There’s a reason that Cape Town is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world; lined with pristine beaches and a glittering blue sea that has earned Blue Flag status and cut through the middle with an impressive craggy mountain range, the city is a place where nature feels in close proximity at all times, just in an alternative way to in the bush.
There’s so much to do and see in the city and one of the best ways to pack it all in is to hop onto one of the City Sightseeing bus tours. The one that we went on took us to three spots around the Cape Peninsula. The first stop off was Boulder’s Beach and Foxy Beach near Simon’s Town, an area made famous for its colony of African Penguins. Boardwalks placed through the sand dunes allow visitors to view the beach’s black and white winged inhabitants without disturbing the birds or their nests. You could watch the tiny penguins for ages as they waddle towards the crystal blue sea to catch fish or totter around building their nests and even seem to pose for photos for the tourists gathered above them.
From Simon’s Town the bus took us to Table Mountain National Park, a rugged and wild landscape which is also named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which we travelled through to get to Cape Point. Climb up to the old lighthouse at Cape Point for impressive views False Bay to the East and nothing but ocean until the Antarctic to the South. From up by the lighthouse you can also see Cape of Good Hope which was the final stop on the tour. Named by Europeans who first reached the tip of the continent and realised from here the way to the Far East was clear, Cape of Good Hope is famous for being the most south-western point of the African continent. The rocky headland is also known for being the home of the legend of The Flying Dutchman; a mythical ship with a crew of ghosts, doomed forever to sail without ever succeeding in rounding the headland.
Actually within the city there are many cultural and natural landmarks to explore. One of most accessible is the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, where you can find a collection of hundreds of shops as well as restaurants, museums and street entertainment. Named after Queen Victoria and her son, Prince Alfred, the Waterfront is situated in the heart of Cape Town’s working harbour, where original buildings have been restored to create a mixture of historic and modern ambience.
On the natural side of sightseeing, a great place to visit is Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Regarded as one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch is situated on the slopes of Table Mountain and home to thousands of species of plants only native to South Africa. There are many interesting parts of the garden but one of the most striking is the Garden of Extinction which brings together nearly 1500 endangered South African Plants, scattered among which are quotes on placards about conservation and biodiversity. Perhaps the most famous part of Kirstenbosch though is the Protea Garden at the very top of the slope. Proteas are strange but intriguing flowers, which to me look a bit like anemones you find in the ocean, and are said to represent hope and change and South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea, belongs to the group.
A feature of Cape Town that can’t be missed is Table Mountain. Named as one of the new seven Wonders of Nature, the 600-million-year-old mountain is an ever-present force from every angle of the city. However, the magnitude of the mountain is best experienced from the top of it. You can hike up the side of it, but we opted to get the rotating cable car which provided amazing views on the way up and down. The mountain got its name due to the two-mile-long plateau of its peak which you can walk all the way along for exceptional views of surrounding city and other surrounding mountains such as Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. One thing to note though if you plan to trek to the top is how cold and windy it is at the peak so definitely bring a jacket.
Looking at the Mother City as a whole, one thing that’s clear is that Cape Town is a place of great contradictions. From the tour bus this was most evident when we passed by Pollsmoor Prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for six years. The prison itself is striking but what was most odd was the fact that there was a lush green golf estate right next door to it. The juxtapositions of the city were apparent only a few minutes after leaving the airport as well where all along the main road were miles and miles of informal townships, just outside the hub of Cape Town.
At the moment, Cape Town is facing its worst drought in a century and no one could miss the warnings of how deep into a water crisis the city is. Signs urging visitors to save water filled baggage reclaim while taps were shut off in the airport and replaced with hand sanitizer dispensers. In the hotels, plugs were removed from baths to make sure that people showered instead, and posters advised people to limit their shower to only four minutes. Our tour guide told us that the Cape Flats part of the city usually floods every year but hasn’t for the past two.
Overall, I feel as if we only scraped the surface of Cape Town and the surrounding area. The city, despite areas of obvious poverty, is vibrant and the people are welcoming. There is something for everyone in a place like Cape Town, whether you’re a nature lover or a history buff, the area can keep you fascinated for days and make you want to come back soon and explore some more.