Things to do in Makana
Monday, 30th November 2020
Top Attractions in the Makana Region
Put an adventurous spin to your year by visiting the Makana region and discover its heart through heritage sites, historical buildings, safaris, indigenous bush, kloofs and grasslands.
Makhanda (Grahamstown) started as a small military outpost founded in 1812 by British officer, Colonel John Graham, during the turbulent Frontier Wars. As the town declined in military importance, it grew into a thriving market town and was once the second largest city in South Africa after Cape Town.
The City has over 70 heritage sites. Start your adventure in Makana with these highlights:
Check out the Astronomical Toposcope on Gunfire Hill in front of the 1820 Settlers’ National Monument. It shows the cardinal points and positions for the rising of certain constellations.
While at the Monument, view the entire City all the way to Makana’s Kop that is in the township. For more information, contact the 1820 Settlers Monument on 046 603 1134.
Go back in time at Observatory Museum. Here, you will find the only genuine Victorian camera obscura in Southern Africa and is such a great way of viewing the City. While you are at the Museum, don’t miss out on some of the other historic treasures such as the Meridian room, Diamond Gallery, open clock-works, fine Victorian furnishings and a relaxing garden. For information on visiting times, contact the Observatory Museum on 046 622 2312.
Take along some hiking buddies and walk up to Ntaba eZono (Makana's Kop) to get a fantastic view of Makhanda. It is a steep and rocky slope; many locals also refer to as Mount of Sin.
Make arrangements to visit the St Philip's Church in Fingo Village to see the stained glass windows of the Black Madonna.
While you are Fingo Village, you will also find the Lobengula grave site of the Zimbabwean Lobengula family. For more information contact King Lobengula Lodges and Tours.
Nearby is the Egazini Memorial. This is the site where the Battle of Grahamstown took place in 1819. On 22 April 2019, traditional leaders from all over the Eastern Cape gathered at the Egazini Memorial Heritage Site to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle between the amaNdlambe and the British forces. Learn more here.
Another interesting historical site to visit is Bully Kohl's grave site - located just south of Phola Park informal settlement, towards the Xolani township. Many locals claim the school children's revolution actually started in Makhanda, and Bully was a casualty of the state of emergency here.
When you make your way back to the City centre, do visit the Old Gaol which was opened in 1823 and used until the 1970s. Public hangings were conducted inside this building until 1862, a black flag would indicate that the death sentence had been carried out within the prison walls.
Just across from the Old Gaol is the Albany Museum which was founded in 1855. Together with its Research Department, the Museum has six buildings under its umbrella namely, the Natural Sciences Museum, History Museum, Observatory Museum, Fort Selwyn, Drostdy Arch and Old Provost, a military prison that was built in 1838. Contact the Museum for more information on 046 622 2312 or email@example.com.
Nearby the Old Provost, check out the small number of gravestones of military men who died in the Frontier Wars.
Did you know that the Drostdy Arch, which is now the entrance to Rhodes University, was built as an entrance to military grounds? It was designed by Major Selwyn and built by the Royal Engineers in 1842.
Take a walk down High Street and you will see plenty of historic buildings. Take a moment to read the plaques that reveal the story of the buildings. They were built with materials such as stone and stained glass that come from around the world. A fine example is the City Hall –a specimen of Gothic Revival architecture, completed in 1882. It has five different types of stones that can be connected to five different countries.
Another example is the historic church in Riebeek East which holds special significance in the History of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reform Church) in South Africa. The church bell was cast in 1861 in Dublin Ireland; the clock was manufactured by Henry Carter Galpin of Grahams Town in 1873; and the locks on all the doors in the church were manufactured by J Carpenter at his factory called Summerford Works in New Road, Willenhall, England - Source: Kruger, L. R. (1981-09) Thesis (MTh) -- Stellenbosch University, 1981.
Also take a walk through the flora and fauna up to Fort Selwyn located on Gunfire Hill near 1820 Settlers’ National Monument. It was built in 1835-36 to protect approaches to town and guard its water supply.
Did you know? Makhanda has the oldest letterbox in the country. This historic post box is located on the corner of Worcester and Somerset Streets in Makhanda. It is a fluted pillar box type that is painted in the traditional red bright colour and was erected between 1857 and 1859.
Witness the grand architecture of the Cathedral of St Michael and St George. The Cathedral is home of the Anglican Diocese of Makhanda and is situated at the intersection of High Street and Hill Street. The interior of the Cathedral will tell a story of many generations that had a hand in building this iconic structure – taking a period of 160 years to complete. Each builder from the same family used their own architectural style and each of those styles are visible to the eye.
Visit the Cathedral to hear about its story: "The surveyor who laid out the original plan for Graham’s Town in 1814, identified the site as being ‘a very convenient site for a church’, but it was not until the arrival of the 1820 Settlers that the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, sought support from the British Secretary of State for War, Lord Bathurst, for ‘a British Population of upwards of 3 000 persons (including the Military) totally destitute of any place of worship whatsoever.’ The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) and the colonial treasury found the £4,404 15s required to pay for the construction”.
Take beautiful photographs of the Cathedral and be inspired by its grand size, stained glass windows (that are priceless, though valued at R20 million), and the impressive bells and clock.
Find special mice in the Cathedral and read their story. An artist signed his plaques by carving mice in the wood. Find these plaques to get some insight into this grand building.
Listen up and be inspired by church organs:
According to the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, the Church possesses the only pipe organ suitable for concert performances in Makhanda and has also been used by Rhodes University for training its organ scholars. It was built by Bevington of London in 1860.
Nearby, the organ at the Commemoration Methodist Church was installed in 1875 and is the third-largest pipe organ in South Africa. This building also has impressive Gothic Revival style architecture worth seeing.
The Wesley Methodist Church, at the corner of Market and York Streets has the first and only organ in South Africa to be proclaimed as a National Monument. This pipe organ is in regular use and was ordered during the mid-1830s by Lt Colonel Henry Somerset for his home in Grahamstown (Makhanda).
Round up your friends and try out the Oldenburgia Day Trail: The Oldenburgia hiking club has marked a one-day trail on the city’s southern commonage. The 17km circular and clockwise route begins and ends at the top of Mountain Drive, not far from the toposcope. The start is just a few kilometres from the town centre and can be reached by car from the caravan park off Grey Street. For more information, you can visit the club's Facebook Page : www.facebook.com/oldenburgiahikingclub
Here are more trails that you can also try out:
Two River Trail: https://tworivertrail.co.za/
Assegaai Trails: http://www.assegaaitrails.co.za/hiking/
Cannon Rocks Nature Trail: https://cannonrocksvillage.co.za/nature-trail#start
Alexandria Trail: https://www.sanparks.org/tourism/activities/hikes_walks_trails.php
Waters Meeting Nature Reserve (Bathurst): Ranger/Manager: 079 496 7979 or 076 423 3492.
Albany Trails (Near Port Alfred): https://www.facebook.com/albanytrails/
Looking for more outdoor fun? Check out the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency’s (ECPTA) Nature Reserves guide. It’s packed with ideas for family and eco-adventure holidays. You can experience the great outdoors from visiting the Great Fish River to Wild Coast nature reserves. The guide has comprehensive information on well positioned campsites, hiker’s huts, forest huts or farm-style lodges that offer the very best in affordable and comfortable nature escapes. For more information, visit the ECPTA website: visiteasterncape.co.za
Here are more outdoors things to do:
Take lunch and picnic at our Makana Botanical Gardens (Bots) off Lucas Avenue, Grahamstown. The Botanical Gardens are open everyday from 08h00 to 17h00. You can also take out your dog for a walk in the gardens provided that you clean up after them. Botanical Gardens is on Rhodes University's grounds and therefore receives its regular security patrols. However, one can never guarantee hundred percent safety. It is always advisable to be cautious and not wander alone. Here is a contact number to reach the Rhodes Campus Security or Grounds staff for further queries: 046 603 8111.
Organise the perfect picnic date for you and your loved one at the Grey Dam near Makana Resort or Jameson Dam off the Highlands Road. It is an outdoor haven for lots of selfie opportunities.
Later, ring up the pals for a safe braai session at The Settlers’ Dam recreation site. For many years, this has been a favourite spot for picnics and braais. Don't forget to take Covid-19 precautions i.e., limited number of people at the gathering, social distancing and wearing of masks.
Get a hole in one for breakfast, lunch, and golf: Only 7kms out of town, check out the Belmont Golf Club for a family outing or round of golf with the pals. The Club is located on the Belmont Valley Road. Take a drive and discover the most awesome views and hospitality. The Belmont Golf Club caters for everyone. For more information and upcoming golf day events, contact: 082 807 3234 or visit www.facebook.com/belmontgolf and www.facebook.com/belmontgolf
Visit a Nature Reserve: The Thomas Baines Nature Reserve is just 15kms from Makhanda on the Kenton-on-Sea Road (R343). There’s so much to do here – game drives, canoeing, hiking, camping, picnics and bird watching. Look out for Cape buffalo, eland, red hartebeest, bushbuck, kudu, oribi, aardvark, warthog, vervet monkeys, genets, and many other small animals.
Take a self game drive by taking the Southwell-marked left turn about 20kms after Salem on the R343 travelling towards Kenton. The turn off is shortly after Kariega Reserve’s main gate. Please ensure you stay on the roads as this is private land.
Or you can treat yourself and the family with an upmarket safari experience such as:
- Pumba Private Game Reserve:
046 603 2000
- Glen Boyd Game Reserve
083 701 7306
- African Safari Lodge:
082 672 9814
- Temba Lodge
046 622 2239
- Mansfield Private Tuskers Lodge:
0861 748 374
- Tuskers Lodge
082 441 2055
Campsites in and around Makhanda
Makhanda and surrounds has campsites where you can pitch up your own tents or drive in your caravan. Further below are options for pitched tent or other camp type accommodation.
Smokey Moon is a self-catering backpacker-style accommodation.
- Camp Sites
078 966 6040
078 966 6040
Offers an area for tents and caravans as well accommodation in chalets.
078 293 0838
Blue Skies Backpackers
Grahamstown Aerodrome, Cradock Road, Grahamstown, South Africa
+27 84 278 3193
Mansfield Game Reserve is situated a short drive from Port Alfred. The self-catering accommodation is surrounded by Eastern Cape bushveld and plains game. Day visitors are also welcome. Mansfield has both standard campsites and glamping options.
- Youth Holiday Camp
- Camp Sites
- Bush Camp
- Game Reserves & Lodges
- Child Friendly
0861 748 374
Few kms out of Makhanda
Private Game Reserve offering South Africans and internationals an opportunity to experience the wildlife and beauty of the Eastern Cape on Grahamstown's doorstep.
Accommodation in the form of a Tented camp, Garden chalets, The main homestead as well as a Family suite.
083 701 7306
Few kms out of Makhanda
Multi-faceted nature reserve offering over 100 beds in various accommodation options.
- Camp Sites
082 445 1042
The game reserves offer value for money day safaris and other specials. Please contact the game reserves for more information.
Other fun things to do in Makana:
Shop for local arts and crafts at a mere touch of a browser: The National Arts Festival has given you an opportunity to browse the National Art Festival’s Village Green online – a directory to talented crafters and their beautiful wares. Check out: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za
Visit ILAM: If you are an African music and literature enthusiast. You will be able to view their display of traditional musical instruments. For more information, visit: www.ru.ac.za/ilam or contact 046 603 8557
Visit Amazwi South African Museum of Literature. Previously the National English Literary Museum, Amazwi is a museum that houses archival material relating to South Africa's literary heritage. It is located on 25a Worcester Street. For more information, visit: www.nelm.org.za or 046 622 7042
The best way to immerse yourself in and really experience the local life of an area is by trying out the food and eating lots of it! Here is a quick foodie guide for restaurants, bars, eateries and more in and around Makhanda.
Go bird watching: Makhanda is a bird-watcher’s paradise! The Botanical Gardens alone has over 30 species of birds.
Visit the world’s biggest pineapple: Take a drive to Bathurst and visit Summerhill Inn and the Big Pineapple. Buy pineapple products and stay for Sunday Lunch. This festive season, the Big Pineapple will be hosting a market every Saturday. See you there! For more information, contact: 046 625 0515.
Explore Makhanda through these historical sites:
Shaw Hall: Erected in 1834, this building is where the South African Parliament met, for the first- and only-time outside Cape Town, in 1864. High Street.
Good Shephard School: It is generally accepted that this is the oldest Anglican school building in South Africa. The building was opened in 1849. Huntley Street.
Muirhead and Gowie Building and the Grocott’s Building: Together with the rest of the shop fronts on Church Square are splendid examples of late Victorian architecture and are an important element in the historical city centre of Grahamstown/Makhanda.
Artificer’s Square: From 1822 onward numbers of 1820 Settlers overwhelmed by the harshness of life on inadequate farm allotments, moved to Makhanda where their skills as masons, carpenters and bricklayers could be put to better use. They were allowed to build their small cottages on Settler’s Hill and Cross Street.
For more information about the political, military, and social history of these historic sites and attractions, contact Makana Tourism on 041 622 3241 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article may change without notice.
Should you wish to visit any of the Museums in Makhanda, please contact them first to confirm visiting times as they will differ during this lockdown period.
Please note that there is always a risk attached to outdoor activities. The use of any of the trails mentioned in this article or Makana Tourism website is done at your own risk. Please exercise caution and familiarise yourself with the necessary skills for safe walking, running, or cycling on the trails especially during unpredictable weather conditions and when coming into contact with wildlife such as baboons or snakes.
Explore Makhanda as a City of Firsts
- The first diamond was identified in the country in 1867 in Makhanda.
- The first law society in South Africa was established here in 1883.
- The National Press Union was formed here in 1882.
- The founding of the St John Ambulance Association took place here in 1883.
- Parliament sat in here in 1863.
- The first Baptist Church building in South Africa was opened here in 1823.
- The first Botanical Gardens was established by the British in the Cape Colony in Makhanda in 1853.
- The first pipe organ imported into the Eastern Cape and the first and the only individual musical instrument in South Africa to be proclaimed a National Monument is to be found in the Wesley Church at the corner of Market and York Streets. The organ was made in England in the mid-1830s.
- Fort England, originally a barracks built in 1812, was established as the first mental hospital on the mainland of South Africa in 1875.
- The first full ring of bells on the African continent is housed in the tower of the Cathedral of St Michael and St George.
- The first stained glass window to be entirely made in South Africa can be found in Christ Church in Speke Street.
- Makhanda can also claim to have a connection to the first Afrikaans book ever published. Louis Henri Meurant wrote a series of “conversations” entitled “Zamenspraak” to inform boer farmers in their vernacular of the vital issue of the day – a separate government for the Eastern Province. The 6 “Zamenspraak” episodes were published in book form in 1861. This was the first time that Afrikaans appeared and so represents the birth of that language in a literary medium.
- In 1931 on Rhodes University’s Great Field, Daniel Joubert of Stellenbosch became the first athlete in South Africa to equal the world record for the 100 yards in a time of 9,4 seconds.
(Information courtesy: Grahamstown Historical Society Annals 1983 Vol 4, No1; Grahamstown Reflected; Wikipedia - List of heritage sites in Albany, South Africa – SAHRA)