Let’s start with the obvious; it’s a long way. There are direct flights, but you will have to go from London or Manchester, if you want a local (Birmingham) departure then you will end up hopping all over Europe. The plus side of the long trip is that it gets you to Summer in our Winter, and there is virtually no jet lag, as it’s straight down.
Cape Town enjoys a beautiful setting; wrapped around Table Mountain and it’s offshoot Signal Hill, and being virtually surrounded by water; views everywhere are spectacular.
Downtown, the old dock area is now converted into a ‘Covent Garden meets The Bullring’ area, featuring the usual shops alongside more interesting craft workshops and a wide range of restaurants and cafes.
Moving down the Atlantic seaboard; the beaches start at Seapoint, which is residential with lots of tourist apartments, further on are Clifton and then Camps Bay – an upmarket residential and beach area set round a beautiful sandy bay with a spectacular range of mountains as a backdrop.
The climate (New Year 2006/07) is just perfect; 28 degrees, no humidity and a gentle breeze… this can change in a trice and a cloudy morning indicates nothing more than; ‘it’s cloudy at the moment’. It poured with torrential rain one minute, then we were all back on the sun beds 2 minutes later with not a cloud in the sky!
The sea however; is freezing, it comes direct from the South Pole, swimmers only last a few minutes – you won’t see many.
Restaurants all over town are good to very good and with the current exchange rate exceptional value, menus are generally European in flavour with the addition of more unusual meats; ostrich, springbok etc. African/ Cape specialities are available.
Table Mountain is a must, the queue for the cable car can take a couple of hours on busy days but the wait is worth it. Views across town are fantastic and the top of the mountain has a greater biodiversity than the whole of the UK. You can walk up if you don’t want to wait – not recommended…
Robben Island: prison to Nelson Mandela for some 18 years. Worth a trip if you can get there. The Trust does not own the boats that take you over and booking can be heavy, new vessels are apparently on order.
You are shown the cells and given an explanation of how the system worked conducted by an ex prisoner, an interesting insight into recent social history.
Cape Point: iconic visit. Not really the tip of Africa, but significant nevertheless. The final leg of the cape is a protected area and features natural vegetation as well as a small selection of wildlife: ostrich, zebra, baboons. On the way to the point you pass Boulders Beach, which is home to several hundred African penguins; you cross the area on decked walkways and the penguins are quite used to human presence; coming very close. There can’t be many places in the world you can see this at such close quarters.
The Wine lands: Stellenbosch and Paarl are the key towns in the Cape wine producing area (about 40/50 km from Cape Town). The surrounding countryside is again spectacular, with vineyards in huge open valleys and mountains sweeping away in the distance. Most of the vineyards are open to the public and have restaurants and other craft type activities as well as wine tastings for which there is sometimes a small charge, sometimes not.
This is a problem. South Africa has an unemployment rate of 42%, which in turn drives a crime wave. Muggings are common and are often associated with extreme violence. Two tourists were stabbed at the top of Table Mountain whilst I was there and there have been several other similar instances. Most houses are heavily protected (razor wire and electric fencing) and it is not an exaggeration to say that many people live in fear – horror stories abound. Take taxis, don’t walk anywhere remotely ‘dodgy’ after dark, hide the watch/ wallet etc and keep an eye on what’s going on around you.
Cape Town is probably one of the safer areas of South Africa, but you need to be careful and not take any unnecessary risks, residents would consider you mad if you even think about using the trains or being in certain areas after dark, all this can make for a slightly ‘edgy’ feel.
Apartheid is over, but there is a tangible legacy; I can’t say if it’s more dangerous now, but the situation is not a particularly comfortable one. Many ‘whites’ feel vulnerable, and whilst there is a view that ‘it’s about time’, this attitude will help no one. Many whites are packing up and moving to Europe or Canada, fearing a situation similar to that in Zimbabwe, they take with them education, skills and money.
I was told stories of land grabs (20%) and whilst I can’t validate this I did note the rising concerns. It is alleged that between the first and second open/ post apartheid elections the ANC relocated thousands of people across the country. True or not; the second election produced a big enough majority to enable changes to the constitution. Justified or not; this would not be tolerated in Europe; we call it gerrymandering and as Shirley Porter knows to her cost; the fines for this activity can be high.
South Africa is an attractive country with a lot going for it; lets hope they can sort out the problems.