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Monday 6 Feb 2012
Cape Town, South Africa

A tour of Cape Town

I quickly learned a few things while here...

Lesson one: Get  a rental car as soon as you arrive at Cape Town. Getting around can be difficult/expensive without, since you rely mainly on taxis or alternatively the city sightseeing bus which drops you off at some major sights. Downtown is fairly level terrain, but once you go anywhere else it's hills all the way. Not to mention some of the pavement was added as an afterthought where (in Fresnaye particularly) it quickly vanishes to a piece of concrete 10cm between a house wall and the road tarmac! I quickly learned this on Sunday when I attempted to walk from Sea Point to Camps Bay. It's virtually impossible.

Lesson two: Don't arrive smack in the middle of the largest annual mining conference in Africa! This, I was to discover, was precisely why I was finding it so hard to get accommodation, and also meant it was practically impossible to find a car to rent... ANYWHERE!

Thus started Monday, a futile attempt to rent a car took up about 3 hours of this morning as I wandered from Hertz to Avis to Budget to Europcar... eventually I managed to find a small private firm that said they didn't CURRENTLY have a car, but one was due to come in around 3pm if I could wait ... at this stage it was 12pm and I didn't want to sit around wasting the day so I decided I'd leave the car today and take one of those City Sightseeing Bus tours that seem to be in every major city in the world (whoever thought of that franchise idea was a genius)

Cable Car up Table...
Cable Car up Table Mountain

It was a lucky decision, as it happened the bus tour was actually quite informative and it also led me to a few sights around town that I had wanted to visit anyway, such as District Six and the Table Mountain cable car station. District Six was once a black township, but it was also center-stage for one of the darker moments in South Africa's history. During apartheid the residents were forcibly removed from District Six to settlements outside the city, and their houses were demolished. The idea was to make the area available for white settlement, but international pressure and sanctions on South Africa prevented any building from taking place so, up until recently, the area was just left as scrubland right smack in the middle of Cape Town. It's gradually being built upon now, but due to legal wrangling it's probably going to stay as a barren wastelend for many years to come. This was the inspiration for the movie District 9 incidentally.

The tour led us through downtown Cape Town, including past a fortress the Dutch built here in the C17th. Even though the castle (as they call it) is fairly inland, when it was initially built it was beside the coast, so Cape Town itself must be mostly built upon reclaimed land.

Downtown Cape Town centers on Long Street ... not amazing, it could be any city in the world really. Some nice old Dutch buildings are situated in an old square plys lovely gothic architecture on the churches. Very reminiscent of the plazas I found in colonial Spanish cities in the Americas. You really wouldn't believe you were in Africa were it not for the occasional cardboard shack appearing under a bridge housing a family that brings it all back into focus. We also passed by a pair of old benches kept for posterity, one of which has "Whites Only" written on it and another having "Blacks Only", again harking back to the apartheid era.

Sitting atop Table...
Sitting atop Table Mountain

The tour took us to Table Mountain (pics to come soon) which is accessible via cable car from the bus stop. Once at the top of the mountain you can walk around concreted pathways that take you in a large circuit to enjoy the many views. And indeed they are fantastic: from a view of Camps Bay you can see down to the Cape of Good Hope (on a clear day) and then on the other side you can survey the "city bowl" where downtown Cape Town sits on flat ground surrounded on many sides by steep granite mountains. I spent a good few hours up here, eating a sandwhich while perilously cropped up a large granite rock overlooking the city. I had a fairly bizarre illusion that the city seemed to be closer than it was and that I could pick up the little houses as if they were Sim City buildings... hmm maybe that was heatstroke! It was a nice balmy day with clouds relieving some of the day's heat, so I didn't think to wear suncream, but damnit if yer ever gonna get burned yer gonna get it on top of Table Mountain ... and indeed I came off it looking like a lobster. Damnit!

Camps Bay on a quiet day
Camps Bay on a quiet day

Last stop on the bus tour (great value this!) was Camps Bay. Yes I know I visited it yesterday, but today was a Monday and it was completely different. At last I could see what all the fuss was about. Gone were the chavs, replaced with models sunning themselves on the beach against the stunning backdrop of the 12 Apostles. Camps Bay is Cape Town's Bondi Beach or Copacabana (athough the latter still has it for the all-time "wow" factor regarding the backdrop in my opinion). The similarities with Sydney don't end there, throughout my time in Cape Town (and surrounds) I kept on feeling I was back in South-East Australia ... it was uncanny. Never in my wildest dreams would I believe I was in Africa.

Lovely city, although I would feel rather cocooned living here within a protective barbed-wire fortress. Later on I would discover that this barbed-wire effect was only really evident in the posher neighbourhoods, like Fresnaye where I was staying, but other areas were a little more relaxed.

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Mum Says:

8 February 2012

Hi Peter. Just checking in to see how you doing. Bit frustrating for you in c.town. Hope you managed to escape peeling after that burning! Hope the rest of your trip proves to be less frustrating for you. will try a text now to see if you get.

Sithern Efrika

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Photo Album

  • Camps Bay on...

    Cape Town

    South Africa

    Camps Bay on a weekend
  • Cable Car up...

    Cape Town

    South Africa

    Cable Car up Table Mountain
  • Camps Bay...

    Cape Town

    South Africa

    Camps Bay from Table Mountain
  • Sitting atop...

    Cape Town

    South Africa

    Sitting atop Table Mountain