Get outta town!
Wait, what? The must-do list in Cape Town begins with a tip to go out of town? Well, yes, the go-to attractions of this naturally blessed city are scattered, but luckily not so far from one another. From its sensational coastline, enchanting wineries, cute colonial towns to panoramic lookouts, take advantage of fine weather and cruise down the Cape peninsular.
Starting with the obvious tourist temptations, The Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, the two over-the-top rocky capes, both are part of “Table Mountain National Park”. Contrary to the popular belief, neither one is actually the southernmost point of Africa, where the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warm Indian Ocean collide. In fact, the two oceans’ meeting point fluctuates along the southern and southwestern Cape coast, usually occurring between Cape point and Cape Agulhas, which is about 150 km from the Cape of Good Hope.
Put on your comfy sneakers, wear your sunscreen and carry no more than a bottle of water and your camera, as there is a lot of climbing and hiking involved. You may want a jumper too if you are going to catch sunset there as the winds are strong. And…keep your eyes peeled for the cape citizens, especially those awkward ostriches. (I saw one that sashayed down towards the beach without a care in the world)
On the way to the capes, have a stopover at Chapman’s peak. A dramatic mountain on the western side of the peninsula and only 15 km away from Cape Town, is known not just for its breathtaking viewpoint that overlooks the magnificent Hout Bay, also for the unique road, hacked out of the face of the mountain in the 1920s, a major engineering triumph back then. The surreal backdrop of nature attracts bikers, hikers and runners to enjoy their sport activities here.
Simon’s Town is an ideal pause for lunch. Enjoy fish and chips at Bertha’s, a waterfront restaurant with spectacular views of False Bay, yacht club and the South African Naval Base. Stroll around the historical center after an espresso or two to catch a glimpse of all things nostalgic. Head towards Boulders beach for calm shallow water and white sandy beaches to further digest your lunch. If you are lucky, you might get acquainted with the famous locals, the colony of African Penguins.
A glass or two ... or ten!
South African wines are some of the best in the world and Cape Town has more than a handful of wineries to visit once you are done pursuing panoramas. Consider a day of driving around wine towns to keep you busy and boozy, well, as long as you are not the one driving.
Franschhoek is considered one of the most beautiful wine valleys in the world, with award-winning restaurants, galleries, auberges, boutiques and of course vineyards founded by the Huguenots from France, hence the names of the farms, streets and shops bear their original French names to this day. Stellenbosch, on the other hand is a much larger commune, also a student town, as the Stellenbosch University is one of the leading ones in the country. Typical Dutch style houses, world-class wine estates such as Stellenbosch Hills and Bottelary Hills, trendy cafés, eye-catching craft shops and countless numbers of oak trees and green spaces in the town make Stellenbosch a must-visit spot in Cape Town.
I had a lovely meal by accident at Laborie wine estate in Paarl, the third oldest town and European settlement in South Africa. After driving around the wine region, I realized it was way past lunchtime. Simply ignoring the winery recommendations from friends and instead following the order of my growling tummy, I dropped in at Laborie, the nearest and the most convenient choice. Their elegant terrace restaurant offers both South African and international cuisines with impeccable service. Plus I fell in love with their interesting blend of Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, which was aromatic, rich and refreshing that I bought 5 bottles to take home.
On the waterfront
Even if you are not into retail therapy and maddening crowds annoy you, you must at least save a day to experience the V&A Waterfront. It reminded me of the harbor scene in Sydney, Australia. But this is way much wilder! The chaos, madness, street performers, merchandises, bargains and activities, this is a total tourist turf.
It is also perfect for inexpensive seafood restaurants (Check out “Balducci’s” and “Ocean Basket”, two of my personal favorites), people watching, souvenir picking and shopping both local crafts and international brands. Not to mention, the cinema complexes, a world-class aquarium and two museums that could keep you entertained. If you happen to be a romantic kind, take your lover and hop on to the giant observation wheel, which offers 360-degree vista of the vibrant harbor scene, the spectacular views of Table Mountain, Robben Island and the Cape Town Stadium. Boats of many kinds; whale watchers, city explorers, nature discoverers and sunset cruisers, oh, you name it; take off from the jetty here to experience the city from the water. Of course if you can spare a few hundred bucks, what’s better way to see the city than from a helicopter.
This particular place, named after Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, attracts 23 million visitors a year. Definitely more in the future as the R500-million redevelopment project which will feature a state of the art contemporary African art museum is expected to complete in 2016.
Up to the mountain
Hikers will be thrilled to tackle the icon, Table Mountain that stands majestically at 3,558 feet. But don’t worry, if you are not a Bear-Grylls type, there are two cable cars that can make your journey to the top as comfortable as possible, although the queue, especially during summer time, is extra (extra!) long and the wait seems forever. (Well, this is when your smart phone comes in handy; read news, watch YouTube, Facebook, edit photos to kill time but make sure it’s fully charged)
However, the view from the top is worth boredom and agitation that you suffer while waiting in line. Really, it is an understatement to say it takes your breath away. In fact, you need some time to stand still and compose yourself. I, for instance was caught off guard by the sheer beauty of this natural being, I couldn’t decide which direction to take; I wanted to run amok all over the mountaintop so flat that it was more like a theatre stage, taking in the impressive views of the city under from every possible angle and corner.
Flora and fauna enthusiasts will have an opportunity to view unique plants and flower species here, many of them, endangered and rare. As for me, a family of Dassie, the rock-climbing hyrax, was quite amusing to watch. The rat-like herbivores were nimble, jumping from one edge of the cliff to another at the height of over 3,000 feet. High-flyers indeed.
The warning though is that it took me nearly two hours waiting for the cable car in line to come down. So if you have anything planned afterwards, such as dinner in the city, you might want to be flexible.
Be the Beach bum
People flock to Camps Bay for its insanely white sandy beaches even though the water is freezing cold. With trendy bars, hotels, restaurants and activities, this well-known place is busy with locals and tourists alike. Clifton on the other hand is Cape Town’s affluent neighborhood. You will see million dollar homes on the hills overlooking the sea. There are four beaches, named simply from 1st to 4th, and the 3rd is quite popular with gays. Play beach volley ball, laze in the sun, a day of family picnic, stroll on the beach dotted with granite boulders or just simply catch sunset with your loved one, Clifton can’t be missed.
I was told that the water was not as cold in False Bay but hey, the warmer water usually means sharks!!! And there have been a few attacks recently. As I walked along the Clifton 3 at sunset, I put my feet into the water. It was definitely not swimmable unless you put on a wetsuit. Although it’s one of the world’s top 10 beach destinations and it is SUMMER, you don’t have to swim, really. There are just way too many things here that you can appreciate. For example, I truly enjoyed my leisurely beach walk admiring the12 apostles, a small group of mountain peaks that run along the coast, change colors as the sun went down. The unique postcard-like spectacle is going to be forever tattooed in my memory.