Cape Town- South Africa’s Mother City

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My favourite city in the world!

So after almost 24 hours on the go we touched down in Cape Town, got a Backpacker Airport Shuttle to our hostel (RAN 270), Amber Tree Lodge in The Gardens area, showered and crashed into bed. I half expected to not awake until the afternoon the next day but no, up at 9.30am on the 8th March hungry! And so pleased we did as the weather was stunning, Table Mountain was clear and adhering to my Mum’s advice, “if the mountain is clear, you go up it…now!” We hopped on the Cape Town City Sightseeing Hop on/Hop Off bus at stop 7 just by our hostel, buying the Red Route Ticket for R140, which promised to take us around the city, up to the cable car station and around to Camps Bay and Clifton area. We drove through District Six, past the Castle of Good Hope and then up Table Mountain Road to the Cable Car Lower Station, admiring the view of the equally tall hill next door to Table Mountain called Lions Head. Blessed with no que, we bought our return ticket (R195) and boarded the cable car jostling with the other tourists to get the best spot at the glass-less front. However, all this panic was in vain as the floor actually rotates as you go up so everyone gets a go with the glass-less front and a chance to see all the different views! Very clever! The cable car ride was surprisingly quick and we were up at the top in no time. The view of the city, what South African’s call the Mother City, from the top were truly an amazing sight. Spanning from left to right, you got the aerial view of Lions Head, Robben’s Island, the UFO like 2010 Fifa World Cup Stadium, the City and the V&A Waterfront and in the distance the bays and mountains which stretch out from Cape Town masked slightly from the heat haze. So a bit about Table Mountain- it is 6 times older than the Himalayas and is famous for its flat-topped profile. It also made the new 7 Wonders of the World list. As we walked anti clockwise around the top on the Dassie Track, Agama Track and the Klipspringer Track to Maclears Beacon I got increasingly stressed about finding ‘the rock’ which my parents got a picture on when they lived in Zambia in the 1980’s and my grandparents too when they visited the city when they were younger. In the end, to cover all bases, I got photo’s of me on many rocks that looked vaguely familiar from those photos! Surely one of them will be the right one! At Maclears Beacon we reached Table Mountains highest point at 1,085 meters. Walking to the Beacon we got fab views of Camps Bay and the Cape Peninsular.  Walking to the Upper Cable Station along the Escapement edge we were afforded amazing views over the city and Bloubergstrand. It was hot work and after 2 hours of walking we got a refreshing drink and snack from the terrace cafe overlooking Camps Bay. We made our way down from the mountain at around 3pm and hopped onto the City Sightseeing Bus again which took us to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, passing by Camps Bay (the place to be and be seen), Clifton (the most expensive area in Cape Town), Bantry Bay, Sea Point, 3 Anchors Bay and Mouille Point Lighthouse. We hopped off at the Aquarium at the Waterfront to have a mooch about and buy our Robben Island tickets from the Nelson Mandela Gateway by the Clock Tower. They sell up pretty quick but we got 2 places on the 11am tour 2 days later. We got the second to last bus at 17.00 from the Clock Tower back to stop 7 and had a quick freshen up before heading out for dinner at a local Italian. We were both knackered from jet lag and our exploits that day, we almost fell asleep in our food! After a Skype date with Mum and Dad at a local internet cafe, I monumentally crashed into bed exhausted but content that we had made the most of our first day in the Mother City and we had been up Table Mountain in the crystal clear stunning weather.

9th March and time for our day trip to the Cape Peninsula. We got picked up at 8am and after touring the cities hostels picking up people we got on our way along the coastal road towards Cape Point. Our first stop was at Hout Bay Harbour where we spent 40 minutes wandering the wharf and its markets whilst some of the group went on a boat trip to see the seals. We had seen plenty already on our travels and decided to save the pennies instead. Everyone back together again we continued our way South, passing South Africa’s smallest pub called ‘The Workshop’ which holds just 20 people at once. And then we were on Chapman’s Peak Drive- a very picturesque  coastal drive with fantastic views back to Houts Bay. Simon’s Town was next, an important Naval Town in the past and also where Napoleon died a captive. Apparently he was fond of the local South African wine and was buried with a bottle in his coffin! We were here to see the African Penguins at a place called the Boulders- a natural  reserve for the little creatures. We got right up closer to around 100 penguins all clustered or scampering about on Foxy Beach. There were babies there too, still grey and fluffy. We witness an assassination attempt at an egg as a seagull tried his luck swooping down to grab an egg but the penguins saw him off. It was then onto Cape Point driving along the coast of False Bay. On the way we came across a troop of baboons and closed our windows really quickly as apparently on the smell of food they get über aggressive and try to get into the vehicles. Luckily we were okay and we soon found ourselves entering the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. We stopped 5.5km away from the visitors centre and got the bikes out from the trailer to ride the last stretch of road to see the reserve close up and work up an appetite for lunch. Hedd decided to sit this one out on account of his back playing up again and instead was chief photographer from the minibus. I was on a pretty dodgy bike which creaked terribly at every pedal, but I made it to the visitors centre in one piece really enjoying the ride. I found Hedd helping Grant, our guide, with lunch. Ham and cheese rolls with feta salad- yum! After lunch we made it to Africa’s most Southern West point- Cape Point. We parked up at the base of Cape Point Lighthouse and took the funicular up to the top. The lighthouse is a bit decrepid now but we still got a fantastic view of False Bay to our right and the Cape of Good Hope to our left. Rejoining the bus we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope, eventually getting a pic of us by the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ sign after battling our way through a conveyor belt of Chinese tourists taking picture after picture! After paddling our feet in the sea it was back on the bus for the1 1/2 hour express haul back to Cape Town. I slept the whole way still not being able to shake the jet lag! Fish n chips for tea (taste of home!) and a yet another early night to try to become jet lag free.

Up early in prep for our next full day of activities. Today was our day touring the Stellenbosch wine region with a company called African Stories. Our guide called Bruce picked us up at 8.30am and after some more picks up we were on our way North out of the city. The mountain had its table-cloth on this morning- a meteorological phenomenon that causes the cloud to tumble-down the mountain slope like billowing fabric. Very cool and I just loved how everyday Table mountain looked different. We also passed an overpass which suddenly stopped in mid-air. I asked Bruce about it and he brushed it off saying “ya, the government ran out of money and abandoned it”. Its been used in a lot of films too apparently driving cars off the end of it! The first winery we visited was called Villiera and Bruce took us on a cellar tour explaining the wine making process. The weather was fantastic and we took the tastings out in the wineries gardens. Bruce very impressively ‘Sabraged’ a Brut Champagne to kick things off. Basically he took a cold bottle of bubbly, took the wrappers off the neck, found the seam of the bottle where it meets the lip of the neck, then striked the bottle at that point upwards with a sword, and the cork still encased in its glass wrapping comes clean off the bottle. The pressure in the bottle from the fizz means no glass gets into the wine. It was fantastic! So after that display we tried 2 different types of champers, 3 whites, 2 reds and a dessert wine. A lot of wine and we were still on the first of 4 winieries- oh dear! Next up was a place called Fairview. The winery is famous for its goats cheese and its ‘Goats do Roam’ wine- their (piss)take on the French’s Cotes Du Rhone wine. There was a big food and wine festival on so the place was heaving, but we found a free tasting table and helped ourselves to 6 tastings, sipping the wine whilst trying different types of cheeses. My favourite wine was a Viognier dessert wine I tried. Next up was Solms Delta winery and the place where we were having lunch, thank goodness!  Now Solms Delta is in a stunning spot- a sunny walled lawn with vines in the fields and soft weeping willow trees blowing in the breeze. Under one such tree we were led by Leon, our customer liaison officer, in the tasting of 6 wines. He explained the history of the place which was really interesting. It was founded by Mark Solms, a world-renowned neuroscientist and the guy who located the part of the brain that makes us dream. He saw the social and economic problems being faced in SA and he decided to make wine and set up a trust that benefits the estates historically disadvantaged residents and employees. Over 50% of the profits from the wine goes into the trust so Solms must at best just break even on his investment. My favourite by far of the 6 wines was a Bubbly Cape Jazz Shiraz- a sparkling red wine! It was super yum and was the wine I chose to have a glass of whilst I tucked into my lunch of steak with blue cheese sauce, roasties and salad. Just what I needed after 3 wine tastings! And then it was time for our final winery, Zorgvliet, which was in an equally beautiful spot. We had our tastings in a grand room within a grand colonial building, overlooking majestic mountains. I think we tried 5 wines but by this point our palate was shot, so I just enjoyed wandering the beautiful gardens and soaking up the great view of the surrounding mountains. Driving back to Cape Town we drove through Stellenbosch town, the 2nd older town after Cape Town and now a well-known university town where women out number men by 7 to 1! Anyone needing to find a wife, this is the place to come! We arrived back at 5.30pm; too stuffed from lunch to contemplate dinner, we nursed our heads and whiled away the evening planning our Baz Bus road trip across SA.

The 11th March and our last day in Cape Town. We had breakfast on the balcony looking up at a crystal clear table mountain but as we chatted to the hostel owners they informed us the cable car had broken down so nobody could enjoy the clear views. We both reflected just how lucky we were on that first day to have gone up  and seen it clear as we took the 30 minute stroll down to the V&A Waterfront where we were due to get the ferry across to Robben Island for our tour at 11am. On our way we walked through The Company Gardens which had a gorgeous tree-lined walk way with lots of statues and flowers and plenty of inquisitive squirrels. Then through St Georges Market Square which was already bustling with stall vendors selling souvenirs and curios. Then all the way down Long Street to the waterfront. It was hot work, 32 degrees today and not a cloud in the sky, but at least we were going down hill! We were already seeing some of the 42,000 cyclist who had taken part in the 109km Cape Argus International Bike Race along the coast road that started that morning. It must have been tough in this heat but apparently a local had won the race so everyone was celebrating. We arrived in good time for our 10.30am boarding time but there was still a big que at the Mandela Gateway building to get onto our ferry. Needless to say we didn’t manage to get a spot on top deck for the 30 minute sail over to the island which was a shame. But we did manage to see a pod of about 20 dolphins swimming the waves off the boat which was super exciting.  As we got off the ferry we were herded into buses which would take us around the island. I think both of us though it’d be a walking tour so were feeling pretty uncomfortable as we squished ourselves down into the slimmest seats in a crammed bus. We looked at each other with worried expressions…this was not our type of tour. As we set off around the Island our tour guide introduced himself- a German who was studying African Political History at Cape Town Uni- and fair play he knew his stuff. I was relieved, we was telling us the history of the place with such passion, I almost forgave the fact that he wouldn’t let us off the bus to look at some of the sites close up! We first travelled to the prison-house where Robert Sobukwe, leader of the Pan-African Congress, was held in isolation purely for his political beliefs. The Apartheid Government thought him so dangerous to their goal for one race (white), one nation-hood for SA that he was never actually free (being put on house arrest after Robben Island prison was abandoned) before he died of cancer. Pretty sad. Next up we passed the Leper cemetery and the male leper church (The Church of the Good Shepherd)- I hadn’t realised that the island had once been a leper colony before the cure was found. We then stopped and was let out of the bus near the 19th century lighthouse with a great view back to Cape Town. The view was truly amazing but it was not what Hedd and I had come to the island to see and we felt we would have preferred to stop at more of the sites to do with when the island was used to house political prisoners such as Mandela. Then it was back on the bus and passing yet more interesting things we weren’t allowed out to see. Including the Lime Quarry where Mandela along with the many other political prisoners carried out their life sentence of hard labour. Dressed in just shorts and shirt they had no protection from the freezing cold in winter or the blistering heat in summer. Without sun glasses the reflection from the white limestone day after day was blinding. Nelson Mandela today is unable to shed tears due to the damage caused to his eyes from working at the Lime Quarry. The cave at the quarry was the prisoners only shade and was the place they urinated, ate and held political discussions as to the future of a free and democratic SA. The guards never ventured in there on account of the smell! It was also the place where Mandela and the other university educated political leaders taught others about economics, philosophy and politics in general so that they all could be prepared for a free SA. They never gave up hope even though most of them were serving life sentences. Our last stop (and we got off the bus- hoorah!) was at the high security prison where the political prisoners were held. Here we got a tour around the prison by an ex political prisoner which included a visit to B Section which held many of the leaders from the various ‘banned’ political organisations. This included Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island. Now this part of the tour should have been a massive highlight but our group was too big and the guide too inaudible. We didn’t think we got the authentic story the Robben Island Tourist Board had intended for us to have by having an ex-prisoner tell the history. We got back on the ferry (had to sit downstairs again) feeling a bit disappointed by the Robben Island Tour. We felt it was important that we had gone but that it wasn’t worth the 220 RAN we’d paid. We got back to the V&A Waterfront at 2.30pm and were ready for lunch. However the place was packed with cyclist and their families celebrating which created a great atmosphere but meant we didn’t manage to eat until an hour later, and even then it was a MacDonald’s! We still got a great view of the mariner from our Maccy D stools though! We then made the walk back to our hostel which took us a whole heap longer than this morning as we were walking up hill and it was just as hot. We collapsed into the hostel’s comfy sofas with an ice cold drink and chilled for the rest of the evening. Having eating so late in the day and on account of the heat, neither of us fancied dinner so we just packed all our things ready for our road trip with the Baz Bus starting the next day and had drinks on the balcony watching the sun dip behind Table Mountain one last time.

Capetown in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot hot hot, 30 degrees plus
  • Food= Big lunches, no dinners (I know naughty)
  • Drink=Plenty of wine!
  • Do before anything in Cape Town= Table Mountain
  • If you have time= Walk up Lion’s Head for sunset
  • Maybe miss and go to Camps Bay instead= Robben Island Tour

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

The first thing you notice about Cape Town is the mountain. It’s impossible not to, it’s everywhere. I’m not the biggest fan of big cities, too many people rushing around, too many tall buildings etc, so as far as big cities go Cape Town was a breath of fresh air. It has to be the best setting for a city, surrounding the impressive Table Mountain. We were lucky that we had an amazing view of the mountain from the balcony at the hostel each morning, but almost everywhere in the city you could look up and see the mountain  – wonderful!! We were very fortunate to get up on top of the mountain on our first day there, it was clear and the views were amazing. The next two days the mountain was covered by clouds and the day after the cable car was broken. So if you’re ever in Cape Town, do as the locals say  “mountain first, then everything else”.

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