The Mother City Cape Town
EXPLORING CAPE TOWN CAN BE AN ADRENALINE-PUMPING EXPERIENCE, BUT LUCKILY THERE ARE AS MANY WAYS TO RELAX IN THE MOTHER CITY AS THERE ARE TO WORK UP A SWEAT.
In fact the only problem with Cape Town is finding time to fit in its many attractions and activities. A good place to start is the spot where the city itself essentially started. The Castle of Good Hope is the country’s oldest building, constructed in 1666 as the HQ of the Dutch refreshment station, where sailors stopped to replenish supplies as they made for the Indian spice route. Today, its low walls house historical exhibits and an excellent military museum that offers insight into the skirmishes that shaped South African history. A 20-minute walk from the Castle is the Company’s Garden, a superb city park that was once the very heart of the refreshment station – the site of the Dutch East India Company’s vegetable patch. En route to the garden, we stopped at some of the city’s superlative history museums and finished our stroll on Long Street, one of the most bustling in the city with its cool cafes, African eateries and stylish restaurants.
Cape Town’s weather is notoriously fickle and at any time the layer of thick cloud, known locally as the ‘tablecloth’ could settle on Table Mountain’s flat summit creating fine photos from below but obscuring the view if you’ve ventured atop its 1086 m peak. A trip up this mother of all city mountains is an absolute essential, so we planned to reach the top early in our trip lest the weather ruin our plans. Some hike, some climb, some even bike to the summit but most opt for the revolving cable car to the top. From the upper cable station it’s easy to appreciate why Cape Town constantly tops ‘prettiest city’ and ‘best destination’ lists. To the north, the urban sprawl of the city harbours top shopping spots, a myriad museums and eateries serving everything from home-grown Cape Malay dishes to Ethiopian specials and fine dim sum. To the west sit beaches worthy of any postcard while further south a wilder time awaits in the Cape Peninsula, where encounters with ostrich, penguins and baboons remind you that despite the often overwhelmingly European feel of the Mother City, this is Africa – at its very finest.
South Africa have attracted intensive migration over the centuries from India and the countries of the Far East. And a significant proportion of the immigrants were Muslims. In the 19th century the South African Muslims therefore formed a delegation asking the Ottoman Empire, then-leader of the world Muslim community, to send a religious scholar to teach them the precepts of Islam and resolve the existing conflicts. Upon the English Queen Victoria’s request to Sultan Abdulmejid, Ebu Bekir Efendi and his pupil, Ömer Lütfi Bey, arrived in Cape Town in 1863 and began teaching and enlightening the Muslim population. Built by Sultan Abdulhamid II in 1884, the Nur el-Hamidiye Mosque and several smaller mosques bearing the Ottoman star and crescent survive to this day as a reminder of the Ottoman presence in the country.
Whether we were sipping Rooibos tea at the historic Mount Nelson Hotel or experiencing another side of Cape Town in the Cape Flats, the sprawling suburbs east of the city, Table Mountain was watching over us. At times it even seems almost close enough to touch, highlighted so well against the vivid blue sky that you feel you could reach out and snap a chunk from its craggy outline. And few would argue that one of the finer spots to admire the mountain is the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Here we sampled South African cuisine as a male voice choir performed nearby, watched sea lions bathing in the sun and watched the boats come and go, all to the ever-attractive backdrop of the mountain.
It seems only right that a Cape Town tour should end at the place where once the world seemed to end – at the Cape of Good Hope. Once the scourge of sailors’ lives and home to the legend of the ghostly Flying Dutchman ship, the choppy waters around the Cape are now a major draw card for visitors. Those seeking the southernmost tip of Africa will be disappointed – that is to be found 250km east at Cape Agulhas – but at the Cape of Good Hope you can at least claim to have visited the continent’s south western corner and take a photo with the sign to prove it.
Architecture enthusiasts will be in heaven in Cape Town. From the most basic homes in the informal settlements of the Cape Flats to the elaborate Edwardian façade of City Hall, there’s a style to suit even the most demanding building buff. Shopping for souvenirs is one of the delights of Cape Town, with crafts ranging from wire sculptures and beaded jewelry to vivid paintings and intricate wooden carvings.
Sitting some 12km off the Cape Town coast, Robben Island boasts a career that is both lengthy and varied. Today it has found its true calling as a fascinating museum, with half day tours leaving by boat from the V&A Waterfront. Street performers abound at the V&A Waterfront, with visitors especially keen to see the traditional male voice choirs who spice up their melodies with well-rehearsed dance moves.
The Garden Route is a popular tourist trail along the southern coast, some five hours east of Cape Town. The route covers a verdant stretch of forest, beach and mountain known for its outdoor activities, adrenaline sports and stunning panoramas.
The Cape Peninsula is a dream to drive, from the vertiginous pass alongside Chapman’s Peak to the sweeping views of the 12 Apostles route or the expansive vistas across flatter ground in the National Park where Fynbos plants, unique to the Cape, line the traffic-free roads.
A thousands-strong colony of African Penguins provides a family-friendly attraction in Simon’s Town, south of the city. View the diminutive birds from afar at Foxy Beach or take the chance to paddle with them in the chilly waters at nearby Boulders Beach.
Thanks to the range of cultures, traditional cuisine is deliciously diverse, from simple Afrikaner fare like biltong to the spices of Cape Malay cuisine – the city’s home-grown culinary offering. The most South African of all meals though is the braai (the local word for barbeque).
Brightly-coloured paintings, intricately carved ostrich eggs, beaded jewelry and wooden animal ornaments are available in city souvenir shops and markets. For better prices, head to the latter and don’t be afraid to haggle!
Undoubtedly the most photographed homes in the city are the brightly painted houses of the Bo Kaap, a district largely home to the city’s Cape Malay population.
Whether you go alone or join a guided tour of Cape Point, make sure you take in the main sights – the Cape of Good Hope sign and the lighthouse. Those with more time can picnic on secluded beaches – just make sure you keep an eye out for hungry baboons!
Robben Island’s most famous resident was Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars in the island prison. Today his cell is something of a pilgrimage site for visitors following the ‘Madiba Trail’ – a series of sites around the country that played an important role in Mandela’s life.
Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Cape Town-Istanbul flights daily. Departure times are 11:45 p.m. from Istanbul and 5:10 p.m. from Cape Town.
Must do’s in Cape Town
Be sure to prolong the pleasure of the first light of day and the spectacular Table Mountain landscape by having breakfast overlooking the sea on the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. Have a picnic at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in its foothills. Visit the excellent city beaches on Camps Bay and Clifton’s coves, and discover the wild life of the Cape Peninsula.
Two hours east of Cape Town you’ll find Hermanus, the country’s whale watching HQ. Their position noted by the iconic ‘whale crier’ whose Morse code-like signals let visitors know where to find the animals.
Greenmarket Square is a top place to shop in Cape Town, with a range of arts and crafts on sale at reasonable prices. If you’re not a fan of shopping, soak up the atmosphere in one of the nearby pavement cafes.
One of the city’s major coasts, there are actually four beaches at Clifton Beach. Some 2 million people keen to usher in the New Year on a sunny shore gather here to celebrate every year.
Public transport in the city is improving and the city center is compact enough for strolling between attractions, but the best way to explore is to hire a car.
One of Cape Town’s most popular local festivals, Kaapse Klopse will take place on January 2. A costume show in colorful local garb is part of the festival, which aims to celebrate the new year all over again. Not only that but the traditional Two Oceans Marathon will be run on April 7 on the slogan, “the world’s most beautiful marathon”.
Mzoli Ngcawuzele Manager
“Cape Town is more than a city – it’s a destination. There is so much to see and do, whether you’re looking for a beautiful landscape or a cultural experience. We have mountains, islands, beautiful beaches and of course lots of excellent places to eat. I really think people should experience the townships as well as the city.”