Cape Town revisited

January 13, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

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Evening sun over the marina

“Everyone has left Cape Town  – I am the last one left in paradise,” a friend said years ago during the apartheid heyday, when young  radical whites were leaving and Nelson Mandela was still on Robben Island (now a tourist attraction … South Africa’s own Alcatraz).

I return as a travel agent, though I spend precious moments with friends. Every corner brings a memory, but in this blog I will talk only briefly about attractions and five star hotels.

Cape Town IS a tourist paradise. With its 1000 metre high mountain right in the middle, this spectacular city  cradles startling white beaches and turquoise coves, vineyards and forests. And all this natural beauty comes with  a sense of fun and adventure  too,  from carnivals, wining and dining to shark cage  diving and  rock climbing, or  a swing up by cable to the top of the mountain.
But still for pleasure and romance I recommend setting as many nights as possible aside for the Winelands – to enjoy the slow life. They are only 30 to 40 minutes from Cape Town, but you don’t get the real feeling on daytrips from Cape Town to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. There are scores of top quality gourmet restaurants and hundreds of wineries to explore. And you have privacy and peace in the green valleys between jagged blue mountains, dropping slowly on you from heaven…

When I lived in Cape Town 30 years ago there were less than 1 million people and we never thought of crime. There are now 5.5 million people in Cape Town many of them illegal immigrants. They are packed into tiny houses on the Cape Flats (within radius of 10-30 km) and though most cannot even afford to come into Cape Town, a few do slip in to the city to make a background noise of potential crime. The government / Cape Town community did a lot of cleaning up for the World Cup and most of the slums are now lit and though very humble are no longer mere rubbish dumps. The locals assured me they felt more secure now, but the need to remain alert is part of the Cape Town lifestyle.
The Waterfront is still a powerful focus of attention, and vibrant with African singers and street performers,  etc. People flock here to enjoy dining and drinking at the Waterfront’s five star hotels and waterside eateries and to pick up boat excursions. But the shopping is pretty  mass-market or kitsch – in fact there is a little grunginess all around … spicing its touristy life and giving it some kind of 21st century authenticity. Meanwhile the cleanup has made the real old Cape Town come to life with trendy shops and atmospheric well priced restaurants in Long Street and Kloof Street.
The Greenpoint area (near the new football stadium) has also become full of trendy boutiques and cute B&Bs, and they have created a wonderful park to compete with the famous Kirstenbosch. It is now safe to walk.
Seapoint is being smartened up bit by bit as the old pensioners die and their unpainted blocks of flats go on the market. It will one day (perhaps soon) return to the scintillating night life status it had before the Waterfront was created. Nature gifted Sea Point with a steep mountain backdrop and flaming sunsets over a deep blue sea – if I had money to invest in property – this is where I would spend it…
Clifton Beach is stunning (though too cold to swim, bikini hot) and only the rich live or rent its cliff hanging houses. Camps Bay is still very popular and a great place to dine with its view over white beach and palms, and the mountain setting (the tall back of Table Mountain). It also reminds that Cape Town is situated at the end of Africa, some of its grungy side lurks at the edges and it can be flooded with people on public holidays.
To remind that all these attractive areas are very close to the Waterfront, there is a jogging track from the Waterfront through Sea Point past Clifton Beach and Camps Bay to the Twelve Apostles hotel at the beginning of the famous drive to Hout Bay.
This side of the mountain is washed by cold waters but has a real Mediterranean climate and vegetation. It is on the other side of the Cape Peninsula mountain chain that the rains come, forests grow and rivers run, where the White establishment once built their huge houses in vast lush gardens.
The Cape Peninsula is criss-crossed with roads and mountain passes – very stunning drives and seemingly endless ways to get to Cape Point which is almost (but is not) the most southerly point of Africa. Still it feels like the end of it all and the beginning of sheer wild beauty with its snow white beaches, rugged rocks and restless waters where seals and dolphins play….

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