I have to say, there are few things more satisfying to me than discovering a hidden corner within a place well known to me. It's like one of those crazy dreams where you keep opening the same door to new, unexplored passages. A recent visit from a couple of great friends from the United Kingdom ignited my sense of exploration yet again. Keeping in mind that we really wanted to impress the "rooi nekke" with the beautiful Western Cape, we decided to sample each and every delight on offer and to pull out all the stops.
Our itinerary would encompass Cape Town, Paarl, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Somerset West. With only one week to show off, we soon realised that our stamina levels would be tested to the limit. And so it began.
First off I have to comment on the vast improvements at Cape Town International airport. I used to regard the airport with bemusement during my years spent overseas and couldn't help but smile every time I saw it from the sky. It reminded me of a haphazardly built Lego building, but now it has the appearance and layout of a world class airport. We should be very proud!.
Anyway, after a raucous, late afternoon meeting at the arrival gate, Day One began. And what better introduction to the Western Cape than a trip up Table Mountain!. I would advise you to book your tickets online and skip the massive queue that seems to be there all the time.
The tickets are valid up to 10 days after the date of purchase since the car can only operate when the weather conditions are absolutely perfect. We opted for the Sunset Special which runs during the summer months, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful sunset from up above. The new cable car revolves, giving you excellent views all around. Some folks not too comfortable with heights might find this a bit off putting, and don't try to stand with one foot in the middle and one foot on the edge, embarrassment guaranteed! Unless of course you are familiar with yoga.
We packed a scrummy picnic basket packed to the rafters with cheese, fruit and drinks.There wasn.t a breeze while we were getting our tickets, but great was our surprise when we were met with near gale force winds on top of Table Mountain!. We made it just in time to get some gorgeous photos of the sunset.
We scurried around a bit to find a picnic table and fought the wind bravely, but when a particularly strong gust of wind literally wiped our food off the table, we took this as our cue to go. One of our friends recalled getting stuck on Table Mountain since it was too windy for the cable car to operate. A long, cold walk, complete with dramatic hysterics ensued. If you have more time, Table Mountain is criss crossed with various walking trails to enjoy, but make sure you are properly prepared, just in case the weather turns.
Going down, it was already dark and the view was incredible. Thousands of lights strung along the roads like fairy lights. I was filled with an immense sense of pride and patriotism, what a beautiful country we live in.
Day Two started off early with a hearty breakfast and great expectations. Today we were going to make use of the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus. This is one of the best ways to explore Cape Town and the peninsula. The tickets are valid for 24 hours and you are free to get off and get back on again as you please. Tickets can be bought when boarding the bus at any one of the stops along the way.This is a wonderfully scenic drive and I recommend it to anyone. Even if you have been living in Cape Town all your life, you are sure to learn something new and interesting!.
We decided on the Blue Route and hopped on at the Mount Nelson Hotel. You can choose to get off at any of the following stops:. Kirstenbosch, Constantia, World of Birds, Imizamo Yetho Township, Mariner’s Wharf (Republic of Hout Bay), Camps Bay, Sea Point, Winchester Mansions, Two Oceans Aquarium, The Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town International Convention Centre and Cape Town Tourism.
We decided to spend some time in Hout Bay, the beautiful turquoise water and bobbing fishing boats looked so inviting!. Walking along the jetty we spotted translucent jelly fish with delicate, trailing tentacles, propelling them forward. There is a lovely market to browse through, but be prepared to haggle!. You should definitely make time to enjoy the freshly fried fish and chips, delicious.
There is an interesting urban legend about a former resident who created a “Republic of Hout Bay” passport and managed to travel across Europe without anyone noticing it was a fake..!.
The passports were actually made as part of a publicity drive years ago and you can still get one if you like. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to go very far with it!. Be prepared to get stuck in Hout Bay for several hours. There are many delightful shops to explore along the marina, but it is more likely that you will get stuck in one of the chilled out ocean front restaurants, which is exactly what happened to us!.
After a leisurely lunch break, we decided to hit the road again. The bus wound its way around the peninsula, awarding us with breath taking views of the 12 Apostles and Clifton Beaches. We stretched our legs at Camps Bay, enjoyed very, very long cocktails at one of the beach front cocktail bars, did some people watching and gawked at the stunning houses and hotels. Camps Bay is best enjoyed on a sunny, wind free day, along with massive sunglasses and fashionable beach wear. This is where the beautiful people hang out, you are sure to lose your appetite for that bowl of fried chips very quickly and opt for a light salad instead!.
View of Camps Bay
Soon we realised that again, we got stuck and spent a disproportionate amount of time in snazzy restaurants and cocktail bars!. With that, we got up, waited for our bus to turn up and headed over to the V&A Waterfront.
It is hard to believe it started out as a small jetty in 1654, built by Jan van Riebeeck. There are many historical sites in the Waterfront, such as the Robinson Dry Dock which was built in 1882 and which is the oldest operational dock of its kind in the world. The Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower was completed during the same year and originally housed the Port Captain’s Office.With such a rich history, you might be tempted to spend all your time in the museums, or visiting the world class Two Oceans Aquarium, however the other big draw to the Waterfront would be the shopping!. You can lose hours browsing the shops and trying to pick a restaurant to go to. It is best to send the men away on a “hunting-gathering” mission to find an appropriate feeding ground and let the women do the shopping. And so we made our way to another restaurant to while away the rest of the day, enjoying good South African food!
Day 3 started with a rather subdued mood, the day before had taken its toll and we realised we weren’t 21 years young anymore!. Luckily today was Museum Day and we were looking forward to spend some quality time inside air-conditioned buildings. First stop was the Iziko South African museum with their excellent displays of sharks.
This inspired our friends from the UK to go on a shark cage dive, which I will tell you more about later. Our visit coincided with the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which was equally inspiring and led to a lively debate as to whether a blurry photo of some kind of toad was really that great. Until we realised the photo was taken by a 10 year old child. This goes to show that anyone can become a master photographer, or at least win a Highly Commended award, at any age!.After messing about with a lonely herbivore dinosaur sporting ridiculously long buck teeth, we decided to make our way to the District Six Museum.
What an eye opener. I have visited this museum once during a school trip, but this was the first time I actually took my time to read nearly every inch of the printed articles and letters.Dedicated to the once vibrant community of artists, merchants and immigrants; you must be made of stone to not feel deeply moved by what happened to these people. To summarise a long and sad story:. the black community was forcibly “resettled” and as the more affluent moved away to the suburbs, District Six became another neglected ward of Cape Town. In 1966 it was rezoned and declared a “white area”. With the rezoning came the bulldozers and so the end of a once thriving and cosmopolitan community. 60 000 people were forcible removed to the Cape Flats. Yes, shockingly, it didn’t happen that long ago.
The museum came to life in 1994 and is an ever changing memorial to a place that was once very much part of the fabric of Cape Town. There are many contributions from former residents, including artwork and old photographs. There are several on-going disputes regarding the land and whether anyone will be allowed to move back one day. We should never forget what happened here, but it is also our duty to ensure it never happens again.
Next stop was the bustling Green Market Square, known for its myriad stalls selling anything from carved elephants to leather belts. You will need several hours to browse through it all and your best bargaining skills. As another busy day drew to a close, we made our way to a wonderful seafood restaurant and enjoyed the bountiful offerings from the ocean, with us closely resembling small whales by the end of dinner!
Day 4 started nice and early. We set off towards Paarl, home of the Taal Monument and several wine farms. Our first stop was Fairview, approximately 45 minutes from Cape Town. It is a beautiful farm with rolling lawns and vineyards. We were met by a billy goat glaring at us from his perch, a cute little tower with a ramp. Goats love climbing almost as much as I love cheese and we decided to start our tour of the Cape Winelands with some delicious cheese and wine.
Fairview is famous for its delicious goat.s cheese, produced on the farm, in all shapes and tastes. The tasting was conducted by a very knowledgeable man and we tried 8 different cheeses matched with 8 different wines. It was incredible. The taste of the cheese would change completely after a sip of wine, I never realised what a massive difference a good pairing can make!. We also tasted 3 different olive oils with freshly baked bread. Pure olive oil is supposed to have a grassy, peppery taste and smell with a slightly green tinge to it.
Our next stop was Haute Cabriere in the beautiful little town of Franschhoek, home of the French Huguenot museum and monument.
The cellar is famously built into the mountain and boasts the Haute Cabri.re Cellar Restaurant which appears in all the top 10 listings in South Africa. We were lucky enough to be in time for a tour of the cellar to see where the magic happens. Haute Cabriere is most famous for its fantastic m.thode champenoise and naturally we decided to have a tasting of all their best. My personal favourite was the Belle Rose, a delightfully fresh sparkler with a blush twinge to it.
We drove further up the Franschhoek pass and we were treated with astonishing views of the valley below. After all the sensory delights of the morning, we headed towards the oak lined, student town of Stellenbosch. This historically important town filled with national heritage buildings, demands a full day of exploring, unfortunately we only had time for a delicious lunch underneath a trailing grapevine.
Somerset West.s Vergelegen was to be the last stop for the day. Wine farms usually close around 4pm, so you really need to move it if you want to visit more than three in a day. Vergelegen is one of the most historic wine farms in South Africa, dating back to 1685. Willem Adriaan van der Stel transformed the farm from wilderness to a thriving estate. It went through a succession of owners until it was purchased by Anglo American in 1987. When you arrive at the estate you are greeted with a beautiful row of oak trees which you drive through to get to the parking area. You can enjoy a picnic in the shady Camphor Forest, or go and hug one of the 300 year old Camphor Trees. Majestic is not the word!.
We had a nice wine tasting and decided to explore the extensive grounds a bit. We were lucky enough to stumble across some performers doing sound checks for an event later that evening. We were treated to a performance by an incredibly talented drumming band and a singer practicing his octaves.
After such a busy day, there was no better way to end the day with a traditional South African braai, our English friends were delighted and their favourite side dish turned out to be the humble braai broodjie (cheese, onion and tomato)!
Day 5 started fairly early, yet again!. Helderberg Nature Reserve is situated in Somerset West and was officially opened in 1964.The Helderberg Mountain is well known for its beautiful, indigenous fynbos.
Fynbos is the smallest of the six plant kingdoms, but consist of more species than any other plant kingdom. I am particularly fond of the Ericas with their tiny bell shaped flowers in soft pastel colours. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast followed by a brisk walk along the foot of the mountain. It takes several hours to climb to the top and we weren’t properly prepared, but I’m hoping to go back soon and make it to the top!. We slowly made our way back to Cape Town, visiting family along the way and relaxed next to the pool for the rest of the day. When on holiday, I believe you must have a day of rest with nothing planned. It would of course be great if you could spend the day at a spa, but the beach or poolside is just as good!.
Day 6 was Shark Day!. Our friends were picked up at 4am to make their way to Gansbaai’s Shark Alley. (The rest of us decided to have a bit of a lie in!) .Nearby Dyer Island is home to thousands of seals and penguins which make this area particularly popular with the Great Whites. There are many different companies you can use, but it is always a good idea to try to find one which actually does research and is involved with the conservation of Great White sharks.
There is a general misconception that these predators are ferocious killers with a taste for human flesh. I guess we have ‘Jaws’ to thank for this. Sure they have row upon row of serrated, razor sharp teeth, but you are more likely to be killed by a thunderstorm than a shark. Sharks don’t have hands, so the only way for them to investigate something unusual in their territory, is to bite it. Unfortunately for us fragile humans, one bite could be enough to send us off sleeping with the feeshes!.
Shark cage dives are conducted with the use of very strong, metal cages which is lowered into the water. The water around the boat will be baited with chum and then the wait begins. Oh yes, remember to drink your seasickness tablets..
According to my friends, the experience was more fascinating than scary. Sharks are graceful creatures in their natural habitat and even though they are scary looking, simply stay out of their way, and they will stay out of yours. Our friends returned early afternoon, proudly boasting their White Shark t-shirts!. After relaxing for a while, we went off to a fabulous Mexican restaurant and partied away the rest of the night.
Day 7 started at a more respectable time of 10am. We had a big day ahead of us!. We were going to watch the Stormers play the Cheetahs at Newlands!. First, we had to help our friends find the perfect, carved wooden elephant at Green Market Square. Remember to be ready to haggle; the prices are often ridiculously high to begin with, so watch out!.
With tremendous excitement we started to make our way towards Newlands stadium. You simply have to try and go at least once. The atmosphere is electric and with scantily clad girls handing out posters and flags in your team’s colours, there is absolutely no excuse not to deck yourself out, even if you aren’t a particularly hard core supporter. The game wasn’t that exciting (at least the Stormers won!) but it was such a great experience that no-one really seemed to mind. We had a lot of fun at the Castle beer tent near the stadium after the match and made the most of what was left of the night.
This trip wouldn't be complete without sampling the Cape Town hot air ballooning scene. Probably the highlight of the trip, we soared silently into the early-morning heavens, staying aloft for an hour during which we saw unsurpassable views of Cape landscape. Of everything done, I'd recommend this experience the most.
Day 8 was the last day of our adventures together. Our British friends were due to depart that evening and we decided to take them around to some of the other stunning beaches in False Bay. Naturally we visited St James beach, just past Muizenberg beach.
This little beach is famous for its tidal pool and primary coloured beach huts. The little beach was quite packed, it was Sunday and you could see it was Family Day! Everyone had huge picnic baskets stuffed with grilled chicken and potato salad. Kids were running and splashing around, chasing anything and everyone and screaming supersonically at the waves.
From a breeding pair of 2, the colony has grown to about 3000. For a small contribution you can catch some rays with them on the massive granite boulders and have a swim in the crystal clear water. It is simply a vision from paradise!. There are wooden walkways to explore and we stumbled upon a female penguin (sitting on her egg) hissing at us upon feeling threatened. They are really cute, but I would hate to get my finger bitten by one of these little guys.
Nearby Simon’s Town is one of the many historical villages dotted along False Bay and definitely worth a visit. This village has been used as a naval base for nearly two centuries, first by the Royal Navy and now the South African Navy. Martello Tower is a reminder of this long history. It was built early 1796 by the British to ward off possible French and Dutch attacks after they seized the Cape of Good Hope.
It was also used as a beacon for ships entering the bay and was consequently white washed during 1843. Today it houses a museum and it was proclaimed a national monument in 1972. After some exploring, we had to start our way back to the city, sadly our friends had to return to London!.
As you have probably noticed, we took things very easy. This is Africa after all and time can go by as fast or as slowly as you want it to. I have now enjoyed a fair bit of Cape Town and its surrounding areas, but there is still much to do!. I want to go and walk up Lion’s Head and make it all the way to Cape Point. There is nothing like a good shot of patriotism to get you going and exploring, watch this space!
If you're not from South Africa you'll probably be surprised by our car guard culture - when you park your vehicle, somebody will look after it and expect a little tip before you drive off.
A wonderful outing for children in Cape Town is the Green Point Common, with its lawns to run around on, views of Signal Hill, slides & jungle gyms.
Always be sure to pack a warm jacket, since the weather can change in a matter of minutes! It can get very windy in Cape Town in summer, with the prevailing wind being the south-easter. Cruise ships gets stuck as the harbour is closed when the wind is blowing too hard (this happened to the MSC Sinfonia in December 2012, as she spent the first 2 days of a cruise in harbour).