South Africa: Exploring the Cape Peninsula
I remember my very own words as my friends and I drove ever closer, “bring on the final act and show me Cape Town!” As if the country of South Africa itself didn’t have enough to offer the visitor, with it’s mix of wildlife, rolling landscapes and endless pristine coastlines. We had just taken two weeks to drive around most of South Africa, visiting game reserves, old battlegrounds from the Boer and Zulu wars, and enjoy hiking in the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains. Then came the pleasant drive along the famous Garden Route, which led us charmingly and quite literally to the end of continent of Africa at the Cape Peninsula. At the heart of it all really is the proverbial “jewel in the crown”, a neat metropolis in a stunning setting, Cape Town, or Kaapstad as the Afrikaans call it.
Our first day in the area was spent inland at Stellenbosch, the centre of the winelands. The university town boasted fine Old Cape Dutch architecture, with museums as a reminder of the first settlers’ experiences here. Outside town we found a host of beautiful vineyard estates making for a pleasurable afternoons’ sightseeing. In all honesty though, the day became unquestionably more ‘rosy’ after sampling some of the local vintages that make the wine route world famous. My friends and I then really pushed the boat out by ending the evening at the student bar at Stellenbosch University. “Getting sloshed in the ‘Bosch” has a kind of ring to it! Would we ever make it back to Cape Town?
The next morning with sore heads we approached undoubtedly the premier attraction on the Cape Peninsula, the gargantuan Table Mountain. I thought what better way to blow away the cobwebs of our previous day of wine tasting than to walk up to the tabletop summit. I was hit with my friends’ comments of “you’ve got to kidding!” They ‘just’ persuaded me onto the five-minute cable car option instead. The view from up top was astounding; not only off the north-facing wall of rock but to the west you overlook the fine beaches of Camps Bay. We were blessed with a clear day and therefore yet another vista stretching some 20 miles south to the Cape of Good Hope, a journey we hoped to make later this very same day.
The Cape Peninsula is deceivingly larger than it appears on the map so it took us a while longer than expected to reach the end of the earth at the Cape of Good Hope. This was also in part due to the fine stop-off points there were along the coastal route south. At Hout Bay we were lucky enough to see whales basking in the ocean waves. Either that or the wine from the day before was still playing tricks. By mid afternoon we had walked around Cape Point and bagged the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwesterly point of Africa. Despite it being a calm and fine day back in the city, down here we were battered by ferocious winds. Sea voyages from Europe to Asia in centuries gone by would surely have found this a precariously foreboding landmark.
The third day gave us a chance to enjoy the waterfront area of Cape Town in the morning. It’s a modern development full of shops and restaurants, but also a gateway to catch a boat to Robben Island. It was here that Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were held captive during the apartheid era. This proved to be an educational and moving afternoons’ encounter. Indeed the tour guide himself was a former inmate and therefore described with considerable feeling a prisoner’s brutal experience on Robben Island. We made it back to Cape Town just in time to watch the sunset over the Atlantic and rue the fact we only had one day left before flying home.