Trip to Cape Town, South Africa -
The Table cloth, Noon gun, beautiful beaches, ocean and mountains, Jan van Riebeeck, the infamous Robben Island, Unity in diversity, Monkeybiz, winelands, the sothern tip of Africa, cape point, the Mother city, Kaapstad - this is a trip report from the amazingly beautiful Cape Town in South Africa.
A short summary
Planning the trip
There are several ways to get from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I have tried driving but the road is - well, pretty boring and it takes forever as it is 1400 km one way (about 870 miles). I have also tried taking the train and that was quite comfortable but once again it takes a bit of time (about 24 hours the last time I tried the train). So the best option in my opinion is to take the 2 hour flight. As we were quite close to time of departure the cheapest option for us was to book tickets with South African Airlines directly and we had to pay about 1880 Rand for a round trip for one person (about 260$).
Once we had the plane tickets we started looking for a hotel. But finding a hotel just a few days in advance and just before Easter was not that easy. As we have stayed at Seapoint and Green Point before we wanted to stay in the City bowl this time. We started out by checking the cheaper options (like Daddy Long legs that have gotten great reviews) but everything was fully booked. But then we came across Mandela Rhodes Place in the middle of town and we decided to go for that as the reviews on TripAdvisor were pretty good and the rooms looked nice on the hotel homepage. But we did have to pay for the luxury of course - 1750 Rand per night (including breakfast) is about 240 USD/150€ . Here is the review of the hotel.
The trip begins
Arriving in Cape Town
After picking up the suitcases we headed outside to find a taxi. We asked an airport official and he pointed us to a taxi stand and once we came there a young lady asked us to follow her. Maybe we should have questioned that but there was lots of construction work going on at the airport so we figured that the taxis were lined up somewhere else. We followed the lady until we came to the car they called a taxi. The car was not in great shape but we were not really keen on dragging the suitcases back again to the taxi stand so we agreed to go for it. In retrospect I don’t think we should have done it as the car was in really bad shape. But we arrived alive at Mandela Rhodes Place in the middle of town for 200 Rand (about 27 USD). I hope that this airport can get organised so that it is not that easy for false taxis to get customers at the airport. This is the second time in a year I have been “tricked” by airport taxi service - and I thought I was a seasoned traveller *grin*
One funny observation: When I went to Cape Town many years ago I saw a highway bridge in the middle of town that ended in mid air. I figured that they were not finished with the road construction but I was quite surprised when I came back to Cape Town this time and it is still there - and it is still not completed. According to a taxi driver we had it was caused by bad planning and some real estate issues :-)
A bit of history about Cape Town
The whole thing started basically with wars in Europe that stopped the trade routes from Europe to Asia. To get around the problem they searched for a sea-route around Africa to get to Asia. The Portuguese were the first ones to succeed but they met a lot of resistance when they landed in South Africa so they never did follow it up. But in 1652 Jan van Riebeeck landed in Cape Town to establish a garden for the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC as it is commonly known). They claim that VOC was the first multi-national company and the first with a trademark logo. They were big in the trading business and they soon disovered that the route to Asia was so long that they needed a place along the way that could provide the sailors with clean water and food. So Mr. Riebeeck came to setup the gardens, not to occupy territory.
But over the years Europeans settled here, the French Huguenots came here (and improved the wine making), slaves were brought in from around the world, Asians came here (and that explains the Muslim community). But this Dutch colony did not last forever - due to things that were happening back in Europe the British came and took over that again lead to a lot of the Dutch community moving north in the great trek and created some of the free states there. Later on came the Boer war, Apartheid but I think I will leave it at that.
The Company’s Garden
When Nikki and I went to Cape Town a few years ago, we went to the planetarium located in Company’s Garden. It is still one of the best planetariums I have been to - not because of the technology as it felt a bit run down at the time, but because the presenter did a great job explaining the universe for us :-) So check that out if you have a few days in Cape Town. You can read more about the planetarium on the official Iziko homepage.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
The day we took the bus I was wearing a Napapijri t-shirt. I like this brand as they have a Norwegian flag as their logo. Anyway, as we were waiting for the bus a guy came over to me to ask if I could give him any money and I had to say “sorry, I don’t have any”. It was actually the truth as Nikki normally takes care of the money when we travel. But he was like “Come on, you must have something”. So I digged deeper into my pocket and I found a 5 cent coin - the guy did not look very impressed when I gave it to him. Just a few seconds later another guy came up to ask me for money and again I had to tell him that I didn’t have any. An older guy had seen all this and he just said to Nikki and myself “don’t give them any money, the only use it on drugs”.
Back to the V&A waterfront area. It only takes 5-10 minutes on the bus to get to V&A from the city bowl. We walked around there for a while, looked at the seals enjoying the sun, the boats coming in etc. We also stopped by Nelson Mandela gateway where you can get out to Robben Island. This is where ex-president Nelson Mandela was kept from 1964 to 1982 under the prisoner number 46664. I took a trip to Robben Island a few years back and it was a moving experience as we had a former prisoner as our tour guide. When you have a guide that has actually been in the prison it gives a whole different perspective on things. When we stopped by Nelson Mandela Gateway this time I went in to ask for the ticket price and the woman behind the counter said the price - and then she added that the next available ticket was in 10 days!! So be sure to book a ticket before you come to Cape Town if you want to check out Robben Island.
One of our most frustrating tasks on this trip to South Africa was trying to get VAT (Value Added Tax) back. We had read that there is an office at the V&A waterfront area where we could go to get VAT back. When we came there we were asked if we had all the papers with us and we were like “What papers?”. It turned out that we had to bring passport, the papers showing when you have a ticket out of South Africa and of course the stuff that you have bought. So be sure to bring all the papers but note that you don’t get the money here. This is just something to make the paperwork at the airport faster. But it is worth it in the end as you get 14% back. As we were leaving South Africa at OR Tambo we went to the VAT office to get the money back and a Spanish guy was in front of us. Obviously he had not done everything according to the rules because the guy in the office had to turn him down. And the Spanish guy got furious and started shouting “You always rip me of” etc. In the end they started exchanging useful arguments like “F**k you!”. It was out of line by the Spanish guy but it was even worse when the VAT employee replied in the same manner. So if you want you VAT back read the rules :-)
Weather of Cape Town
We also stopped by a Monkey biz store in the Bo-Kaap area. Monkey biz is a non-profit organisation that pays women in the townships to make various products out of beads. So if you want to make sure that the money goes back to the community I think it is safe to shop at a Monkey biz store.
Walking tour of Cape Town – in the footsteps of
A road trip around the peninsula
The M6 road was beautiful to start with and it got even better when we continued further on. The next section is called Chapman’s Peak drive and here you drive on a road that is carved out of the mountain side. The views are great and you get a beautiful view to Hout Bay.
We continued to Simon’s Town and I guess we picked the wrong day for a drive. As we came towards the city there was a big traffic jam and it turned out that we had picked the weekend of when the South African navy had an open house. The navy has a base in Simon’s town and each year they open the doors so that families can come and take a look at the boats, submarines etc. We joined in on the festivities of course and walked around on the base for a while. But the main reason for stopping by Simon’s town was to check out the penguins at Boulder beach. So you though penguins only lived on the South Pole?? Well, think again :-) I’m not sure if there are penguins all over South Africa but there is a colony of Jackass penguins in Simons Town. It was great fun to look at these strange creatures trying to walk and jump around on the boulders on the beach. A few kids were chasing them but the penguins got away when they jumped into the ocean. But seeing a penguin on a nice sandy beach where kids are swimming doesn’t seem right. I also associate penguins with cold water, ice and the Antarctica.
But the main goal for the day was to visit the Cape point. This is not the most southern point in Africa but it sure feels like it when you are there :-) We drove into the National Park and I think we had to pay about 55 Rand for the entrance to the park. At the Cape point you have to option of walking to the top or taking the small “train”. We were in a lazy mode so we went for the train and it comes 37 Rand per person if I’m not mistaken. At the top you get a great view of the peninsula behind you and the open ocean in front of you.
The trip back to Cape Town took forever. We drove back when the SA Naval weekend ended in Simon’s Town so we were stuck in traffic for hours. We ended up taking Chapman’s Peak drive back again and the sun was about to set in the ocean. It was just beautiful.
Tour of the winelands with Arn
Our first stop this day was at Nelson’s Creek outside Paarl. When we came out of the bus I got flashbacks to Tuscany from last year: it was hot, the landscape was beautiful and there were wine ranks all around. We got a short tour of the estate with Victor and we got to taste 5 different wines and Victor tried to teach us how it should be done. We continued towards Franschhoek and drove passed the place where Nelson Mandela was released from prison (he was not kept at Robben Island at the end) but unfortunately this is where my camera gave up. I’m going to miss my Canon Powershot IS S1 but I hope that my Canon EOS 450D will be able to replace it :-)
We had lunch at La Courronne outside Franschhoek. The lunch was optional and hence not included in the price. Once again we got to taste 5 different wines before we had lunch in the garden. I went for the bobotie - a typical South African dish. One of the girls working at the Estate had gold decoration glued to her front teeth and it was beautiful. She had had in for years without any problems. I wonder when that trend will come to Norway :-) We drove over to Stellenbosch where we had half an hour to walk around town. The town is named after Simon van der Stel, one of the governors of the Cape colony. Bosch means forest so it basically “Stel’s forest”. Anyway, it is a beautiful little town to walk around in and you can read more about it on this page. Our last stop was at Spier Wine Estate and once again we got to taste 5 different wines and at this place we also had the option of paying 80 Rand to pet a cheetah. The wine in South Africa is so cheap! I looked at one price list and I found it a bit expensive (even for Norwegian standards) but then the girl behind the counter informed me that it was the price for a box of 12 bottles!! I was tempted to buy a box but the price for transporting it to Norway would be a lot more than the value of the wine itself. If you are into wine you should do a tour of the winelands right outside Cape Town. Arn and Hylton Ross did a great job with the touring during this day and I especially enjoy Arn’s summary of South African history. It made it much clearer to me.
To the top of the world –
We reached the ticket office eventually and we had to paid 130 Rand (about 17 $) per person for the cable car. The cable car rotates on the way up and that is quite clever as everybody gets a view. From time to time they fill water into tanks in the cable cars for stabilizing purposes and it is also used for transporting water to the top – clever. The cable car starts at about 300 meter and when you reach the top you are about 1000 meter above sea level.
At this point of our stay my camera had stopped working altogether and the battery in Nikki’s camera was out of juice. So the pictures taken from the Table Mountain area are taken with my cell phone. When we reached the top I was quite surprised to find that there was hardly any wind there. When I have been there in the past I have been “blown away”. We walked around the top for a while, enjoyed the amazing view of the city bowl, of Camps Bay and the view of quite a lot of lizards. At the top there is a coffee shop, toilets etc so you can find a place to hide if the weather is acting up.
At the top you also get a good view to the peaks known as Lion’s Head and Signal Hill (or Lion’s rump). If you have the time and enery I can recommend the trek to the top of Lion’s head. The path leading up there goes around the peak on the way up so you get a lovely view to the entire area. I didn’t think it was a problem making it to the top as it was a fairly easy hike - but then again I have been told that you should never trust a Norwegian when it comes to hiking and distances (“it is just around the corner” is a common phrase). The view from Signal Hill is also quite nice and if you get there about noon you might hear the Noon gun.
Is it safe?
Time to go home to Joburg
We checked in and ended up in the South African lounge in the airport and I got on the internet on one of the PC’s. All of a sudden a woman came over to me and asked me if I was Norwegian - in Norwegian. I had to confirm this of course and it turned out that she was a South African girl who had studied in Norway for a couple of years and she had learned to speak Norwegian. She had even been to my hometown Stavanger - how cool is that?
I hope that you found this trip report useful please give me feedback if I have made mistakes or if you just have comments or questions. I can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to print this report you should try this PDF file for a better result.
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