The prisoners and the proposal
Table Mountain is the iconic location of Cape Town and, because we’d arrived on a beautifully clear afternoon, we decided to start with a trip to the top. Parking your car close to the lower cable car station is an experience in itself. As I nudged forward towards the less than sturdy rope separating us from the sheer drop, I could sense Linda mentally climbing into the back seat (beautiful views over Cape Town and Table Bay though).
We’d pre-purchased our tickets, so we walked smugly by the long queue and managed to get on the next cable car up to the top. Uniquely the floor inside the cable car rotates through 360 degrees as the car rises to the top, so everyone gets a chance to admire the view. At the top we walked many of the paths offering different and spectacular views and within minutes a cloud had drifted in and covered the back quarter of the mountain. A very visible reminder about how conditions can change on the mountain very quickly and that, if it’s a clear day, you should take your chance to get to the top. During the remainder of our stay in Cape Town the mountain had its ‘table cloth on’ meaning it was largely shrouded in cloud.
A trip to Robben Island is another Cape Town must and our return trip there was on a rather swanky catamaran (which had been drafted into service alongside the usual ferries to catch up after early morning fog). The tour on the island takes two parts, the first being a bus tour of the island and its facilities. The guide sets the scene and explains that whilst many think of the physical aspects of Apartheid, the race separation, the violence or massacres, it was the mental side that was perhaps the most damaging. The mental conditioning of the population based purely on skin colour, setting categories apart and causing resentment between them. The second part is a tour of the prison, conducted by former political prisoners of the island, which gives visitors a first hand and vivid insight into the regime and conditions within the prison. An educational experience lightened and enhanced by the ‘Brucey Bonus’ of a whale sighting during the crossing.
Cape Town is a very hilly place, so we eased the strain on our legs by taking the Citysightseeing Hop on Hop off tour, which gives you easy access to the V&A Waterfront, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, etc. There are numerous routes to choose from or combine, but although the yellow route takes you through the old town, we chose to get off and walk around Company’s Garden. We also made the somewhat steep trek up Wale Street to the Bo-Kapp district. This is the oldest residential area in Cape Town, where you can view the brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of this multi-cultural neighbourhood.
From the city we took a day to do a tour of the peninsula. It was recommended that we set off at 9/9:30am and drive directly to Cape Point where the queues to enter the National Park grow quickly. Good advice as, when we left 90 mins after entering, the queues had gone from negligible when we arrived, to substantial. A funicular takes you up to the cliff paths, which allowed us to enjoy views along this rugged coastline. As with most of this coastline, waves crash into the boulders and the rocks bringing them with brilliant white spray. Springing (trudging) up the many steps to the historic (but largely ineffective due to the clouds and mist) 1860 lighthouse was rewarded with an experience you just can’t plan. At the top a man bent the knee and proposed to his girlfriend, followed by a skin tingling roar from the watching crowd and causing a tear in the eye of many including this grizzled old traveller.
Warnings are everywhere about the baboons around the peninsula and the need to treat them with respect. So when a troop caused a minor traffic jam on the coast road, it was windows up and enjoy watching them stroll around as if they owned the place (which they sort of do). Less troublesome were the African (jackass) penguins at Boulders Beach. Here we watched them incubating their eggs or snuggling their young or waddling around, seemingly impersonating Charlie Chaplin (any running seemed to involve tumbling onto their belly at least once). A boardwalk has been constructed so we watched them from there, causing minimal disturbance to their nesting, although we understand there are some parts where you can clamber across the boulders to get even closer to them if you wish (I am now frowning with disapproval).
Simon’s Town is close by, so we took the opportunity to have a coffee there and enjoy the Victorian architecture on display. There are many British influences on show here and right across the peninsula, not least with some familiar names. We paid an enjoyable visit to Scarborough to see the beautiful white sandy beach and the surfers tackling the crashing waves and some scary looking rocks. Unfortunately, we were a little late at Llandudno, a local favourite to watch the sunset, so couldn’t get parked. No matter, instead we chose to take the Chapman’s Peak Drive and for a mere £3 toll it’s probably one of the most exhilarating cliff side drives we’ve ever done. Running 9km along Chapman’s Peak, with the boulder strewn Atlantic Ocean on the other side (a vertigo inducing drop down) it features 114 curves along its length. Literally hacked into a 630-million-year- old granite contour running along the cliff face, it was the first time half-tunnelling was used in South Africa. For one section, a 155m channel was cut into the granite, so the road sits under the resulting overhanging rock mass. An awesome drive on a bright sunny day but probably one to avoid if the mist rolls in.
There’s a casual and easy going feel to this part of the world, people are generally welcoming and friendly, there are so many great places to eat and local wines to drink, what’s not to love!