Last year, before the pandemic, I started a campaign called #10SouthAfricanTowns. I planned to visit ten small towns all over South Africa during 2020. Bathurst, 20 kilometers inland from Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape, was one of the first towns I put on the list. It had been a dream destination of mine for years.
Covid had other plans and, sadly, #10SouthAfricanTowns came to a premature end before I made it to Bathurst in 2020. But to my great joy, I was able to complete my Bathurst pilgrimage in March 2021 during the Blogitect Road Trip. The visit totally lived up to my expectations.
Bathurst was founded in 1820 by British settlers and still feels very British today. Thorsten and I stayed at the historic Pig & Whistle Inn, which was originally called the Bathurst Inn. British airmen, who were sent to the area for flight training during WWII, renamed the inn after their local pub back home.
For a town with only a few thousand residents, revolving around a single, busy street corner, Bathurst has a surprising amount to do. We spent nearly three days there and didn’t even get to everything. Here are ten activities we enjoyed — more than enough to fill a busy long weekend.
1) Hang Out at the Pig & Whistle
The Pig & Whistle was one of my two original motivators for visiting Bathurst. I love staying in historic guesthouses and the Pig is one of South Africa’s best. The inn was founded in1832 and is a South African historical monument.
The Pig is the center of town, literally and figuratively (and also the center of the universe, according to the image above). We loved sitting on the verandah with a beer shandy, listening to the music trickling out of the bar and watching the world go by. The Pig also serves really nice food and has great service.
2) Explore the Bathurst Agricultural Museum
We spent a delightful morning at the Bathurst Agricultural Museum, learning everything there is to know about farm machines. As someone who is normally very uninterested in machinery, I cannot recommend this museum enough. I loved it.
The museum describes itself as the biggest agricultural museum in South Africa and I have no reason to disbelieve that claim. I have never seen more tools, tractors, and obscure mechanical items in one place. If you’re lucky, the staff might even start up one of the tractors for you.
My favorite part of the museum is the blacksmith forge, where a trained blacksmith makes things out of red-hot metal.
My other favorite part of the museum is the onsite pub, the Ploughman, where I ate the most delicious curry mince pie I’ve ever had.
3) Admire the Lucky Bean Trees
I’ve always loved lucky bean trees, a.k.a. coral trees, and was amazed by how large and ubiquitous they are around Bathurst. They’re way larger — with thick, twisting trunks and branches — than the lucky bean trees I’m used to seeing elsewhere in South Africa.
4) Eat Ice Cream at Lucky Bean Café
Speaking of lucky beans, there is an ice cream shop by the same name in a little center along Kowie Road in Bathurst. It is without a doubt the best ice cream/gelato in the Eastern Cape. Do not miss it under any circumstances. We went twice.
5) Walk the Historic Sites
There are lots of historic buildings around Bathurst, and it’s very pleasant to just walk around looking at them. Ask Gavin at the Pig & Whistle to give you directions — he might even walk with you.
Note: We ran out of time and didn’t manage to visit Bradshaw’s Mill, one of Bathurst’s most notable historic sites. But it’s reportedly great.
6) Eat/Drink at the Bathurst Arms
Bathurstians like to par-TAY (the town’s unofficial tag line is “There’s no thirst like Bathurst”, and the locals take it seriously) and the Bathurst Arms is where they go to do it. But the Arms is also a nice place to have a meal in the garden out back: Zee, the no-nonsense chef, serves a mean plate of bangers and mash.
7) Look Out From the Toposcope
The Toposcope is a memorial to the 1820 British settlers, set at the top of a big hill just outside Bathurst. The memorial was recently expanded to honor not only the British settlers, but also the Xhosa tribes who fought the British in the Frontier Wars.
The Toposcope is definitely worth visiting for the amazing 360-degree views.
8) Drive to Waters Meeting
The Waters Meeting Nature Reserve, also a short drive from Bathurst proper, is a lovely provincial reserve with a spectacular view of a large horseshoe bend in the Kowie River. Waters Meeting is where the fresh water of the Kowie River meets with the salt water from the Indian Ocean (just a few miles away).
We enjoyed driving Phyllis along the rough dirt road to the bottom of the reserve. Apparently there are also some really nice hikes through the indigenous forest but we didn’t have time for that. (The gates are only open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. so don’t be late like we were.)
Admission to the reserve is R36 (about $2.50) per person. The horseshoe overlook is right near the entrance.
9) Buy Pottery From Richard Pullen
Richard Pullen is an acclaimed master potter and Bathurst native. His studio is right on the edge of town and a must-visit. Richard’s work is not only beautiful, but useful and surprisingly affordable. Richard is also a super nice guy.
Don’t leave until you’ve checked out Richard’s French butter dishes. They’re the best.
10) Visit the Big Pineapple
Those of you who know me are probably wondering why I’ve waited until the end to mention the Big Pineapple, which was my other main motivator (in addition to the Pig & Whistle) for going to Bathurst. I have been obsessed with visiting the Big Pineapple since I first saw a photo of it on another blog, about seven years ago.
I have too much to say about the Pineapple to fit into this post, which is already far too long. I will devote an entire blog post to the Big Pineapple later this week.
Thanks to everyone in Bathurst for making our visit so memorable. Hopefully we’ll be back soon.
Our stay at the Pig and Whistle and our visit/lunch at the Bathurst Agricultural Museum were complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine. Special thanks to Go Route 72.