their white fellow citizens. A lot of people still live in poverty or in primitive conditions, are lot of people are still unemployed and it´s still much more difficult for a black child to end up at university than it is for a white one.
Traveling through South Africa, a lot of these things become clear but there is still a feeling of distance. We were mostly surrounded by likeminded people who do have similar resources and privileges that we have but that is not a representative picture of the whole of South Africa. I wanted to learn more about the country, about the people, about the cultural diversity, the history and so on. Which is why we decided to go on a Township Tour to maybe learn a little bit more and connect a little bit better to different aspects of South African culture.
I do want to stress though, that I completely understand all the counter arguments that are made against going on such a tour. Everyone has to make up their mind on this topic and decides what feels best. If you are interested in a township tour, I recommend doing a good amount of research before to figure out which one has the most benefits for the local tourist industry. I would also recommend doing one in Cape Town since there is a lot more variety when it comes to township tours, from walking tours, Sunday church tours or visits to the local pubs. Also, if all of this doesn’t feel right to you, you could also consider booking your accommodation in any of the townships, be it in Cape Town or along the Garden Route.
We booked a township tour with this agency and it was a really interesting experience. Although I would have preferred to walk more instead of sitting in a car for quite some time, the tour did give a pretty good overview over the townships of Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth is a pretty big city and the townships are huge and very diverse, ranging from small huts to middle and upper class neighborhoods. It´s not possible to explore all of that through a walking tour so driving around in a car did give you a pretty good impression over the diversity that township life has to offer. We stopped at a shop where they sold homemade jewelry and other crafts and also made a stop at an elementary school were the principal showed us around and invited us for some tea.
Doing a township tour was an interesting experience that definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things, among them assumptions that turned out to be untrue on my part. Yes, it feels weird to drive around in a car through areas that are underprivileged but I also feel that sometimes it´s healthy to get your privilege served on a plate. In the end, the only reason I was able to make this trip was because I was extremely lucky to have been born in a wealthier region of the world. That does not mean, that my life is better or worse than that of other people but I should be thankful for what I have and maybe use the resources that are available to me to help those who are not that lucky.
Addo Elephant Park
We ended out trip with a visit to the Addo Elephant Park. The Park is located about 70 km outside of Port Elizabeth and for me personally, was one of the many highlights of our trip. The park is home to the “Big Five” (Elephants, Lions, Buffalos, Rhinos and Leopards) but mostly, what you will see there are hundreds and hundreds of Elephants.
Everybody who knows me knows, that elephants are my all-time favorite animals on this planet. I´m fascinated by their social structure, their calm and gentle nature and I think that elephant baby’s are the cutest thing in existence. So naturally, getting to see them in the wild was a dream come true for me.
The park opens at 7 am and closes between 5 and 6 pm, depending on which entrance we are talking about. You can use your own car to drive through the park but there are also guided tours (either with a vehicle or in your own car) and many other activities that you can to there (spend a night, go horseback riding, go on a sundowner tour, etc…)
We booked at sundowner tour at 5 pm and thought that because of this, we didn´t have to be there that early. Wrong! Now I know that I could have showed up at 6 in the morning and still would not have been satisfied by the time you have to leave. First of all, we really underestimated the time it would take us to actually go through the park. Not only does it take so long because you cannot drive to fast but also because you are stopping every couple of meters to observe another animal. Second of all, I knew that it was going to be awesome but I underestimated how amazing watching elephants in the wild actually is. I could have spent days in the park just sitting there, watching the variety of animals. They really are incredible. Also, if we had spent more time there, we might have seen a lion or a rhino.
I think most people now that the best times to watch animals in the wild is in the early morning or at dawn. We arrived at the park around 10.30 am and stayed until 19.30 when they finally kicked us out. During the daytime you do see less animals because most of them spend the heat hiding in the bushes or sleeping. However, elephants are very big animals and not so easy to hide. So there was no shortage of elephant sightings during the day. Another advantage of spending a whole day in the park was that a lot of elephants gathered around the water holes during midday to cool off. At one point we spent 45 minutes just at that one water hole observing about 60 elephants bathing, cuddling, drinking and playing in and around the water. It was incredible to watch them, see them interact, observe their playful and caring natures. At one point, a little one gut stuck in the mud and the whole herd stopped everything to help the calf get out.
The trip to Addo Elephant Park was something really special for me and definitely something I will forget so easily. So if you can, go ahead and check it out, it´s definitely worth it!