Welcome to South Africa. I’m spending a week exploring “The Mother City”, also known as Cape Town. Though it’s not the country’s capital, this vibrant city boasts everything you could wish for, from culture to commerce.
I have checked in at Cape Grace, a grand hotel on a private quay, a fabulous waterfront location. It’s a member of Leading Hotels, and it is often said that “You have to stay here at least once in your lifetime.” Well, I’m doing as I’m told, and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Each morning I wake up and look out the window at the yachts bobbing on the water, and the mountain peaks rising up behind the city. It is peaceful here, in spite of the downtown location, so whilst I’m sipping my coffee, still in my soft towelling robe and slippers, I can plan my excursions for the day ahead. As we are in the southern hemisphere, it is spring in Cape Town right now. I’m making the most of being outdoors.
On the west coast, it is wildflower season. Blankets of colorful blooms carpet the ground, which is quite unexpected in an otherwise rather arid, drought prone region. I took a walk yesterday in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and had the most incredible views from the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway. I love to look at the plants, but have only the most basic knowledge of botany, so I joined a two-hour guided tour, and got a huge amount out of the visit. Kirstenbosch is a brilliant spot for culture vultures, too, as tucked in between the trees and flowers is a rather impressive sculpture collection. There are life sized, anatomically correct dinosaurs in the Cycad Amphitheatre, but more to my taste were the bronze animals by sculptor Dylan Lewis, which have such realistic textures it is almost as though they are going to move.
The best hike in Cape Town at this time of the year is up to Lion’s Head. The British originally named this peak King James His Mount, but funnily enough that moniker never stuck! I’m not sure the rock looks much like a lion, either, but at least it’s a catchier name. I hiked to Lion’s Head for dawn: I wanted to see daybreak over the city, and the golden light of the first sun rays warming up the rocks of iconic Table Mountain. The Lion’s Head Loop trail is just over three miles long, so it’s possible to run it, but I preferred to explore at a more leisurely pace. I stopped frequently to watch the paragliders swooping air soaring like birds on the thermals, their colourful wings dancing in the sky.
Table Mountain dominates the skyline of Cape Town, but it is the sea which embraces the city, defining where it can spread. It’s peak whale watching season right now, so it is a must to sail out from the Cape by boat. The humpback whales come past Cape Town on their migration route from Antarctica to their breeding grounds off the coast of Mozambique, and there are plenty of southern right whales, too. In between them swim bottle-nosed dolphins, so when your captain charts the right course through the water, you’ll be completely surrounded by the most extraordinary marine creatures. The whales seem to like showing off: they put on impressive displays of breaching, spouting, and fluking.
As Cape Town is arguably the greatest foodie destination in Africa, it would be amiss of me not to mention the food. I’m in love with the Biscuit Mill Market in Salt River and the Oranjezicht City Farm Market next to V&A Waterfront: the produce is fresh and delicious; and the artisanal bakers have truly captured my heart. At Oranjezicht I also discovered Moro Gelato, and have made it my mission to eat my way through as many of their ice creams and sorbets as possible before I leave. Tonight I’ll be venturing to the township of Gugulethu to taste the most famous braai (barbecue) in town: Mzoli’s has a cult following of celebrity chefs and locals alike. I’ll have to hold off on more ice cream in order to do the meat justice, but I can always catch up with an extra cone tomorrow!