Tag Archives: museum

Dinosaurs and Whales at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town (2017-08-20) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 14 SEP 2018

I pretend that any visit to a museum is for the benefit of my girls of course, but obviously that is very much a straight up lie – It is for me. Pretty much always. Case in point, I really really  wanted to see what the Iziko South African Museum, the national museum of South Africa, looks like nowadays. So off on a family outing we went.

Actually, given its location at the top of the Company’s Garden in Cape Town (where it has been located since 1897), a trip to the Iziko South African Museum always makes for a good family outing. You have the greenery, squirrels and nice eatery that comes with the Company’s Garden, the splendour of the various statues and memorials dotted about, the entertainment value that comes from a viewing at the now very impressive planetarium, and of course the wonder of the museum itself.

Founded by Lord Charles Somerset in 1825, the South African Museum started out as a general museum but later moved its focus to almost purely that of natural history, with a notion that very little divides the animal world from the human subjects it documents. In other words, there is a reason that there is relatively so little cultural history and material culture on display, despite this being a national museum!

The museum is organized on four levels, hosting a variety of exhibitions, from rock art to fossils, marine animals and meteorites. The ground level is home to “People past to present”, looking at aspects Southern African tribal history, “Karoo Fossils”, examining ancient dinosaur-like life in the Karoo region 250 million years ago, “World of Water”, depicting life in South Africa’s oceans, “Southern Oceans”, detailing animal life in the Subantarctic region, and the “Whale Well”, which features a unique collection of whale casts and skeletons – including a 20.5 meter long suspended blue whale skeleton that can be viewed from all floors.

(If there is one thing that I CAN remember as a kid going on all the museum bound school excursions, then it is most definitely that huge whale skeleton!)

Level 1 is home to “Sharkworld”, showcasing sharks, skates, rays and chimeras, “Our Place in the Universe”, a display depicting a cosmic zoom to view the universe on an ever-increasing scale, reaching back to almost the very beginning of the universe, “Meteorites”, three large iron meteorites, and of course the fantastic “Iziko Planetarium” (which I now really want to return to in order to watch an actual adult space themed feature following our viewing of the kiddy friendly “Tycho to the Moon”).

Level 2 showcases “Mammals”, “Birds”, “Wonders of Nature”, as well as the “History of the SA Museum”. It also houses a section entitled “Indigenous Knowledge”, which is a window on indigenous ways of using natural resources. Finally, level 3 is home to the “Stone Bones of the ancient Karoo” and focuses on the 250 million year old fossils from the Karoo. In other words, dinosaurs!

The museum is neat and tidy, the displays well looked after, the layouts great, and honestly put, I rather enjoyed the time strolling about. That said, the girls didn’t last very long before the “ugh, my legs are tired” moaning began, meaning that inevitably the visit was cut shorter than what it needed to be, ending with a grumpy dad stomping along in tow.

Next time I am going to lose the girls in the gardens with the squirrels I think.

P.S. That photo in the gallery above of Jessica running towards me? That’s her rushing over to tell me that a flock of the garden’s famous pigeons had just flown overhead and one of them had pooed on her leg! Extremely amusing and in the end, nothing that a bite to eat and some play time over at Deer Park Cafe couldn’t fix…

Related Link: Iziko South African Museum | The Company’s Garden | Cape Town

Vintage Steam Trains at the Outeniqua Transport Museum in George (2017-03-20) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 05 SEP 2018

If you are looking for the largest transport museum in South Africa, look no further than the Outeniqua Transport Museum in George, Transnet’s homage to the history of transport in South Africa, and indeed, the history of Transnet itself. It is also just so happens to be precisely where I dragged my eager (camera-toting) dad, hapless mom and poor old Jessica to back in March last year.

Housed in what is essentially a huge hangar, the museum is home to a wide variety of South African transport history, with exhibits acknowledging the work of South African Airways and the Transnet National Ports Authority, but most important of all, the rich railway history of the country.

There are about 20 vintage locomotives standing around the grounds, with highlights including the diminutive Emil Kessler, Johannesburg’s first steam locomotive, the Braamfontein to Boksburg Rand tram, coach number 50 of the White Train (used by the British Royal family during their visit to SA in 1947), and Paul Kruger’s distinctive bright green coach and private saloons.

In addition to the trains, there is a collection of transport related paintings and photos on display, as well quite a few exhibits showing off the silverware, cutlery and crockery from various periods of the transport industry. Then there are the vintage fire engines, old ambulances, reconstructed train stations and ticket offices, and a nicely varied collection of privately owned vintage and classic cars, also all housed under the singular massive roof of the museum.

Plus, in the event that you get a little bored/peckish while visiting, there is also a little coffee shop/restaurant on site, its gimmick of course being that you chow down whilst seated in a train carriage. (We sadly didn’t take advantage of this on the day.)

Another particularly nice find: Housed in the almost twenty year old Ken Wheeler Model Room is the Outeniqua Railway Society’s massive Outeniqua model train layout, reportedly the largest such model train layout in the Southern Hemisphere.

Loads of local landmarks are lovingly recreated and these little trains motoring about were by far the most interesting thing of the day as far a “ever so slightly bored by now” Jessica was concerned!

In truth, the museum can probably do with a bit of an update and upgrade, but that said, I found it and its contents thoroughly fascinating, with the museum making for an excellent outing if you are looking to escape the weather or outside bustle for what could be a good couple of hours (if you enjoy the subject matter).

I liked it.

Side Note: The awesome Outeniqua Power Van excursion departs from the museum – another highly recommended George tourist outing if you find yourself in the area!

Related Link: Outeniqua Transport Museum | Wikipedia | George

USA 2016 – 27 Balboa Park in San Diego (2016-07-19) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 09 AUG 2018

San Diego’s Balboa Park is just an absolutely amazing attraction. Honestly, even if you had a month dedicated to exploring every nook and cranny of this world of wonder, it still wouldn’t be enough. Home to 16 museums, 17 recognized gardens, a host of theaters and other attractions, and of course 1 world famous zoo, Balboa Park stands tall as something that any other city in the world would proudly to lay claim to.

Spanning a massive 1,200 acres of land, the rectangular-shaped Balboa Park was established in 1868 (then sized at 1,400 acres and known as “City Park”), marking San Diego as having been the second city in the United States to dedicate such a large park for public use (following New York City’s 1858 establishment of Central Park).

Originally a scrub-filled mesa, Balboa Park sat for 20 years without any formal landscaping or development taking place – it was only once botanist, horticulturalist and landscape architect Kate Sessions became involved that the park’s real beautification started.

This was accelerated in 1903 and once a city tax was levied in 1905, water systems, paths, and roads started to make their appearance, and in 1910 (with the prestigious 1915 Panama-California Exposition looming large for surprise host city San Diego) City Park was renamed to the more memorable Balboa Park – chosen in honour of Spanish-born Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first European to cross Central America and see the Pacific Ocean.

The 1915-16 exposition itself (which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal), as well as the later 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today. Many of the cultural institutions as well as stunning Spanish-Renaissance style architecture were introduced as part of these expos.

In terms of museums, Balboa Park simply can’t be beat, housing the likes of the Mingei International Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Art Institute, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, Timken Museum of Art, and keeping with San Diego’s strong ties to the U.S. Navy, the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center.

Then there is an as ridiculously long list of named gardens also to be found in Balboa Park, like the Alcazar Garden, Australian Garden, Botanical Building, Casa del Rey Moro Garden, Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve, Marston House Garden, Lily Pond, Palm Canyon, Trees for Health Garden, Veterans Memorial Garden, Zoro Garden, and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

As if that is already not enough natural beauty, history and culture to take in, Balboa Park further ups the ante with attractions like the vintage Balboa Park Carousel, Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, Balboa Stadium, Casa del Prado (home of San Diego Youth Symphony), House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego Mineral and Gem Society, Spanish Village Art Center, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Starlight Bowl, and the WorldBeat Cultural Center.

Then there is of course the world famous San Diego Zoo. (Which I naturally spent WAY too much time wandering about in!)

Johann and I started and ended our tour of San Diego aboard the excellent Old Town Trolley Tours bus in Balboa Park, but due entirely to time constraints, I sadly only got the smallest of tastes of this remarkable wonderland. Also, my phone was busy charging, meaning that instead of the usual gigantic image gallery that I should be posting here, this is all I have in my photos folder:

As I mentioned at the start of the post – you probably need at least a month to do this amazing creation justice in terms of exploring all of the cultural and historic riches on offer, and that said, honestly, it really isn’t that hard to understand just why Balboa Park is by far San Diego’s largest tourist attraction.

Related Link: Balboa Park | Wikipedia | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 25 A Tourist in Old Town San Diego (2016-07-19) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 03 AUG 2018

Historically home to the Kumeyaay people, then visited by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542 (and claimed for Spain), then settled in 1821 through the establishment of the Presidio and Mission San Diego de Alcalá (1769), then incorporated into Mexico (1821), and then finally part of the United States (1848) – basically put, San Diego has a fair bit of history behind it.

Our first hop off from the entertaining Old Town Trolley Tours Bus was in Old Town itself, or more specifically, in the Old Town San Diego Historic Park – a state protected historical park that commemorates the early days of the town of San Diego. Established in 1969 (and as of 2006 the most visited state park in California), Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is home to many historic buildings that date back to a period between 1820 and 1870.

(In case you are wondering, up until the 1860s, the Old Town area was the heart of San Diego, before it was all but abandoned in favour of concentrating activities at the site of present-day Downtown San Diego, primarily to be closer to the water and thus trade routes.)

The park preserves and recreates Old Town as it existed during the Mexican and early American periods, with five original adobes forming the heart of the complex – one of which being the Casa de Estudillo, which built in 1827 is one of the oldest surviving examples of Spanish architecture in California. It is also considered one of the finest houses in Mexican California.

Other historic buildings include a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, San Diego’s first newspaper office, a cigar and pipe store, houses and gardens, and a stable with a carriage collection.

In addition to all the period dress and demonstrations taking place, the park is filled with all manner of restaurants, shops and museums, with many skilled artisans setting up shop and applying their trade here.

In other words, the perfect tourist attraction.

Johann and I spent a fair bit of time popping our heads in most of the museums on offer, before hopping back on the bus as it headed up through Downtown San Diego on its way over to the impressive Coronado Bridge…

Related Link: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park | Old Town | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 21 The USS Midway Museum in San Diego (2016-07-18) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 22 JUL 2018

Following Johann’s and my stroll around the Cabrillo National Monument park, we next headed down to San Diego’s harbour district, with our sights firmly set on what was without a doubt the highlight of #USA2016 for me – a visit aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum.

Growing up I had an absolute fascination with military planes, spending hours sketching them, reading about them, building model kits of them – so essentially (thanks to the cornucopia of naval fighters on display) this was literally like walking into a little slice of heaven for me!

Decommissioned in the 1990’s, the USS Midway holds the distinction of being one of the United States of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers (1945-1992), having seen action in Vietnam, served in the western Pacific and played a part in Operation Desert Storm.

Now permanently moored at San Diego’s Navy Pier, the USS Midway is a dedicated museum ship, allowing you to explore (with the help of extensive audio guides) both inside and out, whilst also housing an extensive collection of exhibits that cover everything from the crew’s sleeping quarters to the primary flight control on the bridge.

My favourite part is of course the fact that the USS Midway is home to an extensive range of naval fighter planes, with a collection that includes all the iconic American fighters and support planes stretching all the way back to World War II.

Basically, Hornet, Phantom, Intruder, Dauntless, Corsair, Avenger, Panther – they literally have them all!

The whole experience was further enhanced by the fact that the ship is teeming with volunteer veterans, eager to impart their knowledge and point out facets that you might have missed or skimmed over. Heck, we even sat through a little session on the flightdeck where we were taken through the process of how they land fighters on the ship. (Incredibly interesting, though probably not a skill that I’ll ever need to master! :D)

It is a truly wonderful experience for anyone with even the slightest of interest in military matters and I seriously have no idea as to just how many hours I dragged Johann along with me as we wandered about the aircraft carrier – but I know that given the chance, I could easily spend the entire day there!

Well, well worth the price of admission.

It is no wonder then that the USS Midway is ranked as being the most popular naval warship museum in the whole of the United States!

Related Link: USS Midway Museum | USS Midway | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 20 Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego (2016-07-18) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 12 MAY 2018

One of the best views of San Diego’s harbour and skyline can be found at the Cabrillo National Monument – in fact, a clear day will actually give you a good view over a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Tijuana, and even Mexico’s Coronado Islands!

Situated at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California, the Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542 – the first time a European expedition had ever set foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States.

The first thing that greets you as you drive up into the national park is the fantastic Cabrillo Visitor Center, which in addition to its useful outdoor signage, viewing deck spots and smorgasbord of visitor information on hand, also sports a fantastically well done museum section, containing a fascinating array of carefully preserved items, information and interactive exhibits.

Then of course there is the unmissable limestone heroic statue of Cabrillo himself, a present to the USA from the Portuguese government. The original statue which was handed over by the Portuguese ambassador in 1938 was executed by sculptor Alvaro de Bree, with it weighing in at 6,400 kg and measuring 4.3 m in height.

However, weathering as a result of its exposed position dictated that the original sandstone model needed to eventually be replaced, and so in 1988 the (still striking) limestone replica that you see on site today made its appearance.

Interesting fact: During World War II the original Cabrillo Monument site was completely off-limits to the public thanks to the Point Loma Peninsula’s reservation for military purposes (San Diego is strategically incredibly important to the United States Navy), but this worked out well in the end – following the war, the national monument’s area was significantly enlarged thanks to work by both presidents Eisenhower and Ford.

Standing at around 57 hectares in size, the Cabrillo National Monument is also home to a number of other fascinating points of interest, like the Old Point Loma Lighthouse – one of the oldest lighthouses to ever operate on the West Coast of the United States of America.

And while this particular lighthouse now operates as a walk-in museum attraction only, just down the hill is the still very much in operation New Point Loma Lighthouse as well. There there are also the old gun batteries and retired radio station that houses an interesting the military history of the area exhibition.

In terms of nature activities, there are a number of short trails throughout the Cabrillo National Monument, including the popular two-mile long Bayside Trail that takes you through one one of the last remaining remnants of coastal sage scrub habitat in the world. It also in the process gives you spectacular views of Sand Diego Bay and the city beyond, Ballast Point (where Cabrillo landed), sandstone cliffs, and if the season is right, even some snow on the tops of the mountains!

The Coastal Tidepool Trail on the other hand takes you along its winding path down to the rocky intertidal area of the monument – which is incidentally one one of the best-protected and most easily accessible of rocky intertidal areas in southern California. Given the incredibly diverse and thriving animal communities to be found in the tidal pool area, this section also then happens to be one  of the more interesting spots of the park to pay a visit to.

Oh, and as if all this wasn’t yet enough, given its high elevation, the Cabrillo National Monument is also a brilliant whale watching spot – the perfect place in fact to watch migrating Gray Whales pass by from December through February!

So pretty hard not to include this as one of the many tourist things to do here in San Diego then!

Related Link: Cabrillo National Monument | Wikipedia | San Diego | #USA2016

The Springbok Experience Rugby Museum in Cape Town (2017-05-11) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 01 APR 2018

As a treat to myself for my birthday, I paid a solo visit to the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum down in the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town last year May. It was my first time visiting the rugby museum, and honestly, if you are a long time South African rugby fan then this place will blow you socks off.

First things first – this is a museum experience unlike any other that I’ve experienced before.

The concept is that of an interactive, audio-visual driven experience, with the museum building being split into essentially 3 major sections – the Springbok memorabilia/rugby shop, the skill games section (perfect for you and your kids to have some rugby themed fun), and the the main and most important bit – the actual self-guided museum walk, which forces you along a path that talks, lights up and seeks to inform you with every step of the way.

You start at the very beginning, learning about how the game reached our shores, how it grew into a club level activity, and from there how it progressed from amateur to professional, from local to world class along the way.

Pleasingly, the museum does not shy away from difficult topics like the black smudge of Apartheid and race relations in general, and in fact, forces you as  visitor to understand exactly just how ridiculous and hurtful this dark mark on our shared history really was.

Visually the museum is stunning, running its bold yellow and green motif throughout the displays, with important figures and moments highlighted with stunning monochromatic mannequin displays.

Trophies, uniforms, pamphlets and photos, the museum has a treasure trove of South African rugby memorabilia that stretches throughout South Africa’s rugby playing history on display.

Larger than life inspirational quotes aside, just about every information panel you encounter comes with either a voice over effect, button to press, screen to watch, or tactile experience to digest – meaning that if you really want to, you can easily make a walk through this museum last longer than what your wife would spend in a well-stocked Woolworths store on one of its 50% off everything sale days.

(Technically, my wife doesn’t do this, but from what I understand you could be sitting on a bench that entire day if she has her good credit card in hand).

The experience itself ends off with a video screening in a small, darkened amphitheater, the result of which is you exiting through the final door beaming with pride at being a South African rugby fan. (Or at least that is exactly how I felt after making my way through the experience).

Hats off to SARU and the team that set this experience up then – if you are a Springboks fan, and have yet to visit this remarkable ode to SA rugby, then this should definitely be on your list of things to do in Cape Town!

P.S. Handy Tip: That amphitheater is super dark, so beware the step up to the viewing bench. Otherwise you’ll repeat the swift tuck and roll maneuver that I performed once the final film credit had rolled…

Related Link: The Springbok Experience Rugby Museum | Cape Town

Model Trains and Old Dolls at the Toy and Miniature Museum in Stellenbosch (2017-09-16) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 03 NOV 2017

Tucked in among all the old period buildings that form the backbone of the Stellenbosch Museum complex is a rather fascinating little find – hidden around a corner and housed in a beautiful classic Cape Dutch style home is the Stellenbosch Toy and Miniature Museum, home to an eclectic mixture of vintage toys from days long past.

Inside the small museum you’ll find a large collection of antique toys and collectibles for both boys and girls, with some of the dolls on show for example being more than a century old!

The first thing that you’ll see on entry is a large doll house that is actually a replica of the neo-classical, double story, flat roofed Georgian style manor house of the Uitkyk Wine Estate on the outskirts of Stellenbosch.

The doll house is fully furnished with accurate, to scale dolls, furniture and household wares from the period, similar to the items that you would find in the old house museums that make up the Stellenbosch Village Museum.

Also, as you would expect given the amount of times these things show up in horror movies, a lot of the old dolls are pretty creepy looking – meaning that neither the girls nor I spent too much time looking at any of them!

There are loads of dinky toys, cuddly bears, tea sets, doll houses, room boxes, and model trains to browse through, though of course the most exciting of all is when you spot something that you yourself may have owned or played with when you were young – like this translucent brown United piggy bank that I fondly remember stashing all my coins into back when I was a young boy!

The small toy museum’s biggest attraction is however is its detailed model train build, depicting South Africa’s famous Blue Train and its journey from a miniature Stellenbosch through the Cape Winelands and over the mountains to the Karoo, passing Matjiesfontein before making its return back to the fertile grounds of Stellenbosch again.

(A simple R5 coin is all you need to set the train off, and without a doubt this was by far the best part – and probably only bit they liked – of our visit for the girls!)

The museum isn’t particularly large and you could easily breeze through it in a couple of minutes. However, if you take your time to work through some of the rather interesting exhibits, then you can most definitely while away a bit of time as you dip back into some fond memories of your own youth.

Honestly, the toy museum is not the greatest of activities when it comes to entertaining one’s kids, but as an adult I did rather enjoy the trip down memory lane.

(Oh, and if you are wondering about that last photo which appears to be a shot of a bowl of chocolate pudding with ice cream, well that is exactly what it is. Thanks Mom!)

Related Link: Stellenbosch Toy Museum

Tycho to the Moon at the Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome in Cape Town (2017-08-20) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 24 OCT 2017

The Iziko Museums of Cape Town (Iziko is isiXhosa for “hearth”) is an amalgamation of 12 national museums located near the Cape Town city centre. The Natural History sphere consists of the venerable Iziko South African Museum (founded in 1825) and, most pertinent to this particular blog post, the Iziko Planetarium, a project technically launched in the late 1950s, but which only became relevant to the public after the 1987 installation of the Planetarium’s star machine.

Built as an extension to the aforementioned Iziko South African Museum, the Planetarium is a familiar fixture for any of Cape Town’s former schoolkids – I’m not aware of any scholar that didn’t experience an school outing to the planetarium at least once during their school career!

Of course, as it inevitable does, technical equipment becomes outdated, and as such, after investments totaling R28,5 million were poured into the upgrade project, May 2017 saw the reopening of the new Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome (the planetarium’s new, official moniker), now extensively updated and most important of all, featuring cutting edge fulldome digital technology.

The result is beyond spectacular. The new Planetarium is now what is known as a “world-class digital fulldome theatre”, allowing for multimedia image projection and data visualisation on a scale not previously seen in Africa.

Apart from now being able to present interactive teaching and visual learning across multiple disciplines (essentially, there is now no reason that the Planetarium is solely focused on the field of astronomy), the biggest takeaway for this state of art digital dome is the fact that the Planetarium is now also very much an scientific instrument – capable of crunching and displaying complex and important data visualizations, exactly like those produced by the exciting SKA (Square Kilometre Array) project for example!

That said, I have a 3 year old and 6 year old daughter – meaning that our first experience of this glorious new piece of technology was a viewing of Tycho to the Moon – a supposedly educational, Australian produced 21 minute long feature about a dog and his kids that travel to the moon.

Spoiler, while the girls did enjoy the experience as a whole, Tycho to the Moon itself isn’t very good and kids seem to get bored of it VERY quickly.

The adverts for the other science show offerings, not to mention the star/universe gazing segment tacked on by our operator at the end of the show, were on the other hand ENTHRALLING – so definitely a return trip to the Planetarium for both Chantelle and myself is now VERY much in order!

Given the fact that the planetarium stands as part of the museum, with the Company’s Garden right on its doorstep, there is no way that this shouldn’t be on your list of things to do with kids in Cape Town.

Related Link: Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome | Iziko Museums of Cape Town