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Cape Town
 
  Cape Town
 

 


It is official, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places on earth! Truly, it is magnificent. I want to live here.

Oh and you are right, its not part of Southeast Asia, but when a place is a magnificent as Cape Town, it deserves to be known to the rest of the world.

I had previously been to Johannesburg and Pretoria, which was interesting but not somewhere I wanted to come and live. Cape Town is just like Australia, it feels like a combination of Melbourne and Sydney. Amazing place.

Quick History: Early Dutch and Portuguese explorers stopped at and recorded the existence of Cape Town area as early as 1486. However no permanent settlement was made until 1652 when the Dutch East Indies Company set Cape Town up as a replenishment station for their ships heading to Indonesia and other parts of the Far East. Many of the early settlers were probably slaves brought in from Indonesia and other parts of Africa or India, their descendants are still known as Cape Coloureds and indeed there is ample evidence of the legacy of Indonesian, Portuguese, African and Indian culture here.

 

 
In 1795 the British in their usual fashion decided they wanted the Cape and so fought a short but bloody battle with the under-equipped and poorly trained soldiers of the Dutch East Indies Company. The Cape underwent a few changes of ownership with the Dutch being given it back by the Brits for a couple of years from 1803 to 1806 and then from 1814 until 1961 it remained under British control after a few other wars and skirmishes.

Apart from being a port for shipping, Cape Town was also near some of the earlier diamond discoveries in South Africa in the late 1800’s. Gold was also discovered and this brought all sorts of migrants to the region in search of instant wealth. And as usual there was plenty of tension when there was something of value to be had for nothing but hard work. So the Boer Wars commenced. The Boers were essentially the descendants of Dutch farmers who settled around the Cape area over the years and who resisted the rule of the British, well the Dutch and the Brits have never really been comfortable bed fellows have they. The Boer War had a number of notable events, some very bloody and some celebrated in other nations, such as Australia. Indeed the Boer War was the first foreign conflict that saw Australian soldiers under the guise of the AIF (Australian Imperial Forces) come together and fight a common enemy. The Boer War is also famous, or perhaps infamous for the story, trial and execution of Breaker Morant. Just another reason to hate the Brits really.

 

 
So finally in 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed and self rule was proclaimed, but it was not until 1961 that the Republic of South Africa was formed and the Brits finally left. This however was not the end of the struggle of South Africa. The darkest days of the Republic were the Apartheid days from 1948 until 1994 when the first true democratic elections were held leading to the election of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela. If you don’t know about Apartheid look it up on Wikipedia.

Today South Africa is a true democracy and the genuine affection with which the races now interact is a wonderful thing to see. The economy of the Cape is booming and while unemployment is still extremely high the government and the people are making huge strides to remedy this. It is truly amazing to come here and experience it all. I am particularly joyed by this as I was an active and regular participant in the Anti Apartheid rallies in Australia in the early 1970’s, they were exciting, dangerous but worthwhile for the pressure it put on our government and the rest of the world to end that most invidious and disgusting law and practice.

Getting here:
 

 
    Cape Town is not the easiest place in the world to get to, it really is a very long way from anywhere. 12 hours from Singapore, 16 hours from Sydney, 11 hours from London, 20+ hours from New York and other places, and a whole lot further from Tokyo and Shanghai.
    There are many flights via Joberg and then connecting to Cape Town, there just are not that many flights between the cities and if your inbound flight is late you may well have to stay in Joberg overnight until a seat becomes available for you. So if possible get a direct flight even if it means doing a transfer in another city, like Singapore or one of the other African cities.
    South Africa has an almost open borders policy, very few countries require a visa to enter. You will however need to show that you have a return ticket, so if you are traveling on an e-ticket make sure you have a printed copy of it, or like me you will spend an hour in the pen waiting for the airline to print it out for you.

Hotels:
 

 
    Not sure why, but there are not a lot of International brands here in Cape Town. There is a Sheraton, which is ok but not great. The local 4 and 5 star hotel look wonderful so do your research (Google) for hotels and pick from the range that are on offer. Try the boutiques or others out in the suburbs or along the beach. Nothing is really very far away and unless here on business there is no reason to be downtown, its boring and dangerous at night and on weekends.

Other accommodation:
    There are lots of accommodation choices here and in the Cape region generally. My friend Rupert even has a place you can hire, http://www.weaver-arniston.com, go and have a look, its just a most beautiful place.

Transport:
    There are many taxis in Cape Town, and that is just as well as its dangerous to walk around on your own at any time of the day and especially after hours, even 100 metres can see you being in a dangerous situation very quickly. The taxis don’t mind taking you even the shortest of distance, indeed I would have to say that the cab drivers here are the friendliest and happiest I have ever encountered. So don’t walk.

Food:
 

 
    South Arica is rightly proud of its food. The traditional South African cuisine is really interesting, lots of beef and fish and always with wonderful fresh vegetables. South African beef is unbelievable and very lean. Its tempting to eat it all the time. The local fish is also wonderful, the most commonly ordered fish is called Line Fish, not sure why, but its lovely, white, soft and easy to cook and eat. The vegetables are always fresh and slightly provincial in their servings. Very nice and very tasty.
    Cape Town also has a very diverse ethnic mix and so here you will also get Indian, Malay, Cajun and Chinese and all of outstanding quality. The servings are also quite large so only order an appetiser if you are starving.

Brai:
    One of the things that South Africans love is a BBQ, except here its called a Brai (pronounced Br-eye). They love it and will stop pretty much anything except a good rugby game if there is a Brai on. They also like to go to their Brai in their ‘Buckies’. Now a Buckie is what an Australian would call a ‘Ute’ or Utility vehicle and Americans might call an SUV half cab. But here it’s a Buckie and they love them as much as we do. The Brai however consists of a ton of meat in various forms, sausages a long as an Elephants small intestine, steaks as big as Texas and chops that would slay Conan with a good slap, to date I am yet to see any vegetables that did not involve potato or onion.

Restaurants:
 

 
    Cape Town has so many wonderful restaurants that its hard to pick them out. We managed to get to quite a few so here are my recommendations, and a couple from some friends who come here regularly.

    Andiamo - This is in the Cape Centre on de Waterkant. Cape Centre has a little courtyard with many café and restaurants. All look great but this one was recommended by someone with exquisite taste, and he was spot on. Definitely a lunch spot on the weekend, menu was different enough to be interesting but not pretentious. Wine list was all South African but the house white was an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, well recommended by the waiter who immediately recognised my accent and knew what I would probably like. Cannot complain about that sort of service. The meal itself was really interesting. It was called Fettini, which I thought would be Italian but it turns out to be a traditional South African dish of thinly sliced beef with polenta (yummy), sautéed mushrooms and rough hewn seasonal vegetables. It was just an outstanding meal. The ambience was perfect and there was no pressure to move on once the meal was finished, highly recommended.

 

 
    Moyo - Located within the Spier winery (or wine farm as they call them here) Moyo is an African themed indoor/outdoor restaurant. It was a truly magical experience. More than 500 of us descended on the place and were entertained by a variety of musical events with African themes, really great stuff. The food is African buffet, a bit of Brai feel about it but more food than you could eat and a lot of it quite different. I had among other things the Roast Ox Tail, oh my it was so tender and so sweet that I had to stop myself going back for more. The steak was tender and lean, the chicken came in many guises and was soft and tender. The vegetables were of many kinds and far too many to eat them all. Moyo is a place that needs at least three visits to do it justice. The ambience is wonderful and I will certainly be back for more.

Wine/Beer:
    Yes its good, not always great but good. The locals are very proud of their wines and they have been at it for probably 300 years now. The Sauvignon Blanc is really very very good, the Riesling is also wonderful. The Chardonnay is too wooded as a rule and the flavour is lost to the oak. The reds are interesting. Generally I found that the Shiraz was far too acid and the tendency is to make them BIG. The Cabernet/Sauvignon is generally very good but the outstanding local wine is the Pinotage. We are told this was created many years ago by combining vines of the Pinot and Hermitage grapes. It is a very special wine and one that has to be tasted to be appreciated. Its great.
    Beer is not always beer, but in South Africa it is generally very good. The mainstay is Castle and its good, no doubt about it, we certainly drank a lot of it so it must have been good.

Things to do: Cape Town has a few things to do that are fantastic, but not a whole lot so plan your stay to make sure you fit it all in. I think one week is going to be enough, once you get over the jet lag.
Basically the touring choices include:

Table Mountain:
 

 
    Go early in the day. It opens at 0830 so get there around that time because the crowds grow quickly.
    Cable car ride takes 2 minutes and is fantastic
    The view from the top is unbelievable. Plan to stay for a couple of hours and if fit enough take the walking tracks, they are easy walking. Take water and a jacket or sweater, its colder up here.
    There is a great little café that makes good coffee, take the time and sit and enjoy (they do a BIG breakfast too)
    Sunset is apparently fantastic, but you can find yourself in trouble if the cloud comes in (see photos) or if the wind picks up as the cable car will be closed.

Stellenbosch Wineries:
    There are hundreds of them so book a B&B and don’t drive too far
    The scenery out here is awe inspiring, more mountains, acres of vines and green green green
    One place you have to visit in Stellenbosch is Spier. I am told that some Dutch billionaire purchased Spier some years ago in a fire sale and has spent millions on it, and he did a great job too. The wine is what it is, but it also has a mini game park, a leopard recovery centre, picnic area, horse-riding and Moyo restaurant (see separate section on this). Probably could spend most of one day here without too much trouble and only 45 minutes from the city.

The Cape:
    By all reports at least a one day trip to see whales, penguins and other animals.
    Beaches
      Blouberg (kite surfing, families, lazing around)
      Boulders Beach (boulders – go figure, and penguins)
      Camps Bay (cafes and restaurants, white sand)
      Clifton Beach (paragliding, sunbathing, popular with all)
      Fish Hoek (safest swimming beach at the cape)
      Hout Bay (beautiful scenery and easy access to seals)
      Muizenberg (gentle surf and good for families)
      Noorhoek (white sand, wide beach, great for dogs and horses)
      Sandy Bay (nudists).

Robben Island:
 

 
    This is where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years during the Apartheid period. I didn’t have time to go over there but my local friends tell me that it is a truly humbling experience to go over there and experience the environment that this great man endured in for almost 3 decades.
    The island can be seen from Table Mountain in the middle of the bay off Cape Town (see photo to right). Its incredible to think the Mandela was so close all those years.
    Tours leave from the Waterfront area.

Waterfront Area:
    There are some good and not so good places here. The Waterfront area is quite large and includes the marina, condominiums, restaurants, shopping mall, art shops and interesting maritime features.
    The V&A mall is pretty basic, I did a bit of good shopping, but its not Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangkok, so don’t go there expecting too much. There are some nice African craftwork places to poke around in and lots of good restaurants, but not too much else.
    Oh there are plenty of places to drink beer!

Golf:
    The locals and the taxi drivers tell me the golf courses here are world class, will bring my clubs next time.

Driving:
    South Africa drives on the CORRECT side of the road, the LEFT that is. So for us Aussies and Brits its very comfortable. The roads are extremely good and very clearly sign posted, it would be hard to get lost here even without a map. If you are coming here I would recommend getting a car for a few days, it will be easier to get around and back to where you are staying. Most of the tourist sights are within a 1 to 2 hour drive of the city and so taking a taxi is going to be very expensive.
    I asked a couple of taxi drivers how much it would be to get my friends place at Arniston and generally it was R1500, which is about US$220, so quite expensive.
    There are lots of tour groups here but if you want to do the self drive don’t be concerned about getting around, its very easy.

Climate:
 

 
    The weather here is great, as I said its like combining Melbourne and Sydney. Summer is very hot and can easily reach 40c+ in February. The winter is more like Sydney, not really cold except at night. Spring and Autumn seem to be the best seasons. Its spring as I write this. Each day has been 26 to 28’c and the wind is warm, shorts and a shirt are very comfortable for daytime and a light jacket or cotton sweater at night is more than enough cover. Its also a dry climate so rain is not usually a consideration. The wettest months are June and July which is also winter here, so if you don’t want the cold and wet, come in August or September, its October now and its close to perfect. I am told March and April are also close to perfect.

People:
    South Africans are generally very hospitable people, regardless of race or background. Questions are answered in a concerned and considered manner. Nothing seems to be too much bother for anyone here, nice change from some places we go I can tell you.
    Having said that I again warn you that it is not safe to walk around the city alone at day or night. Take a taxi.

Final Comment: If I could live anywhere in the world apart from Australia, this would be it. So come and have a look for yourself.

More Cape Town Images >>

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