Cape Town & Environs – Introduction
While it was on the bucket list by virtue of having never been, I can’t ever recall having a desire to go to South Africa. If I had I’d have probably visited by now. Being honest, the country, the world’s 24th-largest, has something of an image problem, one not helped by stories of crime & worries over personal safety, by the poverty & the obvious haves & have-not societal inequality, and the scars that linger from the divisive Apartheid era when the vast majority of the country’s black population – some 80% of the population – were disenfranchised. Oh, and there’s the hum of those annoying buzzing vuvuzelas during the FIFA 2010 World Cup (the things that stick in one’s memory). But I’ve been wooed. By Cape Town, and a Capetonian (and the accent, too), so now I find myself en route to the Mother City.
– Patricia de Lille, Executive Mayor, City of Cape Town, from the 2017 Official Visitors’ Guide Cape Town
Cape Town – The Mother City
Cape Town, a.k.a. the Mother City, so-called because it seemingly takes 9 months to get anything done down here, or so I’ve been told, is the capital of Western Cape, both the most southerly & the most popular of South Africa’s 9 provinces with tourists (and the one with a character & look most shaped by the country’s European colonial past). This is by some way both South Africa’s most un-African and its most visited city, and upon investigation it’s not hard to see why. Cape Town’s spectacular geographical setting and all the outdoorsy adventure options that presents might by itself be enough to lure some, but the region’s vineyards, agreeable climate, beaches, European colonial-era architecture (& history) and epic coastal drives, among other attractions, would, I’d imagine, deter very few. I’d always envisioned visiting the city, and South Africa itself, as part of an epic African overland odyssey, a Cape Town to Cairo or vice versa sort of jaunt. That might very well still happen one day, but for now I’m happy to give myself over to 9 days of Cape Town & its environs to see for myself if it really is as idyllic and as photogenic as it reads.
Cape Town & Environs Highlights Gallery
Cape Town & Environs Day-by-Day Overview
DAY 01 || BLOUBERGSTRAND || Cape Town International Airport to Bloubergstrand.
DAY 02 || THE CITY (a #CTBig7 attraction) || The Castle of Good Hope, Parliament Buildings & Company’s Gardens, St George’s Cathedral, the Bo-Kaap, Truth Coffee, Woodstock, & the open-air Galileo Cinema at the V&A Waterfront.
DAY 03 || THE CAPE PENINSULA || The Atlantic Seaboard (Sea Point, Clifton, Camps Bay, Llandudno, Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak Drive, & Noordhoek Beach), The Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point (a #CTBig7 attraction), & The False Bay Seaboard (Boulders Beach & Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, St James, & Muizenberg).
DAY 04 || THE WINELANDS & STELLENBOSCH || Root 4 Market at the Audacia Wine Estate, Blaauwklippen Vineyards, & Stellenbosch.
DAY 05 || KIRSTENBOSCH || Summer Sunset Concert in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. (a #CTBig7 attraction)
DAY 06 || THE WINELANDS & CLARENCE DRIVE || Franschhoek, Babylonstoren, Clarence Drive, Betty’s Bay, & The Coastal R44 & R43 to Hermanus.
DAY 07 || CAPE OVERBERG || Hermanus, De Kelders, Gansbaai, Kleinbaai, Pearly Beach, Elim, L’Agulhas & Cape Agulhas, Bredasdorp, Swellendam, Ashton, Robertson, Worcester, & Du Toits Kloof Pass.
DAY 08 || HISTORY & HIKING HIGHS || The V&A Waterfront (a #CTBig7 attraction), Robben Island (a #CTBig7 attraction), & Lion’s Head.
DAY 09 || WELLINGTON WIND DOWN || Wellington, road to Bain’s Kloof Pass, & the Napier Winery.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 1 || February 15, 2017
Image || The distant city of Cape Town & Table Mountain as seen from across Table Bay in Bloubergstrand.
“The waters off Blouberg’s long, rocky coastline are a haven for kite surfers; as idyllic as the beaches are, with their white sand encroaching on the sea-facing settlements, seemingly there are better swimming options elsewhere. Out here is both relaxed & scenic, the perfect place to ease into Cape Town after the 22-hour transit from the (much) chillier climes of the Northern Hemisphere.”
Day 1 || February 15, 2017
Posted From || Wellington, Western Cape
Day 1 Overview || BLOUBERGSTRAND – Cape Town International Airport to Bloubergstrand
I didn’t even take the real camera out today, day one in Cape Town & its environs, leaving the photographic duties to my trusty iPod instead; there’s plenty of time for proper photography. After picking up the hire car – a brandy-new, no-frills, white Volkswagen Polo with 25 kilometres on the clock – it was an hour drive from Cape Town International Airport to the windswept white-sand shoreline of Bloubergstrand from where there were nice views, if a bit hazy, back towards the regional centerpiece of iconic Table Mountain (& the city of Cape Town) from across Table Bay. It was a nice introduction to the city and its picture-postcard setting.
Plenty more to come from down here. Eight days of it. I just gotta get some rest first, and adjust to this heat.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 2 || February 16, 2017
Image || In the colourful Bo-Kaap district of central Cape Town.
“It’s the same the world over. Get a string of adjoining structures, paint them in bright colours and bam, you’ve immediately got yourself a tourist attraction. It’s simple, it’s tried, it’s tested, and it works.”
Day 2 || February 16, 2017
Day 2 Overview || THE CITY – The Castle of Good Hope, Parliament Buildings & Company’s Gardens, St George’s Cathedral, the Bo-Kaap, Truth Coffee, Woodstock, & the open-air Galileo Cinema at the V&A Waterfront.
Between observing the Grand Parade from atop the yellow walls of the Castle of Good Hope, to walking the European-esque streets of the CBD, to sampling the Muslim Cape Malay charm of the Bo-Kaap, to trying to figure out exactly what kind of vibe the hypsterie Woodstock neighbourhood is trying to peddle, I found myself commenting on more than one occasion today how I’d never experienced anything quite like the City of Cape Town. Of course this is all new to me; as travelled as I am, I’ve never been to such a place in Africa, the chaos of energetic Egypt & the mystic of Morocco, both very much on the northern fringes of the continent, not registering at all down here at it’s southern extremity. With a whole continent separating my past from my present African exploits, the resemblances so far are few. Very few. It’s all very different down here, all very new.
CapeTownBig7.co.za – City Walk, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
Historic Central City
While Cape Town and its surrounding suburbs sprawl, its business-centred City Centre is compact, not to mention lively & very colourful. There’s plenty to see – handsome buildings, historic fortifications, inviting gardens, & world-class museums – in what is the oldest developed suburb in the Western Cape, and thus South Africa; earmarked as a supply station for the maritime trade route to the East by the Dutch East India Company as early as the mid-1600s, Cape Town was to become the region’s first European outpost, remnants of which still stand to this day.
– Reproduced from the official Castle of Good Hope Collector’s Edition 2016 pamphlet
The rest of day two was spent driving through the Woodstock neighbourhood, a hub for creative & bohemian types and a visually curious mix of old and new. A working & living social/design experiment in action and the the region of the city to benefit most from Cape Town being awarded World Design Capital in 2014, this once run-down suburb has been given a new lease of life through the Neighbourgoods Market selling artisan goods in the old neighbourhood landmark biscuit factory: The Old Biscuit Mill. Woodstock is also home to the Doubletree by Hilton, our overnight location for this night, but not before an evening spent at the Galileo open-air cinema at the V&A Waterfront, the city’s restored, tourist-friendly, harbourside residential, shopping & dining district. More to come from there in due course; I’m far from done with the Waterfront (see Day 8 for more).
Day 3 || February 17, 2017
Day 3 Overview || THE CAPE PENINSULA – The Atlantic Seaboard (Sea Point, Clifton, Camps Bay, Llandudno, Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak Drive, & Noordhoek Beach), The Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point, & The False Bay Seaboard (Boulders Beach & Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, St James, & Muizenberg).
And now for some scenery, some epic coastal scenery via some epic coastal drives of the region’s Cape Peninsula, that rocky finger of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean at the southwestern extremity of the African continent, the same appendix-shaped landmass that was described by Sir Francis Drake more than four centuries ago as the most beautiful Cape in the world. We drove over 100 kilometers today in going from the city to The End, to Cape Point at The Cape of Good Hope at the very southern tip of the peninsula, and back again – down one side, the western-facing Atlantic Seaboard, and up the other, the eastern-facing False Bay Seaboard. Terra firma narrows as you go and the coast is rarely far away so there were some expected highlights en route: cliff-hugging drives; wild, windswept coastline; salty air; plush seaside settlements; bays, coves & white-sand beaches; working fishing villages; barren & rocky scrubland; epic vistas & end-of-the-world vibes; and emm, penguins. Penguins? In Africa? Well I never.
Day 3 Road Trip Part I – Southbound – The Atlantic Seaboard
It was a leisurely drive south along the portion of the Cape Peninsula’s two-lane M6, a.k.a. Victoria Road, that separates Sea Point & Chapman’s Peak on the western side of the peninsula. This stretch of windy, coastal-hugging road only measures some 30 kilometres, but there are plenty of reasons to pull over en route.
Pretty, Pushed & Plush
Victoria Road winds through some pretty settlements pushed up against the steep western-facing slopes of Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles of the Table Mountain Chain. Plush settlements – the Atlantic Seaboard beaches are overlooked by some of Cape Town’s, and Africa’s, priciest real estate. They are a combination of residential social hubs & popular tourist attractions lined with sundowner bars & restaurants, as at Clifton & Camps Bay, and secluded & sheltered sunbathing options, such as at Llandudno.
As inviting as the sands along this stretch of coast may seem from afar (or on high), the frigid waters of the Atlantic deter all but surfers and the most hardy from entering these waters. But fear not, if you reside in these quarters your million-dollar pad with wall-to-ceiling windows and sweeping sea views will invariably come with a swimming pool.
The Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point
Leaving the Atlantic Seaboard at Noordhoek but continuing in a roundabout way south, it’s a 40+ kilometre drive via the M65 through the middle of the finger-shaped Cape Peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope & neighbouring Cape Point. Needless to say, things get a little more rugged down here & there’s a lot less development than there is up north, but that’s because it’s a lot more protected.
Table Mountain National Park & The UNESCO-listed Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
The majority of the rocky 70-kilometre-long Cape Peninsula, from Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town in the north to Cape Point at the extreme south of the peninsula, is given over to Table Mountain National Park, one of South Africa’s 19 National Parks. Cloaking the natural areas of what is essentially Cape Town’s back yard, the park was proclaimed in May 1998 for the purpose of protecting the unique natural environment of the peninsula and its Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation that’s abundant here – the 500 km², 123,500-acre Cape Peninsula alone boasts over 2,200 species of fynbos plants, nearly twice as many as all of Britain, which is some 5,000 times bigger. Oh, and the region is also home to a whopping 20% of Africa’s flora. UNESCO took note of this and jumped on board in 2004 by lobbing World Heritage status on the region.
– UNESCO commenting on the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
CapeTownBig7.co.za – Cape Point, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
Cape Point – The End
You can tell that you’re coming to the end. Things narrow and eventually all you can see is rock & water in three directions – left, right & straight ahead. You eventually reach a point which prevents you driving any further (it’s called the car park at Cape Point) and then you feel it, that end-of-the-world vibe that’s inescapable down here. Of course it’s not quite the end of the world, but when standing at the base of Cape Point’s Old Lighthouse looking out to nothing over the vast expanse of ocean it sure feels that way.
The Cape of Good Hope - 'Discovery' & Today
The 15th century blockage by the Turkish Empire of the overland route East was the catalyst for a European search for a sea route to India. The first European to see the Cape was Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias. On a mission to find a stop off point en route to East Africa and the East Indies, he first rounded the Cape in 1488, although he didn’t actually see it; he only ‘discovered’ it upon his return, something of a consolation having failed to reach India. Not enamored with the place or its nasty southeast-orientated breezes, Dias named it Cape of Storms – it was later renamed Cabo de Boa Esperanza, Cape of Good Hope, by Portugal’s King John II who had initially sent Dias on his way & who foresaw the realisation of the long sought-after passage to India (Vasco de Gama would eventually ‘find’ India & thus a profitable trade route for Portugal that bypassed the Middle East, passing the Cape of Good Hope on his return journey in 1499). For centuries, Cape Point, easily one of the most dramatic coastal locations on earth, has been a navigational landmark for mariners, one that was a menace beset by violet storms, mountainous waves and treacherous underwater reefs – to date 26 shipwrecks have been recorded in the Cape’s vicinity. Today 30% of the Middle East’s oil exports, mostly en route to the America’s & Europe, pass the Cape of Good Hope, a hazard to both shipping and the region’s ecosystem – most recently, shipping disasters off Cape Town in 1994 & 20002 caused oil spills that took months to clear & killed thousands of seabirds.
– Text reproduced from display on Cape Point
– W Porter, financial secretary of the Cape Colony, July 11, 1840, to the critics who doubted lighthouses served a useful purpose.
What Goes Down Must Come Up
Nearly 1 million people visit Cape Point each year and even down here there’s infrastructure to meet the demand, everything from walking trails to gift shops to restaurants – there’s even a 585-metre-long funicular providing access to the lofty heights of the Old Lighthouse for those needing it (who mentioned the Chinese?). But regardless of how you spend your time down here, eventually you’ll have to retrace your steps and head back whence you came. Me? I headed north via the False Bay Seaboard on the east of the peninsula. I may have reached the end down here at Cape Point but this day wasn’t done yet. It wasn’t even close.
Day 3 Road Trip Part II – Northbound – The False Bay Seaboard
The waters of False Bay on Cape Peninsula’s eastern shore, so named as it fooled sailors of yesteryear into believing the large bay was Table Bay on the Atlantic Seaboard, are warmer than those of the peninsula’s Atlantic-facing western coast. Thus some of Cape Town’s oldest and most popular seaside suburbs are found here in a 17-kilometre-long arc of developments stretching from Simon’s Town in the south to Muizenberg in the north. First up when heading north from Cape Point is historic Simon’s Town. The country’s third-oldest European settlement & home of the South African Navy it may be, but the main attraction in these parts is undoubtedly the African penguins that reside at the penguin reserve on the town’s outskirts.
Boulders (& Foxy) Beach
I’d read about Boulders Beach prior to arrival. The sheltered setting, the boardwalks, the 540-million-year-old granite rocks/boulders and yes, of course, the penguins. But having been to Antarctica, I wasn’t too pushed about seeing penguins on a warm beach fronting a residential area of Cape Town. But the uniqueness, and absurdity, of that scenario – penguins on a warm beach in a residential area of Cape Town – is reason enough to appreciate the sight. And appreciate it I did. Yes, and whether I intended it to or not, my visit to Boulders Beach and neighbouring Foxy Beach, both part of Table Mountain National Park’s Marine Protected Area, was all about the little penguins. In hindsight, I guess that was always going to be the case.
We continued north from Simon’s Town for 17 kilometres passing through Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, and St James to arrive at Muizenberg. A surfers hangout that was once the country’s most fashionable seaside resort, today Muizenberg is well past its prime and feels a little seedy, notwithstanding its status as the peninsula’s biggest & best beach and as the location for the much-photographed brightly coloured Victorian-style bathing boxes, also found in neighbouring St James. We didn’t even get out of the car in Muizenberg, returning instead to quaint, charming, eclectic, picturesque, whimsical (insert adjective here) Kalk Bay before bringing a close to this busy day with dinner in Cape To Cuba, food fused with ‘Caribbean undertones’ while ‘adding a little Spanish and African flavor’. It’s flavour guys, flavour.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 4 || February 18, 2017
Image || Among the vines of the Blaauwklippen Vineyards, Stellenbosch.
“Needless to say, wine & wine tourism is big business down here; each of the region’s wine hubs, of which Stellenbosch is the largest, has their own established Wine Route where wineries – sprawling, picturesque estates in glorious surrounds that are heavy on European colonial-era architecture and family-friendly attractions & amenities – can be visited for tastings, cellar tours and any manner of wine-related activities.”
Day 4 || February 18, 2017
Day 4 Overview || THE WINELANDS & STELLENBOSCH – Root 4 Market at the Audacia Wine Estate, Blaauwklippen Vineyards, & Stellenbosch.
It’s the weekend and after the last two days of being a full-on tourist, today it was time to slip down a gear or two. Cue Stellenbosch, with its gorgeous leafy streetscapes, whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture, nearby wine estates, & nightlife, coming to the rescue in a way that I doubt many other good-time-vibe-inducing South African towns could.
Yes, Stellenbosch, or Stellies as it’s affectionately known, is indeed stunning, and it has been for a long time; founded in 1679, this is South Africa’s second-oldest settlement. Known for its beauty, everything from its centuries-old oak-lined avenues to its immaculate Cape Dutch architecture, this university town, some 50 kilometres east of Cape Town, might just be South Africa’s prettiest.
– Ernie Els, 4-time Major-winning professional golfer & Stellenbosch winery owner
The Western Cape Winelands & Wineries
As if Stellenbosch hasn’t alrealy got enough going for it, the town also sits in the heart of the famed Western Cape Winelands; grapes were first planted in the mineral-rich soil of the fertile valleys surrounding the town in the 1680s and today the Stellenbosch region is home to over 200 wine and grape producers, the most of any region in South Africa, one of the world’s Top 10 wine producers by volume (the country also produces the world’s largest volume of Brandy, made by distilling wine or fermented fruit juice).
The Wine Routes
Needless to say, wine & wine tourism is big business down here; each of the region’s wine hubs, of which Stellenbosch is the largest, has their own established Wine Route where wineries – sprawling, picturesque estates in glorious surrounds that are heavy on European colonial-era architecture and family-friendly attractions & amenities – can be visited for tastings, cellar tours and any manner of wine-related activities. We have Day 6 set aside for some wine tasting but today started with some wine-free wining & dining at the Root 44 Market in the grounds of the 32-hectare, red-wine-only Audacia Wine Estate by the R44 on the fringes of Stellenbosch, one of the wineries firmly established on the Stellenbosch Wine Route.
As a university town, Stellenbosch is a good place to spend a night on the town, especially a summer Saturday night. And that’s how we brought an end to this particular day – out on the town. I just wish I knew what everyone was saying. That Afrikaans again. As if things weren’t blurry enough.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 5 || February 19, 2017
Image || Cape Dutch cottage on Herte Road, Stellenbosch.