It’s almost 100 days until the start of the 45th National Arts Festival, the biggest, busiest and most exciting celebration of the arts in South Africa. Running for 11 amazing days in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown), the Festival opens on the 27th of June with a programme aimed at entertaining, delighting and provoking audiences coming from all corners of the country and beyond.
You don’t want to miss out on this gathering of excellence — 99% of visitors to the Festival interviewed in a survey* said they would recommend the event to others. And, as Festival time is peak season in this small city, it’s a good idea to start putting your plans in place now.
Here are six things to do now to ensure you have a smooth, top-drawer Festival experience:
- Accommodation — Demand is high during the Festival, so you will need to secure your accommodation as soon as possible. There’s a wide range of places to stay — from from 5-star guest houses to more rustic backpacking and camping options. Check out the listings in the Festival’s hospitality guide, which is available from the website www.nationalartsfestival.co.za.
As Makhanda is situated close to the Sunshine Coast, you can combine a beach holiday with your Festival by staying in nearby Port Alfred (57km) or Kenton-On-Sea (59km), or Cannon Rocks and Boknes (72kms). If you’re on a budget, an option is to rent a house in one of these seaside towns to share with a group of friends or artists. Those interested in the history of the area can book into the Pig and Whistle Hotel in Bathurst, just 45km from town. Other options are game farms or farm stays. Contact Makana Tourism on [email protected] or 046 622 3241 for more info.
- Getting there — The closest airports to Makhanda are Port Elizabeth (130km) and East London (190km). You can hire a car or catch an affordable shuttle from PE Airport. Book now to take advantage of the best discounts and seats.
- Early Bird tickets — You can secure tickets to three hot shows already: the Irish comedian DYLAN MORAN, Brett Bailey’s spectacular SAMSON and the ever-delightful DRAKENSBERG BOYS CHOIR. Loads of other must-see shows will open for early bookings in the run-up to the Festival. Keep an eye on the Festival’s social media feeds for the latest news – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – and sign up to the Festival newsletter.
- Budget — Tickets to shows range in price from R30 to R150, but there are also free Fringe performances on the first day of the Festival, as well as other specials along the way, such as two-for-one performances. There are free buskers and public art performances, and all visual art exhibitions are free to enter. There are also the legendary free SAfm Sunset Concerts every evening at the Monument, where artists present previews of their shows to give audiences a taste of what to expect.
- Getting around – You don’t need a car in Makhanda as distances are relatively short and people are generous in sharing lifts. There are three-wheeler tuk-tuk rides and bike hire as options for those who don’t have cars. There’s also the Festival Hopper, which takes care of some of the steepest hills and remotest venues and is free to use (although tips are appreciated by the drivers).
- Make it a holiday — Explore the area before or after the Festival by visiting nearby Addo Elephant Park or one of the many luxury game reserves outside of town, many of which are home to the Big Five and are all malaria-free. Immerse yourself in the rich history of ‘Frontier Country’ by exploring the battle sites of the amaXhosa and British settlers.
There are some unusual challenges this year as the Eastern Cape is experiencing a severe drought in the province. A water plan is being effected by the National Arts Festival team to ensure there is sufficient safe, sustainable water available throughout the Festival. Visitors are advised to be water wise throughout their stay but, rest assured, the show will go on!
From theatre to dance and visual art to comedy, performance art, music and more, NAF2019 is a bubble of creativity that will leave you refreshed and inspired.
*The Social, Cultural and Economic Impact of the 2016 National Arts Festival by Snowball and Antrobus