On the evening of July 17th, Rebecca and I flew 8 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa. We had a short connection then it was on to Cape Town. Cape Town is South Africa’s 2nd most populous city and is home to people of many different ethnic backgrounds. It was the first European settlement in South Africa founded when Jan van Riebeeck established a Dutch colony back in 1652 to support the trading ships traveling to the East Indies. This time of year is South Africa’s winter, but we were happy to be escaping the searing summer heat of the Middle East. We arrived just after 9:00 am on the 18th and made our way to the guesthouse where we would be spending the next 4 nights. An African Villa is a small guesthouse located in the neighborhood of Tamboerskloof in the city bowl.
After getting settled, we set out on foot to explore the city. We started down the bustling Long Street with its restaurants and shops while the road gently sloped down towards Table Bay. We continued through the pedestrianized St Georges Mall and the local craft market in Greenmarket Square. By this point, we were close to the re-vitalized area known as the Victoria and Alfred (or V&A) Waterfront. Queen Victoria’s son Alfred initiated the construction of a harbor in 1860 and was named Alfred Basin and the Victoria Basin was later added. In 1988, the City set out to modernize and upgrade the Waterfront into the eating, shopping, and entertainment area that it is today. We found a Belgian restaurant on the quayside called Den Anker to stop for lunch and we started off with six oysters, accompanied with a local Castle beer for me and a glass of Chenin Blanc from Jordan wine estate for Bec. I felt like some local meat so I went for the steak au poivre and Rebecca opted for the local kingklip fish. After lunch, the storm was a blowing so we did some shopping in the Victoria Wharf mall for a few hours. We then popped into the V&A Market on the Wharf to sample some local biltong and cheese and found the Vaughan Johnson Wine Shop to pick up a bottle for dinner. We made it back to the guesthouse later and made a small charcuterie and cheese platter with the local items we picked up at the market accompanied by the 2011 Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch.
The next morning, we discovered that our ferry to Robben Island had been canceled due to the rough seas brought on by the previous day’s weather. Robben Island means Seal Island in Dutch and is 7 km off the coast of Table Bay. Although it’s had many uses over the years, it’s most recognized as the place that Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. It now operates as a living museum. So instead we decided to take the Mini Peninsula Tour on the red CitySightseeing bus. The first stop was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. The land was originally owned by Cecil John Rhodes and was given to the nation in 1902 after his passing. It is an amazing garden that uniquely cultivates only indigenous plants. The African Cape has very interesting vegetation that consists of proteas and fynbos and is one of only 6 recognized plant kingdoms in the world.
The next stop was Constantia, the oldest wine producing area in South Africa. During the 1800s, Constantia sweet wine was very sought after by the European aristocrats. We visited Groot Constantia Estate which is the oldest estate in South Africa and was established in 1684. We stopped in for lunch at their Jonkershuis restaurant. We started off with the bruschetta of the day and Rebecca ordered the Malay spiced pumpkin and winter apple soup. I went for the Cape Malay estate tasting plate which included chicken curry, lamb curry, beef samoosa, and bobotie which is minced beef, spiced with bay and turmeric, topped with egg custard and baked. We ordered a bottle of the Groot Constantia Estate Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed our lunch by the fire. Afterwards we did a cellar tour and wine tasting, picking up a bottle of the Pinotage and Grand Constance, a sweet wine, before hopping back on the bus which continued around Table Mountain to the seaside village of Hout Bay. We strolled alongside the many fishing vessels in port and watched the seal lions swimming around the docks. From there, the last bus of the day took us back toward Cape Town along the coast as the huge waves smashed against the rocks below us.
On Sunday, the clouds disappeared enough for us to make a summit attempt of Table Mountain. We took a taxi to the trailhead of Platteklip Gorge at 360 m above sea level. From there, we walked up the trail which is only 3 km long, but gains over 700 m so it’s fairly steep. We reached the top at 1066 m in about 2 hours and had an amazing view looking back over Cape Town. We walked along the front ridge towards the cable car station and took the cable car down before heading back to the guesthouse.
That afternoon, we ventured back down to the V&A Waterfront and happened by Mitchell’s Ale House that had some live outdoor music. We found a place to sit and enjoyed a couple pints of Cape Town brew. By this time we were getting a bit hungry for dinner. We had enjoyed the oysters so much at Den Anker that we went back for a dozen as an appetizer. This time we got the Villiera Tradition Brut to go along with. Afterwards we strolled along the waterfront and found a place to have a nice al fresco dinner at Balthazar’s which has the world’s largest wine-by-the-glass menu. I went for the game skewers of wildebeest, impala, springbok, and kudu with a glass of the WaterKloof Circle of Life white and Rebecca had some local sole fillets with the Stellenzicht Golden Triangle.
I took a taxi downtown on Monday morning to pick up the rental car that we would have for the next 11 days. After breakfast, we set out for a clockwise tour of the Cape Peninsula. We drove down to False Bay through Muizenberg and Fish Hoek. We stopped at Simon’s Town which has been the base of the South African navy since 1957. We strolled along the main road down to the port and had a coffee in Jubilee Square. The sun was shining and this was definitely the nicest weather we had since we arrived. Shortly after Simon’s Town is Boulders Beach that is home to a protected, land-based colony of over 2300 African penguins. We stopped to tour the park and take a look at these cute little guys. We got back in the car, continued south, and entered the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain National Park. We took the Flying Dutchmen funicular up to the old lighthouse on Cape Point, 238 m above sea level. We looked, but couldn’t see Antarctica from there! We did spot some Bontebok antelope on the slopes behind us though. We had a seafood lunch of langoustines, calamari and a couple of glasses of Paul Cluver white wines, in the Two Oceans Restaurant overlooking False Bay. From there, we drove to the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost point of the Peninsula. It is often misconceived as the southernmost point in Africa, but that title belongs to Cape Agulhas, 150 km to the southeast. On our way back up, we ran into a troop of Chacma Baboons and watched as they crossed the road. We stopped at a few more scenic coastal points in the park and ran into a breeding pair of ostrich and more baboons. We started back for Cape Town along the Atlantic coast which includes Chapman Peak Drive, a hair-raising, skinny coastal road high above the rocks below. We made it to Camps Bay to watch the sun go down after a great day on the Peninsula.
We checked out of the guesthouse after breakfast on Tuesday morning and headed for the Cape Winelands. Cape Town was a great way to kick off our South African summer vacation!