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East London

Eastern Cape feathers were certainly ruffled after a recent article in The South African by Michael Jackson which stated that the city centre of East London was dilapidated and shabby, even though our man had gone on to say that he thought the place could be ‘a future gem in the Eastern Cape Crown’. So, we sent him back with a sharp pencil to investigate even further in order to create…

26 things you didn’t know about Buffalo City

Or 25 if you already knew that Buffalo City was really just the new name for East London; the gateway to all the Eastern Cape tourism routes.

  1. Established in 1836 by men of the British-German legion, the settlement was originally a military base during the Xhosa wars. However, with the arrival of German civilian settlers, East London became a town in 1873 and the area still bears witness to the Germanic influx today.
  2. Interestingly too, some 20% of the suburban names in the East London-Gonubie area are based on Scottish names. Bonnie Doon; Braelynn, Duncan Village, Gately and Glendevon Township all bear testament to this.
  3. East London enjoys a moderate climate. Situated in the Eastern Cape between the Ciskei and the Transkei regions, just over 1 000kms from Cape Town; and 960kms from Johannesburg,
  4. Occasional winter snow falls on the mountain ranges of the Cape and Natal in the lower-lying areas, but the winters tend to be mild. Situated between the summer and winter rainfall belts, the region receives in excess of 200 hours of sunshine per month.
  5. The average Indian Ocean temperatures here are 18.5 degrees Celsius in January and 16.0 in July.
    Sea temperature for the day? Call 27 (043) 705 2129.
  6. East London hosts many major annual events and festivals. February sees the Buffalo Regatta and the Surfers Marathon, an 18 km Beach and Road Run; whilst March/April enjoys the Portnet Harbour Festival held in conjunction with Red Nose Day. April/May sees the East London Agricultural Show whilst in May/June one can enjoy the Gonubie Festival. July is known for the Washie 100 km Road Race from Port Alfred to East London. The town catches its collective breath until September when the Spring Festival is held in conjunction with the Daily Dispatch Fun Run. October heralds the Oktoberfest - organised by the German Club of East London. November sees the opening of ‘the Season’ and the switching on of Christmas Lights thanks to the hard work of Tourism East London. In December the Christmas Carnival event is one of the biggest in East London where even the main street is closed off and all sorts of activities take place.
  7. The East London Museum in central Oxford Street is home to a stuffed Coelacanth. This ancient fish species estimated to be about 350 million years old was thought extinct for more than 65 million years, until a fisherman from East London caught a live one in 1938 at the mouth of the Chalumna River. Worth a look.
  8. The Port of East London is South Africa's only remaining river port and is situated at the mouth of the Buffalo River. It is home to the largest export import grain elevator in South Africa. Maintaining the Germanic influence, a new car terminal on the Port’s West Bank is connected by a dedicated road to the adjacent DaimlerChrysler factory. It can handle 50,000 units a year.
  9. The port was first known as Port Rex. Its exposure to storms for many years caused some local wags to call for its name to be changed to ‘Port Wrecks’. With the town’s expansion and the port’s revival, it was renamed London; later changed to East London.
  10. Last year the modern port handled just under 350 ships with a gross tonnage of nearly 9 million tons. Three tugs, the Mpunzi and the Umtwalume as well as a Voith Schneider tug named Chardonnay, serviced all. A workboat/tug, Tristan Tern, and a harbour launch complete the team. Pilotage-tug assistance is compulsory.
  11. Marine services are available between the hours of 06:00 and 22:00. The NSRI also maintains a station base at the port and has a rescue craft named ACSA Rescue One, available for emergencies at sea.
  12. Perhaps the most eagerly awaited cargo ever offloaded was the passenger complement of the Lady Kennaway in 1857. Her precious cargo consisted of nearly 160 Irish lasses who had traveled to seek husbands and fortunes on the newly established Cape Frontier. Their influence can surely be felt today. The Businesswomen’s Club in town is the largest and most prominent association of business and professional women in South Africa.
    Visit the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa Site There are in excess of 89 hairdressing salons in East London and the surrounding areas! Chez Francois Hair Gallery at the Vincent Park Centre, gave me a trim.
  13. One of the prettiest drives lies along the western side of the town following the ocean along Marine Drive through Cove Rock, Winter Strand, Gulu Beach and ending down at Kidds Beach which has long been a favourite local resort. Ask the locals to tell the ghostly legend of the popular 1850s trading post owner.
  14. The North West coastline is also stunning, comprising glittering river estuaries and an unspoilt coastline. One may drive a 220km stretch inland along the N2, visiting Beacon Bay, the Gonubie River Mouth, Cintsa and Cefane Mouth. Further afield after a lengthy swing inland through beautiful rolling countryside are the delights of Morgan Bay and Double Mouth. More than 200 bird species have been identified at Morgan Bay and this stunning little resort sees a confluence of four rivers within a four kilometer stretch. Northernmost is the Great Kei, and then comes the Ntshala which helps form the Morgan Bay Lagoon. Just a stone’s throw to the south, the Gondwane and Quko Rivers team up to form the Double Mouth Lagoon. Rare shells, great people and investment land to die for are the order of the day.
  15. In 1934, the 15-mile long Prince George circuit was the first top-class-racing track in the country. The first South African Grand Prix was won there by Whitney Straight in a Maserati. A new 2.43-mile circuit built in 1959, incorporated sections of the old pre-war track and was set in a natural amphitheater in a park beside the ocean. The first modern South African GP took place there in 1960. In 1962 the course was used for the final for the Formula 1 World Championship. In 1968 a newer track, Kyalami, in Johannesburg took the international stars and races away from East London.
  16. If you’re a bird fancier you can even get in touch with the East London Budgerigar Society.
    Run by Samantha Kruger: 27 (083) 320 5345
  17. The Border-Kei Chamber of Business, affiliated to the South African Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business in the region.
    Visit the Border-Kei Chamber of Business Site
    Key phone numbers
    to use in East London are:
    Rescue Services, Sea -
    East London: 27 (043) 722 2555
    Kidd's Beach: 27 (043) 722 2555.
    All Maritime information: 043 700 2142.
  18. Tourism East London is situated at the Old Library Building behind the City Hall.
    Contact Number: 27 (043) 722 6015
    24 hour info service: 27 (043) 722 6034
    Office Hours: Monday - Friday, 8.30am - 4.30pm and Saturday 8.30am - 1pm.
  19. Great places to stay include Seaview Place, at 12 Blue Bend Place, Beacon Bay. Just up the road from the Blue Lagoon, it is a private B&B with great views of the Nahoon River and the ocean.
    Call Marinus and Sally Van Den Bos: 27 (043) 748 2586.
  20. Or try the Blarney house B&B, a self-catering guesthouse located in park-like tropical gardens with extensive views of the Indian Ocean.
    Contact them at Tariffs in both places are extremely reasonable.
  21. One of my favourites is the Loerie Hide B&B where Nigel and Sue Rainer invite you to share the peace and tranquility of their idyllic setting in the heart of town. The ‘longdavel’ is a spacious and well-appointed facility with a wooden deck over the surrounding indigenous vegetation. Purple-crested (Knysna) Louries visit on a regular basis.
    Rates are: R260 p/p sharing, R320 single.
    You’ll find Nigel and Sue at 2B Sheerness Road Bonnie Doon.
    Phone: 27 (043) 735 3206 or
  22. Overlooking the Nahoon River where it meets the warm Indian Ocean, the Blue Lagoon hotel lies nestled in indigenous, sub-tropical foliage. Easily accessible and close to central East London, the hotel offers tranquility and seclusion from the bustle of city life. There's easy access to the river and beaches and a choice between elegantly appointed hotel rooms and lovely two bedroom suites against the riverbank. The Sunset restaurant, here, is renowned for its excellent cuisine and the Highlander pub and grill is informal with a lively pub and deck overlooking the river - an ideal spot for sundowners. Phone: 27 (043) 748 4821
  23. Overall East London is a lot of fun, and the perfect base from which to explore the area. There are conference facilities, tour companies and shopping aplenty. My advice? 

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