Cape Town is one of the world’s luckiest cities. Cape Town, or the Mother City, as South Africans describe it, has it all. Literally.
Mountains, beaches, history, great food, great shopping, vineyards, a location to die for – and despite the mockery of people from Johannesburg, it actually doesn’t even have such awful weather. It does rain, that’s true, but that explains why it’s all so lush and green. It does get misty, but that’s what you get for living at the tip of Africa, washed by two oceans.
Cape Town, when the sun is shining, with Table Mountain watching benignly over the sparkling sea below, is beyond fabulous.
Table Mountain is as good a place as any to start exploring the city, because from its peak you get a wonderful view over the city, with the mountains behind the city bowl, and, out to sea, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 long years, under the apartheid government.
You can walk up Table Mountain – it’s a bit of a slog, but well sign-posted, and there is a certain smugness about doing it the 'hard' way. By far the easiest and most picturesque way up Table Mountain is via the cable car, which thoughtfully rotates to give everyone a fair chance of seeing the different views of the mountain and the sea.
Robben Island should be on everyone’s To Do list. Take a boat from the V & A Waterfront and experience a truly historic visit. All of Robben Island was a prison during those grim apartheid days, with Nelson Mandela the highest profile inmate. The guides who show you 'round the island today are ex-detainees themselves, but all political prisoners, not criminals, and they bring an added insight into an iconic place. You see the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and the quarry where he was made to work; it was the glare and the dust from the years of labor in the quarry that has so affected his eye-sight in the years since his release.
The V & A Waterfront is one of the magnets of the city: shops, restaurants, brilliant craft markets, a boardwalk with views of the harbor, the mountain and with noisy sea lions lolling about by the fishing boats, and the Two Oceans Aquarium. The Aquarium is truly excellent and has the added draw, if you are a qualified scuba diver and also a slightly lunatic seeker of thrills, of allowing you dive with the sharks in one of the huge fresh-water tanks. It is actually a lot of fun, though as you sit on the rim of the tank, looking down at the sharks circling below you in the freezing Atlantic water, you are forgiven for having a moment of 'What on earth am I doing here?'
There are many less stressful ways of enjoying Cape Town, of course. Drive down the coast to Cape Point, on the tip of Africa, which is set in the Cape Peninsula National Park. Seeing ostriches walking along the beach, among the sea weed, is a great thrill.
Drive to the pretty village of Boulders and see the Jackass Penguin colony there. They wander pretty much at will, so there are signs reminding you to check under your car before driving away. There is a boardwalk down to the beach, and as you walk down, look out for penguins, nests, eggs, and fluffy baby penguins at every turn. And yes, there are massive boulders on the beach. And yes, the penguins really do bray like donkeys, hence their name.
Drive through the mountains, over Chapman’s Peak, visiting the string of pretty villages that constitute many of Cape Town’s more beautiful suburbs. Visit the stunning Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which nestle at the foot of Table Mountain. The Malay quarter of Cape Town, called Bo-Kaap, is well worth exploring, with its brightly painted little houses in eye-popping colors. At 12 o' clock every day, the Noon Gun is sounded from the Observatory above Bo-Kaap, in a centuries-old tradition.
Cape Town is surrounded by vineyards, and each one seems more picturesque and beautiful than the other. Many of the wineries offer tours and wine tasting, amongst the most famous being the gorgeous Vergelegen estate, which dates back to 1700. Vergelegen has not only vines and peacocks that wander around the open-air restaurant, but also an avenue of exquisite old camphor trees, which are actually national monuments, and therefore protected.
Shopping, excellent sea-food, world class wines, mountains, beaches and history, with fabulous views in every direction – the Mother City truly has it all.