Things To Do
Grahamstown or Rhini is a fascinating blend of South African culture. This is the frontier where, in the late 18th and early 19th century, Khoisan, Xhosa, Dutch and British met and clashed over the rich lands of the Zuurveld. Situated in the heart of Settler Country, by the mid 19th century, Grahamstown was the second largest city, after Cape Town, in the Cape Province.
Today, one of South Africa’s premier educational and cultural centres, Grahamstown’s fine architectural heritage is proudly preserved, from quaint cottages in town and township, to stately Victorian mansions and Church Square, complete with gothic Cathedral.
Situated just 60km from the unspoilt beaches of Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea and surrounded by the beautiful Eastern Cape bush with numerous malaria free game reserves, many boasting the Big 5, Grahamstown is ideally located to explore this intriguing part of South Africa.
For most South Africans, Grahamstown is best known for education and culture. Home to internationally acclaimed Rhodes University and many fine schools, it also plays host to one of the country’s longest running and biggest annual arts festivals – the National Arts Festival.
Every winter, thousands of people bundled in coats, gloves and scarves, descend on the city to revel in a 10 day feast of music, theatre and dance. The 2017 Festival, which ran from 30 June to 9 July, saw over 202,000 attendees at the various events on offer.
A spin-off of the Arts festival is Scifest, South Africa’s National Science Festival, the only one of its kind in Africa, now in its 22nd year. From 8 – 14 March 2017, Scifest offered more than 62,000 visitors a festival programme consisting of 58 exhibitions and 726 events.
- The historic centre of Grahamstown, from The Cock House via Articifer’s Square, Bathurst or Hill Street into High Street and Church Square, is best explored on foot. We can provide a map and suggested routes so put on your walking shoes for some nostalgic strolls. Guided walking tours, such as ‘Saints and Sinners’, an Arts Festival favourite, can be arranged if booked in advance.
- The Albany Museum, established in 1855, is the second oldest museum in the country. Today it comprises five museums: the Natural Science Museum, the History Museum, the Observatory Museum, the Provost Prison and Fort Selwyn.
- The Observatory Museum: Experience Grahamstown “through the looking glass”, a unique bird’s eye view of our city and the only working Victorian Camera Obscura in the southern hemisphere. This is also where the beginnings of South Africa’s diamond industry is documented with the authentication here in 1867 of the famous Eureka diamond.
- Township Tour: Mbuleli Tours and Transfers specialises in tours offering the full township experience, including home visits, and a fascinating insight into Xhosa culture and customs. Places of interest include Joza Gallery, Umthathi nursery and four townships. A delicious home-cooked Xhosa meal can be enjoyed (must be booked at least one day in advance). Rates on application, booking through The Cock House.
- Township Tour: Ottours has been operating since 2009 and specialises in exposing AmaXhosa culture and oral stories that are narrated by the elderly people in township and villages.
- Grahamstown is also home to several institutes, most importantly the South African National Library for the Blind, the National English Literary Museum, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (formerly the JLB Smith Institute), the International Library of African Music (ILAM) and the Institute for the Study of English in Africa.
Places of Interest
At the heart of the tourist route known as Frontier Country, Grahamstown, along with towns and villages like Alicedale, Sidbury, Salem, Riebeeck East and Bedford, is part of one of the most diverse ecological regions in South Africa, with thousands of hectares devoted to nature and game conservation, in a malaria-free environment, and a history steeped in forts, conflict and strife.
Grahamstown lies at the intersection of four very different climatic zones, leading to its unpredictable weather pattern, which many locals will tell you often results in four seasons per day!
Frontier Country boasts the magnificent BIG 5 in numerous game reserves surrounding Grahamstown. We recommend the following for a great bush experience:
- Pumba Private Game Reserve (self-drive to/from Pumba, N2 40 min/45km): Guided Day Tour includes game drive, meal and refreshments. R1150 per person.
- Addo Elephant National Park (self-drive to/from Addo, N2/R342 via Paterson, 1 hour 15 min / 100 km): Entrance Fee for self-drive tour through park: R68.00 SA nationals, R136.00 SADC nationals, R272.00 all other nationals.
- Other nearby reserves include Thomas Baines and Great Fish River Reserves (www.ecparks.co.za), Kariega Private Game Reserve and Sibuya Game Reserve.
Visit the Sunshine Coast
South Africa’s Sunshine Coast, a diverse and relatively undeveloped region, is the coastal route between St Francis Bay and East London in the Eastern Cape. This tourist route is a water sports mecca for all enthusiasts and boasts some of the most unspoiled and immaculate beaches in the country.
We recommend you take a scenic day trip to the coast past pineapple farms and the village of Bathurst to the popular resort town of Port Alfred. Continue to the beautiful beaches at Kenton and Bushman’s River. Return inland past game reserves and the picturesque hamlet of Salem and back to Grahamstown.
For golfers, there is a magnificent 18-hole course on the coast, Royal Port Alfred. Grahamstown’s new course at Belmont Valley Golf Club is rather more challenging and not so welcoming but you would be made an extremely welcome visitor! Also inland and an easy drive away is the Gary Player designed Bushman’s Sands course at Alicedale.