After four flights over 24 hours, we finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, late in the evening. After a good rest, we had exactly 48 hours to check off the highlights of this colorful renowned city, at the very southern tip of the African continent before joining up with our G adventures group for the Cape Town to Victoria Fall overland tour.
The first morning, we walked over to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. This is a huge shopping and entertainment area in the harbour, very popular with tourists because of all the shops, restaurants, marine museum, and many booths offering all kinds of cultural or adventure tours.
After browsing around a bit and taking a few photos of the waterfront including the famous clock tower, we decided to purchase a tour for the Robben Island Museum.
Robben Island is famous as the holding place for the imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Mandela served 18 of his 27 years in prison incarcerated on the island’s prison, but Robben Island has also housed a hospital, mental institution, leper colony and military base during its rich history.
Now, Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Museum, offering daily tours. The tour begins at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront with a multimedia exhibition, museum shop and restaurant, after which, guests hop onto the ferry for a scenic trip to the island. Once on Robben Island itself, the tour is guided by a former political prisoner of the island, for unique and incomparable insights into the island’s history.
We had about 20 minutes for all the museum exhibits before our scheduled boat ride to the island. The weather was warm and the sea was calm so we enjoyed the one hour ride. After disembarking on the island, we boarded a bus that took us to the prison area while a guide explained about the island and its history.
We saw the cells and of course Mandela’s cell. We learned a lot as the guides were both knowledgeable and passionate about the place. It must be difficult to work in a place that caused one so much physical and mental pain.
It is humbling and haunting to remember that man’s ability to be inhuman to man is so evident so recently and even now is rife in the world at large. A sobering and important tour which on the whole was very well done.
It was 5:00 pm when we finished the tour and disembarked at the Victoria and Albert dock. After a light dinner, we went to sleep early, due to residual jet lag, and next day’s early start for our plan excursion to Table Mountain.
In the morning, we were still somewhat undecided on whether to ride the cable car up to Table Mountain, or to hike up the mountain. As it turned out, the cable car was closed due to high wind. So we quickly packed some extra clothing, water and snacks to hike up the mountain.
We took the Platteklip Gorge trail, one of the most popular route. It zig-zags up at the beginning, a little like climbing stairs for the first hour. Then we ended up at a ravine where it looked like we have to keep on going for a lot longer. At this point, fog started to roll in and visibility became poor so we were wondering about our progress. Then all of a sudden, we found ourselves at the top. Then it was a flat easy walk to the cable car station and restaurant.
Luckily the fog lifted and we had good visibility to enjoy the gorgeous view of Cape Town at the summit. The restaurant at the top was open in spite of the Cable car closure so we enjoyed a big pot of tea and a large slice of carrot cake.
Our total return hiking time was about 4.5 hours. This included stops to admire the many species of plants on the mountain. There are about 2,200 species of plants found on Table Mountain and 1470 floral species. The Cape Floral Region is one of South Africa’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the world’s smallest, most diverse floral kingdom. Many of these plants and flowers are endemic to this mountain.
In the afternoon, we purchased the hop-on, hop-off bus ticket to explore the remaining highlights of this city in relative comfort.
We enjoyed our stop at the Company’s Gardens, the oldest garden in the country. It is a large public park and botanical garden set in the heart of Cape Town, home to a rose garden, Japanese garden, fish pond and aviary. There is also an art gallery within the park, and is also the venue of a number of festivals, including the Human Rights Concert and the Youth Festival.
The other memorable stop was in the District Six Museum. District Six is a former inner-city residential area in Cape Town. Over 60,000 of its inhabitants were forcibly removed during the 1970’s by the apartheid regime.
This is an interesting museum covering an important period of South African history. There was a lot to digest and read but the short guided tour helped to create more of a vivid picture. Our guide was instrumental in getting the museum set up and was born and bred in District 6.
Last but not least, we enjoyed the stop at Clifton Beach, an affluent suburb of Cape Town. It is an exclusive area and home to the most expensive real estate in South Africa, with houses on cliffs that have sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Year round, the sea is very cold down at Clifton Beach. But the real highlight of course is the view. Absolutely stunning with mountains as the back-drop to fine, white, soft sand dotted with colorful sunloungers and parasols.
Between mountain, beach, colorful history, modern business district, and welcoming people, our 48 hours in Cape Town was a wonderful start to our upcoming 3-week overland trip to Victoria Falls.