After Kilimanjaro and 8 days on Safari, we were so ready to spend more than 2 days in one place, and that place happened to be Cape Town. Once again we were up early (3 am) to get to Nairobi airport for our flight to South Africa via a layover in Ethiopia, and it was another long day of travel. We got into Cape Town in the early afternoon and managed to figure out the transit system enough to get us to where we were staying. I definitely feel like we lucked out with the Air B&B we stayed in, as it was in a great location near everything we wanted to as well as being a great price for the week. And after 3 weeks without it, we were so glad for the A/C!
We spent a really chilled out evening with wine and, finally, a home cooked meal. As it was Sunday the next day and number of things were closed, we decided to sleep in and have a day to wander around and get to know the city. We ended up at the V&A Waterfront, which has a ton to do and is so pretty as well. We got there in time to see the start of the men’s triathlon world championships, and as it was so hot it was a nice excuse to stand in the shade and watch for a while. As we were there, we felt we needed to do the obligatory first South African beer next to the water – research for Rich’s beer post, of course – so we then found a pub to enjoy one in. Everything closes super early in Cape Town, and even earlier on a Sunday, so word of advice – plan ahead! We did not and got stuck eating leftover chicken for dinner because even all the take aways and restaurants were closed as well.
Monday we decided to go on a walking tour, and it was so good we ended up going on 2! We went with these guys and did the Historic Cape Town tour in the morning. It was more geared towards the settlement of Cape Town from the last few centuries rather than the immediate history of the last few decades and apartheid, but we’d decided that we were going to go to Robben Island later in the week as well as the District 6 museum, so we were quite happy to focus on general history and leave the apartheid to later on. It was a really great tour, and I would definitely recommend it as something to do, and a great way to see where a lot of the major sights are and orient yourself with the city.
Outside the court house – a reminder of the past
Once that tour finished, we went to our air b&b for some lunch and a break from the heat, before heading back in the afternoon to take the Bo-Kaap tour. Bo-Kaap is a neighbourhood in Cape Town that is known for its Cape Malay culture and cuisine, as it was originally built up to house ex-slaves who had been brought from predominantly Malaysia and Indonesia. Once slavery was outlawed, it also became home to a lot of Muslim immigrants, and the neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap flourished. Due to its location, the residence of Bo-Kaap were not forced out during apartheid, and some lot of the original inhabitants and culture remains in the area. One of the most recognisable aspects of Bo-Kaap are the brightly painted houses that line the streets, and each colour is determined by the colour of the brides wedding dress. I imagine they have some pretty spectacular weddings in the neighbourhood! Bo-Kaap is also home to the oldest mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque, which was built in 1794 and still in use today. Again, definitely recommend the tour as the guides are super knowledgeable and take you to places you potentially wouldn’t find on your own. Both tours were free, and asked for tips at the end if you felt they deserved it, so even if it isn’t a great tour, you won’t come away feeling disappointed as you can choose to pay or not.
Tuesday we got up and headed back to the waterfront, as we were hoping to get a ferry over to Robben Island. When we arrived, we found out that all tours were sold out for the day and most of tomorrow as well. Fair warning: if you’re wanting to go, plan ahead and book tickets. We thought that because it wasn’t “peak season” we’d be okay to book on the day, but unless you’re willing to be there as soon as the ticket office opens, it’ll most likely be sold out. There were so many disappointed people in line with us that said it was their only free day to do it, and as they couldn’t get tickets they would not be able to go at all. We had no set plans and were flexible, so we prebooked tickets for Friday to guarantee we’d get to go, and found ourselves with a free day. It was the hottest day we’d experienced so far, and we didn’t feel like trying to climb Table Mountain in that heat, so we ended up renting a car to drive to Boulder Beach and the Cape of Good Hope instead.
Boulder Beach is about an hours drive from Cape Town, and is home to a colony of African Penguins, which are an endangered species. The first pair arrived here in 1982, and now it’s estimated to have a population between two and three thousand birds. Boulders Beach is aptly named for the boulders that line the coast, but there is a little
beach where people can go to swim and play. We ended up skipping the beach and going straight for the boardwalk that goes through the penguins habitat, as we wanted to also make it down to the Cape of Good Hope for the afternoon. It was the middle of mating and molting season, so there were a lot of half naked, frisky birds to see, which made for some pretty comical sights. It was super busy; however, and we only ended up staying for about an hour before moving on. If we’d planned better and gotten there earlier, I definitely would have gone to the beach area for a bit, as was less crowded there and you get to swim in incredibly clear waters with the penguins around you, which I would have loved to do.
Instead, we grabbed an ice cream and hopped back into the car to drive an hour further to get to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Most people think that the Cape of Good Hope is the most southern tip of Africa, which it’s not – that would be Cape Agulhas – but it is the most South West point of Africa, as well as being the point where ships begin to travel more eastward than southward. It’s a pretty stunning area with some gorgeous views across the ocean, and a nice walk up to the light house. As we got there and started walking up, the clouds started coming in and the wind picked up, so by the time we made it up to the lighthouse it was blowing so hard it was tough to stay upright. It did mean that the skyline was stunning as a storm blew in and we started to see lightning on the horizon. It was late in the afternoon by that point and started to rain, so we jumped back into the car and enjoyed the drive back to Cape Town.
Wednesday was Valentine’s day, and our plan was to have a lazy morning before hiking up Table Mountain late in the afternoon to watch the sunset with a bottle of bubbly before heading down to go out for dinner. As they say: “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” That’s exactly what happened to us, as I woke up in the morning with food poisoning and ended up spending the day in bed. Not fun. I was definitely not up for leaving the flat, let alone trying to climb Table Mountain, and unfortunately we weren’t going to have time to climb on any other day, which was really disappointing for me. Rich was fine and decided he was going to do it himself, so he got his stuff together and left me to sleep for the afternoon. Although it was really hot out, he made it to the top where a cold beer was waiting for him to enjoy. I woke up to some lovely pictures from him where he was pretending I was there, and it was nice to know he was at least thinking about me!
Thursday we were able to meet up with our close friends, Luke and Emma, who were in Cape Town for a wedding at the same time that we were there. We met them for brunch at the waterfront and spent the morning with them, which was so nice. It was a like a little bit of home was with us, and we had a great catch up, dispite the fact we’d only been gone for about 4 weeks. As I wasn’t completely recovered, soon after Emma and Luke headed off we did as well, and ended up spending a lazy afternoon watching films in the air conditioning.
Luckily, I was feeling much better by Friday, which was good because we’d booked tickets to go to Robben Island and didn’t want to miss it. Robben Island is a little island just off the coast of Cape Town, and over the last few hundred years it has been used for various things including a leper colony, an animal quarantine station, and for housing political prisoners. During apartheid, it was used as a prison for male convicted criminals and political prisoners, the most notable one being Nelson Mandela. He was there for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned for, and our guide for the afternoon was another prisoner who spent 8 years on the island, and who was there at the same time as Mandela. It was really interesting hearing his stories and seeing how they lived whilst they were on the island. When asked why he would ever want to come back to the place where so much was taken away from him, he explained that he wants to show the world that Robben Island is no longer a place of hurt and imprisonment, but one of hope and learning. The prison was officially closed in 1996, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. Originally people were able to walk aroud the island on self guided tours, but they stopped that as people were taking too long and the ferry kept getting delayed. Now there is a bus tour that takes you around the island, where you see the barracks, quarry, isolation area, and various other things, before being dropped off for a walking tour of the cell blocks where the prisoners were kept.
It was really interesting, but I was hoping we would get a bit more around the history of apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s role in ending it, as well what happened during his time on the island. Instead, it was a really general history of the island and what it was used for over the years, and a brief look at what day to day life was like for the various prisoners that were housed there. If you’ve got the time, it’s worth a visit, but there are a lot of other things I would recommend over Robben Island if you’ve only got a couple days in Cape Town and are struggling to fit everything in.
Other then me getting to climb Table Mountian, we did everything in Cape Town that we had wanted to do. Being there for an entire week meant we had the time and flexibility to change plans as needed, while also not feeling like we were on the go all the time. The one thing I kind of wanted to do but didn’t was to have a day at the beach, but we also knew we’d get that opportunity the following week when we travelled the Garden Route, as well as many beach days once we got to Australia, so it wasn’t a big deal. The 2 nights we’d planned to go out for some traditional South African food were both kind of ruined by me getting food poisoning; although we still went, I didn’t eat much and Rich enjoyed the experience much more then I did!
I hadn’t been massively excited for Cape Town before we left as it wasn’t somewhere I ever really wanted to go, but I really glad we did. It was a great city, even with the water restrictions in place, and there was more to do and see then I thought there would be. We both really enjoyed ourselves, and it’s a place I would love to go back to again, maybe without the food poisoning next time though!