December 1956 saw the opening of the Blue Train in Mouille Point, and 60+ years later, the old girl is still running strong, now the last surviving South African beachfront miniature railway attraction still in action.
With the gorgeous Cape Town backdrop of Lion’s Head, Signal Hill and Table Mountain to the one side, and the splashing ocean waves of the promenade on the other, The Blue Train Park is home to the famous “Old Lady” mini blue train, a mini-skate park, cement push bike track, zip line, climbing rock, multiple jungle gyms, obstacle courses and even a small astro turf soccer pitch – basically more than enough to keep any visiting kids super entertained for quite a while!
To be honest, I don’t know if we ourselves visited this spot as kids, but I do know that my girls had an absolute blast being introduced to this iconic Cape Town kiddies attraction. Even more so after the train conductor let them sit up front and ‘drive’ the train around its track!
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Oh, and we were rather chuffed to bump into Jack Parow of all people during our visit. Turns out the Blue Train Park is super popular to host children’s birthday parties at!
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.
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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!
Ah, the brightly coloured Victorian bathing boxes of St. James Beach. What Cape Town travel blog could truly call themselves local without including at least one post detailing this internationally recognised view, right?
St. James itself is a suburb of Cape Town, situated alongside the Atlantic Ocean on the shores of False Bay, tucked away between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay. As with a lot of old Cape Town suburbs, St James is constrained to a piece of land that is sandwiched between a rocky shore and the steep slopes of a mountain.
Deriving its name from the early St James Catholic Church (built around 1880), the majority of the current suburb was built between 1910 and 1950, following the completion of the railway line that connected Cape Town to False Bay.
(Incidentally, this line remains the most scenic train ride that you can catch in Cape Town today).
The main attraction for the area is of course St James beach, a lovely sheltered spot that provides a welcome break from the westerly winds, centered around a large man-made tidal pool that provides a splash free seawater experience that is perfect for families with kids.
The small stretch of sand quickly makes way for some fantastic naturally formed rock pools, perfect for observing small pockets of ocean life, and for added excitement, every now and then sees a train pass by right above your head!
And then there is of course the iconic row of little Victorian bathing boxes to provide a brilliant burst of colour to the scene.
In order to reach the beach you need to either cross underneath the railroad line using one of the the railway tunnels near the old train station, or you could perhaps take the enjoyable stroll along the lovely St James walkway which stretches all the way from St James beach to Surfers’ Corner, Muizenberg.
So, pretty much all the ingredients needed for a nice, free to enter, family friendly weekend visit then.
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(Seeing as I’m more of a Helderberg basin, Overstrand and Stellenbosch Winelands travel blog these days, this just so happens to be my very first post featuring the famous St. James beach – though to be fair I have had the brightly coloured bathing boxes synonymous with Muizenberg’s Surfers’ Corner appear on these pages before!)
The atmosphere is laid back, there is always chill music on the go, you have the openness that comes from being situated in Central Park, you are surrounded by the gorgeous modern architecture that makes up Century City, and most important of all, this always feels like a market that is catering directly for families as opposed to just trying to look cool.
That said, it is a little sad to see the market in its current shrinking form. The number of stall holders is definitely and very noticeably diminishing, which is a pity because as the stall holders become less in number and thus less diverse in offerings, so too does the number of visitors also eventually drop.
Nevertheless, there is still more than enough life in the market, as the girls and I found out for ourselves with an impromptu trip through to Century City at the end of January.
As expected, the music was good, the mini train ride lots of fun, the dog show via Dogz Cool entertained the kids, and all those little treats like hand-folded ice cream, fudge and millionaire’s shortbread delicious!
Not a bad way for the girls and I to start off a day that would eventually see us slumming with the Ostriches down at the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch!
(Naturally, I greatly annoyed the girls by taking pictures at every opportunity that it occurred to me to do so! These are some of the better ones that I decided to hold on to…)
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As always, a handy map:
Related Link: Century City Natural Goods Market
I love the fact that we have a proper duck pond as a municipal park here in Strand. The appropriately named Dam Park is situated right across from the Strand High School and offers a nice green space in the middle of Strand suburbia.
There is a playground to the side of the dam with an array of colourfully painted swings, a climbing frame, a roundabout, and a slide – you know, all the basics – as well as an old tractor and plinth mounted steam train. (Which stinks at the moment thanks to some homeless person deciding that it would be great to use as a bathroom. Disgusting!)
We used to in the past visit the dam fairly often in order to feed the ducks (like literally everyone else in the area) and watch the locals occasionally try their hand at catching a dam fish or two, but seeing feeding ducks is now seen as not quite the correct thing to be doing (population and invasive species control reasons mainly), we drop by there far less than what we used to in the beginning.
The water levels of the dam itself on the day that we visited was surprisingly high – much higher than what I had anticipated (considering the drought conditions we are currently experiencing), but quite probably because of the one or two surprise days of rain we had experienced earlier in January.
With Chantelle stuck at work, the girls and I spent some time playing around (they even got me to climb to the top of the climbing frame with them), before we eventually got bored and convinced Chantelle to join us for some lunch at play time at the Gordon’s Bay Spur during her break.
It was a good plan.
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Also, a map in case your kids bug you to go and look at some ducks.
Related Link: Facebook Page
I spotted on Facebook that the Century City Natural Goods Market was at last kicking off for the 2016 Summer Season, and seeing as we had in the past spent quite a few Sundays selling cupcakes there as part of the Chantelle’s Cupcakery food markets phase a couple of years back, I was eager to head out that way and catch some of that good old nostalgia vibe.
Getting the girls on board was remarkably easy of course – just one mention of the Temperance Flyer mini train being at the market was more than enough to have them jumping up and down with excitement!
As always, the market was being held on the big green circular Central Park in the heart of Century City, right next to Railroad Square and of course Intaka Island.
The main trading action was all taking place under a large central Bedouin tent, with the other food trucks/trailers being accommodated along the wings of the market space. There was plenty of shaded seating and tables available (all very popular due to the great Summer’s weather on the day), with live music coming courtesy from the talented Capetonian singer Ryan Kidwell (former front man of the reggae outfit The Little Kings).
For the kids, there was a magic show courtesy of family magician Magic Nick (which sadly we missed due to arriving too late), a jumping castle, a zorb orb, and of course the Temperance Flyer train!
Interestingly enough though, and I’m not sure if it is just because it was the first market of the Summer Season or perhaps an indication of something else, the market certainly seemed a LOT smaller than what it used to be in terms of the number of traders on the day.
Sadly, this then meant that there wasn’t a heck of a lot of cool/interesting food choices on offer (like say what you might find at the bigger market cousins like the massive Root 44 or Lourensford), but nevertheless, we all managed to find something that we liked and in the end had a good morning soaking up the great sun, music and vibe that one can only get from coming to an outdoor market like this!
(So, maybe worth jotting down, but come the evening of the 7th December from 4 to 9pm, they will be having their first ever Summer Night Market which could be pretty cool to attend as well!)
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Having enjoyed our time spent at the Century City Natural Goods Market then, we next headed down the road to the gigantic Canal Walk shopping mall, literally the first time in years since I’ve last been there. (We don’t come through to this side of Cape Town much in case you were wondering!)
It is as always, an easy on the eye shopping centre, one of the nicest in terms of both architecture and design, though we didn’t have all that much time to admire our surroundings because Chantelle was pretty much focussed entirely on one very important mission – locating the newly opened Lindt boutique chocolate store ASAP!
Seventh heaven for any lover of Lindt let me tell you, especially because you can buy flavours there that you can’t normally find on the retailer shelves. (Amazingly enough, Chantelle actually shared her Lindt haul with both the girls and myself. Talk about true love! :P)
(Oh, she wanted to check out Dunkin’ Donuts as well, but they were far too busy for us to be bothered with trying their stuff out. Plus, I was rather pleased to see that Baskin Robbins is hitting South Africa in the near future as well. I LOVED checking out all their ice cream flavours during my Japan 2014 trip!).
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Anyway, here’s a handy map to Central Park if you want to catch the next Century City Natural Goods Market!
We used to head out and feed the ducks at Dam Park in Strand (just opposite Strand High School) quite often when Jess was still a baby, but in recent years we’ve kind of slowed down on doing that for some or other reason. (Maybe the fact that it has become socially unacceptable to feed ducks bread has had something to do with it?)
Anyway, Sunday saw Chantelle working, and so not wanting to waste the wonderful sunny Winter weather of the day (and also not really being in the mood for the last day of this year’s Winter Wonderland Festival – which we sadly completely missed out on by the way), I rounded up the girls and headed out towards Strand to the duck pond for a bit of a play and walkabout session.
Obviously, the girls were overjoyed at the prospect, and pretty soon the two of them were darting between all the play equipment, making sure not to miss any in the process!
The old, colourful tractor and train remains the biggest hits of course, a problem because Emily is way too small to clamber all over those by herself yet – which of course she simply HAS to do, seeing as big sister Jess is doing it!
We spent a good amount of time playing on all the equipment, and even Teddy got roped into the fun!
We ended off the session with a leisurely stroll around the dam, watching the ducks and Egyptian geese, and of course taking selfies – because just like any other little girl, Jessica really seems to enjoy having her picture taken!
Visiting the Dam Park here in Strand never really disappoints, and is always great if you are looking for something local to do that doesn’t require you to open your wallet. (Plus, it was really nice to see the dam back to its fuller level – the last time I was here it was halfway empty!)
We had some time to kill in the general area because we were meeting up with Chantelle, Retha and Miguel a little later at the mall in order to say goodbye and wish them well for their upcoming Camino de Santiago (St. James Path) pilgrimage adventure in Spain.
Teddy wanted a milkshake, burger and chips, so we popped into McDonalds Waterstone for that, and after spending some time there, we headed up into the hills of Somerset West in search for more public park spaces.
As luck would have it, we stumbled across this one brilliant wooden jungle gym at the bottom of a sloped grass patch with perhaps the most magnificent view any play park is capable of having.
Talk about a swing with a view! :)
Here are the rest of the photos that I happily snapped on what turned out to be a very pleasant, sunny Winter’s day out with my girls:
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I’ve already mentioned that back in March, Chantelle, the girls and I enjoyed a brilliant weekend away break with my folks at their holiday place in Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay. What I haven’t yet talked about was the great Saturday afternoon outing that saw us enjoy a leisurely, scenic drive out to George, where we paid a visit to the tourist friendly Redberry Farm.
Redberry Farm is both a commercial strawberry growing farm and a popular family entertainment venue and as such makes for a perfect family outing if you’ve got a bunch of little ones running around.
There are loads of activities for the kids to do, including pony rides, bumper and paddle boats, bubble orbs, jungle gyms, and even a mini Redberry Express train, which takes kids for a quick spin around the maze.
Talking about the maze, Redberry Farm is also home to the Hedge Maze, the largest permanent hedge maze in the Southern Hemisphere! Grown from over 30,000 Syzygium Paniculatum plants, the maze consists of seven strawberry stations, a 25m underground tunnel and a look-out point to be found within 10,000m of pathways.
Oh, and don’t forget about the strawberry picking either!
The premises also include a fantastic farm stall and tea garden, as well as the Red Shed Coffee & Berry Bar, which serves a variety of treats.
As you may well by now imagine, Jessica and Emily had an absolute blast of an outing, and I have to say, so did I. A genuinely fantastic family outing spot that I’m sure I’ll be visiting again the next time I find myself up in the area!
Some more photos from the excursion:
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P.S. The food on offer was pretty good as well!
Related Link: Redberry Farm
Umekoji Park is a large green space in rather crowded Kyoto, and thus quite popular with the locals. Of course, the newly built (2012) aquarium took quite a bite out of the space, but I have to say that as tourists, Ryan and I kind of enjoyed the new attraction.
Next up for us though was something a little less nature and a lot more man-made – Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum was beckoning from literally next door!
The Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum was opened in 1972 on the 100th anniversary of the start of railway operation in Japan.
At the center of the museum is a 20-track roundhouse built in 1914. It was built surrounding a turntable, and houses and exhibits the preserved locomotives. The roundhouse is an Important Cultural Property designated by the government of Japan as the oldest reinforced-concrete car shed extant in Japan.
The former Nijo Station House is the oldest wooden railway station in Japan. The station house was built in 1904 and also served as the main office for the Kyoto Railway Company, a private railway in operation at that time. In 1997 the station house was relocated to the museum site as a railway cultural asset, where it is now used as the entrance way and display hall for the museum.
Although Ryan and I didn’t hop on for the short 1 km trip in a steam locomotive, we thoroughly enjoyed browsing all the displays and artifacts in the station house museum, before moving on to the outside area to admire the 19 steam locomotives on display – all lovingly restored, cared for and in working order!
The beasts are pretty magnificent in their own right, and each with their own bit of history attached.
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That said though, I kind of forgot that steam locomotives were generally all painted black. Which means that visually, this wasn’t the most exciting of things that we had come across in Japan!
Note: Turns out that we were pretty lucky to see this after all. The museum has subsequently been closed, in the process of a major construction overhaul which will add a massive footprint and a whole lot more trains – including a couple of shinkansen (bullet trains).
From a Japanese news article:
“The opening date for one of the largest train museums in Japan has been set for April 29 2016, West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) announced Wednesday.
The Kyoto Railway Museum, being developed on a 30,000-sq.-meter site, will exhibit a total of 53 locomotives and train cars it inherited from the former Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, which was on the same site, and the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka, which is also closed.”
Related Link: Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum