6 South African museums with a twist

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 31 May 2012 Tags:, , ,

Does the thought of visiting a museum conjure up visions of ageing collections of yellowing parchments, rusting bedpans and dusty displays behind dirty glass? Visit these six South African museums for a unique trip down memory lane.


1. The Owl House
Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape

Inside this Karoo cottage, you’ll find walls covered with coloured glass, sculptures of camels and a lot of owls. Over 12 years Helen Martins created more than 300 concrete and glass sculptures in which owls are a recurring theme. Helen committed suicide in 1976 when she started to go blind and her home has since been declared a national monument.

Costs R35 a person. Tel 049-841-1733, email [email protected], www.theowlhouse.co.za.

2. Fred Turner Windmill Museum
Loeriesfontein, Northern Cape

Without windmills much of South Africa’s arid areas would have been uninhabitable. This museum, possibly the only one of its kind in the country, houses 30 windmills of all makes and sizes in an old school playground. Next door, you’ll find the Fred Turner Folk and Culture Museum, which has an interesting historical collection including an ox wagon. Entrance is free, but donations are welcome.

Tel 027-662-1023.

3. The Big Hole Complex
Kimberley, Northern Cape

By the time mining at Kimberley Mine ended in 1914, it had yielded 2 722 kilograms of diamonds. What remains is a massive crater surrounded by original buildings from the mining town’s heyday. View The Big Hole from a suspended observation post, experience an underground mine and see historic buildings. Costs R75 an adult, R45 a child or student and R55 a pensioner.

Access to the Old Town is free. Tel 053-830-4417, email [email protected], www.thebighole.co.za.

4. Cape Medical Museum
Cape Town, Western Cape

Get a sometimes-shocking glimpse into the world of medicine since the early 19th century. See a dispensary room filled with potion bottles dating back to the 20th century and learn about traditional medicines used by early hunter-gatherers. There’s also an exhibit dedicated to Christiaan Barnard who conducted the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Entrance is free, but donations are welcome. Tel 021-418-5663, email [email protected].

5. Apartheid Museum
Johannesburg, Gauteng

Prepare to be moved as you learn about the story of apartheid, a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination, through various multimedia exhibits, which include provocative fi lm footage, photos and artefacts. Visitors are welcome to make a recording of their experiences or donate items such as passbooks. Costs R60 an adult and R45 for pensioners, students and children.

Tel 011-309-4700, email [email protected] org, www.apartheidmuseum.org.

6. Pilgrim’s Rest

Step into the bygone era of the gold rush in this famous mining town, which is a national monument and living museum. All the buildings in the town have been restored to their former glory, including the corrugated-iron Royal Hotel and Alangade House Museum, which depicts the lifestyle of a typical miner. You can also go on a ghost tour and try your hand at panning for gold.

Tel 013-768-1060, email [email protected], www.pilgrims-rest.co.za.