Nature, beaches, adventure, gourmet… you are spoilt for choice in Cape Town
Few cities can boast of a natural icon as stunning as the Table Mountain at their very doorstep, as Cape Town can. Table Mountain forms a backdrop for the entire city and is visible from just about anywhere — the parks, beaches, and the seafront. It is the city’s marker in bright sunshine or rain or the fog that comes in from the Atlantic Ocean covering everything in its wake, as we realised one evening strolling along the VA waterfront.
The beginnings of the city date back to the landing of Jan van Riebeeck’s ships as envoys of the Dutch East India Company in 1652. Riebeeck’s principal assignment was to build a fort to protect the passage of ships to and from the Dutch settlements in the East Indies and replenish supplies for the weary traders. Trade with the local Khoikhoi and San people, followed by the forceful and bureaucratic occupation of the locals’ lands, set the stage for the colonisation of all of South Africa and the emergence of Cape Town as its principal city.
The city today is amenable to any type of tourist, whether the checklist type with Table Mountain, Robben Island and VA Waterfront to tick; or the adventure and wildlife enthusiast checking out Shark Alley, the whales at Hermanus, or Penguin Colony; or the family travellers with kids who get a lovely aquarium, seafront entertainment areas, and beaches. Even the gourmet tourist has something to look forward to — wine-tasting and dining at the beautiful vineyards not far from the city. Travelling with kids, being architects and nature lovers, we did a bit of everything that Cape Town had to offer.
Public transportation is minimal in Cape Town, an anomaly in an otherwise wonderful city and cabs are the common means of transport. Since we were planning to spend a few days here, with an itinerary spread across different areas, we decided to take the Hop On, Hop Off tour, which turned out to be a great decision since it allowed us to explore the city in a leisurely manner.
Even though it was off-season, knowing that crowds can swell at Cape Town’s ‘Statue of Liberty’, we decided to take the first bus to the Table Mountain cable car. The car took us past the steep slopes with its Fynbos (fine bush) vegetation and its mountain-climbers to the summit where the views were mind-blowing. The summit is a protected eco-system and the small trails around the peak have well-marked signage of the local flora.
We decided to explore the city a bit on foot and started off one warm day from the heart of the old city, Green Market Square, surrounded by Art Deco buildings. It’s a great spot for bargain hunting and souvenir buying. Off the square is the completely pedestrian St. George’s Mall, leading to St. George’s cathedral and the Company Gardens, the single biggest green space in the city.
Bo Kaap, a Muslim neighbourhood just north, with its colourful buildings is also reachable on foot. After lunch on Heritage Square, home to the oldest vine in the Cape and with a number of delightful restaurants serving African and Mediterranean cuisine, we went to the most touristy part of the Cape, the V&A waterfront. Malls, restaurants, cinemas, and bars make it an attractive destination for locals and tourists. The harbour tours depart from here. The Oceanarium anchors one end of this zone and the lure of sharks, tortoises and clown fish made us devote an entire afternoon here. The kids loved the shark feeding, the open penguin area, and the water tunnel with marine creatures of all shapes and kinds circling about.
The Kirstenbosch Garden is no ordinary botanical garden. Its 36 hectares are spread at the foot of the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and merge seamlessly with the Fynbos cloaking the mountain. We spent an entire morning visiting the garden but you can spend up to a couple of days here, with its many themed settings such as the Fragrance Garden, Braille Trail, the Fynbos Garden and Trail, the Useful Plants garden, the Koppie, the Vygies with their flowering plants, the Water-wise garden, the Annual flowering plants, the sculpture garden and many more. August to September is the best time to visit.
A fitting finale was the trip to Cape of Good Hope, not really the southernmost tip, but still breathtaking with its rugged unspoilt coastline. It felt almost like a perfect dessert to finish off an elaborate five-course meal.
MUST DO Cable car ride to Table Mountain; Kirstenbosch Gardens; wine-tasting at Groot Constantia
MUST BUY Beadwork dolls, sculptures made of wires or recycled tin; traditional masks (Try Greenmarket Square)
MUST EAT South Africans are careful about sustainable fishing, but their grilled snoek or crayfish is famous;
as is braai, barbequed meat, fish or vegetables; and Cape Malay cuisine like breyani and bobotie (mince pies)