ATTRACTIONS IN CAPE TOWN
Often described as magical and mystical, Table Mountain is Cape Town's most prominent feature and a world famous landmark. This majestic mountain is visible from almost everywhere in Cape Town and is often used as a beacon by which to find direction.
The mountain is sculpted from sandstone and rises 1086 metres at its highest point, Maclear's Beacon, above the bay. Its flat summit measures nearly 3km and provides breathtaking views over the city and its beaches. The panorama stretches from Table Bay to False Bay and around the mountain to the Hout Bay Valley and Kommetjie. On a clear day one has a magnificent view across the Cape Flats to the Hottentots Holland Mountains.
Table Mountain is home to a rich fauna and flora, many species of which are endemic and survive only in the unique ecosystem which is contained on the mountain. There are approximately 1470 species of plants, including over 250 different species of daisies! Examples of endemic plants are the rare Silver Tree and the wild orchid Disa Uniflora. Animals such as baboons and porcupines live here freely, as well as furry rodents called Rock Dassies.
These little creatures look like plump rabbits without ears - incredibly, their closest living relative is the elephant! The Table Mountain Ghost Frog is an example of an animal found in no other place on the world.
The exhilerating ascent of Table Mountain in the cable car is a definite must for any visitor. Even the locals are awed time and again by the 360º view of Cape Town from the cable car. The cable car was first opened in 1929 and today conveys some 600,000 people to the summit annually. On the summit there is a restaurant and a souvenir shop, from which letters bearing the Table Mountain postmark can be sent. Short walks from the cable station take visitors through the splendour of the flora of Table Mountain, punctuated by occasional sightings of dassies and framed by the surrounding azure of the Atlantic Ocean.
For those athletic and energetic types, there are some 350 recognised paths to the summit, some undemanding and suitable for children, and some extremely difficult. It is not advisable that visitors climb the mountain without an experienced guide. The mountain can be deceptive and it is strongly recommended that visitors contact the Mountain Club of South Africa on 021-4653412 before embarking on a hike or climb.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a floral treasure, famous for its beauty and the diversity of the Cape flora it displays. The setting is magnificent, against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, and only 13 km outside of Cape Town.
The estate covers 528 hectares, and only indigenous South African plants are grown here. A diverse range of fynbos flora and forest grows naturally on the mountainside, and a number of trails lead through the natural Garden.
The cultivated garden (36 hectares) displays collections of South African plants, particularly those from the winter rainfall region of the country.
Robben Island is situated about 12km into the sea in the middle of Table Bay. Separated from the Cape mainland by a narrow channel of seawater, the island is a remote place, considered inaccessible for centuries. The island has been used primarily as a prison ever since the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-16th century.
For 400 years, Robben Island served as a place of exile, beginning as a leper colony. From 1846-1931, the island harboured a hospital for leprosy patients, and the mentally and chronically ill. During this time, political and common-law prisoners were still kept on the island, and the island was as much a prison to them as to the patients, for whose ailing there was no cure and little effective treatment available.
During World War II (1939-1945) the Island was a training and defense station, and in 1961 it was converted to a maximum-security prison. African and Muslim leaders, Dutch and British soldiers and civilians, and even women were all imprisoned on the island. South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Mandela and the founding leader of the Pan African Congress, Robert Sobukwe, are among the more well known political figures who served their prison sentence on Robben Island during the Apartheid era.
The last political prisoner was released in 1991 and today the prison houses around 700 medium-security inmates.
Much has been done to restore the island's ecological haven to what it used to be before the intervention of man. In 1991 Robben Island was included in the SA natural heritage program and the northern part of the island was declared a bird sanctuary. Springbuck, ostrich, rabbits, Jackass penguins and Cape Fur seals are among the wildlife found on the island. In 1997 the Robben Island National Museum was established. The Museum is a dynamic institution and runs educational programs for schools, youths and adults. It facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to the island and is responsible for the safekeeping of various archives. On December 1st, 1999, Robben Island was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Today the island has a thriving population that lives in a quaint village with a bank, post office, museum and grocery store. On the road to the village visitors pass a square-towered church, old Sailboat cannons and old cars that sputter along the narrow tar roads. Most of the buildings date back to World War II, a historical background supported by the evidence of bunkers and 9.2-inch guns. These armaments were erected during the war to protect Cape Town from her enemies.
Ferries sail daily from the V&A Waterfront jetty, taking visitors to the island. The entire trip lasts about 3½ hours, including the guided tours.
Former political prisoners lead these tours around the cells and it is an emotional experience for many involved. For many South Africans, Robben Island is a place synonymous with leaders, and the struggle for freedom in this beautiful country.
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
This energetic working harbour is one of South Africa's most popular tourist attractions. Today the V&A Waterfront attracts more than 20 million visitors each year - locals and international tourists alike. The V&A has over 400 stores and 45 different restaurants and bars to offer, an arts and crafts centre, the IMAX cinema, an internationally renowned aquarium, a children's science exploratium and a museum.
Shopping: With over 400 stores, the V&A Waterfront caters to all shopping needs in a huge range that will suit any budget or taste. The unique blend of Victorian architecture, maritime tradition and African culture creates an environment that is lively and cosmopolitan. All stores at the V&A Waterfront are open until 9pm, seven days a week for your convenience, and there are over 6000 open-air and underground parking bays, patrolled and monitored 24 hours a day for greater peace of mind.
Seal Landing: The most special feature of the Waterfront is probably the familiar sight of a colony of Cape fur seals resting on the seal landing in the Clock Tower precinct, or on old tyres lining the quaysides. The seals are an integral part of harbour life, and can often be seen posing on postcards.
The Two Oceans Aquarium: The Two Oceans Aquarium is a window on the oceans, offering glimpses of the diverse life found off the South African coastline.
Over 3000 living animals, including fishes, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles and birds can be seen in this spectacular underwater nature reserve. The Aquarium offers unique opportunities such as diving with the sharks and copper hat diving, sleepovers for children, facilities for conferences and functions and the daily feeding of the fishes at 15h30 in the I&J Predator Exhibit.
Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve forms part of the Cape Peninsula Park and is managed by the South African National Parks. The Nature Reserve is recognized globally for its extraordinary land formation, rich and diverse fauna and unique flora. Nowhere else in the world does an area of such spectacular beauty and such rich biodiversity exist almost within a metropolitan area - the thriving and cosmopolitan City of Cape Town.
The legendary Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope form part of the Nature Reserve. These promontories were key beacons for the early explorers and are the source of many myths and legends. In 1488, Bartholomew Dias named the Peninsula Cabo Tormentoso, or the Cape of Storms. King John II of Portugal later gave it the name Cabo da Boa Esperanca - the Cape of Good Hope. In 1580, Sir Frances Drake proclaimed it to be " … the most stately thing and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth."
In 1860, the first lighthouse was erected at Cape Point. However, due to its high location 238m above sea level, it was often obscured by clouds and mist. When the Portuguese liner, the "Lusitania", was wrecked in 1911, the lighthouse was relocated to its current position above Dias Point, only 87m above sea level.
In the 17th century a Dutch Captain, Hendrick van der Decken, attempted to round the Cape in strong headwinds. Mysteriously his ship and crew disappeared, and legend now tells of the ghost ship "The Flying Dutchman," which has allegedly been sighted around Cape Point.