With a vibrant waterfront, abundant natural beauty and colourful streetscapes it’s no wonder that Cape Town, South Africa is consistently rated as a top tourist destination.
An African Welcome
Water, water, everywhere but soon, not a drop to drink. That was the dilemma confronting Cape Town when I was scheduled to arrive. This port city on the South Atlantic Ocean was making headlines as it faced Day Zero – the day it would run out of potable water. A combination of good water management, cutbacks to irrigation and a typical rainy season have pushed the date to 2019, or further. Hopefully the drought will end, but for now, water restrictions remain in place.
Tourists are expected to do their part for water conservation. My shower door in The Commodore Hotel had an egg timer attached to it, to keep track of the suggested two-minute showers. Knowing that residents of Cape Town were making do by doling water out of buckets and saving the grey water for their gardens, I complied. The Commodore Hotel is an English inspired luxury boutique hotel a five-minute walk from the V&A Waterfront. The oak-beamed lobby lounge serves a lavish spread of hors-d’oeuvres every evening along with cocktails. When you hear the term “sundowners”, it means it’s African happy hour.
After a quick change, it was time to head out to GOLD Restaurant. We sampled the delicious foods of Africa in a 14-course meal, served family style in colourful pottery bowls. The table was full of delicacies like ostrich salad, Congo fried chicken, Namibian springbok (antelope) stew and chakalaka, a spicy vegetable relish. Following dinner, two drummers came onstage and laid down a steady beat. A line of dancers and larger-than-life-size puppets, dressed in red and yellow batik robes wound their way through the tables and up to the stage, singing and clapping and setting the stage for an hour-long performance of African arts and culture. A magical sprinkle of “gold dust” during the show honouring the queens of Africa encouraged some folks to shed their inhibitions and join the dance.
Touring Table Mountain National Park
Very bright and early the next morning we attempted to beat the crowds to the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most recognisable landmark. Even at 9 am, the cable car was packed with 60 other nature lovers. The cable cars rotated slowly, giving everyone a view of the mountains and the city as the 5-minute ride lifted us almost vertically up the cliff face. One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Table Mountain is 1,085 m (3,559 ft) at its highest point. The panoramic view of the beaches of Table Bay, the city and Table Mountain National Park are spectacular. Rangers offer free tours of the site, pointing out outcrops like the Twelve Apostles and flora and fauna of this biodiverse World Heritage Site. There’s also a free tour app, free Wi-Fi at the café and souvenirs at the Shop at the Top, which is less crowded than the stores at the cable car exit below.
Rounding the Cape
Table Mountain National Park also encompasses the Cape Peninsula, and it’s easy to visit the Cape Point lighthouse, the Cape of Good Hope and the penguins at Boulders Beach all in a day’s drive.
The scenic oceanside drive from Cape Town led us to The Cape of Good Hope. It’s not quite the most south-western point of Africa, (that would be Cape Agulhas, 150 miles further south), but is legendary for the rough seas around its wild and rocky point. It was called the Cape of Storms by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias who rounded it while searching for a route to India in 1488. It’s now known simply known as “The Cape” and sailors in days gone by would get a small blue star tattoo on their ear when they managed to sail around it.
At the Cape Town Lighthouse, Flying Dutchman Funicular took us to the viewing platform where both the historic lighthouse and the new lighthouse can be seen clinging to a steep point of land that juts into the Atlantic. The new tower, which has the brightest light in Africa, replaced the previous one that was built so high that it was often covered in fog. The new lighthouse is better for ships, but inaccessible to visitors.
By noon we were ready for lunch on the patio at the Seaforth Restaurant, a family-friendly restaurant on Seaforth Beach. From the deck, we could watch black and white African penguins sliding into shore and fearlessly waddling up to people on the beach. I have to admit we rushed through our fish and chips to dash to the nearby penguin colony on Boulders Beach.
The raised boardwalk was swarming with people of all ages and the sand below was dotted with thousands of 60 cm (2 ft) tall penguins, guarding eggs, shaking off droplets from an ocean dip or striding with determination on some penguin business. It took a minute to focus in on one or two and watch them preen, groom their young or hop around on the rocks. They weren’t making any flashy moves, but they were fascinating to watch all the same. Penguin lovers were losing their minds.
A Little Night Music
Later that evening, back in Cape Town, we took in some of the entertainment at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Held every year in March, this spectacular event features performers from around the world, exploring the many sides and sounds of jazz. It was an upscale, see and be seen kind of evening. Local celebrities paraded past in sequins and fur, surrounded by flocks of cell phone snapping fans. Bands performed on several stages indoors and outside of the massive Cape Town International Convention Centre. The evening kicked off for us with New Orleans’ legendary son Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, tearing it up onstage with his band, their horn-heavy set blazing with extended jams. It ended with the serene sounds of Brazillian musician Seu Jorge’s solo performance of The Life Aquatic/A Tribute to David Bowie, covering Bowie’s music in Portuguese. His singular, ethereal style was a bittersweet commemoration of Bowie’s passing.
Shop It Up
Cape Town is full of shopping options. The V&A Waterfront has everything to offer in the way of souvenirs from tiny carved elephants and stunning textiles, to life-size wooden alligators. Try getting that on the plane! It’s fun to window shop around the marina with its buskers and restaurants and check out the Two Oceans Aquarium, the 150 designers and artisans booths at Watershed, the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre and the giant Cape Wheel. Farther afield, you’ll find dozens of open-air stalls selling handmade jewellery and leather goods, children’s toys, handcrafted chocolate, artisanal gin and custom knives at The Old Biscuit Mill, along with a farmer’s market. Don’t miss Long Street with its distinctive cast-iron balconies, reminiscent of New Orleans, and the colourful houses and cobbled streets of the Bo-Kapp area.
The writer was a guest of South African Tourism while in South Africa. As always, her opinions are her own. For more photographs of Cape Town, follow her on Instagram @where.to.lady