Cape Town: what can I say that hasn’t already been said?
This city truly is one of the most spectacular in the world. White sand beaches, tons of wildlife, gorgeous mountains, cosmopolitan culture, cultural diversity, quaint seaside villages and rugged natural beauty. It really has it all and is right up there with Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney and San Francisco as one of my favourite cities.
I first visited Cape Town back in 2009 on my first trip to South Africa to meet Trav’s family and get a feel for his home country. We spent six weeks travelling around including a week in Cape Town.
That week was the highlight of my trip.
I have been looking forward to going back there ever since, and over this last Christmas and New Year we finally got the chance to return.
Over nine days of mostly endless sunshine, we explored places we didn’t get to last time as well as revisiting others, knocked out a couple of incredible hikes, ate lots of delicious food, caught up with Trav’s family and friends, chilled out by the pool in our Air BnB apartments and generally had an amazing time!
Nine days may seem like a long time to spend in one city but there is honestly so much to do in there, especially if you love the outdoors. We were busy every day and still didn’t get a chance to revisit some of the sights we saw last time such as Robben Island, the District Six Museum, the boat to Seal Island and the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton.
There was just so much other stuff to do and I was running around like a crazed tourist trying to do it all. Here are my highlights:
Browsing the stalls of the Neighbourhood Goods Market
I found out about the Saturday Neighbourhood Goods Market in the slightly dodgy, but swiftly gentrifying neighbourhood of Woodstock via Pinterest. I love me a market and seek them out wherever I travel, and this one didn’t disappoint. With a bustling tent full of artisan producers, bakers, grocers and butchers, the market aims to bring together the community and to help educate people about what we buy and eat. There are numerous food stalls serving dishes from around the world such as poffertjies, paella and Thai curries. Long wooden tables with candelabra and vases of flowers fill the middle of the tent where people sit to eat their breakfast or lunch. We were there in the late morning and there were already people drinking wine and cider, having a gay old time. The atmosphere was alive and chaotic, exactly how I like my markets. The Old Biscuit Mill itself is an old brick warehouse and courtyard that has been converted into an attractive specialty shopping village full of eclectic shops and al fresco dining options. I browsed the fashion, arts and crafts, wishing I lived nearby so I could come back to this amazing place every Saturday.
Hiking Table Mountain
Cape Town’s most famous attraction and for good reason: Table Mountain is a sight to behold. Rising up high above the Mother City, the flat topped mountain is the perfect place for a view over the downtown and surrounding coastline. Most people that visit the top of Table Mountain take the cable car and the day that we went there was a two hour wait to get to the top. We left Trav’s parents and brother and hiked up instead. There are numerous routes you can take to the top but we decided on the thigh burning Platteklip Gorge, 3km of steep switchbacks ascending to the top. I won’t lie: it was very hard going, especially in the hot midday sun, but the further we climbed, the more spectacular the view. The temperature dropped rapidly once we neared the top and there was a mist hanging over the summit. Once the mist cleared and we saw the 360 degree views, it was worth every bead of sweat.
Wandering the V&A Waterfront
It may be touristy but the V&A Waterfront is definitely still worth a look in my opinion. Fat seals swim lazily in the harbour, wooden buildings painted bright shades of pastel line the still waters and the mist shrouded form of Table Mountain dominates the landscape. It is a beautiful place for a wander and if you have lots of money (I don’t), to shop. Also, we ate seafood and a day where seafood is eaten is always a good day.
Visiting the African Penguins of Boulders Beach
As my regular readers know, I love penguins. I am even a Volunteer Penguin Warden here in Sydney. So a visit to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without a visit to my Little penguin’s African brothers, the African or ‘Jackass’ penguin. The cool thing about the African penguins is that they hang out on the beach all day, and there are hundreds of them. You can watch them preen, sit on eggs, waddle up the beach and clumsily land from the sea. Walking along the boardwalk out to the beach there were stray penguins sitting along the pathway, within centimetres of us. Every time I visit Cape Town I will be sure to revisit these cute little guys as I don’t know anywhere else in the world where you can get so close to wild penguins.
Getting to know the small villages of the South Peninsula
I love the small seaside communities that line the coast from Noordhoek in the West to the surfing community of Muizenberg in the East. There are lighthouses, antique stores, a penguin colony, funky boutiques, bohemian shops, sheltered beaches, colourful beach huts and even a train which passes within spitting distance of the water that travels from Simons Town to Muizenberg. If I lived in Cape Town, I would quite likely live somewhere along this golden coast.
Exploring Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope
My biggest regret from our last trip to Cape Town was that we ran out of time to visit the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. I wanted to see the baboons! On this trip, it ended up being my favourite day out. I saw lots of baboons, including babies, as well as Eland (a type of large buck), ostrich and dassies. I hiked along windswept coastal paths above a stunning beach and to a rugged lighthouse. It felt like we were at the end of the world, and we kind of were. Read more about our day trip here.
Hiking above Constantia
I wasn’t sure what we were going to do when we parked in a small pull out by Constantia Nek. We had driven through the area earlier and I loved the cool expanse of pine trees and vineyards and I wanted to go back to explore more. We stumbled upon a hiking trail that was blissfully quiet and followed it upwards until we were tired and covered in dust. It turned out to be a great idea and one of my favourite hikes in a while. I wrote in more detail about our random afternoon here.
Seafood and seals in Hout Bay
We spent five nights in the seaside community of Hout Bay in a beautiful white-washed Cape Dutch home with backyard BBQ (or braai in South Africa) and swimming pool. It was a bargain on Air BnB and was walking distance to the quiet main street, making it easy to pop over to the shops for snacks or some meat to slap on the braai. The beach here is wild and rugged with bleached white sand dunes and choppy waters. Although the water here is too cold to swim, it is a great spot to see some of the local seals and to check out the colourful fishing boats in the harbour while gorging yourself on seafood at Mariner’s Wharf. It definitely doesn’t feel like you are anywhere near a city.
Llandudno – The King of beaches
Possibly my favourite beach in Cape Town, Llandudno is tucked away down a quiet road between Hout Bay and Camps Bay. The beach was largely deserted compared to its neighbours and is simply stunning. Sheltered by the surrounding cliffs, Llandudno is a popular spot for surfers and a great spot to sit for a while and escape the raging winds that tear up Cape Town in early summer. I wandered along the beach and climbed the small rocky hillside at the end for a great view over the clean white sand. It’s just a shame that the freezing Atlantic waters on this side of the peninsula make it just too cold to swim although I did see some brave souls out in the waves.
Getting my squirrel fix at Company Gardens
I know it sounds stupid to all of you that live in North America or Europe but I’m going to say it – I love squirrels! We don’t have them down under so they have always been a novelty to me and I have missed getting to hang out with them in London’s parks since I moved away. Company Gardens is a beautiful park in the city centre with trees from around the world, flower beds, regal statues and even a cute garden café. It has the refined air of a Royal London park and the squirrels (that were brought over from the UK) add to that air even more. When we were there they were frantically digging holes for their nuts (hehe). So cute!
Relaxing in the stunning grounds of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Set against the slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch definitely has one of the most stunning settings of any Botanical Gardens that I have ever been to. It is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon wandering the pathways through cool forests, among the treetops on the canopy walkway and past beds of bright flowers. We went on New Year’s Day and laying under a big Oak tree in the shade was a blissful way to help recover from a hangover.
Friendly locals and colourful buildings in Bo Kaap
This quiet corner of the city is the historic home of Cape Town’s Malay population and is known for its distinctive brightly painted buildings and cobbled streets. It doesn’t take long to walk around but is definitely worth a look for the architecture, the friendly locals (a few people greeted us with big smiles and hellos) and for some great photo opportunities. I would love to eat here next time I visit and maybe even take part in a cooking class.
The more I saw in Cape Town, the longer I wanted to stay there. Our time there definitely made us consider Cape Town more seriously as a potential future home.
It is just that good.