28th Jan – 3rd Feb
We arrived in Cape Town not really knowing what to expect from the ‘Mother City’. If you ask a South African (particularly someone from JoBurg) they will inevitably mention that Cape Town has very poor weather which, from what I can gather, means that it rains there sometimes or got below freezing once. So what we didn’t expect upon arrival was to be informed of the widespread water restrictions in place due to the fact it hadn’t rained in over three months and the dam levels were about to fall below 20% capacity. Needless to say, this made idle chat with locals difficult over the next three weeks as it is hard to explain why rain does not follow English people around like a lost puppy. #VeryBritishProblems
On our first full day, Claire’s cousin Isabelle took us on the Red Bus Tour of Cape Town which starts at the V&A Waterfront and then takes you around Table Mountain, stopping in Hout Bay, Camps Bay, Sea Point, etc. By way of introduction to the city we had breakfast at a waffle and crepe stand in the middle of a food market on the Waterfront – my New York waffle with eggs, bacon and maple syrup became a regular treat over the following weeks! Claire and I both really enjoyed the quality and variety of the food in Cape Town.
In a jam-packed first week we visited the Two Oceans Aquarium, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Cape Point. We also made a stop to see the penguins at Boulders Beach in Simons Town, although we got a bit lost on the way and ended up at an adjacent called Sea Forth. There were plenty of penguins there as well but Isabelle found it so funny that we had ended up in the wrong place that Claire and I decided we needed to go back again in the future (this time with a map)!
Finally, we ended the week with our now infamous seven hour hike up Devil’s Peak, the second highest point in Cape Town. It was one of the most spectacular and challenging hikes I have ever completed and the views of the city and surrounding suburbs were incredible throughout. The highlight was tackling the ‘knife edge’ which, as you can see in the video, is a metre or so wide ridge with two 500 metre drops either side. Weirdly, it wasn’t so scary at the time but the GoPro footage somehow makes it look terrifying. Safe to say, we were all happy when we got back to the parking lot at UCT that afternoon unscathed!
4th Feb – 10th Feb
To start our second full week in Cape Town, we had planned a zip line experience. However, our hiking adventures resulted in me blocking my back for the weekend – needless to say, we postponed zip lining and I enjoyed watching Jane the Virgin season 2 in bed.
We were trying to think of gentle activities for the week so naturally, Sam proposed visiting seals from Hout Bay. On the way to Hout Bay, our first stop was World of Birds. Do not be fooled by the name of the place, as it is also home to dozens of species of monkeys, marmosets, turtles, tortoises, small cats, reptiles, and many more. World of Birds essentially is Cape Town Zoo. The best thing about the place is that they save animals, and welcome any person who cannot care for their animals anymore to bring them to the keepers of World of Birds. Sadly, we realised that now they have more animals that their budget accommodates for, which shows in some of the enclosures and the general feel of the place. Nonetheless, it felt genuine, and being able to walk amongst animals that mostly would be caged was an amazing experience. Little did I know it would not be the best animal experience of the day! Our Nauticat tour Boat took us to Seal Island where hundreds, even thousands of seals lay on top of each other all day. Sam felt very much at home whilst singing Seal’s greatest hit ‘Kiss from a Rose’, but I am saddened to say none of the seals joined in.
We were inspired by our first boat trip out to sea, and decided it was time for us to visit Robben Island. I was not sure what to expect, the last time my parents were around the museum had not opened yet, and the family members that did visit the Island wanted us to make up our own minds. A lot of people were there to visit the Island, and I am certain that most – including us – only went because of what they knew of Nelson Mandela. Robben Island has so much history and is much more than a prison: it is a community. The first thing that struck me was how big the island was: only a very limited portion of it is a prison, the rest is a town, or fields occupied by WW2 machine guns. Penguins live there, as well as European reindeer and Australian flora. People who work for the museum live there, and that includes a large portion of ex-convicts who now are guides for tourists. I cannot decide which was most striking: the very real and detailed stories of being tortured for years on end, or actually standing in the room your guide was detained in for five years. I am sure Sam would agree that we could write an entire essay on Robben Island, our impressions and what we take from it, so if you ever end up in Cape Town, please visit it, just so you can make up your own mind.
The next day, we were set to meet up with one of my dad’s oldest friends in Noordhoek in the afternoon. We set off a bit early so we could take the scenic route known as Chapman’s Peak. It is a toll road, but absolutely worth it if you do not stand too close to the edge. We ended up in Silvermine National Park where we took a (short) walk around the dam – for some reason Sam always wants to hike when I’m wearing sandals. From there we went down to Long Beach, quite literally the longest beach I’ve ever seen stretching from Noordhoek to Kommetjie. We got a very good view of how long the beach was once we arrived at Cape Point Vineyards later in the afternoon. I have already decided that it was the most beautiful place we visited in Cape Town, and considering the competition for that title, it just shows how special the place is. We enjoyed the food market to pieces, whilst watching the sun go down in the ocean. If you picture a sunset on the sea between two mountains, Cape Point Vineyards is the real deal.
My mother kept badgering me about whether we had gone to Blouberg yet, and Myrtle (Isabelle’s mum) had tried to organise a dinner there a few times, but the mountain conditions had not been optimal. See, that did not make any sense to me until we actually went there. You do have the perfect view of the mountains, and it would be a shame to get there if the clouds ruined your view. We managed to get there for breakfast, where we enjoyed the view and a bird enjoyed ruining my white shirt – charming those African birds. On the way back we stopped at the Table View Reserve that is known for its birds hides and, you guessed it, an amazing view of Table Mountain. To top the day off – after changing my top – we finally dived into our first wine tasting. I cannot believe it took us two weeks to get there, but thankfully it was the first of many. Isabelle took us to Groot Constantia and Beau Constantia where I think the sun hit us a bit too hard because who knew you could get quite tipsy from two wine tastings? Additionally, Sam now thinks he is an expert in wine because he managed to memorize the details of every wine we tasted, do not listen to him though, he just mixes everything up.
11th Feb – 24th Feb
We started our third and final week in Cape Town camping at the Saggy Stone Beer and Music Festival near Robertson. As I have alluded to in the past, beer is a very important commodity in South Africa and, similar to the UK as of late, craft beer is becoming increasingly trendy. Thankfully, a pint is nowhere near as expensive as in the UK which afforded me the opportunity to try each and every ale, lager and cider on offer! The music was also fantastic and Claire and I were both impressed by a band called Al Bairre – so check them out!
A couple of days later we ventured to the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve to experience the largest and longest series of zip lines in South Africa. Claire isn’t particularly keen on heights but I was pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoyed it (when it was over)! Admittedly, this may have been because she was more worried about me doing something idiotic and injuring myself than she was about her own safety. We both decided in the car on the way home that it was one of the best things we had ever done.
With only a week left in Cape Town, we tried to tick the last boxes we had on our ‘to do’ list. This meant a trip to the rugby museum on the Waterfront (where I must say I gained much greater respect for the sport), a surf lesson at Muizenberg beach (complete with a Great White shark alert), taking the cable way up Table Mountain at sunset, and finally a visit to Boulders Beach (we found it this time). However, probably the most fascinating experience was our trip to the Franschoek Motor Museum with Claire’s great uncle Didier. You get to see the evolution of cars from even before the Ford Model-T up until the latest Ferrari. Didier also introduced us to a friend who works there who taught us a lot about the cars and had many stories to tell. Finally, the museum is situated on a wine estate and it would have been rude to head home without a quick wine tasting of course!
All in all, both Claire and I fell in love with Cape Town and its surroundings. We could have spent months there and still not managed to do everything on offer. It is definitely a place we will revisit for years to come and we look forward to returning briefly at the end of our Garden Route trip and before we fly to Australia at the end of March!