Cape Town Travel Blog› entry 7 of 8 › view all entries
South Africans call Cape Town "The Mother City" as it was the first place in the country settled by Europeans. The origninal inhabitants were the Khoisan, a group of people living in Southern Africa since the days of the caveman, if not before.
Cape Town has a rich history as a sea port and place where cultures from around Africa and the world have mixed for decades, beneath the majestic backdrop of towering Table Mountain.
I flew from Durban on cheap but inefficient Mango Airlines, South African Airways low-priced alternative carrier created to drive the other national low-fare competitors, like Kulula.com, out of business (although SAA heartily claims otherwise of course).
When Mango was launched last year I vowed never to fly with them on principle. I guess that died an early death. Cape Town International is TINY (I think maybe even Durban's airport is bigger) and undergoing a crapload of construction at present which makes it all the more charming. Luckily I didn't have to hang around there long, since my Backpackers, Big Blue, arranged for free airport pick-up. Yea!
Big Blue is one of the nicest Backpackers (hostels) I've ever stayed at- and I've stayed at a few! It's situated in a refurbished colonial mansion with wide halls and a banister that you could slide down, although I didn't try to myself. It's also CLEAN and in a location that's convienent to some restaurants and shops (Greenpoint) and within walking distance of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The only drawbacks are the small kitchen, and when I was there, a few of the other guests.
After checking in I met up with my friend Jessica. Despite living in a rural village in Limpopo Province for the past two years, and working with several HIV/AIDS community-based organizations there, Jess had already been able to visit Cape Town. This worked out well for me because she could show me some of her favorite places. We also managed to do a few new things as well....
That night we met-up with my friend Charlie, who'd recently moved down from Durban, and headed to Long Street - one of the happening nightlife areas. We ate dinner at an African restaurant (possibly called Mama Africa) that was authentic enough but not outstanding in my opinion. Charlie would want me to note that when visiting said restaurant do not attempt to request olive oil for your salad. They don't have any and will try to trick you into settling for canola oil instead. After dinner we all proceeded to nearest Irish pub (the correct name of which is also fuzzy) and listened to some live music.
Jessica and I were up bright and early to fetch our rental car from Aroundabout Cars. Being over the age of 23 goes a long way with Aroundabout - a company that offers super-low rental rates but with only minimal insurance coverage available. On the plus side, they don't ask alot of questions either...The order of the day was to head fabulous Cape Point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, one of the most scenic routes in South Africa if not on EARTH.
We drove out of Cape Town via the Seapoint Waterfront and the ritzy neighborhoods of Clifton and Camp's Bay - reputed to be some of the highest-priced real estate in all of Africa. Then on to Hout's Bay, which kind of reminded me of Aspen- except with alot of sailing instead of alot of skiing - if that makes any sense. Jessica, who lived in Aspen for a year, would want me to note her strenous objection to this particular thinly drawn parallel.
Outside of Hout's Bay we picked up the Chapman's Pass road which is a real cliffhanger (har har)! I think I got vertigo just driving on it - and there are guardrails most of the way. It would be a great spot for a dramatic movie car chase or something.
Hout Bay from Chapman's Pass
At the end of Chapman's Pass we emerged along the coast of Cape Point itself and headed towards the National Park area. When we arrived we climbed up to the Lighthouse so I could get the obligatory photo with one of those signposts with the different signs pointing to cities all over the world. That accomplished, we went back down and drove to the end of the Cape of Good Hope and fought a horde of Italian tourists for a turn to get the obligatory photo there. On the way we saw an ostrich.
Jess and I stopped for lunch in Simon's Town on our way back. Simon's Town is a cute little New England-esque seaside hamlet which is the home of the South African Navy, and much more interestingly, a colony of African Jackass Penguins. Yes, that is their REAL name! I guess the Jackasses didn't make out so well in the name department, unlike the Emperor Penguins for instance. But on the other hand they live in Africa - not Antarctica.
In Simon's Town there's a fenced wooden boardwalk that allows one to walk through the Jackass nesting ground and to a little beach where (for a small fee) one may frolic unfettered with the Penguins. The childish glee inspired by this opportunity, and of course by the Jackasses themselves, made it the highlight of my day!
A Couple of Jackasses
Next Jess and I went back to Hout Bay to meet up with some friends of hers who live on their boat in the harbour there. Jess met Gavin and Vanessa and their two kids on her last trip, and they were nice enough to invite us for a sail out from Hout Bay to Seal Island, and then for dinner afterwards. It was great to be able to see the town and nearby Chapman's Pass from the sea, plus there was yet another animal encounter with the Stinky Seals of Seal Island.
Boats in Hout Bay Harbour
On my third day in Cape Town I set out for the Kirstenbosch Gardens with my parnter in crime. The Kirstenbosch is nestled at the base of "the other side" of Table Mountain - that is the side not facing the ocean - and is one of the oldest cultivated gardens in Africa as well as a UNESCO World Hertiage Site.
Kirstenbosch is more than just your average botantic gardens; it strecthes on for what must be acres and provides access to some lovely vistas of Cape Town and numerous different hiking trails. Jessica and I decided to take a stroll along one of these not realizing that it led directly up the mountain. As we walked, the incline gradually became steeper and steeper until we got to a point where the path proper disappeared and was replaced by ladders and climbable rocks.
Normally, Jessica I and would be up to the challenge, however, on this particular day we found ourselves without the requisite equipment - namely shoes other than flip-flops and ballet slip-ons. Assuming it was called The Skeleton Gorge trail for a reason, we turned around.
The Mountain We Climbed Halfway
Next Jessica decided that she wanted to visit Cape Town's most famous mall - Century City. South Africans love malls and there are some doozies in all of the big cities. The only problem with Century City, we soon discovered, was getting there. It shouldn't have been hard - when looking at a decent map (unlike the piece of crap WE had) the route between Kirstenbosch and Century City is not all that complicated.
The combination of Crap Map and some rather vague, and probably not very closely listened to, driving directions from a kind stranger earlier that morning, resulted in a tour of some of the Cape Town sights off the typical tourist trail - namely Khayelitsha and the Fish Packing Section of the Industrial Park beside the Airport. But we perservered and an hour and a half after leaving Kirstenbosch we got to the mallm which wasn't all that impressive - definitely not worth the trip!
On Friday we headed down to Long Street again, but this time during the day, to take a look in some of the funky little shops. From there its only a short walk to the historic city centre where one can find Parliment and some other equally old and colonial-looking buildings, and the business district. That night we went to Observatory, another part of the greater Cape Town area for dinner and drinks.
Saturday Charlie drove us out to the winelands! We were joined by Jessica's friend Colin and had lunch in a really cute French-like restaurant in Franshoek, behind the Huguenot Museum. Due to a late start, and much internal squabbling over the itinerary, we only managed to get to one winery - Rickety Bridge - for an actual tasting. We also tried to go to one called Tokara near Stellenbosch, but by the time we got there it was closed. I didn't realize that pretty much all the wine estates are closed by 4pm!
Rickety Bridge Wine Estate, Franshoek
The highlights of my sixth Day in Cape Town were Table Mountain and Robben Island - which are on the top of most CPT visitors' Must See lists. Unfortunately it was too windy that day to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, which was a little disappointing. There is the option of hiking up from the cable car point, but we didnt have time since we already had tickets to Robben Island that afternoon. There's still a nice view of everything from the cable car station though, which is pretty high up the mountain already.
The departure point for Robben Island is the Victoria & Alred Waterfront, which is full of restaurants and shops and of course has its own mall. Tickets must be purchased in advance and sell out quickly, as there are only a limited number sold each day. Robben Island is located about 12km offshore from Cape Town in Table Bay; the boat trip takes upwards of 30 minutes. It's about 1km in diameter and has had a variety of uses since colonial days including a supply stop for passing ships and a leper colony.
But Robben Island is most famous for serving as a prision during the apartheid era. Nelson Mandela was held there for 18 of his 27 years in prison, along with numerous other important Struggle figures. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is overrun with rabbits.
Watchtower at Robben Island Prison
My last day in Cape Town was rainly and miserable, which I didn't really mind too much since I'd had great weather the entire rest of the week (save the day I arrived). CPT is known for its unpredictable and often wet weather - people claim that you can sometimes experience all four seasons in one day.
Some would also say that due to the general unpredictability of the weather I was taking a big risk visiting during the winter. I think it worked out well though since the usual Must See spots weren't completely overrun with other tourists - which I hear can be the case in the summer. I can't imagine what the city will be like during 2010 when its hosting one of the World Cup semi-final matches. It just doesn't seem big enough to hold all the people that are likely to show-up!
Cape Town is beautiful, clean, well-maintained, laid-back and well-worth visiting. It hasnt managed to completely escape the top three scourges of South Africa - poverty, HIV/AIDS and violent crime - but only to push them back from the city into the sprawling townships and informal settlements of Khayelitsha and others along the Cape Flats. It's easy to forget those things, the even the rest of South Africa, exist when you're in Cape Town. It kind of feels like a world of its own.
Cape Town from Table Bay