Welcome to the enchanting Makana Botanical Gardens, a true gem nestled adjacent to the Rhodes University campus in Grahamstown, South Africa. Considered the second oldest botanical gardens in the country and a designated national monument, this remarkable natural haven is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and avid birdwatchers alike.
Established in 1853, the Makana Botanical Gardens holds a significant place in the history of the Cape Colony. Serving as the second garden of its kind at the time, it has witnessed the passage of time and the growth of the surrounding landscapes. Today, its rich historical nature is harmoniously blended with the captivating ambiance of Rhodes University’s sprawling 203-hectare campus, creating a tranquil retreat for students and visitors alike.
One of the most striking features of Makana Botanical Gardens is its exceptional birdlife. As you explore the gardens’ lush paths and vibrant floral displays, keep your eyes and ears open for the symphony of avian residents. Cape weavers, greater double-collared sunbirds, red-winged starlings, yellow-fronted canaries, bronze mannikins, rock kestrels, grey sunbirds, olive woodpeckers, and southern black flycatchers grace the branches with their colorful plumage. If you’re lucky, you may also spot the graceful African harrier hawk, the elusive lesser honeyguide, or even the rare sighting of a Klaas’s cuckoo. With a total of 108 identified bird species and occasional sightings of “vagrant” birds like the chorister robin, Makana Botanical Gardens is truly a paradise for birdwatchers.
In recent years, the gardens underwent a remarkable transformation to restore their former glory. Between 2004 and 2006, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) spearheaded a comprehensive rehabilitation and redevelopment program. Recognizing the importance of preserving the diverse flora within the reserve, the project aimed to safeguard the incredible array of plant species that had flourished uninterrupted for decades. While some invasive species had to be removed, their timber was repurposed for various structures needed to enhance the grounds.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of SANBI and the Makana district, Rhodes University was granted a 99-year lease to ensure the gardens’ long-term care and preservation. This partnership has revitalized Makana Botanical Gardens, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in its breathtaking landscapes and discover the wonders of its botanical treasures.
As you wander through the gardens, take a moment to admire the magnificent trees that have stood tall for generations. Their majestic presence, shaped by the passage of time, adds an air of wisdom to this verdant sanctuary. Stroll along the meandering pathways, breathe in the fragrant scents of vibrant flowers, and embrace the tranquility that envelops every corner.
Popular activities, attractions and points of interest in and near The Makana Botanical Gardens
Beyond the serene beauty of the Makana Botanical Gardens, there is an abundance of activities, tourist attractions, and points of interest to explore in and around this enchanting destination. Here are some highlights that will further enrich your visit:
Rhodes University Campus
As you step into the Makana Botanical Gardens, you will find yourself in the heart of Rhodes University’s campus. Take a leisurely stroll through the university grounds and marvel at the architectural wonders and well-manicured gardens that have made this institution a hallmark of Grahamstown. The campus exudes a vibrant energy, with students engaged in various activities and events.
Just a stone’s throw away from the botanical gardens, the Albany Museum invites you to delve into the rich cultural and natural heritage of the region. The museum houses an impressive collection of historical artifacts, geological specimens, and an extensive display of South African wildlife. Explore the exhibits and gain a deeper understanding of the area’s diverse history and natural wonders.
National Arts Festival
If you happen to visit during late June to early July, you’re in for a treat. Grahamstown hosts the renowned National Arts Festival, a celebration of the arts that attracts artists, performers, and art enthusiasts from all over the country. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of live performances, visual arts exhibitions, music concerts, and thought-provoking discussions.
St. Michael and St. George Cathedral
A short distance from the botanical gardens, you’ll find the magnificent St. Michael and St. George Cathedral. This striking Anglican cathedral, built in the early 1800s, is an architectural marvel that boasts stunning stained glass windows and a serene interior. Take a moment to admire the intricate craftsmanship and soak in the tranquil ambiance.
1820 Settlers National Monument
A prominent landmark in Grahamstown, the 1820 Settlers National Monument commemorates the arrival of British settlers to South Africa. The monument houses a fascinating museum that tells the story of these pioneers and their impact on the region. Climb to the top of the monument for panoramic views of Grahamstown and its surrounding landscapes.
Hiking and Nature Trails
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, the Makana Botanical Gardens offers a starting point for various hiking and nature trails that meander through the picturesque Eastern Cape countryside. Lace up your hiking boots, choose a trail that suits your skill level, and embark on an adventure to discover hidden waterfalls, breathtaking vistas, and the region’s diverse flora and fauna.
Delve into the world of astronomy at the Observatory Museum, located near the botanical gardens. This museum is home to the only intact Victorian-era astronomical observatory in the Southern Hemisphere. Explore its historical telescopes, fascinating exhibits, and learn about the important contributions made by astronomers in unraveling the mysteries of the universe.
Game Reserves and Safaris
For wildlife enthusiasts, the Eastern Cape offers incredible game reserves and safari experiences. Within a reasonable driving distance from Grahamstown, you can visit renowned reserves such as the Addo Elephant National Park, Shamwari Game Reserve, and Amakhala Game Reserve. Embark on a safari adventure and encounter the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard), as well as a myriad of other fascinating creatures.
If you’re in the mood for some sun, sand, and surf, the Eastern Cape coastline is within reach. Beautiful beaches like Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred are a short drive away, offering pristine stretches of sand, sparkling waters, and opportunities for water sports, fishing, and leisurely beach walks.
As you explore the Makana Botanical Gardens and its surroundings, you’ll find a wealth of activities and attractions to suit every interest. Immerse yourself in the region’s culture, history, and natural beauty, and create lasting memories of your visit to this enchanting part of South Africa.
Albany Museum Complex
Step into the captivating world of the Albany Museum Complex, a treasure trove of knowledge and exploration. Established in 1855, it holds the distinction of being the second oldest museum in South Africa, offering visitors a fascinating glimpse into the region’s rich cultural heritage and natural wonders. Comprising five distinct museums, this complex is a must-visit for history enthusiasts, nature lovers, and curious minds of all ages.
The Albany Museum Complex boasts an Education Department dedicated to providing valuable resources and educational programs in cultural studies, history, and the natural sciences. This department offers a wealth of learning opportunities, catering to students, teachers, and the general public. Teachers can request the yearly education program, which outlines the various educational offerings available. Additionally, the Mobile Museum service is an innovative initiative that brings portable exhibits, resource packs, and objects directly to schools, supporting curriculum-based studies and engaging students in a hands-on learning experience.
Throughout the year, the Albany Museum Complex hosts a wide range of events and activities to captivate visitors. Public lectures, film shows, open days, walking tours, and special events provide unique opportunities to deepen your understanding of the region’s cultural and natural heritage. Whether you’re attending an engaging talk on local history or exploring a captivating exhibition, there is always something exciting happening within the museum’s walls.
At the heart of the complex is the original Albany Museum, founded in 1855 by the Grahamstown Medical-Chirurgical Society, later known as the Literary, Scientific, and Medical Society. Over the years, the museum has expanded to encompass a diverse range of exhibits and collections, documenting the full spectrum of the social and natural environment, with a particular emphasis on the Eastern Cape.
Within the Albany Museum Complex, you will discover five distinct museums, each offering a unique perspective on the region’s heritage:
Natural Science Museum: Immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural world at this museum, which showcases an impressive collection of geological specimens, fossils, taxidermy displays, and interactive exhibits. Learn about the rich biodiversity of the Eastern Cape, the intricate ecosystems that sustain it, and the ongoing efforts to conserve and protect the region’s natural heritage.
History Museum: Journey through time as you explore the History Museum’s exhibits, which chronicle the captivating stories of the Eastern Cape’s past. From the arrival of the British settlers to the struggles of the anti-apartheid movement, delve into the region’s diverse history through engaging displays, artifacts, and multimedia presentations.
Observatory Museum: Discover the wonders of astronomy at the Observatory Museum, the only intact Victorian-era astronomical observatory in the Southern Hemisphere. Marvel at historical telescopes, explore celestial phenomena, and learn about the contributions made by astronomers in unraveling the mysteries of the universe.
Provost Prison: Step inside the walls of the Provost Prison and delve into the grim realities of the past. This museum provides a haunting glimpse into the lives of prisoners during the colonial era, offering a sobering reminder of the injustices of the past and the struggles endured by those incarcerated within its confines.
Fort Selwyn: Ascend the historic ramparts of Fort Selwyn, a well-preserved military fort that once guarded the town of Grahamstown. Explore the strategic defenses, wander along the battlements, and imagine the tales of conflict and defense that unfolded within these historic walls.
The Albany Museum Complex stands as a testament to the region’s rich history and natural heritage. Whether you’re a history buff, a science enthusiast, or simply curious about the world around you, this complex offers a captivating journey through time and a deeper understanding of the Eastern Cape’s unique cultural and natural landscapes. Immerse yourself in the wonders of the Albany Museum Complex
Immerse yourself in the rich history and architectural grandeur of the Grahamstown Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St Michael and St George. This magnificent structure, which dates back to the 1800s, first opened its doors in 1830, becoming an iconic landmark in the heart of Grahamstown. Steeped in history and adorned with impressive design elements, a visit to this cathedral is an absolute must for those seeking to delve into the cultural heritage of the region.
As you approach the Grahamstown Cathedral, you will be captivated by its imposing presence. While the current tower and spire were completed in 1879, designed by the esteemed architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the original tower and spire were deemed unsafe and had to be replaced. The new tower stands tall, adding to the visual allure of the cathedral’s exterior.
Upon entering the cathedral, you may notice a number of memorial plaques that are covered. These plaques serve as a poignant reminder of the conflict that occurred between the original Xhosa residents and the European settlers. In recognition of the diverse composition of the Anglican Church of South Africa today, some of these plaques have been covered, acknowledging the need for inclusivity and embracing the spirit of unity.
As you explore the interior of the cathedral, you’ll come across numerous memorial tablets that tell the captivating history of Grahamstown as a frontier post. These tablets can be found at the lectern, pulpit, road screen, and organ, providing glimpses into the struggles and triumphs of the region’s past. Each tablet offers a unique insight into the events and individuals that shaped the vibrant tapestry of Grahamstown’s heritage.
One particular highlight within the cathedral is the belfry, which holds a significant piece of African history. It was here that the first and heaviest full ring of eight bells on the continent was housed. Cast in London in 1878, these bells are composed of metal from the three original bells that hung in the cathedral’s initial tower. The resonating chimes of these bells echo through the cathedral, adding a touch of grandeur to the spiritual atmosphere.
The Grahamstown Cathedral is not only a place of worship but also a repository of stories and memories that reflect the spirit of a bygone era. It stands as a testament to the resilience and cultural heritage of the region. As you explore its hallowed halls and contemplate its architectural splendor, you will be transported back in time, gaining a deeper appreciation for the historical significance of this iconic site.
A visit to the Grahamstown Cathedral is an opportunity to pay homage to the past, embrace the present, and be inspired by the enduring legacy of faith and community. Whether you are captivated by its architectural marvels, fascinated by its historical plaques, or simply seeking a moment of tranquility and reflection, the Grahamstown Cathedral promises an unforgettable experience for all who enter its sacred walls.
1820 Settlers National Monument
As you make your way towards Rhodes University in Grahamstown, your gaze will be drawn to a magnificent square structure perched atop the hill—the 1820 Settlers National Monument. This iconic monument serves as a tribute to the English settlers who arrived on African shores many years ago, leaving an indelible mark on the history and cultural fabric of the region.
The original monument was inaugurated in 1974, but tragically, it was engulfed by fire in 1994. However, through the dedication of the community, it was rebuilt, preserving the essence and spirit of the original structure. While some improvements were made, such as the addition of the Fountain Court Statue, the monument retains its historical significance and architectural charm.
The Fountain Court Statue, crafted from yellowwood, stands as a striking centerpiece within the monument. Its design incorporates elements that pay homage to the English settlers, with the scaffolding reflecting the iconic British flag. This intricate detail symbolizes the enduring connection between the settlers and their homeland while celebrating their courageous journey to a new land.
Beyond its commemorative role, the 1820 Settlers National Monument plays a vital role in the annual Grahamstown National Arts Festival. Serving as the anchor venue for this prestigious event, the monument becomes a vibrant hub of artistic expression and cultural celebration. With its ample space and grandeur, it offers a magnificent setting for performances, exhibitions, and gatherings, solidifying its position as one of the festival’s largest and most important venues.
Visiting the 1820 Settlers National Monument is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and heritage of the English settlers and their enduring impact on the region. As you explore its grounds and admire its impressive architecture, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the courage and resilience of those who ventured across the seas to forge a new life.
Whether you’re drawn to the monument for its historical significance, its role in the arts festival, or simply to revel in its awe-inspiring presence, a visit to the 1820 Settlers National Monument promises an enriching experience for all. Take a moment to reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and embrace the vibrant spirit of Grahamstown and its remarkable cultural heritage.
Whether you are a nature lover, a bird enthusiast, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, Makana Botanical Gardens offers an unforgettable experience. Discover the beauty of this historical landmark, be captivated by its diverse flora and fauna, and find solace in its serene atmosphere. A visit to Makana Botanical Gardens is sure to leave you with cherished memories and a deep appreciation for the wonders of nature.