Grahamstown lies slightly inland in the middle of the southern coast of South Africa. It is about an hour's drive to the North East of Port Elizabeth and lies on the escarpment overlooking the coastal plain. It combines the vibrance of a university town with small-town hospitality and warmth.
Historically Grahamstown marked the Eastern boundary of the Cape Colony. English settlers were settled in the region during the early 19th century to form a buffer zone between the colony and the Xhosa kingdom. For this reason the area has a great deal of English influence and has become an important English cultural centre. For the same reason it also witnessed some terrible wars. The reason the political and climatological borders coincide here is not accidental. The mediterranean rainfall pattern prevented the Xhosa crops – developed in the hinterland – from growing efficiently, thus restricting expansion south of the Fish River. In turn, European settlers found that their mediterranean crops (e.g. grain) grew well in the southern Cape – but with considerably more difficulty further north or east.
The city centre boasts a wealth of architecturally interesting historic buildings, having at least one example of domestic architecture from every decade since 1820, including a long unbroken Victorian façade in High Street near the Cathedral and a working Victorian camera obscura at the Observatory Museum, one of only two in the world. It also has the distinction of having hosted a sitting of the Cape Parliament, on the only occasion on which that body sat outside Cape Town, in 1864.
Grahamstown is reputed to have no climate – just weather. Being located on the fringes of the arid Karoo, the weather can be extremely hot during January and February and quite cold in winter (June/July). Grahamstown is located on the eastern periphery of the mediterranean rainfall area which covers the southern Cape. This means that it can conceivably rain at any time of the year. During winter, rain is typically caused by cold fronts moving eastwards. However, it is common to have several days at a time in mid-winter on which daytime maximum temperatures exceed 25 degrees C. Temperatures usually drop substantially after 5pm, however, and, as South African homes and venues do not typically have central heating, layers of warm clothing will be needed later in the day.
A doctors’ practice and pharmacy close to campus, in High Street,, as is the Pepper Grove Mall, a nearby shopping centre with cash machines, a supermarket, restaurants, cinema and a range of smaller shops.
Out and about
There are many private game parks in the area that are all malaria free and easily accessible, ranging from the reasonably priced national parks to luxurious private game reserves boasting the Big Five and more. The Addo Elephant National Park is located between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth and is unique in South Africa in consisting of no fewer than five ecospheres. About two hours drive further inland, there are the Mountain Zebra National Park and the Camdeboo National Park [More information: http://www.sanparks.org/]. Private game parks are listed on the various tourism sites below.
Grahamstown is also only 60km away from some of the most spectacular coastline in South Africa. Unlike the heavily developed beaches of the Garden Route, the beaches of Kenton, Port Alfred and the adjacent Wild Coast to the north are uncommercialized, exceptionally beautiful and serene with long beaches, vast dunes and rocky outcrops.