Mike Yardley’s travel notes as discussed on Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show.
Unlike Joberg, Cape Town enjoys a reputation of feeling safe and comfortable. Was that your impression?
The contrast couldn’t have been starker. After dabbling in the heady crime-racked cauldron of Joberg, Cape Town greets the visitor like an urban Garden of Eden. An instantly appealing city with extremely good looks and striking landmarks.
It’s a very cosmopolitan melting pot. Where is that best illustrated?
At the foot of Signal Hill, the neighbourhood of Bo Karp exemplifies Cape Town’s incredibly rich ethnic mix. Bo Karp was the original Dutch settlement, but is now the the spiritual home of the city’s Muslim community. Most of the residents are descendants of the slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and Africa, who were imported to the Cape in the 17th century. The cube-like houses are brightly painted in Rubik’s palette of shades, and they line narrow cobbled streets. It’s an awesome neighbourhood, and the local cuisine is called Cape Malay, in deference to the spicy flavours that transcend the local restaurant menus.
Next to Bo-Kaap you’ll find De Waterkant. This trendy area has become one of the most sought-after addresses in Cape Town. Many of the old 19th-century homes have been transformed to create a village feel reminiscent of London’s Soho and New York’s Greenwich Village. There are numerous art galleries and restaurants and the area is popular with fashionistas from around the globe.
How should people tackle the city’s great landmark, Table Mountain?
Well, last year, Table Mountain was crowned one of the 7 Wonders of Nature, following a lengthy global vote. You can get to the top of Cape Town’s most famous icon in just five minutes by taking the cable car up, which has a rotating floor, which ensures you get an incredible 360 panorama. Or if you want to spend the better part of your day scaling Table Mountain, the lung-busting walk up takes about 3 hours. The mountain is over a thousand metres in height, the temperature change is incredible, but the views across the Cape are soul-stirring. Here’s a fun fact – Table Mountain has more plant species than all of New Zealand.
From the top of Table Mountain, there are magnificent views of the Cape Town city centre, surrounding suburbs and the Atlantic Ocean. Landmarks in view include Cape Town Stadium, Robben Island and Camps Bay beach.There are a number of short walks on the top, as well as longer ones that can take you down to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the Silvermine Nature Reserve. Tickets can be purchased on the day of your visit at the lower station ticket office or a better option, particularly on busy days, is to pre-purchase online, to get priority position in the queue. http://tablemountain.net/buy_tickets/
Can you see Africa’s most southerly tip?
Yes, the views stretch right down to the Cape of Good Hope. But there is a misconception that Good Hope is the Land’s End of Africa. In fact, the southernmost point is the neighbouring Cape Agulhas.
What about the V&A Waterfront. Is that a top drawer?
I just adored the waterfront precinct, which is apparently South Africa’s most visited destination. Construction of the historic harbour commenced in 1860, with Prince Alfred in town. The Prince tipped the first stones for the breakwater, hence the name: V&A after Queen Victoria of England and her youngest son Alfred.
And it has evolved into becoming a mecca for dining, wining, shopping and sightseeing. Think Darling Harbour and the Viaduct. Mix them together, add in heaps of roaming street theatre and tribal buskers, and that is what the waterfront is like.
For those in search of local culture and history there are a number of museums and galleries that form part of the precinct – including the Maritime Centre in the Union Castle Building, which features a collection of ship models and objects associated with shipping in Cape Town, in particular the era of mail ships. You can also visit the Chavonnes Battery Museum– a heritage site and the first coastal fortification to protect Table Bay besides The Castle.
Robben Island. The tours are guided by former prisoners, right?
Indeed, and what a masterstroke idea to employ them as tour guides. They add so much pathos to the whole experience. My guide, Sapi, served time on the island with Nelson Mandela as a political prisoner. And what struck me was his lack of bitterness, despite all the degrading torture and brutality he endured. Just 9k offshore from the V & A Waterfront, it’s very much Africa’s Alcatraz. A World heritage site. It a sad, haunted-feeling kind of place. But a very powerful experience.
The island was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, and over the centuries has been used as a prison, a hospital, a mental institution, and a military base. It is most famous for being a political prison during apartheid, an era of racial segregation in South Africa, when many of South Africa’s most prominent freedom fighters spent time here. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of the 27 years he was imprisoned here.
How close are the Winelands to Cape Town?
Extremely close, and if you want to self-drive the winelands, the roads are great, the scenery spectacular. Durbanville and Helderberg are just 30 minutes from the city. Within an hour, you can get to the glorious vineyard hotspots of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Roberston. Those gabled Cape Dutch homesteads are a great sight. If you don’t want to self-drive, there’s oodles of guided day trips on offer from Cape Town.
Recommended dining spot – Mama Africa’s. Is their much game on the menu?
Well, yes, and I had to step out of my comfort zone for this. In the heart of town, Mama Africas is a bit of an institution, with fantastic live entertainment, featuring grass-roots African bands.But the regional cuisine is the key magnet. And the game mixed grill is like a safari on a plate, including ostrich, croc, springbok and antelope. Give it a crack.
For further travel insights, tips and advice, check out the website of New Zealand’s premier travel magazine, For the Love of Travel. http://www.fortheloveoftravel.net.nz
Did you see the 2 pieces of the Berlin Wall, on your travels in Cape Town?
No, I didn’t on my last trip. But I have heard how Cape Town has some remnants. Very cool!