Port Elizabeth. My old hometown. A thriving little metropolis nestled against the long arm of the South African South Coast. There’s much a tourist could do there.
The real question is: What’s an old local to do in Nelson Mandela Bay when returning for a short holiday that’s child-friendly?
Are there lesser-known attractions? Small, meet-the-local-historian hotspots? Places with the personality of an old battle scar, healed but nonetheless a reminder that once the world was not as it is now.
Amidst The Dad’s avalanche of half-baked ideas, visiting the SAAF Museum was different. The little, nondescript building surrounded by bush on the Southern side of P.E. International Airport seemed unlikely to yield a return in entertainment, but boy was I wrong.
First of all, entry is free, a donation is requested instead.
It’s also difficult not to notice the GIANT FIGHTER JETS on the museum floor. The Dad became a gibbering cretin at the sight of them (remember he works in the Aviation Industry).
A definite highlight was that I now have photos of my two little ones sitting in the actual cockpit of a Mirage F1 (don’t ask me about performance or specs, I’ll answer with “it was pointy”). There’s also an Airspeed Oxford, MK9 spitfire, Harvard T6, Cessna 152, Bosbok, Puma (AWESOME!!) Alouette III, an Impala Mk II fighter jet, and an old Vampire.
Fun fact: the Vampire jet’s engine was downward-facing. This meant that the aircraft couldn’t stop taxiing on the airport hardtop, lest it melt the tar. The aircraft also had no ejection seat; pilots had to bail when things went awry. (See Graeme? I do listen)
Spread around the hall are exhibits that piece together the deep-rooted history of aviation in Nelson Mandela Bay, and the role of the South African Air Force in wars that are fading out of living memory and into books and documentaries. From the actual kit and equipment worn by WWI and WWII pilots, to the original letters of longing written by men far from home.
Best of all, I loved meeting the staff. I had the privilege of encountering wizened men that have witnessed much of the history displayed on walls and in exhibits. Give them an ear for a half hour and you’ll live a lifetime.
As for the kids, although bored with The Dad’s academic approach to the aerodynamics and science behind the aeroplane’s wing (snore), even he couldn’t stop them having fun in front of their warped reflections as seen in the rear-facing mirror from an old war-time anti-aircraft spotlight. They had a good deal of clean fun, not to mention the aircraft shaped jungle gym on the lawns outside.
The venue also hosts a small art gallery, and a lovely entertainment and braai area for anyone wishing to hire it out.
Note: As of the date of this post, the P.E. SAAF Museum will be undergoing some upgrades, beginning in about two months. Exciting times.
Even if you find the thought of a museum rather tedious, perhaps you’d find peace in enjoying an afternoon relaxing on their lawn, watching the Boeings, Airbuses, and little guys depart and land at the nearby runway while the children burn their energy playing.
My opinion: bliss