Any PE local (like me) knows a few things. Get to the beach early to beat the wind, no-one calls it Nelson Mandela Bay, and school holidays are reserved for the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. There’s something about the festival that lures every eccentric, wild, creative spirit to showcase their one-of-a-kind-ness in one pulsating little hub. This is culture. This is life.
This is also usually very cold, so wear your hoodie.
Grahamstown is one of South Africa’s quintessential “small towns”. It is quaint, with a population of only 91 500 people. But, it is also a prominent university town to Rhodes, which draws a particularly arty group of young learners. And, when a young, creative group meets a quiet little hub far from the sea, there are few options – you’ve got to make the party yourself. Still, there’s more to Grahamstown than the party (I know, I was surprised too).
I’m not naturally inclined towards anything historical. If you ever see me reading a history book, know that I’m having a bleed on the brain and you need to call a paramedic and keep an eye out for seizures. Frankly, I’d rather watch the movie. Still, Grahamstown’s history is one of the things I love about it. Not because I know much about the actual history, but because the whole town has this quaint historical ambience. That’s the kind of history I can throw myself into, really. Wide roads with tall trees on either side, massive stone churches, monuments, museums, and heritage sites all tell a fascinating story. Maybe, I’ll even find out what that story is one day. In the meantime, I like looking at them and feeling the old-world charm.
Now, I have friends that like history (see how open-minded I am in my friend selection?) and, for them, I’d recommend visiting the Old Provost Prison, the Historical Cock House, Rhodes University, or the 1820 Settlers National Monument.
Obviously, I’m the epitome of culture. Szhoosh to the max (someone recently told me that they think my blog is opinionated, so I just want to say that I’m kidding. I don’t really think I’m szhoosh. Well, not to the MAX). But, you don’t have to be to love Grahamstown’s cultural side. Instead, this is more about art and self-expression, no matter who or what you are.
The National Arts Festival is, without a doubt, Grahamstown’s biggest event. Every year, it brings in almost a quarter of a million visitors. They can look forward to classical concertos, modern dance performances, jazz shows, ballet, interpretive dance, comedy skits, dramatic readings and more. There are curios, clothing stalls, beer tents, artisan food outlets, buskers, and plenty of entertainment for little ones. There is a tangible vibe at the festival that just spells out fun.
The Albany Museum is the second-oldest in South Africa, so, it’s popular for many reasons. My favourite is that the Natural Sciences portion has a coelacanth on exhibition! It’s stuffed, but still.
The Eastern Cape is gorgeous and quiet – a winning combination for lots of game parks and nature reserves. Around Grahamstown, there are some fabulous places to see and interact with wild animals.
The Kwantu Elephant Sanctuary is a fantastic initiative that allows you to feed elephants, play a game of soccer with them, walk with them through their natural habitat, and even ride on their backs. The Kwantu Private Game Reserve has leopard, caracal, blue wildebeest, kudu, springbuck and impala and is awesome for game drives and wildlife photography.
- Grahamstown is only an hour from Port Elizabeth and its gorgeous beaches.
- It’s also close to Port Alfred (a surfers’ paradise) and Bathurst, famous for its giant pineapple.