A few years ago I was in Cape Town on business with a work colleague. Having sat through three days of interminable meetings we both felt the need to spend what little time we had left, exploring this remarkable city on four wheels. With this in mind we found ourselves the cheapest car hire company in town and made a hasty exit.
Cape Town is quite some city. Imagine Sydney and San Francisco rolled into one with mountains, white sandy beaches and ostriches thrown in for good measure, and you’ll get some idea of the place. It’s also a land of contrasts with clear and visible traces left behind by apartheid. Drive from the up-market leafy environs of Clifton to Stellenbosch and you’ll suddenly find yourself amid miles of squatter camps.
We wanted to get the best views of the city so we headed for Table Mountain and took the cable car to the top – 1067 metres up. This is a fantastic trip and you get the most staggering bird’s eye view of the city. But it’s noticeably cooler at the top so you’d be well advised to take some extra layers. You’ll also find numerous paths here and viewing points with telescopes. If you’re lucky enough to come here at sunset you are in for a treat. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to wait.
Our next port of call on this manic sightseeing trip was the beautiful Kirstenbosch gardens. Covering an astonishing 528 hectares this is a wonderful showpiece of native flora and indigenous plants; all of which look fabulously exotic to European eyes. Fynbos, cycads and proteas give way to billiard table lawns, looking-glass ponds and gently trickling streams.
Whether you want to take an easy stroll or take on a more challenging hike up to the upper slopes, the gardens cater for everyone, including keen ornithologists who won’t fail to be impressed by the great variety of our feathered friends to be found in this stretch of paradise. If you were looking for the perfect place for a family picnic, the Kirstenbosch gardens would certainly fit the bill. I could have happily stayed here for the entire day.
When it comes to finding somewhere to eat of an evening, you really are spoilt for choice in Cape Town. You can sample wonderful African and Asian cuisine as well as outstanding French fare, which was established by the early French Hugenot settlers.
Most of the best French restaurants are concentrated in the Franschoek district. We chose to eat in the terrific La Petite Ferme which, besides serving up wonderful French rustic cooking, does so in a picturesque vineyard setting.
The next day was our last, but our flight back to London wasn’t until 5pm so we had time to sample some of the beaches, or at least that was our intention, but the first beach we arrived at, Boulder Beach was utterly captivating due to the fact that this is home to the vulnerable African penguin. I had no idea that penguins lived anywhere other than the Arctic wastes, but I can now tell you that these charming creatures can indeed be seen waddling in their natural African habitat. What better way could there be to bring our whirlwind tour of this remarkable city to an end?
Alex Pearl is a freelance copywriter and author of the teen novel, ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds.’ His royalty goes to Centrepoint, the UK charity for homeless youngsters.