Reasons to love Cape Town
Cape Town needs no sales pitch. Established as a kitchen garden in 1652 to restock ships en route to India, it still replenishes, with picturesque coves carved into a mountainous peninsula, slopes carpeted in an astonishing floral biodiversity, and vineyards that produce the New World’s most underrated wines.
Here are ten reasons to love Cape Town.
The original Khoi inhabitants named the iconic flat-topped massif ‘Hoerikwaggo’, Mountain of the Sea, and it is precisely this unique geography – towering mountains that drop, at times perpendicularly, into the vast blue – that is so seductive.
2. Boulders Penguins
The African penguin colony that settled at Boulders beach in 1982 has become a de rigueur stop on every peninsula tour, but those in the know pack a bather and join them in the bracing waters, or watch their antics while sprawled on the beach.
3. Cape Dutch History & Winelands
The oldest winemaking region in the New World is a delight to explore, albeit rather overwhelming – you could spend an entire year sampling your way through more than 500 wineries, from historic Cape Dutch homesteads to modernistic cubes overlooking vineyard-clad valleys.
4. Table Mountain Cable Car
With some 350 paths to the summit, hiking up Table Mountain is a day well spent but those pushed for time ascend in five minutes via a rotating cable car that provides 360° views of the fast-receding city and the sandstone cliff face that dwarfs it.
5. Museum of Contemporary African Art
Conveniently located next to the departure point for the Robben Island ferries, the MOCAA is the largest repository of the continent’s contemporary art, worth visiting to view the repurposed grain silo that houses it as much as the collection itself.
6. V&A Waterfront
The redevelopment of the city’s industrial docklands into the mixed use V&A Waterfront is considered one of the most successful in the world, not least because – amongst the chi chi hotels, restaurants and shops – is the beating heart of an authentic, gritty, working harbour.
7. Cape Point
A 7750-ha nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park, the most southwesterly tip of the continent is oft beset by vicious winds, its sheer, jagged cliffs pounded by a wild Atlantic that devoured many ships prior to the 1859 lighthouse, accessed today via the ‘Flying Dutchman’ funicular.
8. Kirstenbosch Gardens
One of the world’s great botanical gardens, with manicured lawns that blend seamlessly into the dense indigenous forests that carpet the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch hosts sunset concerts in the summer – a backdrop that is worth a picnic, regardless of whose playing.
In a city that still suffers a geospatial hangover from apartheid, the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Bo Kaap is to be treasured, not least when the plangent call of the muezzin floats across the city, calling the faithful to prayer.
Generally speaking, summers are hot and sometimes windy but temperatures and cloud cover can vary enormously at any particular moment, depending on which side of the mountain you find yourself, or how far you are from the coast. One weather pattern that is predicable: when it rains, the locals rejoice.
Source: The Daily Telegraph
Table mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. The view from the top of Table Mountain has been described as one of the most epic views in Africa.
Table Mountain is one of the official New7Wonders of Nature, following a lengthy international public voting process.
At its highest point, Table Mountain reaches 1 085m (3 560ft) and affords 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.
Table Mountain is known for its rich biodiversity and is home to over 1 500 species of plants (more than the number found throughout the entire British Isles), most of them fynbos, which forms one of the world’s six plant kingdoms all on its own.
Kirstenbosch is South Africa’s world-famous national botanical garden, set against the backdrop of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak, and home to more than 22 000 indigenous plants.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is world renowned for the beauty and diversity of the Cape flora it displays and for the magnificence of its setting against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain.It has been voted one of the world’s top picnic spots by National Geographic Magazine. The rolling lawns, over 7 000 plant species and indigenous plants and the rugged slopes of majestic Table Mountain all add up to an experience like no other.It is ranked with the world’s top seven botanical gardens and being recognized by one of the world’s top magazines is a proud moment”. See travel.nationalgeographic.com.
The estate covers 528 hectares and supports a diverse fynbos flora and natural forest. The cultivated garden (36 hectares) displays collections of South African plants, particularly those from the winter rainfall region of the country.
Read more: https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch
Once “home” to some of South Africa’s most famous political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Robben Island is one of South Africa’s most visited tourist attractions.
Robben Island is situated some 9km (5.5mi) offshore from Cape Town. 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.
“Today when I look at Robben Island, I see it as a celebration of the struggle and a symbol of the finest qualities of the human spirit, rather than as a monument to the brutal tyranny and oppression of apartheid. It is true that Robben Island was once a place of darkness, but out of that darkness has come a wonderful brightness, a light so powerful that it could not be hidden behind prison walls…” Nelson Mandela
This famous little windswept island has captured hearts and minds around the globe. The intention to silence anti-apartheid leaders by imprisoning them on Robben Island had the opposite effect. Instead, Robben Island came under the spotlight as a focal point for international resistance to the regime. Today it has become a symbol of freedom, the transformative power of forgiveness, and a place of political pilgrimage. The entire 6 square kilometer island is now a UN World Heritage Site.
In 1961 an austere maximum-security prison was built on Robben Island. It was here that Nelson Mandela was sent after receiving a life imprisonment sentence in 1963. Political and common-law prisoners were initially lodged together. Contact with the outside world was limited to receiving and sending two letters a year. Beatings, hard physical labour in the lime quarry, prolonged solitary confinement and insufficient food, bedding and clothing were endured for many years. Hunger strikes, legal action and international pressure eventually brought better conditions. The prison even became an informal university behind bars, with prisoners tutoring their warders. 1991 saw the release of the remaining political detainees and in 1996 the common-law prisoners were transferred to the mainland.
Daily tours depart by ferry from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Waterfront. The ferry trip takes 30 minutes to the tiny harbour. From there a bus ride takes one to historic places like the kramat, leper graveyard, a church designed by Sir Herbert Baker and the lime quarry where political prisoners endured lengthy hours of tough physical labour. Driving along the shipwreck strewn coast you can spot some antelope, plentiful seabirds and the lighthouse. The last stop is the maximum security prison.
The guides are former inmates and will take you along the Footsteps of Mandela tour in the notorious B-section. Mandela’s sparse cell is open, the others locked and empty. The A-section houses the Cell Stories exhibition, evoking the meagerness of prison life. Former prisoners have loaned personal items including an amazing saxophone that works, crafted from found bits and pieces. Have a look at the interesting Smuggled Camera Exhibition in the communal cells. Prisoners managed to slip cameras onto the island in the late 1980s. The enlarged photos are heart warming, giving an indication of their solidarity, friendship and expectancy that it would soon be over. The entire trip lasts three and a half hours
The V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is South Africa’s most visited destination, attracting millions of visitors every year – and for good reason, given the location’s combination of shops, restaurants, nightspots, tourist attractions and museums in the city’s historic harbour. Construction for this harbour began as early as 1860, when Prince Alfred tipped the first stones for the breakwater, hence the attraction’s name: V&A after Queen Victoria of England and her youngest son Alfred.
Lying west of the industrial Duncan Dock, the V&A Waterfront is Cape Town’s original Victorian harbour. Before its construction the Cape of Storms was notorious for wrecking ships during ferocious winter spells. In 1860 a very young Prince Alfred ceremoniously dumped the first load of stone to begin work on the Breakwater and 1869 the twin basin dock was completed.
Renovated period buildings, imitation Victorian malls, piers and a busy harbour coexist with an astonishing collection of pubs, clubs, eateries, museums and outdoor theatres set against the panoramic view of Table Mountain.
The star of the show is the two-level Victoria Wharf, crammed with an array of shops, cinemas, kiosks and stalls. It houses a diverse variety of restaurants, ranging from sushi bars, coffee shops, take-out joints and upmarket venues, the most popular being the outdoor ones where you can enjoy the vistas created by harbour lights and the surreal lit Table Mountain.
Cape Town is located at latitude 33.55° S (approx. the same as Sydney and Buenos Aires and equivalent to Casablanca and Los Angeles in the northern hemisphere) and longitude 18.25° E. Table Mountain, with its near vertical cliffs and flat-topped summit over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) high, and with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head on either side, together form a dramatic mountainous backdrop enclosing the central area of Cape Town, the so-called City Bowl. A thin strip of cloud, known colloquially as the “tablecloth”, sometimes forms on top of the mountain. To the immediate south, the Cape Peninsula is a scenic mountainous spine jutting 40 kilometres (25 mi) southwards into the Atlantic Ocean and terminating at Cape Point. There are over 70 peaks above 1,000 feet (300 m) within Cape Town’s official city limits. Many of the city’s suburbs lie on the large plain called the Cape Flats, which extends over 50 kilometres (30 mi) to the east and joins the peninsula to the mainland. The Cape Flats is situated on what is known as a rising marine plain, consisting mostly of sandy geology and confirming that at one point Table Mountain was itself an island.. The Cape Town region generally, with its Mediterranean climate, extensive coastline, rugged mountain ranges, coastal plains, inland valleys and semi-desert fringes, has much in common with Southern California.
There is no certainty as to when humans first occupied the area prior to the first visits of Europeans in the 15th century. The earliest known remnants in the region were found at Peers cave in Fish Hoek and date to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. Little is known of the history of the region’s first residents, since there is no written history from the area before it was first mentioned by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1486. Vasco da Gama recorded a sighting of the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. In the late 16th century, Portuguese, French, Danish, Dutch and English ships regularly stopped over in Table Bay en route to the Indies. They traded tobacco, copper and iron with the Khoikhoi in exchange for fresh meat. In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck and other employees of the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Verenigde Oost-indische Compagnie, VOC) were sent to the Cape to establish a way-station for ships travelling to the Dutch East Indies, and the Fort de Goede Hoop (later replaced by the Castle of Good Hope). The settlement grew slowly during this period, as it was hard to find adequate labour. This labour shortage prompted the authorities to import slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar. Many of these became ancestors of the first Cape Coloured communities.Under Van Riebeeck and his successors as VOC commanders and later governors at the Cape, an impressive range of useful plants were introduced to the Cape – in the process changing the natural environment forever. Some of these, including grapes, cereals, ground nuts, potatoes, apples and citrus, had an important and lasting influence on the societies and economies of the region.
During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the Netherlands was repeatedly occupied by France, and Great Britain moved to take control of Dutch colonies. Britain captured Cape Town in 1795, but the Cape was returned to the Netherlands by treaty in 1803. British forces occupied the Cape again in 1806 following the battle ofBloubergstrand. In the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, Cape Town was permanently ceded to Britain. It became the capital of the newly formed Cape Colony, whose territory expanded very substantially through the 1800s. With expansion, came calls for greater independence from Britain, with the Cape attaining its own parliament in 1854, and a locally accountable Prime Minister in 1872. Suffrage was established according to the non-racial Cape Qualified Franchise.
The discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West in 1867, and the Witwatersrand Gold Rush in 1886, prompted a flood of immigrants to South Africa. Conflicts between the Boer republics in the interior and the British colonial government resulted in the Second Boer War of 1899–1902, which Britain won. In 1910, Britain established the Union of South Africa, which unified the Cape Colony with the two defeated Boer Republics and the British colony of Natal. Cape Town became the legislative capital of the Union, and later of the Republic of South Africa.
In the 1948 national elections, the National Party won on a platform of apartheid (racial segregation) under the slogan of “swart gevaar”. This led to the erosion and eventual abolition of the Cape’s multiracial franchise, as well as to the Group Areas Act, which classified all areas according to race. Formerly multi-racial suburbs of Cape Town were either purged of unlawful residents or demolished. The most infamous example of this in Cape Town was District Six. After it was declared a whites-only region in 1965, all housing there was demolished and over 60,000 residents were forcibly removed. Many of these residents were relocated to the Cape Flats and Lavender Hill. Under apartheid, the Cape was considered a “Coloured labour preference area”, to the exclusion of “Bantus”, i.e. blacks.
Cape Town was home to many leaders of the anti-apartheid movement. On Robben Island, a former penitentiary island 10 kilometres from the city, many famous political prisoners were held for years. In one of the most famous moments marking the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech since his imprisonment, from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall hours after being released on 11 February 1990. His speech heralded the beginning of a new era for the country, and the first democratic election, was held four years later, on 27 April 1994. Nobel Square in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront features statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners: Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. Since 1994, the city has struggled with problems such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, a surge in violent drug-related crime and more recent xenophobic violence. At the same time, the economy has surged to unprecedented levels due to the boom in the tourism and the real estate industries.
Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csb), with mild, moderately wet winters and dry, warm summers. Winter, which lasts from the beginning of June to ic Ocean with significant precipitation and strong north-westerly winds. Winter months in the city average a maximum of 18.0 °C (64 °F) and minimum of 8.5 °C (47 °F). Total annual rainfall in the city averages 515 millimetres (20.3 in). Summer, which lasts from early December to March, is warm and dry with an average maximum of 26.0 °C (79 °F) and minimum of 16.0 °C (61 °F). The region can get uncomfortably hot when the Berg Wind, meaning “mountain wind”, blows from the Karoo interior for a couple of weeks in February or early March. Late spring and early summer may sometimes feature a strong wind from the south-east, known locally as the Cape Doctor, so called because it blows air pollution away. This wind is caused by a high-pressure system which sits in the South Atlantic to the west of Cape Town, known as the South Atlantic High. Cape Town’s average amount of sunshine per year (3,100 hours) compares favourably with that of Los Angeles (3,300 hours) and exceeds that of Athens and Madrid (2,900 hours).
Water temperatures range greatly, between 10 °C (50 °F) on the Atlantic Seaboard, to 22 °C (72 °F) in False Bay. Average annual Ocean temperatures are between 13 °C (55 °F) on the Atlantic Seaboard (similar to Californian waters, such as San Francisco or Big Sur), and 17 °C (63 °F) in False Bay (similar to Northern Mediterranean temperatures, such as Nice or Monte Carlo). The end of August, may see large cold fronts entering for limited periods from the Atlantic
Flora and fauna
Located in a CI Biodiversity hotspot as well as the unique Cape Floristic Region, the city of Cape Town has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any equivalent area in the world. These protected areas are a World Heritage Site, and an estimated 2 200 species of plants are confined to Table Mountain – more than exist in the whole of the United Kingdom which has 1 200 plant species and 67 endemic plant species. Many of these species, including a great many types of proteas, are endemic to the mountain and can be found nowhere else.
It is home to a total of 19 different vegetation types, of which several are completely endemic to the city and occur nowhere else in the world. It is also the only habitat of hundreds of endemic species, and hundreds of others which are severely restricted or threatened. This enormous species diversity is mainly because the city is uniquely located at the convergence point of several different soil types and micro-climates.
Table Mountain has an unusually rich biodiversity. Its vegetation consists predominantly of several different types of the unique and rich Cape Fynbos. The main vegetation type is endangered Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos, but critically endangered Peninsula Granite Fynbos, Peninsula Shale Renosterveld and Afromontane forest occur in smaller portions on the mountain.
Unfortunately, rapid population growth and urban sprawl has covered much of these ecosystems with development. Consequently Cape Town now has over 300 threatened plant species and 13 which are now extinct. The Cape Peninsula, which lies entirely within the city of Cape Town, has the highest concentration of threatened species of any continental area of equivalent size in the world. Tiny remnants of critically endangered or near extinct plants often survive on road sides, pavements and sports fields. The remaining ecosystems are partially protected through a system of over 30 nature reserves – including the massive Table Mountain National Park.
Main article: Biodiversity of Cape Town-