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Cape Town – tales of the unexpected

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Tales of the unexpected – Timi-Nipre sampled the thrills of Cape Town and can’t wait to get back there for more

I VISITED South Africa for the first time recently and was blown away by it. I spent most of my time in Cape Town, the legislative capital of South Africa, a city alive with beauty and creativity. Great efforts have been made to preserve its historical landmarks, in contrast to other places in Africa where the built heritage is often ignored. And I was amazed to experience an African winter as cold as any in Europe.

Indeed, Cape Town is a city where the unexpected is always just around the corner and the beautiful province of the Cape lies ready to be explored across the city limits. One of the must-see tourism sites is Table Mountain, which forms a stunning backdrop to the entire city. Named as one of the new seven wonders of the world, you can reach the summit in just five minutes by taking a cable car. From the plateau that gives it its name, there are magnificent views of the Cape Town city centre, the surrounding suburbs and, of course, the Atlantic and Indian oceans, which converge at Cape Point.

If you’re feeling energetic you can walk to the top of the mountain, which at its high­est point is 1,085m (3,560ft). On the way you can visit the colourful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden or the Silvermine Nature Reserve. A designated national park, Table Mountain is known for its rich biodiversity and is home to more than 1,500 species of plants (more than the number found throughout the entire British isles according to statistics).

Lovers of wildlife can visit the Aquila Private Game Reserve, named after the endangered resident Black Eagles. Com­prising lions, springbok baboons, leopards, and elephants, it was once a favourite hunting ground of the indigenous Khoi/San hunters whose ancient rock art can still be seen. Aquila is indeed more than just the unforgettable wildlife experience offered by a safari tour. Here one can also enjoy South African hospitality at its most lavish as well as traditional culinary delights.

Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, lies a three hour-plus boat ride away from the shore and can also be seen in the distance from Table Mountain. It is one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions, and rightly so as it will a highlight of your trip. Dubbed ‘Robben’ (‘the place of seals’) by Dutch settlers, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999.

Over the decades, it was used as a hospital, mental institution and military base before locking up South Africa’s most prominent freedom fighters during the apartheid era. A tour begins at the Nelson Mandela Gateway and takes you to the maximum security prison, which has been left in its original state, through to the lime quarry where Mandela and his fellow prisoners were forced to work with their bare hands, and then on to Mandela’s humble prison cell.

Former political prisoner act as tour guides, giving first hand, poignant accounts of prison life. Additional stopovers include the kramat (shrine) of Tuan Guru, known as the father of Islam in South Africa, the leper’s graveyard and the house where Pan African Congress founder Robert Sobukwe lived in solitary confinement for nine years. There are few places in the world where you can get close up and personal to a breeding colony of penguins or swim alongside them. One such place is the Boulders Penguin Colony near Simon’s Town in False Bay, where about 3,000 of these flightless birds roam freely.

But be warned – these deceptively docile looking creatures can bite and it is best to keep a respectful distance. The warning sign, as I found out for myself, is when they agitatedly move their heads from side to side. As a bonus, whales, seals, sharks and dolphins can also be seen from the bay.

The V&A Waterfront is said to be South Africa’s most visited destination, attracting millions of visitors every year, and for good reason as it the city’s shopping and dining hub, as well as home to numerous museums and galleries. Named after Queen Victoria of Britain and her youngest son, Prince Alfred, who tipped the first construction stones for the breakwater of the harbor in 1860, the V&A is also the starting point for Cape Town’s top attractions, as well as exhilarating helicopter and boat trips and more relaxed harbour cruises.

The V&A waterfront’s Amphitheatre is one of its major highlights, providing everything from theatre and concerts to creative workshops and puppet shows, often for free. This is also where you find the famous Cape Wheel, billed as a “giant observation wheel” and guaranteed to get your heart thumping. Long Street is where Cape Town’s nightlife starts. From clubs blasting out techno, nu-rave, indie and basically every alternative music genre you can imagine to Julep, popularly acclaimed to be Long Street’s most relaxed bar, Long Street can cater for all popular music tastes. Straight No Chaser, I was told, is the city’s best jazz venue. But be sure to get there early –  it seats no more than 50 and showcases South Africa’s nascent jazz talent.

A good spot for local music is Mama Africa, which has a live Marimba band as well as tasty food. Gourmets who want good cuisine and impeccable service in luxury surroundings should make their way to the Roundhouse, another World Heritage Site. Here you have the opportunity to try out vintage cocktails, whole roasts, freshly baked bread and decanters of wine. Aubergine, another of Cape Town’s culinary highlights, gives you a superior experience of contemporary cuisine from an a la carte menu, which bursts with flavours, aromas and textures appealing to even the most jaded of palates.

No trip to Cape Town would be complete without a pilgrimage to Gugulethu’s ‘Church of Meat’. Here, you can fill a bowl with any meat of your choice and head over to the braai (barbecue), where it will be cooked while you have a drink, listen to music or dance your day away to kwaito (local house music) beats.

Mad about seafood? Let your tongue savour the culinary expertise of Ocean Basket, like mine did, with delicacies from the seas ranging from lobsters and calamari, to squid and prawn. For sweet tooths, visit Charley’s Bakery. This home of sweetness is located at 38 Canterbury St, Zonnebloem in Cape Town and is the premier chocolate wedding cake bakery. I was told it patronised by VIPs. There is plenty to buy in Cape Town, particularly by way of traditional arts and crafts. Souvenir collectors might consider dropping into Scoin Shop to get a pure gold coin imprinted with the head of Mandela and others for keepsakes.

I left the city saying, ngiya bonga (thank you), Cape Town! You are the mother city of Africa and I will return again to ex­perience your many delights.

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