The Amazing Backside of Cape Town
CITY SIGHTSEEING TOUR |Sharon Henry
Cape Town is a vibrant, edgy, beautiful and cosmopolitan city, bursting with history and culture; it was recently voted by UK ‘Telegraph’ readers as the world’s number one city destination.
A definite ‘must-do’ and one of our best days spent in the Mother City, (local name for Cape Town), was on the double-decker red bus, City Sightseeing tour. We watched an astonishing seal show, went wine tasting, ate renowned fish and chips and saw absolutely spectacular scenery.
This hop-on, hop-off, familiar, global franchise operates two main routes. The red route stops off at Table Mountain then continues through to Camps Bay, looping back along the breezy coastline to the V&A Waterfront. We chose the blue, mini peninsular tour that ventures around the back of Table Mountain to Constantia (the “Beverley Hills of Cape Town”), onwards to Hout Bay, before joining the red route’s coastal leg back to the V&A Waterfront.
We sat on the open-air upper deck, better for views and photography, and basked in glorious African sunshine. Red and yellow plastic headphones were provided for the built in audio guides at each seat which offered a choice of 16 languages. The commentary was interesting and informative, injected with humour and interspersed with local music.
We started our journey from Long Street which was great for admiring the colourful Victorian and Cape Dutch architecture, before we passed the grand columns of the Mount Nelson Hotel entrance on our right. The hotel is Cape Town’s most iconic luxury accommodation and has attracted the likes of Winston Churchill, U2 and John Lennon. The audio guide told a story about complaints that had been made to Mount Nelson’s management of a hobo on the lawn. Upon investigation it turned out to be the late Beatle, John Lennon, meditating.
The bus then followed the road to the left of Table Mountain, leaving the city behind.
My fondness for wines made Groot Constantia, South Africa’s oldest wine estate our first ‘hop-off.’ On the cellar tour we leant the intricacies of the wine making process and saw 330, full, 50 litre barrels of product stacked in storage. A sight that’ll have any wine lover drooling and making rash promises to Santa.
Table Mountain is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but the views from the ‘back side’ are breathtaking. We had not expected the abundant forests and lush suburbs.
The audio guide explained that pine trees on the mountain range are an invasive species, stealing precious habitat from native plants and there are plans to eradicate them by 2025. Unsurprisingly there’s been outcry from certain quarters who argue the 100 year old pine trees have become part of Cape Town’s heritage.
Interesting fact from the guide: all species of geraniums in the world originated from the slopes of Table Mountain.
Our next hop-off was the fishing harbour of Hout Bay where a kite surfer was taking advantage of the strong wind, walkers threw sticks for their tail-wagging dogs and flocks of seagulls rested on the marina. Famished, we made a beeline for the rustic Mariner’s Wharf restaurant overlooking the curve of the bay’s white sand beach. I ordered their famous fish and chips which were cooked to perfection; moist hake in light and crispy batter. Darrin had a calamari Chokka salad.
To top off an already enjoyable day we then met Eragfaan Davids or as we call him, the ‘Kodak Moment Seal Guy.’ He has trained wild seals to raise themselves out of the water and delicately pluck fish from his mouth. One seal in particular called ‘Julius’ obediently waited for the ‘okay’ command before taking the food.
People pay good money at Sea World-type parks for such a spectacle; here we had it free. Eragfaan told us he’s been doing this for seven years and earns money from tourists’ donations. Sitting on the jetty he attracts attention by shouting, “get your Kodak moment right here boss.” Eragfaan claims to know 74 seals that frequent the harbour area. The seals are very camera friendly.
The views on the journey to the Waterfront were superb; the glittering Atlantic coastline is littered with white sand beaches and luxury properties built into the surrounding hillsides. Although the rolling waves looked enticing, sea temperature in summer drop to a toe-curling 9C, apparently an effect of melting ice from Antarctica. The sea is bizarrely warmer in winter.
As we drove along the gently winding road the peaks of the Twelve Apostles mountain range loomed on the right, although we counted at least 17 peaks.
The City Sightseeing tour is a brilliant excursion. The staff were helpful, the buses comfortable and frequent. It’s also very educational. Unfortunately we by-passed the Kirstenbosch national botanical gardens, World of Birds and the Imazamo Yethu township attractions; there’s only so much you can do in a day. Next time!
The one day ticket costs R170 (£9.23 or $13.62) but take advantage of a R20 discount by booking online which makes it R150 (£8.15 or $12). It’s definitely well worth the money.
Note: Currency conversions based on exchange rates in early March 2015.