Cape Town, South Africa: The Tip is Tops!

Cape Heaven: The Tip is Tops!

By Kent E. St. John, GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor
By Kent E. St. John, GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor

Soweto sounds and safari sights are unbeatable. That is until you stroll a pier in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s everybody’s darling destination. Lively, sun-kissed and a perfect place for Africa’s last stop. Comparisons to Sidney, San Francisco and Fairbanks often are spoken but the city is all its own. The tip is tops!

Capetown's harbor. photo: Kent E. St. John
Cape Town’s Harbor

Just a few miles out of the harbor is Robben’s Island, the place where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in captivity. Ex-inmates now guide the tours. Wine vineyards are nestled within the area’s mountains and valleys. History and history in the making are Cape Town’s forte.

A Twist of History

Cape Town started as just a stop for traders from the Dutch East India Company heading to Asia. A refreshment station for fresh water and meat provided by the local Khoina. By 1652 the Dutch figured they ought to run their own fill up station.

Apartheid in South Africa was born under Table Mountain. It today best provided me with a glimpse into the great possibilities for South Africa’s future. The mix of Black, White, Malay and other cultures has provided a culture all its own, the Cape Peninsular or Caper. The Caper has a well-deserved reputation of living life not just passing through it. From Greenmarket Square to fashionable Clifton Beach, it’s no wonder Cape Town is building a worldwide reputation.

Disney Harbor

Let’s face it after some days in the bush, a waterfront filled with shops, restaurants and waterside cafes has attraction. Especially when it is done with taste and decorum. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is just such a place. It also happens to be South Africa’s top tourism destination with over 20 million visitors a year. Don’t let that put you off, it was done with class.

Modern inter-spaced with colonial.

Once dilapidated warehouses have been restored amidst house stalls and shops. The V& A Mall houses boutiques and most of the larger stores. Best part is that it is all located within a working port. Fishing boats mix with the ferry to Robben Island. The King’s Warehouse is stocked with fish and fresh vegetables and nearby the Red Shed houses ceramics, leather crafts and hand painted fabrics. In the middle is the Two Oceans Aquarium, a must for sea life lovers. Have a valid scuba licensee then book a dive in the predator or kelp tank. The harbor itself has seals to watch play. All of it was in close proximity from my room at the Table Bay Hotel. It’s big, luxurious and worth looking into.

Meeting Mama Africa

If the V&A area seems too sanitized and you’re out for a rollicking lively arena, head to Long Street. (Sidebar) Think in terms of Sydney’s King’s Cross or Bangkok’s Kkoasan Rd. The area is filled with off beat restaurants, bars, shops and music venues. Sounds of kwela, township jive and kwaito pour out of doorways mingled with aromas of curry and spices.

I connected with Marius van Staden of BuyA Africa (sidebar) acting on a recommendation from Virginia Dionisio of South African Airways. It was one of the best moves of my South African escapade. He is young, hip, reasonable and knows Cape Town and South Africa like the back of his hand. With limited time his help was fantastic and highly recommend.

One great choice of Marius’s was dinner at Mama Africa on Long Street. The company was even better! Dinner with Jon Haggins, the author of The African-American Travel Guide and host of NYC’s Globetrotter TV show linked me with an African- American’s outlook of South Africa. Genuine tears and revelations of Robben’s Island spilled out over the authentic African cuisine. The township band’s playing and the travel talk fit the bill! It was pure Cape.

Tops in Cape Heaven

The view is expansive and the rotating cable car assures a fine ride up Table Mt. Next to Sugar Loaf in Rio there are few other cable thrills this cool. Better yet, rappel down and really scare yourself.
Play South Africa’s version of Malibu Beach and head to Clifton Beach. It’s cheaper than South Cali and provides a great place to check out five actual beaches. Get beautiful.

Stroll the Muslim area of Bo-Kapp and ramble through its colorful streets. The original Maylays were brought by the Dutch East India Company in 1658 and their relations built up this area after the abolition of slavery in 1830s. Visit the Bo-Kaap Museum for a good understanding of their culture and achievements.

City Center has a variety of great spots to cruise. Greenmarket Square has a marvelous open air crafts market with great prices. The Old Slave Lodge is now the Cultural Museum and was at one time a brothel. St. George’s Mall is filled with street performers and is pedestrian. The area is compact and made for walking.

The Castle of Good Hope provides a glimpse into the early Dutch settlement. The fort is complete with moats, museums and parade site.

Need a little workout? Walk up Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. The views of Cape are amazing. Originally the hill was a lookout post for the British. Everyday 3lb of gunpowder is loaded into the signal cannon and fired at noon. You can also drive up as many Capers do at night. What a view.

Everybody’s darling destination in Cape Town is Robben Island. (sidebar) It is the pinnacle of apartheid agony and was Nelson Mandela’s home for 27 years. In the 18th century princes and sheiks from Malaysia and India were sent by the Dutch East India Company to pay for their resistance to European overlords. The South African Prisons Service continued the practice of abomination in 1960. In 1991 the last prisoners were released, except for those that serve as guides today. It is now an UNESCO site and a must see to believe. The visit is more astounding when you realize that the guides are all former prisoners.

Wining and Dining

Visually perfect with a glorious taste. Scenic mountains trellised with hectares of grapes. Blue skies and whitewashed Dutch farm houses. After traveling through some of the world’s best wine regions, I have to state that I would pick returning to the Cape wine area (sidebar) above all. I should also add that it was the French Huguenots who are responsible for the wine culture here. Since the end of apartheid and the world trade ban, South African wine has gained recognition steadily. The prices are great and 2003 is expected to be a great year, try some.

Stellenbosch is the center of South Africa’s viticulture as well as a university town. Ramble down avenues shaded by ancient oaks under which buildings of Cape Dutch, Cape Georgian and Victorian styles are featured. Dorp Street is a stand out. Grab a street map at the tourist info booth on Mark Street. Step back in time with a visit to Oom Sammy se Winkel (Uncle Sammy’s store) it still has everything a traveler could want or need.

View of Capetown from above. photo: Kent E. St. John
View of Capetown from above. photo: Kent E. St. John

Franschhoek is another great town in the wine region. It is where the French Huguenots settled and is the beginning of South Africa’s true wine tradition. The Huguenots arrived in 1694 after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. France’s loss was truly to the Cape’s big wine benefit. Feelings of strolling through a town in Provence are reinforced with Provencale menus and great wines available.

If you have limited time a great place to go is the Spier Estate. This extensive compound has undergone major renovations since 1993 and the Estate’s purchase by well known SA businessman, Dick Enthoven. The grounds lend themselves to sheer pleasure. Stimulating with outstanding history, culinary and vin-culture exhibits. There is also an experimental farm on the premises. The Cape Malay buffet at Spier’s Jonkershuis Restaurant was amazing. Near the picnic grounds is a well-stocked store for goodies to go. A full day is easily spent at Spier.

The Sun Sets

The colors of the sky over Table Mountain blend as my last few weeks have; boldly, exotically and agonizingly astounding. The table at the Bishops’ Court (sidebar) is filled with friends, wine and good feelings. Along with Marius sits Jon Haggins, Sindle and others met on my dream destination, South Africa. We all agree. We are in a special place at a special time. Those leaving want to return. Those left behind want us to. South Africa is a win, win situation.

If your looking for a small and very unique base, the Bishop’s Court cannot be beat. It is in a leafy suburb of Capetown and the grounds are magnificent. Paul Le Roux converted the family home into the perfect visitor’s home.

Capetown is filled with hostels and budget lodgings. Long Street is a great location for finding bed, food and entertainment. Stop into Mama Africa for a great night. For more accommodation options, find unique Cape Town hotels and interesting tours in Cape Town.

Robbens Island is an amazing experience and a reminder of what man can survive. Go to GoNOMAD’s bookshop and search for Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. References to the time spent on the island prison are stirring. Just as moving are the stories your guide share.

Making Friends

The best part of traveling is meeting people. So much the better when they’re witty, warm and knowledgeable. Jon Haggins is a fountain of info — catch him here.

GlobeTrotter airs every Saturday in Manhattan on channel 57 at 4:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 pm on channel 34 in Brooklyn
Wednesdays and Thursdays in Queens on channel 56 at 3:30pm and 3pm on channel 56.

For Internet access around the world go to:, then click channel 57 at 4:30 p.m. EST every Saturday. Fridays at 8 p.m. EST on channel 34. Wednesdays and Thursdays at 3:30 & 3pm EST on channel 56.

The following two tabs change content below.
If you like the articles we publish, maybe you can be one of our writers too! Make travel plans, then write a story for us! Click here to read our writer's guidelines.