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4 Hours in Capetown

Published: 03/06/2013 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2013 » June 2013 » Destinations » Home » Archive » 2013 » June 2013 »

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HOUT BAY & SEAL ISLAND

To my delight, it was Shaheed himself who met me in the hotel parking lot and outlined our itinerary for the day. Our first stop was the quaint coastal village of Hout Bay. To get a feel for the history of the area, the Hout Bay Museum has exhibits on the early strandlopers (hunter gatherers) who lived in the Cape when the first Europeans arrived, as well as memorabilia relating to the early fishing industry. Afterwards, there are plenty of opportunities to stock up on locally made crafts, either at the Hout Bay Craft Market, or down on the docks where enterprising merchants spread out an endless array of trinkets for the tourists.

From here we embarked on the 20-minute voyage to Duiker Island, also known as Seal Island. Several cruise companies ply these waters at a cost of about R70 ($8). The ride affords great views of the bay and the antics of the large colony of South African fur seals that give the island its nickname. We were cautioned, however, not to confuse this seal enclave with the larger Seal Island in False Bay. It’s 10 miles offshore, so the trip would have taken all day, plus great white sharks have been known to hang out there – so this less adventurous excursion sounded about right to us. Visit capetown.travel.

The TWELVE APOSTLES

The Twelve Apostles are a chain of craggy peaks that stand shoulder-to-shoulder facing the Atlantic Ocean south of Cape Town. The scenery is rugged and spectacular, the perfect edge-of-the-world place to site a 5-star luxury resort. The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa fits the bill, nested in the shadow of its namesake mountains. From my balcony, I could watch the waves break over the rocks below. The proximity to the ocean explains the reason that the Twelve Apostles hotel will never be any color other than white; mariners use the buildings as a landmark to navigate the tricky approaches to Cape Town.

Because of my limited time in Cape Town, I’d opted to take a personal driving tour of the city with Escape to the Cape (escapetothecape.co.za), the award-winning tour operation founded by Shaheed Ebrahim. Although my to-do list was extensive (in the interests of full disclosure, more than four hours), the Northern Cape is fairly compact and the $250 all-inclusive fee would give me a dedicated driver and a better chance to cover more territory than if I were on my own. The added bonus which I hadn’t expected was having a knowledgeable Capetonian at my side to share the stories of this surprising city.

KIRSTENBOSCH GARDEN

Motoring back along the shore of False Bay, we stop off in Simon’s Town to take a quick tour of Boulders Beach, where the famous South African penguins have made their home. From an original pair that came ashore in the mid-1980s, the penguin population exploded until measures were taken to assure the continued coexistence of both fowl and humans.

A few more miles of strenuous driving across picturesque mountain terrain featuring several hairpin turns – which Shaheed took with aplomb – and we found ourselves at the exquisite Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Kirstenbosch is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2013, with over 7,000 species in cultivation, including many rare and threatened species. 

Set against the eastern slope of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, the 36 hectare garden is part of a 528 hectare estate that displays a wide variety of the unique flora of the Cape as well as plants from all over southern Africa. Kirstenbosch was the the first botanical garden in the world to be included within a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site.

THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE 

All the way down to the tip of the Cape Peninsula lies the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, which marks the entrance to False Bay, so named because early sailors were often fooled into thinking they’d reached the bay at Cape Town (Table Bay). While not the tip of Africa (that would be Cape Agulhas some 100 miles farther east), the Cape of Good Hope marks the southwestern-most point on the African continent – from here, ships bound for Asia begin the turn eastward into seas of the Indian Ocean.

Less than a mile-and-a-half away, Cape Point juts above the ocean some 650 feet, in some of the most rugged and beautiful land-meets-sea-scape imaginable. The inclined railway that runs from the parking lot to the old lighthouse is a fun and scenic ride – and it beats taking the stairs. Its name, The Flying Dutchman Funicular, alludes to the centuries-old tale of the ghost ship which is said still to sail these waters. While you’re at the top, look for the remains of the gun emplacements which guarded this critical shipping lane during World War II.

The Cape of Good Hope Park summer hours are 6:00 AM - 6:00 PM; winter 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM (but remember, you’re in the Southern Hemisphere where summer is from September to March). Park admission R90 ($10), round-trip funicular ride R49 ($5).

TABLE MOUNTAIN & THE CITY BOWL 

Table Mountain dominates virtually every vista of Cape Town, rising abruptly nearly 3,600 feet from the foot of the mountain to the top. It surrounds the urban core, providing a backdrop for practically everything in this, what is arguably one of the most geographically dramatic cities on earth.

It’s easy to see why the Mother City’s top tourist sight has been voted one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature (new7wonders.com), beating out such natural marvels as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef. Cape Town sprawls around the lower slopes of Table Mountain and along the Atlantic Seaboard, creating what has come to be known as the City Bowl. You’ll see why it’s called that when you get to the top – the view is spectacular and easily attainable by the rotating cable car, which takes you from the foot of the mountain to the top for a fare of R205 ($22.50) round trip. However you should note that during the winter months (Southern Hemisphere, remember), the Cableway has periods when it’s closed for maintenance. This year, the closure is from July 22 to August 25. For details visit tablemountain.net.

VICTORIA & ALFRED WATERFRONT

Next, we circled around the iconic Table Mountain and through the streets of Cape Town’s cosmopolitan city center, headed for Table Bay and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Named after Queen Victoria and her second son Prince Alfred, who actually dumped the first load of rock into the sea to commence the construction of the breakwater, today’s retail and hospitality development is set around what is still a busy working harbor and marina.

The V&A Waterfront includes shopping malls, entertainment complexes and five-star hotels. Stylish and chic, the nautically themed buildings lining the quays are aimed at locals and tourists alike, offering everything from simple cafés and bargain stores to fine-dining and upscale boutiques. There is also the gigantic Two Oceans Aquarium (aquarium.co.za), which showcases the marine life of both the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and some fine museums, such as the Iziko Maritime Centre (iziko.org.za/maritime). Exhibits here include a sizeable collection of model ships and displays showing the vital role played by seafaring in the early days of the Cape Colony. Visit waterfront.co.za  

GETTING THERE 

Cape Town is one of the southern-most major cities on the globe, so for we denizens of the Northern Hemisphere it can appear deceptively inaccessible. But because of its status as both a top business destination and Africa’s most popular tourist town, it actually enjoys a thriving air service. 

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) is located just 12 miles from the city center and is the country’s second busiest airport after Johannesburg and the third busiest in Africa. In 2012, Airports Company South Africa, the airport’s operator, reported that the airport handled 8.6 million passengers, a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year. According to Flightstats (flightstats.com) the airport enjoys an 88 percent overall on-time performance record.

CPT’s schedule includes domestic service to every major city in South Africa, including frequent service to Johannesburg and Durban, and direct flights to far-flung international destinations such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Dubai. Other long-haul services to North America and Asia connect through the South African Airways hub in Johannesburg. The JNB – CPT route carried 4.5 million passengers in 2011, making it the ninth busiest city pair in the world.

Thanks to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa is now easier to get to and work in than ever before. Since 2004, the country has invested $1.8 billion in road work, airport upgrades and highway expansions, and an additional $40 million in telecommunications improvements. A major beneficiary of all the investment was Cape Town International. The split-level Central Terminal Building has departures located on upper floors and arrivals in lower floors.

The Transport Plaza and Car Rental Facility is located in front of the Central Terminal where buses, taxis and cars are available. Both the domestic and international departure areas feature a Premier Lounge, available at a fee to any passenger regardless of airline or ticket class.

— Dan Booth





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