Wipe away the cobwebs and prepare to dive into the past that shaped the development and growth of the vibrant city of Port Elizabeth. From the heartache of forced removals through to the expansion of the automotive industry, an assortment of museums in the city reflect eclectic culture and inspiring history.
South End was once the epicentre of cultural diversity in Port Elizabeth, where children of all races played together in the street and mosques stood by Hindu temples and Christian churches. The implementation of the Group Areas Act in 1948 changed this harmonious neighbourhood forever, as non-whites were forcibly removed from South End. Travel through this poignant and heart-wrenching time in South African history at the South End Museum, showcasing through old newspaper clippings, audio recordings and other interactive media the horrors of the forced removals in South End in a deeply moving experience.
The AutoPavilion is a place of cars and legends, and takes visitors on a full-throttle journey through Volkswagen (VW) cars that defined the past and those that inspire the future. The multi-million centre features state-of-the-art technology to showcase the evolution of VW, beginning with the Beetle, the first car ever to be produced by this auto manufacturer, right through to the zippy and contemporary sports cars of today. Awesome special effects and interactive displays make this one show that motor lovers will not want to miss. Free guided tours begin at 9am every morning and advance booking is recommended.
Flying enthusiasts, or even anyone who rates Top Gun as one of their all-time favourite movies, will get a kick out of the Port Elizabeth branch of The South African Air Force Museum, which displays a host of impressive and super-flying machines. Among the aircrafts on display are a supersonic jet fighter, two of the famous Harvard trainers, and an assortment of helicopters. There is a collection of aircraft memorabilia, models and pictures in the main exhibition hall, while the renovated World War II hanger is an on-going restoration site where visitors can watch a team of dedicated enthusiasts restore old aircrafts.
Although not listed as a museum, the Cape Recife Lighthouse is an iconic Port Elizabeth landmark that should not be missed. It was commissioned on April 1, 1851 and climbs 24 metres (78 feet) into the sky, warning passing vessels of the dangerous Thunderbolt reef that lies nearby. The refurbished interior of the striking black-and-white masonry tower can be viewed by arrangement and bookings can be made through the Pine Lodge Holiday Resort reception desk. The lighthouse is situated in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve, renowned for its natural beauty and bird life. Call +27 41 583 4004 for bookings.
The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum houses an impressive collection of South African art and crafts, with an emphasis on art that reflects the history and character of the Eastern Cape. The three exhibition halls are re-hung throughout the year and the museum aims to provide a source of inspiration that will make a difference in people’s lives. Collections include Africana, oil works dating back to 1790-1890; Art of the Eastern Cape; contemporary works in all media; and arts and crafts of the Southern Nguni people, indigenous to the Eastern Cape.
Taking centre stage in Port Elizabeth’s Market Square is the Port Elizabeth City Hall, a grand old lady that has managed to stand the test of time. Originally built between 1858 and 1862, the building was graced with a magnificent clock tower over 20 years later. Although it was ravaged by a fire in 1977, it was subsequently rebuilt and restored in a manner that honoured its historical importance and original architectural beauty. Nearby is a replica of the Dias Cross Memorial, erected to recognise Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz’s arrival in Algoa Bay.
No 7 Castle Hill | Courtesy of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism
The quaint cottage that is No 7 Castle Hill is one of the oldest surviving settler cottages in Port Elizabeth and was opened as a museum in 1965. With an attractive black-and-white exterior, the house take visitors back to the mid-19th century, with beautiful, yellow wood floors and cottage pane windows. The cottage was once the residence of Reverend Francis McCleland and his family, and the fully equipped kitchen is rather impressive, as is the doll’s house and the well, where water can still be collected.
Just outside of Port Elizabeth and in the neighbouring town of Uitenhage is the Old Railway Station Museum. This pretty Victorian building is believed to be one of the oldest railway stations in South Africa and proudly displays two vintage steam locomotives, as well as coaches, vintage rail equipmentand period furniture. Initially called ‘The Doll’s House’ due to its size, the station was abandoned in 1951 when a larger station was built. It has since been restored and declared a National Monument.
The Drostdy Museum was once the Uitenhage magistrate’s house and was built in 1809. The construction of the building was commissioned by General Jacob Glen Cuyler, one of Uitenhage’s founders, sent to South Africa by the British military. Inside there are various displays of toys, porcelain and clothing, as well as an old archive library. The exhibits highlight the industrial development of the town from 1809 onward, and there is also an extensive collection of artefacts reflecting the culture and lives of the indigenous communities that stayed in the area before the British settlers arrived.