4 minutes reading time South Africa
Hidden in a valley, covered by a cloud, is the beautiful historic town known as Grahamstown or Makhanda. This is a town that is far off the beaten track yet on the crossroads of South African history. It is primarily an educational and religious center accommodating various prestigious schools.
Rhodes University, a small yet influential institution lurks in a forested corner. Students from all over the world give the town a lot of character. World-famous high schools like St Andrews College, the Diocesan School for Girls, Kingswood College, Graeme College, and Victoria Girls High School all have histories spanning more than a century and in some cases closer to two, producing leaders and empowered citizens. There is something distinctively Hogwarts like about some of the schools.
In pre-Covid times, the National Arts Festival brought artists and those who enjoyed the arts from around the world to this little town. A friendly camaraderie accompanied people in winter as they braved the cold and wind to enjoy world-class performing arts. Similarly, the National Science Festival brought those who enjoyed science together to learn more about this part of our humanity. In a post-Covid world, we hope these festivals will continue to be on the tourist map.
One cannot visit Grahamstown and leave without visiting the Settlers National Monument. At a different time, this building was built to commemorate the 1820 Settlers from England. Two centuries later, we can enjoy this structure full of history that allows you to have a full view of the town.
A foundation of the town is its religious significance which awards the town the title ‘city of saints’. Featuring a lot of Christian church steeples and churches, as well as a Hindu Mandir, a semi-dormant Synagogue, and a Mosque the town is a religious center. The Anglican St Georges Cathedral is an elegant presence in the middle of town well worth a photo or two.
A number of museums make up the Albany Museum complex – the Albany Natural History, and Albany History Museum, as well as the Observatory Museum all, serve as collections of valuable artifacts preserved for future study and research. The Observatory Museum specifically is worth a visit as a quirky sort of throwback to a time when the technology adventure we are in right now was in its infancy. A Camera Obscura, a timeline, and various other gems (including the staff) lurk in this quirky building that bears testimony to an early Makhanda genius.
Two significant national research centers exist in the town. The South African Institute of Aquatic Biology hides behind some big trees and houses an important fish research facility that is made famous by the discovery of the Coelacanth – the so-called living fossil. The Amazwi South African Museum of Literature houses a great collection of African literature and shows how our cultures have evolved through the changes of time.
For such a small town, the restaurants are very exceptional. The famous Pothole and Donkey restaurant serves some of the best cocktails in town. Other notable restaurants include the Red Café where you can sit on the deck and watch life amble past, The Fork and Dagger and Haricot’s for serious meals, and the quintessential university pub, the Rat and Parrot where inexpensive pub and grub and a pleasant bar give a window into how students, academics and local denizens feed, drink. For a genuine taste of Xhosa hospitality, Backyard Braai, run by Thabisa Xonxo and her sons Banda and Odwa has a lovely view over the town, a warm feel, and a great Shisa Nyama/Braai vibe going on. It is an alcohol-free venue where knowledgeable hosts can give you a real understanding of the history of our town from the Xhosa perspective.
If you feel unadventurous, there are the normal handful of generic fast-food chains found anywhere in South Africa to provide you with food-like items.
Makhanda / Grahamstown is a short distance from a number of world-famous nature reserves – from government budget-friendly reserves such as the Thomas Baines and Great Fish River Nature Reserve to the more luxurious options such as Shamwari, Amakhala, Kariega, Pumba, and Kwandwe Private game reserves amongst others.
All in all, a visit to Makhanda / Grahamstown won’t disappoint. There is so much to do and the people are generally friendly.
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