Cape Town, South Africa - Day 1
I always envisioned Cape Town, South Africa as a foul, polluted, felonious city, and even during our pre-arrival lecture, we were warned of the prevailing criminal element. While certainly Cape Town has its element of urban decay, the city itself and the adjoining coastal communities are among the most beautiful anywhere in the world. We spent 3 days here, venturing in every direction – South Africa is stunning.
Our sail-in, pre-advertised as being one of the best, was uneventful. It was dark, chilly, & misting. It was actually comical to listen to our Travel Guide over the ships PA system – she would say, “And now, directly in front of us on the starboard side, through the fog, is city center…and opposite city center, behind the clouds, is Tabletop Mountain.” Hmmmm. Really….why bother??
With three days in front of us, we left the first day open so we could explore on our own. We heard the Hop On/Hop Off city bus was an excellent choice, and it didn’t disappoint us. We were off the ship by 8:30am & dressed for any weather condition. The Hop On/Off bus route started less than a mile from the pier – we were on by 9:30.
Cape Town is the third most populous city in South Africa. It lies at the foot of Table Mountain, about 3,800 feet, so named after its flat top, and on the shore of Table Bay. A climatic quirk forces clouds to settle onto the flat peak and spread gently over the sides. Known as ‘table cloth’, the phenomenon is really something to behold. After a tour of the downtown area, we ‘hopped off’ the bus at the base of Table Mountain for a cable car ride to the top. This particular cableway has been running for over 80 years – it consists of two ‘cars’ that can carry as many as 65 visitors each – more than a busload. The car is circular so the floors can rotate during the trip up & down, giving 360 degree panoramic views. A one-way trip only takes 6 minutes – the ascent/decent is almost as steep as an elevator. It was bitterly cold on top, the wind was whipping & the clouds were rolling. We could occasionally catch a glimpse of the city below – a breathtaking view!
After exploring the city itself, we changed from the ‘red’ route to ‘blue’ and visited many of the coastal communities surrounding Cape Town. Chapman’s Peak Drive is by far the most scenic – incredible beaches, pounding surf, 5-star resorts, multi-million dollar homes, & spectacular cliffs dropping to the ocean. South Africa is also world famous for extraordinary wineries, and we were fortunate to be near one of the very best – Groot Constantia – founded in 1685. We went on a short property tour and then signed up for some wine tasting – 80% of the wines produced here are exquisite Cabs – we tasted five varieties and purchased two – six bottles in total. I would compare them with Silver Oak back home, but at a fraction of the cost. It was nearly 4:30 when we left the winery – we caught the last ‘blue route’ bus back to the starting point, expecting then to dropped off at a point near the ship but because it was the final ‘run’ of the day, the bus didn’t stop where we expected. We were about a mile from the ship at that point and it was nearly sunset. We were warned not to go anywhere after dark around the pier because of the evening habitat that seems to emerge, but now we were somewhat stranded and there were no taxis in the area. We both had backpacks, we each had cameras, and we were also lugging 6 bottles of wine…a nice target for any scheming villain. With no alternative, we started walking – actually a slow trot! We passed a couple of small gangs and although they were definitely staring, no one made any kind of aggressive move toward us. We arrived at the harbor guard gate just as the sun set and knew we were safe at that point. Exhausted after a busy day, it was an early night for us.
Day two, we planned a fishing trip with another couple. The waters surrounding Cape Town are well-known for Great White Sharks – we thought we’d at least give it a try – why not? Long story short – the charter boat captain canceled the trip because of rough seas & cold temps. We were disappointed but certainly understood – it was a miserable morning. Time for Plan B…off to the mall! Much of the former dock area is now a commercial and tourist waterfront area with museums, craft markets, and restaurants – it’s extremely large – enough so, that it took the majority of the day to see & do everything.
Day three – a ship sponsored tour – Cape of Good Hope. The southern-most point in Africa, it takes a 2-hour bus trip to get there. This Nature Reserve comprises 19,000 acres of indigenous flora & fauna but more importantly, this is where the Indian & Atlantic Oceans & two marine ecosystems meet. The scenery is incredible – absolutely awesome. The cliffs at the southern point soar hundreds of feet above the sea, & there are three clearly defined promontories – Cape of Good Hope, Cape Maclear and Cape Point. After spending a couple hours, we were off to Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens which contain approximately 4,500 species of indigenous plants. This is a beautiful location on the northwest side of Cape Town. We also stopped at the Groote Schuur Hospital – this probably won’t ring a bell for any of our children, but this is where the very first human heart transplant took place more than 30 years ago. We were back at the ship by 3:30, had our face-to-passport meeting with African Immigration, and participated in a lifeboat drill at 4:15. After a quick shower, we went upstairs to the Lido and enjoyed our sail away at 5:30.
Cape Town is on our list of MUST SEE cities – it’s a beautiful place, particularly the mountains, gardens and coastal areas. The residents are very friendly. Granted, there’s legitimate menace after dark depending on where you go, but that’s really true of any major city. The key is simply using common sense & proper transportation.
Off now to Namibia – 800 miles north, and a desert-like climate. Looking forward to the warmth again!