It’s usually about this time of year many of us here in Oz choose to ditch the snuggly socks and hoodies for some long overdue sub-continental rays. But since these overseas travel restrictions have flown in from the North and buckled down for the Winter (let’s face it, probably a lot longer), I thought it fitting to indulge in a little escapism and review a holiday destination you literally can’t spell E-S-C-A-P-E without.
Here are my 5 tips for conquering the Cape:
Hire a car
If you’re expecting to explore this sprawling, mountainous city on foot or via public transport, DON’T. Unless you’ve got mates or family living there to hitch rides off, the best investment you’ll make is one involving four wheels… or two if you like to live dangerously. Unlike many flat and well-connected European cities you may be familiar with, public transport will not even get you close to discovering the best spots this city has to offer. But trust me, with jaw-dropping scenery that’ll really get your motor running, (like Chapman’s Peak drive overlooking Hout Bay, or rolling up to the Silvermine Nature Reserve) it’s basically a no-brainer. Beware though, if you hear a “Hey, Boss! Over here!” from ‘friendly’ locals pointing to a parking space half the size of your ride, you’re gonna have to cough up a few rand when they help squeeze you in. Fortunately, reversing into or out of a sticky situation is aided by the fact they also drive on the left side of the road.
Book for Summer
Like most beach holidays, Cape Town, or, “The Mother City,” is best enjoyed in the warmer months due to its prominent sea breeze and winter rains (December to February will not disappoint). However, don’t even think of pigeonholing this place as purely a ‘beach town.’ With walking trails along the iconic Table Mountain, Lion’s Head circular route to enjoy at sunset or before work according to locals, and a myriad of other people-friendly routes, you truly can get lost here like no where else. Plus, if you’re keen for a dip, don’t forget the city is split between its Indian and Atlantic Ocean beaches – and if you truly want to enjoy the bone-numbing Atlantic ones, you better do it in Summer or risk your central appendages vanishing forever.
Don’t forget to tip
Some of you may be prone to thinking, No, I don’t tip for good service. It should always be good. Well, consider how much you’re paying for a meal and what the real cost is to you. Tip-ically (sorry), a gratuity of 10-15% is paid as a service fee, and may even be added to the bill automatically in some venues. But let’s be real here; the staff probably get paid peanuts, so the very least you could do is provide them with an adequate ‘thanks’ to show you enjoyed your experience. Tipping aside, the food and drink culture is as varied as it is delicious. If you enjoy a cocktail or two, doing so when you’re out for dinner is really not going to set you back that much. And don’t worry, even if one or two turns into three of four, the vibrant coffee scene’s enough to turn even the most bar-hopped cape-crusader into an early-riser.
4. Wildlife is… wild
If you’ve not booked a return trip home, perhaps consider taking a tour of “Shark Alley” in Gansbaii to save you the hassle. Great whites can be spotted on guided shark-cage diving trips, though some have been known to creep a little closer off the shores of popular city beaches. If you’re more of a hill-dweller, be prepared to come across wild baboons circling the peak of Cape Point. Ok, they may sit on your car and wait for you to return, but they’re mostly harmless, I think. For a more wholesome experience, a source of pride for locals and pleasure for tourists is the community of penguins nestled along the banks of Boulder’s Beach near Simon’s Town. Pay virtually nothing for access to an unguided walkway to see them slip and slide until your heart’s content. The glorious drive down the coast is reason enough to make the trip, with some beach ports even attracting seals who don’t mind being the centre of attention.
Next stop, culture?
If it’s your first trip to South Africa, even Africa, that alone will prove a culture shock. Freeways leaving Cape Town International Airport provide a poignant reminder of the glaring wealth gap dividing residents, as ghettos and makeshift houses are scattered throughout various neighbourhoods. Dubbed ‘The Rainbow Nation,’ South Africa’s rich and mixed cultural heritage is on full display, with every nook and cranny providing a glimpse into the history of past and present settlers. Dutch influences are evident in ports and fishing docks throughout the Cape, with the brightly-coloured streets of Bo Kaap a result of Dutch settlers shipping slaves and convicts from India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia back to the harbour city, a community now known as the Cape Malays.
If it’s a quirky souvenir you’re after, head into the city centre to peruse handcrafted nick nacks and art pieces from local market sellers only too happy to tell the story of their origins. You’ll also expect to pay a lot less than what’s charged in flashy tourist shops. But for some retail therapy minus the repetitive greetings from eager town merchants, the V&A Waterfront is a must-visit during your stay. Built into the harbour, restaurants, designer brand stores and outdoor entertainment are main attractions. For a more purposeful visit, book a ferry pass to Robben Island from the Waterfront’s Nelson Mandela Gateway, and discover how the political figure approached daily life during 18 of his 27 years behind bars oppressed by the Apartheid regime.
Cape Town is one of those cities that’s impossible to ‘do’ in 3-4 days – which is why you shouldn’t dare try. From its historic wineries and cultural experiences, to panoramic ocean drives and picturesque beaches, you’ll really need to set aside at least a week or two to appreciate the Mother City in all her glory. Seriously, how many world-renowned destinations boast 11 spoken languages and two intersecting oceans?
We understand travel beyond our shores is near impossible for the foreseeable future. But with an affordability rare for such a global city, you’d be mad not to consider the gateway to South Africa as your next unforgettable overseas adventure.