South African Naval Museum, Simon’s Town
If you like tales of naval battles and heroism on the high seas, rooting around all manner of naval memorabilia, and are curious about what the inside of a submarine looks like, then visit the South African Naval Museum in Simon’s Town and be amazed.
Although Cape Town’s Table Bay was the major docking point for ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope from the mid-1600s, the little seaport of Simon’s Town on the other side of the Cape Peninsula became preferred during the tempestuous winter months.
Ships could easily be beached near Simon’s Town, repaired and safely docked during the stormy season whereas Table Bay, exposed to the north-westerly storms, was positively hazardous.
And in 1741, the ruling Dutch East India Company made it official: Simon’s Town would be its winter anchorage. Suddenly the village had a lot of work to do, and within 25 years, Simon’s Town was transformed into a busy naval port, complete with blacksmith, hospital, seamen’s accommodation, bakery and massive storehouses.
During the second occupation by the British, which began in 1806, the Royal Navy also took up the routine of winter anchorage in Simon’s Town. In 1814, a mast-house and sail-loft were built together; this space was taken over in 1993 by the South African Naval Museum.
For those who like military affairs, and in particular naval subjects, this museum is worth every minute spent in it. There’s a real-size ship’s bridge, a cross-section of the inside of a submarine’s ops room, and all manner of naval guns and general equipment.
The various uniforms worn by branches of the South African Navy, from yesteryear to the current era, are on display. There’s also a very interesting old diving suit that looks like a prop from a Jules Verne-inspired movie.
There is also some very dramatic naval artwork on display in the museum, recalling in particular various sea battles fought during World War II.
More than 1 200 people visit the South African Naval Museum every month. It is managed jointly by the South African Navy, and the South African Naval Heritage Trust and its society. The trust is committed to preserving the proud heritage of the South African Navy.
In the same building, right next to the museum, is St George’s Dockyard Church, which was consecrated as a place of worship by the archbishop of Cape Town in 1945.
WHO TO CONTACT
South African Naval Museum
Tel: +27 (0)21 787 4686
The South African Naval Museum stands on St George’s Street, the main street of Simon’s Town, in the old navy dockyard.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The museum is open daily between 10am and 4pm (except on Good Friday, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day).
AROUND THE AREA
For a taste of the Cape’s Bohemian nightlife, try an evening out in Kalk Bay. Also, walk Simon’s Town’s Historical Mile and visit the penguins at Boulders Beach. The water taxi that goes between Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town is also a lot of fun.
TOURS TO DO
The Cape Point Route is very popular and can be done on a self-drive or guided basis – check the listed Cape Point Route website for details.
If you park at nearby Jubilee Square, it’s a short walk down to the museum.
WHAT WILL IT COST
Entry to the South African Naval Museum is free of charge.
LENGTH OF STAY
Set aside at least 90 minutes for your visit to the museum.
WHAT TO EAT
Great breakfasts are served at a number of restaurants near the Simon’s Town harbour.
The South African Navy holds a two-day festival in March every year. The displays are spectacular.