Cape Town, a port city on South Africa’s southwest coast, is a city alive with possibilities. Rich in history and natural beauty, the Mother City, as it is commonly known is a melting pot of cultures and as such, offers its visitors tastes, sounds and feelings that can be found nowhere else in the world. This is the gateway to South Africa’s Western Cape province, an area of natural beauty, culture and adventure.
Cape Town was first established as a European supply outpost, but the city has come a long way since those heady days and has become a favourite destination for travellers. With the city’s natural beauty, wide array of activities on offer and residents that welcome visitors with open arms, that’s hardly a surprise.
The Western Cape has a history as rich as it is diverse, and Cape Town is a tantalising and heady mix of cultures, blended in a tumultuous past, to create one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and enticing cities. One of the most beautiful places on earth, the Mother City and surrounding areas continues to draw the world to its warm embrace, whether it is those seeking adventure and new experiences or merely just a well-deserved break.
Table Mountain is always popular, while in the summer, the many beaches across the city’s coastline are packed with both locals and foreigners alike. The western and eastern coastlines of the province are also quickly becoming a favourite for those seeking something more extreme, with shark cage diving, bungee jumping and sky diving just some of the adrenaline fuelled activities on offer.
The heritage of this wondrous city is unmatched and its story can be found in any number of museums and heritage sites around the city. From Rhodes Memorial, which sits along the slopes of Devil’s Peak, in remembrance of the city’s colonial past, to the emotional and torrid history of Robben Island and District Six, Cape Town’s tale is equally one of tragedy and heartache, inspiration and triumph. Used for centuries as a place to house unwanted people – prisoners of war, criminals, leprosy sufferers, mentally ill patients, a military base, apartheid prisoners, among them Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu – for many Robben Island’s associations are of isolation and inhumane treatment. Paradoxically, it’s also a place of sanctuary for around 132 bird species, some of which are endangered. The African penguin, once close to extinction, breeds prolifically on the island. Around 23 species of mammals, including many types of buck, ostrich, lizards, geckos, snakes and tortoises, also live on the island.
Cape Town itself has much to offer: 150km of beaches, hikes and walks, windsurfing, paragliding, cycling, great restaurants, unique flora, and the winelands.
Settled by the Dutch in 1652, the city is a reflection of the different cultures that established themselves below the mountain: European, Dutch and Malay. An active slave trade, with some 63 000 slaves imported from East Africa, Madagascar, India and Indonesia, has resulted in Cape Town having a unique flavour.
Cape Town has many significant old buildings: the Castle of Good Hope, the country’s oldest building, as well as the Old Town House, Palm Tree Mosque, Long Street Baths, the South African Mission Meeting House Museum, St George’s Cathedral, the South African Museum, Koopmans-De Wet House, De Tuynhuys, the South African National Gallery, the Great Synagogue, and the Houses of Parliament. The suburb of Bo-Kaap houses the Muslim community, in brightly coloured 19th century Dutch and Georgian terraces. It’s a distinctive community, with its own Afrikaans dialect.
The District Six Museum tells of the lively coloured community that lived in the suburb, dismantled in the name of apartheid in the 1970s.
Other places of interest are the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the Gold of Africa Museum, and the Two Oceans Aquarium. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Newlands is the oldest and largest botanical garden in South Africa with over 22 000 indigenous plants. It attracts botanists and researchers from around the world.
The dramatic Table Mountain has been a beacon to ships for centuries. The Table Mountain National Park stretches from Signal Hill to Cape Point and includes the seas and coastline of the peninsula. There are 1 400 species of flora on the mountain, and fauna includes baboons, dassies or hyraxes, Himalayan tahrs and porcupines. The mountain is crisscrossed with hiking trails. It is one of the country’s natural World Heritage Sites.
Constantia was Cape Town’s oldest wine farm, started by Simon van der Stel in 1685. These days it consists of four wine estates: Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Steenberg and Buitenverwachting.
Muizenberg, St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town are quaint villages dotted along False Bay, south of the city.
Chapman’s Peak Drive hugs the spectacular coastline until Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, around 60km from the city centre. Some 2 256 species of fynbos are to be found in the reserve. Cape Point is not the most southerly point of Africa – Cape Agulhas, some 300km south of Cape Town, is where the Indian and the Atlantic oceans meet.
Beyond the borders of the city limits, lies the equally captivating world of the Cape Winelands with the scenic town of Somerset West on its doorstep. Established in 1822, Somerset West is on the eastern edge of the Cape Town metropole and a short drive to the long white beaches of False Bay, the yacht harbour of Gordon’s Bay and the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
Surrounded by orchards, farmlands and vineyards, Somerset West lies between the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland mountain ranges. The beautiful Helderberg Nature Reserve is one of the main attractions of the area, famous for its wild proteas, bird life and small mammals, as well as numerous walks that showcase the natural beauty of the reserve. To the north-west of Somerset West you’ll find Paardevlei – a small lake that attracts a wide variety of birds, particularly rare waterbirds. Here one can learn about African wildlife. A sumptuous farmer’s market takes place at Paardevlei on Saturday mornings.
The Cape Winelands region is renowned for its quality of wine, and a trip through the storied Cape Winelands, home to most of South Africa’s premier wine estates, is one that no lover of the grape can afford to miss. Further outside of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl are perhaps better known, but push on a bit further into the interior of the Western Cape and you will also be rewarded with the beauty of more rural areas such as Montagu and Robertson, which are equally rich in wine, food and culture, as well as majestic landscapes.
With so much on offer, is it any wonder that the Western Cape continues to welcome the world to its doorstep?