Uitenhage, which forms part of Nelson Mandela Bay, is a spot many visitors often miss out on… even the locals from Port Elizabeth give Uitenhage a skip.
Heaven knows why; the town is less than 20 km from the Friendly City and filled with old buildings, history, multiple blooming Strelitzias, unique coffee shops, an opportunity to explore the automotive industry and a 30 000 hectare reserve with the Groot Winterhoek Mountains’ crinkle cut views and clear mountain pools in a remote and unspoilt spot just 12 km from Uitenhage.
Now why would anyone want to miss out on that?
Ja, I don’t know either.
But I’ll admit, I didn’t fully explore the town of my high school alma mater when I had the chance and when I lived in close proximity to all the attractions; the opportunity of discovering Uitenhage only dawned on me a decade later, when I returned to Port Elizabeth after living in Bloemfontein, South Korea, Knysna and South Korea again.
There is definitely some truth to the saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, but take it from me, there is no need to go away to appreciate your own backyard. And you never know when it might be too late, I often wish I woke up earlier before the Hinterveld fire damage; those mohair tours really looked like an experience.
A Few Favourites in Uitenhage
Uitenhage, (formally) founded in 1804, by General Jacob Cuyler, boasts a number of museums that play a pivotal role in South Africa’s history, a few heritage buildings, multiple outdoor activities, educational centres (offering edutainment) and the town is also home to Volkswagen, the biggest car factory on the African continent and the largest employer in the Eastern Cape.
Never in a million years I would’ve thought that I would have a fascination with cars (especially old ones), but it must be in the genes.
The VW Autopavillion is an expo and heritage centre with interactive exhibits which take you from the golden old days of VW Kombis with split windows, Herbie the Beetle, the ads with David Kramer and his red shoes right through to the present with ultra-modern technology and displays. Entrance is R10 and you can also go on a factory tour but remember to book this in advance.
Groendal Wilderness Area
If you drive through Uitenhage it is difficult to fathom that just 12 km from the town a remote world of quiet natural beauty awaits, and when it unfolds in front of you you almost want to pinch yourself with the question: Where am I? Tsitsikamma? Outeniqua forest? Nope, Uitenhage.
The Blindekloof hiking trails in the Groendal Wilderness Area is an open invitation for you to put on those hiking boots and enjoy the outdoors. There are numerous trails, from moderate to difficult and from marked to unmarked and some routes involve getting in the water if you wish to complete the trail. You can expect incredible mountain views, forest pockets, ravines, deep kloofs as well as small game.
Uitenhage’s Old Railway Museum
Romantic. That’s the only way to describe Uitenhage’s Old Railway Station, and albeit old and unfortunately neglected due to the natural elements, it is a step back to the 1900s. If you close your eyes with the ticket counter on your right and the station master’s office on your left you can hear the rhythmically soothing sound of a locomotive blowing off steam.
It is one of South Africa’s oldest railway stations and two locomotives, one built in England in 1912 and the other built in Scotland in 1897, a coach and a great selection of artifacts, old railway equipment and the residence of the old station master can be viewed at the museum.
Cuyler Manor Museum
I have fond primary school memories of Cuyler Manor, the 200-year-old former homestead of Uitenhage’s Landdrost, General Jacob Glen Culyer, from 1806 to 1827.
While the grounds of Cuyler Manor used to host the annual Prickly Pear Festival back in the day, the homestead still operates as a museum today. Here you will not only get a glimpse into the town’s history, but you will also have the opportunity to meet Rosy. She has been working at the museum for 30 years and is an encyclopedia of stories, plus, she gives the warmest hugs. Make sure to ask her if she has any roosterkoek (it is simply the best). Entrance fee is just R5, but rather opt for the guided tour with Rosy for R10.
Where to get your coffee fix in Uitenhage
While there are more restaurants in Uitenhage, these three are my favourite spots.
Topiary Lane has been a firm favourite for Uitenhage locals for many years now, the service is friendly and the food is inexpensive as well as delicious. The coffee shop is situated in a small building that used to be the post office many moons ago.
Don’t miss: Their salad dressing.
Where: Mosel Road, Penford, Uitenhage.
The Sjiek Shack, between Despatch and Uitenhage (opposite Volkswagen), is where you can find chic décor and beautifully presented drinks and treats, you can even arrange to have a high tea – in the daintiest of dainty cups – with friends, family or for special occasions.
Don’t miss: Lemon meringue in the prettiest cup.
Where: 77 Algoa Road, Manor Heights, Uitenhage.
Coffee on Caledon
Coffee on Caledon, opposite the Drostdy museum, is another Uitenhage coffee treasure of mismatched, antique furniture, art pieces and good food.
Don’t miss: Roosterkoek.
Where: 49 Corner of Upper Drostdy and Caledon Street, Uitenhage.