East London Tourist Attractions
East London, on the estuary of the Buffalo River, which here flows into the Indian Ocean, is the only river port of any economic importance in South Africa, handling mainly wool (auctions in Wool Exchange from May to September) and other agricultural products.
Its main industry, after foodstuffs and textiles, is car manufacture. In recent decades, however, East London, handicapped by its situation between the former homelands of Transkei and Ciskei and faced by strong competition from Durban and Port Elizabeth, has increasingly fallen into decline. In the nearby black settlements of Mdantsane and Zwelithsa up to 70% of the population are unemployed.Of all this, however, visitors to East London see little. Situated as it is on one of the most beautiful stretches of coast on the Indian Ocean, with long, broad, clean and unfrequented beaches, East London is now a very popular holiday resort which attracts visitors throughout the year.In 1688 a ship anchored at the mouth of the Buffalo River looking for survivors of a shipwreck. Then in 1752 Ensign Beutler undertook a voyage of exploration in the region and reported the discovery of a river which the natives called Konka ("buffalo"). Presumably this area, on the borders of Xhosa country, was thought to be unsafe, for it was more than eighty years before another British ship put in here in 1836, this time with supplies for troops stationed in the region. During the Kaffir Wars the port rapidly gained in importance as a supply base. In 1848 it was occupied by British forces and named East London.In 1857 and 1858 almost 5000 discharged mercenaries of the British German Legion found a haven here and settled with their families in the surrounding area. Hence the many German place-names (Hamburg, Potsdam, Braunschweig, etc.) round East London; hence also the origin of the German Market in which the settlers sold their produce. The market is still held on Fridays and Saturdays in Beacon Bay, on the north side of East London; but now it is mainly African women who sell their wares there. East London was granted its municipal charter in 1880.From the air terminal at the railroad station there are regular bus services to Ben Schoeman Airport, 12km/71\2mi from the city center, which links East London with all the principal South African cities.With its pleasant residential suburbs and its public parks and gardens, East London has a well-cared-for look. The central area is small and can be easily explored on foot. The main street is Oxford Street. It is 5km/3mi long, but only the section between Argyle Street in the north and Fleet Street is really busy. There is an attractive promenade, the 2km/1.25 mi long Esplanade, along the seafront
East London Museum
At the north end of Oxford Street is the East London Museum (established 1931), perhaps the most interesting natural history museum in the country, with numbers of unusual exhibits.The star attraction of the museum is the coelacanth, a fish with limb-like fins which until it was caught in the Chalumna River, near East London, in 1938 was believed to have become extinct more than 50 million years ago. (There are now known to be between 200 and 300 of these "prehistoric" fish in the waters off the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean; the specimen caught here had presumably been carried south by the current.) The museum also has numerous specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, as well as a dodo's egg. There is an anthropological section with material on the culture of the Xhosa
East London Beaches
Between the mouth of the Buffalo River to the south and the Nahoon River to the north are the city's three finest sandy beaches. The nearest to the city center is Orient Beach, with a playground, a paddling pool, a children's slide and mini golf. Adjoining is the Eastern Beach, with water warmed by the Mozambique Current. At Nahoon Beach, on a large lagoon 8km/5mi north of the city center, are an amusement park and a camping site, and an offshore reef provides ideal conditions for surfing.
Queen's Park Botanical Garden & Zoo
On a hill to the west of the city center is the Queen's Park Botanical Garden, area 34ha/84ac, with a small zoo. Ponies can be hired for children.
Opening hours: 9am-5pm
East London's City Hall is a striking building between Oxford Street and Argyle Street (in which is the Visitors' Information Bureau). The clock tower was added on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. In front of it is an equestrian monument commemorating those who fell in the Boer War.
The railroad station, to the southeast of the City Hall, was built in 1877. It contains a steam engine made in Britain in 1903.
Lock Street Jail Shopping Centre
Beyond the railroad station was the town jail, built in 1880, which has been converted into a shopping center. Some of the cells can still be seen.
On the seafront, to the east of the railroad station, is the Aquarium with a large pool containing a variety of fish and other marine creatures, from sea-horses and brightly colored coral fish to great white sharks. The popular favorites are the penguins and the trained seals.
German Settlers' Memorial
On the Esplanade, the German Settlers' Memorial, by the South African sculptor Lippy Lipshitz, commemorates the German settlers who came to East London in 1857-58. On the monument are five bronze panels depicting their departure from Germany, their voyage to South Africa and their arrival in East London.
The coast round East London has a tragic record. A total of 82 ships have been wrecked here, 46 of them off the Esplanade alone. The most recent was the "Oranjeland", wrecked on August 13th 1984. Commemorative plaques on the Esplanade mark the spots where six ships came to grief. There are organized diving expeditions to the wrecks (information from tourist information bureau; diving certificate required).
Ann Bryant Art Gallery
Along Oxford Street to the north is the Ann Bryant Art Gallery, in a handsome house showing a mingling of Cape Dutch and Victorian styles. It contains a collection of older and modern South African art, together with some pictures by British artists.
Amalinda Nature Conservation Station
On the northwestern outskirts of East London is the Amalinda Nature Conservation Station (area 134ha/331ac), with a fish hatchery and research center. The reserve, mostly coastal forest and thornveld, is home to many species of birds and antelopes.
In Beacon Bay (to the north of the city), above the Nahoon valley, is Soffiantini Castle, a mock Italian castle erected by an Italian immigrant.
The port installations lie to the south of the city center at the mouth of the Buffalo River. On a tour of the harbor (run by the Greater East London Publicity Association) visitors will be shown the "dolos" - a type of breakwater constructed by an engineer named Eric Merrifield in 1961, formed from interlocking concrete blocks. Similar structures are now used in harbor construction worldwide.Here, at the East London Yacht Club, is the finishing point of the annual Vasca da Gama Regatta, which starts from Durban.
The Buffalo Bridge (completed in 1935), a two-level road and rail bridge, leads to the south bank of the river.
East of the Buffalo Bridge is the Powder Magazine, all that remains of Fort Glamorgan, built in 1848 to protect the settlement against Xhosa attacks.
There are over 200 stores in Hemingways Mall as well as a custom designed amphitheatre that is used for fashion shows, music shows and exhibitions. The mezzanine level is home to indoor golf, a bowling alley and bumper cars.
St Peter's Church
500m/550yd east of the Powder Magazine, in the West Bank district, is St Peter's Church (1857), now protected as a national monument.
Map of East London Attractions
More on PlanetWare