EAST LONDON, the second-largest city in the Eastern Cape, is the obvious jumping-off point for exploring the Transkei. But without fine, warm weather, the city is dreary. What does happen takes place along the beachfront, where there’s a plethora of places to stay, eat and drink. Nahoon Beach is a great surfing spot, and the town has a dedicated and lively surfing scene. It’s also gradually becoming a place for black holidaymakers – a post-apartheid phenomenon. The beaches to the east of town are very beautiful, with long stretches of sand, high dunes, estuaries and luxuriant vegetation, and good swimming.
East London’s drab city centre is dominated by Oxford Street, parallel to Station Street and the train station. Although a major traffic thoroughfare, it is largely deserted at night, when you shouldn’t wander around alone. The newly upgraded Vincent Park Centre on Devereux Avenue is a popular shopping centre with cinemas and restaurants. It is 5km north of the city centre (leave the centre on Oxford St, and turn right into Devereux just beyond the museum), in the midst of the salubrious suburbs of Vincent and Stirling. This is the best place for shopping, or to find anything practical such as banks and the post office. Apart from a couple of handsome buildings, East London’s Victorian heart has progressively been demolished, though the city centre’s principal landmark, the splendid terracotta and lace-white City Hall, opened in 1899, remains. Over the road is a rather lifeless statue of martyred Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko.
Away from the holiday strip, East London is dominated by an industrial centre served by Mdantsane, a huge African township 20km from the city towards King William’s Town.