Western Cape Attractions
Cape Town seen from the Harbour
With its majestic Table Mountain backdrop, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A harmonious blend of architectural styles reflects the tastes of dictates of the past as well as today's more functional requirements. Between the high-rise office blocks, Edwardian and Victorian buildings have been meticulously preserved, and many outstanding examples of Cape Dutch architecture are found. Narrow, cobble stone streets and the strongly Islamic ambiance of the Bo-Kaap enhance the cosmopolitan ambiance of the city.
Cape Town shopping options invite you to endlessly browse. Elegant malls such as the Victoria Wharf at the V&A Waterfront, antique shops, craft markets, flea markets and art galleries abound. Specialist boutiques offer an enticing array of unusual items not readily obtainable elsewhere. Gourmets and lovers of fine wines have a treat in store, with the Constantia Winelands producing some of the finest wines worldwide.
Cape Town City Bowl, Cape Town
Cape Town City Bowl from Signal Hill
Lying snug in the immense arms of Table Mountain, Cape Town’s city bowl is amazingly aptly named. The heart of Cape Town is enfolded neatly between the harbour and the mountain, virtually in the shape of a bowl. With nowhere else to move and stretch its boundaries, the city bowl is a self-contained entity, almost like a martini before it’s poured, all shook up and tingling with taste.
The city bowl holds some of the most interesting and historically significant neighbourhoods and the likes of the Bo Kaap, Oranjezicht, Tamboerskloof and Gardens provide hours of easy meanderings, restaurants and historical sights. The city centre lies encircled by these suburbs that, the closer one gets to the mountain, the steeper they become, so that Higgovale and Oranjezicht lie right up on the slopes of Table Mountain.
Other than soak up the vibe, which is typically Cape Town's, there’s plenty to do in the heart of city bowl. Taking the obligatory ride up the cable car to Table Mountain’s top is well worth the effort, although waiting for a clear day with no sign of the tablecloth is a safer option. Lion’s Head, the conical shaped mountain next to the table top is another mountain worth scaling, particularly on nights of full moon. The 1.5 hour walk to the top is best timed so that the summit is reached as the moon takes to the sky.
Head over the gap known as Kloof Nek between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and you descend into Camps Bay, just one of the popular Atlantic Seaboard beaches that continue to Llandudno and Hout Bay. Or venture round the western corner of the bowl to the popular De Waterkant, Green Point and Sea Point.
Constantia Valley, Cape Town
The Constantia Winelands
One of the most beautiful valleys in the Cape, the Constantia Valley, is an abundant array of forests, hills, stately historical homes and vineyards - a heady mix of old and new that lies nestled in the shadow of the Constantia Mountain, just outside of the city centre.
The valley of the vines as it is known due to the splendour of one of the Cape’s original wine routes, which today is one of the only wine appellation areas less than 20 minutes from a city centre, is an effortless green lung of the southern suburbs. Its northern boundaries lie against Kirstenbosch and Wynberg Park, whilst the Tokai Forest lies to the south of the valley imbuing it with a rich lushness even in summer.
Groot Constantia, Steenberg (recently acquired by Graham Beck), Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachtung and Constantia Uitsig are five worldclass vineyards that lie along the Constantia Wine Route – the route lined with huge, old trees that immediately add a sense of entering a past dimension.
Constantia valley still boasts farm land, smallholdings and little farms against the mountain, despite the increase in the area’s population growth, and catching a glimpse of riders on horseback, in a very similar vein to more outlying areas of Cape Town like Noordhoek, is common.
Despite this proximity to open land and a sense of being outside of the city, the Constantia Valley is anything but in slumber. Restaurants and outdoor venues abound – Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in particular is a beautiful and popular venue for locals and visitors alike – there are local malls, and the False Bay beaches such as Muizenberg, St James and Fish Hoek are all easily accessible from the valley.
Cape Helderberg, Cape Town
The Cape Helderberg, or Helderberg basin, is one of the most visually dramatic areas in the Cape, with the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg Mountain ranges creating a powerful backdrop against which the valley descends into vineyards and finally on to a coastline swept with warm waters and effortlessly white, sandy beaches.
This is the land of the Helderberg and Stellenbosch wine routes and home to the towns of Gordon’s Bay, Sir Lowry’s Pass, Somerset West, Strand, Lwandle and Macassar. 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, the land that originally belonged to the Strandlopers has become a playground for visitors and locals ...
Gordon’s Bay is an invitation for windsurfing, surfing and braaing – it has one of the few braai areas on the Helderberg coast - and the walk along the harbour wall to take in the yachts and boats as they leave and enter the protected marina, is a must. If it’s swimming, sunbathing and a stroll on the beach you’re after, then Melkbaai, Strand’s Bikini beach and Main beach are good options; and avid surfers head out to Kogelbay, if Gordon’s Bay is too busy.
The Helderberg Wine Route, a subsidiary of the Stellenbosch Wine Route, has a distinct personality and wines produced here are heavily influenced by cool sea breezes and ideal soil conditions. Vineyards line the slopes of the Helderberg, sharing both a mountain and maritime climate that has resulted in world class examples of wine on a route that ranges from a 300-year old historical manor to art boutique wineries. Overlooking False Bay, the Helderberg Nature Reserve offers picnic spots, hiking trails and a number of Bontebok, squirrels and the occasional tortoise.
Southern Suburbs, Cape Town
Kirstenbosch Gardens, Southern Suburbs
The group of suburbs lying south east of the City Bowl and Table Mountain in Cape Town are collectively known as the ‘southern suburbs’.
Observatory (known as Obs), Mowbray, Rosebank, Rondebosch, Pinelands, Claremont, Kenilworth, Newlands, Bishopscourt, and Wynberg are also more established and sought after than their northern counterparts; although property right at the coast on the Atlantic Seaboard is still amongst the most exclusive in Cape Town.
For the most part, the Southern Suburbs lie at the base of Table Mountain National Park, a mountainous backbone that stretches all the way from Signal Hill to Cape Point, creating an impressive backdrop that infuses the southern suburbs with a natural leafiness, in most part due to the frequent blanket of clouds that tend to hang over the mountains, and relative shelter from the wind.
The southern suburbs are predominantly residential, and most of them incredibly pretty with a variety of older-style homes that range from cottage-style semis in Mowbray, Claremont and Wynberg, to more ornate and certainly far larger homes in Constantia, Newlands and Bishopscourt (also see the Constantia Valley). Extensive gardens, pretty shopping areas like Cavendish Street from the Vineyard Road corner in Claremont, and Wynberg village; the cosmopolitan high street of Observatory, and attractions like Kirstenbosch, Mostert’s Mill in Mowbray, the Baxter Theatre in Rosebank and the Irma Stern Museum, make this part of Cape Town rather attractive.
It is also the home of the University of Cape Town, which lies on the mountain above Rosebank, Rondebosh, Mowbray and Obs. As a result these parts are often a good place in which to party when the budget is tight, and there are many student digs and a lively street atmosphere.
False Bay, Cape Town
Fish Hoek Beach, False Bay Coast
For those who visit this effortless coast that stretches in a glorious arc all the way from Hangklip, close to Pringle Bay, through to Cape Point on the peninsula, there are unlimited opportunities for safe swimming and dramatic beauty that incorporates white, sandy beaches, beautiful valleys and sweeping vistas.
For many, the False Bay coastline is preferable to the trendier Atlantic - the waters of the Indian Ocean are warmer for one, and less inundated by sun worshipping wannabees.
False Bay, named such because early navigators mistook Hangklip for Cape Point, is the largest true bay in South Africa and one of the great bays of the world. It is no surprise to learn that the distance across False Bay (33 kilometres from Rooiels to Miller’s Point) remains a rather daunting prospect for even the most primed marathon swimmers - it has eluded almost 90% of those who have tried - and has been attempted 20 times with only three successes.
The False Bay coast is a continuous collection of seaside villages and hamlets, their narrow avenues lined with quirky and quaint shops, hotels, restaurants and pubs. Implicit in the diversity is the promise of myriad picnic spots and lookout spots, particularly during the whale season when whales enter the bay to calve.
Some of the most popular of these in and around Cape Town include Muizenberg - popular amongst surfers and swimmers alike – Kalk Bay – a little character fishing village, with a vibrant day and night life – and Simon’s Town – the historical naval village. The wide stretches of beaches central to the bay - Monwabisi, Macassar and Mnandi - are favoured for fishing, whilst the villages of Rooiels, Hanglip and Pringle Bay all offer cosy getaways.
Cape Town Beaches, Western Cape
Llandudno Beach on the Atlantic Ocean Coast
The Mother City has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and something to offer everyone. It is no surprise that South Africa was one of the first countries outside of Europe to earn blue flag status for some of her beaches - there are three on offer in and around Cape Town.
The blend of 2 oceans (the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean) and hence 2 different styles of beach, divided by a 1000m high peninsula, leaves Cape Town an unrivalled holiday destination.
The west side of the Cape Peninsula, on the Atlantic Ocean, has a very definite style of beach. This is where the more fashionable set go to see and be seen, particularly along the Atlantic Seaboard, also known as Cape Town’s "Riviera", which stretches from the V&A Waterfront on the north shore of Table Mountain up as far as Hout Bay and is connected by one of the most picturesque, scenic drives along Victoria Road.
Beaches here enjoy longer sunshine hours, incomparable sunsets and more protection from the "Cape Doctor" (Cape Town’s infamous south easterly) than the False Bay side of the Cape peninsula. There is a spectacular selection of unspoilt beaches with seas that are usually 3 to 4 degrees colder than the Indian Ocean but this doesn’t seem to worry anyone soaking up the sun against the backdrop of blue skies and white sands.
North of the Atlantic Seaboard are the beaches of Table Bay. These sport the picture-postcard views of Cape Town over Table Mountain and Robben Island and tend to be more popular with locals, particularly kitesurfers. Beyond Hout Bay, beaches such as Noordhoek and Scarborough are less frequented but no less beautiful, rather they’re where the locals can get away from the crowds.
Robben Island, Cape Town
Cape Town from Robben Island
For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here at Robben Island that rulers sent those regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society.
During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. The duty of those who ran Robben Island and the Robben Island prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Some freedom fighters spent more than a quarter of a century in prison on Robben Island for their beliefs. Those imprisoned on the Island succeeded on a psychological and political level in turning a prison 'hell-hole' into a symbol of freedom and personal liberation. Robben Island came to symbolise, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but also for the entire world, the triumph of the human spirit over enormous hardship and adversity.
People lived on Robben Island many thousands of years ago, when the sea channel between the Island and the Cape mainland was not covered with water. Since the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, Robben Island has been used primarily as a prison.
Indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch and British settler soldiers and civilians, women, and anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela and the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, were all imprisoned on Robben Island.
Today, however, Robben Island also tells us about victory over Apartheid and other human rights abuses: 'the
indestructibility of the spirit of resistance against colonialism, injustice and oppression'. Overcoming opposition from the prison authorities, prisoners on Robben Island after the 1960s were able to organise sporting events, political debates and educational programmes, and to assert their right to be treated as human beings, with dignity and equality. They were able to help the country establish the foundations of our modern democracy. The image we have of Robben Island today is as a place of oppression, as well as a place of triumph.
Robben Island has not only been used as a prison. It was a training and defence station in World War II (1939-1945) and a hospital for leprosy patients, and the mentally and chronically ill (1846-1931). In the 1840s, Robben Island was chosen for a hospital because it was both secure (isolating dangerous cases) and healthy (providing a good environment for cure).
During this time, political and common-law prisoners were still kept on Robben Island. As there was no cure and little effective treatment available for leprosy, mental illness and other chronic illnesses in the 1800s, Robben Island was a kind of prison for the hospital patients too. Since 1997 Robben Island has been a museum. The museum on the Island is a dynamic institution, which acts as a focal point of South African heritage. The Robben Island Museum runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to Robben Island and fulfils an archiving function.
Table Mountain, Cape Town
Table Mountain as seen from Bloubergstrand
Since the first person laid eyes on Table Mountain, it has exerted its powerful and charismatic pull, enchanting and drawing any and all who fall under its spell.
The way to the top has never been easy, and for many centuries only a handful of bold and enterprising people could say that they had climbed it.
By the late 1870's, several of Cape Towns more prominent (and possibly less fit) citizens had suggested the introduction of a railway line to the top. Plans to implement a proposed rack railway got under way but the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war put a halt to the plans. By 1912, with a strong desire to gain easy access to the top of Table Mountain, the Cape Town City Council commissioned an engineer to investigate the various options of transport to the top. The engineer, a Mr. H.M. Peter, suggested that a funicular railway running up from Oranjezicht through Platteklip gorge would be the most suitable option. A vote was held with the vast majority of Cape Town's residents voting in favour. This in spite of its cost a staggering (in 1913) 100000 Pounds.
The Table Mountain project was delayed yet again by war; this time the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918). The plan was resuscitated in 1926 after a Norwegian engineer, Trygve Stromsoe, presented plans for a cableway to the top of Table Mountain. The plan caught the collective eye of a group of eminent local businessmen. The idea that an easy route up would finally become a reality drew them together, forming the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) to finance the construction. Work began soon afterwards and the project was finished relatively quickly. On the 4th of October 1929, the Mayor of Cape Town, Rev A J S Lewis, headed the official opening ceremony that was attended by over 200 other guests.
Since it's opening in 1929, over 16 million people have taken the trip to the top of Table Mountain. The Table Mountain cableway has since become something of a landmark in Cape Town, and has carried some of Cape Town's most illustrious visitors including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, as well as Oprah Winfrey, Sting, Stefi Graf, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Magaret Thatcher, Prince Andrew, Micheal Schumacher, Brooke Shields, Micheal Buble, Tina Turner, Jackie Chan, Dolores O'Riordan, Skunk Anansie and Paul Oakenfold. In 1993, Dennis Hennessy, the son of one of the founders of TMACC sold the company. The new directors immediately set about planning an upgrade to the existing Table Mountain infrastructure.
Cape Point, Atlantic Seaboard
Bartholomeu Dias, the Portuguese seafarer, was the first to sail around the Cape. This was in 1488. On his return voyage, which must have been particularly stormy, Dias stopped at the south-western tip of South Africa, and named it Cabo Tormentoso, or Cape of Storms. King John of Portugal later gave it the name Cabo da Boa Esperança, or Cape of Good Hope. Another Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, rounded the Cape on 22 November 1497 on his way to India.
The journeys of these explorers led to the establishment of the Cape sea route. This meant more regular sailings around the tip. It also indirectly to led to a number of casualties along these unpredictable shores. Today, shipwrecks and stone crosses bear testimony to the treacherous and challenging historic sea route.
The lighthouse at Cape Point is the most powerful on the South African coast. It has a range of 63 kilometres, and beams out a group of three flashes of 10 million candlepower each, every 30 seconds. But, through history, mariners had taken a rather dimmer view of warning beacons around the Point.
Cape Point, False Bay Coast
After the Portuguese liner Lusitania ran aground on 18 April 1911, the lighthouse was moved to its present location above Cape Point, only 87 metres above sea-level. A stone replica of Vasco Da Gama's cross which was planted there in 1487 stands tall on the hillside above the beach. It marks the spot where the Portuguese explorers had come ashore.
On the night of 18 April 1911, the Lusitania, a ship of 5 500 tons, with 774 people aboard, struck the Bellows Rock below the lighthouse. TheThomas T Tucker was a American Liberty Ship, built in 1942 and was intended for carrying troops and supplies during World War II. Relying on a faulty compass, she hit a rock in thick fog near Olifantsbos just off the Point.
The Phyllisia, 452 ton Cape Town trawler, struck the jagged rocks just 100 m off the rugged coast of the Cape Point Nature Reserve at about midnight on 3 May 1968. Eleven of her crew reached the shore in life rafts, but 14 still remained on the trawler. Two South African Airforce helicopters lifted them from the craft.
The Nolloth, a 347 ton Dutch trawler, ran aground, surround by jagged rocks in rough seas after she was struck by an unidentified underwater object. It is believed to be the Albatross Rock.
Funicular: Zoom to the top of the Point
Hop aboard the funicular and you’ll be whisked away on a scenic trip to the view site near the old Cape Point lighthouse. Over time, the means of transport to the view site changed from a diesel bus, named after the “Flying Dutchman” ghost ship, to an environmentally friendly funicular, the only one of its kind in the world. The entire funicular has been produced from South African resources. 27 different safety features ensure practical and safe operation 24 hours a day. There are two funicular cars which travel from the parking lot to the view site, just below the lighthouse.
Cape Point Lighthouse (Cape Point)
Visit the Cape Point Lighthouse'Any Person caught rolling down the cliff will be prosecuted by order Lighthouse Engineer'. - So read the original sign nailed to the wooden boundary gate of the Cape Point lighthouse. A hardly hospitable hand-painted notice that never quite challenged the 'Welcome' doormat in warmth or popularity.
Chapman’s Peak stands imposingly at the heart of Chapman’s Peak Drive, connecting Hout Bay with Noordhoek along one of the most dramatic marine routes in the world that hugs the coast of the Atlantic Seaboard for nine kilometres.
Chapmans Peak Drive climbs steadily from the harbour of Hout Bay, skirting 114 curves of Chapman’s Peak to follow the rocky coastline along some truly magnificent views of the sandy bays below. The combination of steep, almost thrilling rocky inclines, shimmering blue waters and expansive skies simply take the breath away and to compensate for this, there are a number of rest areas en route where one can simply stop and drink in the views or picnic. Despite this invitation to take it slowly, the toll road also serves as a ‘shortcut’ for people living in Hout Bay wanting to reach the Southern Suburbs or Cape Town, by saving up to 20 minutes during peak traffic hours.
The road’s closure, due to a fatal rock fall in late 1999, for just short of three years, severely impacted on these residents’ productivity as it did on South Africa’s economy, denying visitors to the country some of the best scenery on the Cape Peninsula. Nonetheless, the upgrading of Chapman’s Peak Drive has gone on to win international acclaim as one of the most innovative road engineering projects, beating another eight international projects to win the 2004 civil engineering award for road design.
Chapman’s Peak Drive also offers superb hiking experiences up the peak, through Silvermine Nature Reserve and Cape Peninsula National Park and some unlikely whale watching spots. At the other end of the drive lies the village of Noordhoek and the neighbouring suburbs of Kommetjie, Scarborough and Fish Hoek.
Chapmans Peak, Cape Town
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town
'Pincushion' at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
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.
Kirstenbosch grows only indigenous South African plants. The Kirstenbosch 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. The Kirstenbosch Visitors' Centre includes an information desk and various retail outlets and a coffee shop. The Centre for Home Gardening has outlets for plants and other services to support the home garden. On Sundays during the summer months from December to March, musical sunset concerts are held on the lawns at Kirstenbosch. Craft markets are also held at the Stone Cottages (opposite Kirstenbosch) on the last Sunday of every month (except June, July and August).
Waterfront, Cape Town
Situated between Robben Island and Table Mountain in the heart of Cape Town's working harbour, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront has become South Africa's most visited destination. Set against a backdrop of magnificent sea and mountain views, exciting shopping and entertainment venues are intermingled with imaginative office locations, world-class hotels and luxury apartments in the residential marina. We invite you to discover the experience... live, work, shop and play at the V&A Waterfront.
Seal-watching is an amusing diversion. Visitors to the Two Oceans Aquarium will enjoy a fascinating underwater world. The Maritime Museum focuses on the history of shipping from prehistoric times to the present day. Boat trips around the harbour and along the coast are always popular. Helicopter flips provide a broader perspective. The Information Centre provides maps and information on special events planned for the day.
Waterfront, Cape Town
Waterfront Heritage Route:
Calls for greater public access and a wider use of Cape Town's historic harbour started in the early 1970's. In 1988, the then landowner (State-owned transport corporation, Transnet Limited) established a wholly owned subsidiary company, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (Pty) Limited, to redevelop the historic docklands. This was received with large-scale public acclaim.
The Dragon Tree (dracaeno draco) planted next to the Time Ball Tower is a species originally from the Canary Islands. Well over 100 years old, this is one of the largest of its type in Cape Town. Believed to have been planted by a sailor passing through Cape Town, the sap of these trees was once popular as a medicine to treat dysentery and diarrhea. Unfortunately, the Dragon Tree was severely damaged in storms of 2001.
Situated near the site of the original Bertie's Landing Restaurant, the Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower has always been an icon of the old docks and has become an important focal point in the Waterfront's recent urban design. This was the original Port Captain's Office completed in 1882. On the second floor is a decorative mirror room, which enabled the Port Captain to have a view of all activities in the harbour. On the bottom floor is a tide-gauge mechanism used to check the level of the tide. Restoration of the Clock Tower was completed towards the end of 1997.
The Time Ball (invented by Captain Robert Wauchope) is a signaling device in which a ball is dropped at a given time in order for ships' masters to determine the error and rate of their chronometers whilst in harbour. The Time Ball Tower in the Waterfront was built in 1894 and is situated next the Harbour Engineer's former residence (Dock House). It remained in use for 40 years after which new technology led to it lying idle for 63 years before being restored and officially recommissioned in November 1997.