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FFrom huge whale skeletons that float in the air and an eccentric pipe collection, to all manner of snakes, and a cannon recovered from a famous shipwreck – not to mention an exciting outdoor dinosaur display where the exhibits ‘come alive’ – the Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld in Eastern Cape province caters for a whole family’s tastes and preferences.
The Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld had decidedly lacklustre beginnings back in 1856, when few of the town’s 7 000 residents could be bothered with historical collections. However, 50 years later, a firecracker museum director called Mr FW Fitzsimons turned it into a dynamic space.
Suddenly, the formerly fast-asleep and run-down museum was offering intriguing exhibitions of live snakes and something called a ‘magic lantern show’ – silent movies in their early stage, complete with a piano player providing the sound track from the side of the room.
In fact, the snakes were so popular that a dedicated Snake Park was built on the new museum grounds and the first handler became a bit of a legend. Snakes bit him at least once a year, yet he stayed in that job for three decades until old age claimed his life.
Then it was decided that a seal pool should be built on the premises. But as lovely and sleek as a moustachioed seal can be, he is also a bit of a smelly fellow – and likes to bicker and bark a lot. The locals living around the museum objected so bitterly to the noise and smells coming from the Seal Pool that they went to court and had the creatures ousted from the museum.
Today, the Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld is no less intriguing. Its exhibits include 1908-era dinosaur models and 1928 human anatomical models, one of the cannons brought up from the wreck of the Sacramento, bones of whales, an array of smoking pipes, historical outlines of the San and the Khoi and a memorable recreation of the very large herbivorous dinosaur called the Algoasaurus.
Outside is a Dinosaur Park, where the exhibits occasionally move and groan, to the delight of the children playing around them. And then there’s the Snake Park section, ever popular, complete with turtles, terrapins, a large array of safely stored snakes and a rather baleful-looking crocodile in its enclosure.
Behind the scenes at the Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld is probably where the real action is. That’s the rather impressive series of research projects constantly on the go, ranging from investigations into various aspects of marine life, to snake studies, to projects focusing on marine archaeology, including the many shipwrecks along the coastline of Eastern Cape province.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld
Tel: +27 (0)41 584 0650
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Tel: +27 (0)41 378 1486
Mobile: +27 (0)72 358 4634
Tel: +27 (0)41 585 6162
Mobile: +27 (0)83 303 7553
How to get here
If you’re driving on the N2, look out for the Settlers Way offramp, which will lead you to Beach Road in Humewood. Continue along Beach Road for approx. 2km until you reach Bayworld, which will be on your right.
Things to do in the area
If it’s a hot, sunny day, why not go out and enjoy the beautiful local beaches? To discover other attractions in the area, try Alan Tours for day trips outside Port Elizabeth and Calabash Tours for cultural trips to the local townships.
What to pack
Port Elizabeth has a mild climate, with 6 to 8 days of rain expected every month. Even in the winter months of June to August, temperatures seldom dip below 10⁰C at night, with daily highs around 21⁰C. In February, the height of summer, temperatures peak at around 27⁰C on most days. But whatever you choose to wear, make sure it’s well fastened: Port Elizabeth isn’t known as ‘the Windy City’ for nothing! And don’t forget the sun protection outdoors; when a cool wind is blowing, many travellers don’t realise just how fierce the African sun can be.
If you’re with a guide, all the better. However, this is a museum where you can walk about unassisted and still get full value.
What will it cost
Entry fees: adults R25, children R15, students and pensioners R20.
Length of stay
Set aside 2-3 hours for your visit to the museum.
Where to stay
The Humewood area has plenty of good accommodation – check the listed Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism website for details.
What to eat
You’re minutes away from some of the province’s best seafood restaurants in the suburb of Summerstrand.
Check the Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism website for events and special occasions happening during the time of your visit.