The History of The Baakens Valley

Have you ever driven around Port Elizabeth annoyed?  “Why do I have to drive all the way around to get to the 3rdAvenue dip or Brickmaker’s just to get to the other side of town?  Why can’t there just be development all the way through”. Come, let us take you on a journey through time so that you can get to know more about this beautiful land that you have to drive around daily.

Where It Began

Water will always be a reason for people to move and habitat an area. The Dutch arrived in 1787 and were after the fresh water that the Baakens Valley had to offer.  They also enjoyed the shelter it gave in the bay. The Dutch were not the first residents of the area, however. The Khoisan were the first people who lived off the land, hunted game and gathered food. Soon after the Dutch arrived, the British troops had taken possession of the Lower Baakens Valley in 1799 and they had various encounters with Xhosa, Khoisan and Dutch farmers known as the Trekboers who too were trying to establish themselves in the area.

The 1820 Settlers were not far behind and set themselves up on Algoa Bay, just north of the Baakens River. The river was used as one of the most important resources, which also formed a laundry in the area known as Brickmakers Kloof.  This part of the river eventually became a popular place to go swimming and boating.

Development in Port Elizabeth

As the years went by Port Elizabeth saw dramatic change. The Lower Baakens became Main Street, which we know as Govan Mbeki Avenue.  This is where the inner city began to develop. The city was completely connected by the river and the sea. Did you know that The Tramways Building – where the Goodnight Market takes place – was built in 1897, in the middle of a flood plain but it has remained intact since it was built?  The river that fed the sea in South End was mostly inhabited by fishermen and was used as an essential part of their daily lives.

In the early twentieth century, botanical gardens were flourishing around Port Elizabeth with exotic plants and birds being introduced into a more vegetation landscape, today we know it as Settlers Park.

More Than A Running Trail

Now that you’ve learnt a little history, let’s get into the real reason you are here! The Lower Guinea Fowl Trail. This trail is located between the 3rdAvenue Dip in Newton park and it follows the river down to Settlers Park right to Brickmakers Kloof. The trail follows the Baakens River through a steep-sided valley, taking you through the city’s suburbs. The source of the Baakens River is situated in Hunters Retreat and flows a lengthy 23km where it reaches its mouth at the Port Elizabeth Harbour.

There is so much to see on The Lower Guinea Fowl Trail. There is a knife-edge spur that protrudes into the valley from Linkside, where a boardwalk descends into the boundary of Dodd’s Farm, which can also be used to access the trail by 9thAvenue. The well-known Bat’s Cave is located on the Dodd’s Farm River crossing before a beautiful veld appears that you walk through from old Trollip’s Farm to Target Kloof. But wait, there is more. Feel like you are on top of the world when you visit Wellington Park, here you will have a panoramic view of The Baakens Valley. The trail route through Settlers Park, gives you the opportunity to look up at the High Lovers Rock, which is home to a rare peregrine falcon. Feel like you are part of nature while you run the trail and be on the lookout for guinea-fowl, peafowl, mountain tortoise, dassies and maybe even see a mongoose. If you are lucky, you could also see grysbok and the beautiful Knysna Lourie.

So, next time you feel yourself becoming annoyed about having to drive all the way around the Valley, spend some time thinking about these interesting facts and appreciate the drive.


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