Cape Town Stories and Tips

On to Cape Town

View from Table Mountain Photo, Cape Town, South Africa

Having acclimatised ourselves, we were ready to grace the big city with our presence. We knew from the guidebooks that there was loads to do in Cape Town, but we had identified our intentions…

Naturally Table Mountain was a must, and, as we headed towards the city, we got tantalising views of this mighty landmark. The day was perfect for viewing, so we headed directly for the mountain. It was hard to think that we could get lost with Table Mountain as our point of orientation, but we succeeded! The route to the top was not easy to find, and, because of the lack of traffic, we were able to meander through the back streets until we finally stumbled on a sign indicating, "Cable Car to Table Mountain". That seemed like a good route to follow and, you know what, it led us to our destination. More surprisingly, we got there without major disagreement!

There were no queues, and we were rapidly on route for the top. As we progressed on our journey, the cable car slowly rotated, ensuring that everyone got a decent view. There’s ample time to take photos, but be prepared for the upright supports getting in the way as the car turns.

The view from the top was all we had anticipated and more, and the sky was the clearest blue imaginable. You should check on the time of the guided tour (it’s free) as soon as you get to the top. This is well worth the effort, as the volunteer guides take you around the mountaintop pointing out the best views, the local flora (our guide told us there were almost 1,500 different plant species on the mountain including over 500 different heathers, almost 100 irises, and numerous varieties of fynbos). I don’t claim to have seen them all, but, even in February, there was a huge variety in flowers, and the heather collection made my home collection, of almost a dozen, seem highly insignificant.

We were introduced to the nearest relative of the elephant. It’s hard to believe, as the Rock Dassie is only 20 inches long and 8 inches tall. It was fascinating to watch the two Dassies as they picked their way over and around the rocks, munching on grass and leaves as they went. One seemed to pause and consider sunbathing for a while (or was that partly my imagination), saw the audience, heard the click of the paparazzi’s camera lens, and scurried behind the nearest fynbos plant.

We lost track of time up on Table Mountain, as the view from the top changes at every turn. The hues of the rock; the reflections in the sea; the distant views of the rolling mountain as they stretch towards the Cape of Good Hope; Robben Island; Cape Town; the guardian rock formations of Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head were laid out in front of us, as if part of a giant tapestry. It was awesome and will provide a memory for the rest of our lives. On our downward journey, we noticed a few brave souls who had decided to walk the slopes; they were mere scratches on the view below, but received some of our admiration for their determination.

The journey onward to our new accommodation, just outside of Milnerton, was in silence as we contemplated our experience of the Mountain, in what must have been perfect weather conditions. Our only regret was that, in our rush to the cable car, we had forgotten to take our hats with us. The sun is mighty fierce up there, as our red faces would bear testimony to.

That evening we travelled a few miles further north to Blaubourg to experience the "classic view of the mountain" from Bloubergstrand beach. We sat on the beach and enjoyed the relaxing sound of the waves running onto the shore and watched the sun go down over the sea. Just a stones throw from here are a whole host of restaurants offering decent dining.

On day two, our first priority was to make the 11km boat trip from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to Robben Island, now a UN World Heritage site. As everyone knows, this island, in the middle of Table Bay, was the island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 years, from 1962 to 1990, much of it under hard labour. As with many islands, it had been used for segregation in its history, as it had been formally a leper colony (The only colony still evident on the island is that of the Jackass penguins). This organised tour is lead by former inmates and they effectively set the atmosphere on the boat journey, the bus tour of the island, and, finally, the tour around the prison block, their old cells, and, of course, the cell occupied by Mr. Mandela, as they respectfully refer to him. It’s a very moving and emotionally harrowing experience, and now hard to imagine the experience that all occupants in South Africa had to undergo as they began to move forward to achieve equality. The dialogue we were able to have with the tour guides was most informative, and I was surprised at how balanced an interpretation of their experiences they gave us. I did not hear bitterness or anger, but a clear view as to how their struggle was beginning to impact of the current generation of South Africans. We were particularly impressed, if that’s the right word, with the quarry where Nelson Mandela and his fellow prisoners had "suffered" the ordeal of hard labour. A poignant reminder of their solidarity was evident at the entrance to the quarry, as, at a recent "reunion" of prisoners, they had formed a pile of rocks as a symbol of their freedom and to confirm their memories of their Robben Island experience. You can’t visit Cape Town and not experience the trip to Robben Island. IT WILL HAVE AN IMPACT ON YOU.

As we disembarked, we noticed a resting area for seals. When these mammals tire of swimming, they drag themselves up to a "veranda" and sun themselves in full view of shoppers and tourists.

Shopping was next on the agenda, and we spent some time wandering around the shops and sights of The V&A Centre. There are many exciting buildings and developments in the harbour, and we enjoyed watching the boats pass through the swing bridge and the local jazz band that proficiently performed outside one of the many open-air restaurants. Take in the sights and enjoy the buzz that you can feel as you saunter around the harbour.

You should also feel free to wander the streets of Cape Town. Enjoy the brightly coloured buildings, the mix of English Victoriana and traditional cape residences, the cobbles square of Greenmarket, the majesty of City Hall, and, of course, the many pavement cafes. Take time to people watch – after all, there is no hurry. But, time your exit from Cape Town outside of rush hour. We miscalculated and spent an inordinate amount of time in a traffic jam. Not that we cared - we were on holiday and had had a terrific second day in Cape Town.

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