Bjorn atop the Table Mountain in Cape Town • Cape Town Travel Guide
Leg 7 – Cape Town: Table Mountain, Cape Point, Penguins & Robben Island
Cape Town, the multi-cultural (and legislative) capital of South Africa, is nothing short of spectacular and it is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. It is always alive with energy, people are extremely friendly, the mild weather is truly pleasant and the food is second to none. Doubtlessly an inspiring cosmopolitan city dominated by the iconic Table Mountain and surrounded by world heritage sites (Robben Island), acclaimed wine regions and natural wonders.
See & Do
✓ Penguin colony at Boulders Beach: Why put a penguin colony at the top of our list of things to do in Cape Town? Because they are just sooooooo cute and adorable! I could simply melt for the waddle of these South African cuties. This was definitely one of my favorite moments on the entire trip. Absolutely not to be missed during your visit!
The penguins at Boulders Beach are absolutely adorable • Cape Town Travel Guide
Boulders Beach is about 45km south of Cape Town. You will need a rental car for this. Alternatively, you can take the train from Cape Town to Simon’s Town (the southern line: http://cttrains.co.za/) and then walk from Simon’s Town to the penguin colony, which is about a 40min walk. On certain Sundays there is even an old steam train that you can take from Cape Town to Simon’s Town. Booking for the steam train is essential as it fills up quickly. You can email them for inquiries and reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: http://www.atlanticrail.co.za/
It doesn’t get any cuter than this – jackass penguins at Boulders Beach • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Table Mountain: Named as one of the new official 7 wonders of nature, the flat-topped Table Mountain appears to have arisen from another world altogether. With cragged cliffs and scarped gorges the mountain affords dramatic vistas over Cape Town and is easily one of the most photogenic spots of South Africa. The plateau of the Table Mountain encompasses an area of approximately 3km from side to side and is the unofficial floral kingdom of the world with almost 1500 different floral species. Talk about biodiversity! And there is plenty of animal life up here too. Animals that you might bump into include caracals, tortoises, hyraxes and, my personal favorites, porcupines.
Table Mountain – one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature • Cape Town Travel Guide
The easiest way to get up the mountain is via cable car. A return ticket costs around 290Rand (20$) per person and opening hours are from 8.30am-7pm (hours and tickets vary slightly depending on the season). It is advisable to book tickets for the cable car in advance as it cuts short the time that you have to queue. Also check the weather conditions on the official website. Sometimes they simply have to close down the cable car due to adverse weather conditions: http://www.tablemountain.net/
You can even find porcupines on the Table Mountain plateau • Cape Town Travel Guide
You can also go hiking up the mountain of course. There are several beautiful routes leading up, of which Platteklip Gorge is the most accessible. It takes about 2-2,5hrs to get to the top depending on your fitness. Another popular route is the Skeleton Gorge route, which starts at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. You then have to follow the Smuts track that leads to Maclear’s Beacon which marks the highest point of the Table Mountain plateau.
✓ Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden: Kirstenbosch is recognized as one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. Snuggling up to the side of the towering Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch covers 528 hectares and grows mainly plants and flowers that are indigenous to South Africa. A lot of these flowers are spectacularly beautiful, including yellow crane flowers (also called Mandela’s Gold), a great variety of protea plants (king protea), pincushion flowers and bitter aloe plants.
Mandela’s Gold at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden • Cape Town Travel Guide
To receive expert knowledge on the more than 9000 plant species in the garden, you can join excellent Free Guided Walks which currently run from Monday to Friday at 10am, 11am and 2pm, and on Saturday at 10am, leaving from Gate 1. For updated information check here: https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch
One piece of advice: Obviously flowers and plants follow a seasonal cycle. Manage your expectations by checking which plants will be in bloom during your visit so you won’t be disappointed if you can’t find a particular flower you are looking for. You can check the seasonal blossoming cycles here: http://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch
King Protea at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden • Cape Town Travel Guide
If you come in summer (November-March), you can go and visit the popular Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts on Sunday afternoons. Just bring your picnic blanket and listen to some funky tunes. Ticket prices for the concerts range between 125-190Rand.
Opening hours are from 8am-6pm (may vary slightly depending on the season). Detailed information can be found here: https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch
✓ Robben Island: The most famous inmate of the former apartheid prison of Robben Island is, without question, Nelson Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 years of captivity in the maximum security prison on the little isolated island some 6km off the west coast of Cape Town. However, scores of other (mainly black) political prisoners who were fighting the apartheid regime were also confined here under the harshest of conditions: Cells were tiny and spare, instead of toilets inmates had to use iron buckets inside their cells, and prisoners were routinely tortured and beaten and had to work either in the courtyard or in the nearby quarry hammering stone.
On the ferry to Robben Island • Cape Town Travel Guide
Today, the roughly 5km2 island is one out of eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa and serves as a living history lesson to South Africans and foreign tourists. The island can be reached via ferry which departs from the dock at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Tours are conducted 4 times a day at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm and last 3,5hrs. Tickets can be bought online at http://webtickets.co.za/events/featured/robben-island and are 340Rand per person. Purchase your tickets at least 2 weeks in advance to be on the safe side as they tend to sell out at lightning speed.
A cool little side note: Most of the guides who will give you a tour around the prison complex are former inmates, so expect to hear some harrowing personal stories along the way.
The prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was detained • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Chapman’s Peak Drive & Cape Point: Regarded as one of the world’s most scenic marine drives, ‘Chappies’ – as the drive is affectionately called by local Cape Towners – takes you around some magnificent scenery along the Atlantic ocean and leads you all the way down to Cape Point. The drive (basically Road M6 towards Noordhoek) starts at the charming fishing harbor of Hout Bay and then winds its way upwards through 114 steep serpentines before you reach Noordhoek at the other side of the mountain. From Nordhoek it’s another 40km to Cape Point along the M4 past the penguin colony at Simon’s Town.
Chapman’s Peak Drive is a toll route. With a standard car you will have to pay R45 (3.20$).
Chapman’s Peak Drive affords sweeping vistas over Hout Bay • Cape Town Travel Guide
Cape Point at the tip of the Cape peninsula is part of the Table Mountain National Park. It is the southwestern-most point of the African continent, a jagged, gusty coastline where many ships have capsized in the distant past. Many of these can be seen along the shoreline if you follow the Shipwreck Trail that starts from the Olifantsbos parking site. One of the main attractions of the park is the lighthouse with its panoramic views over False Bay and the Atlantic ocean. If you have the time, consider renting a bicycle to explore the park or follow one of the many hiking trails.
Opening times: https://capepoint.co.za/visitor-info/opening-times/
Entrance Fee to the National Park: 145Rand (10.30$)
Further information: http://capepoint.co.za/
Tram at the southwestern-most tip of the African continent – Cape Point • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Lion’s Head: On a clear day Lion’s Head, a mountain sandwiched between the famous Table Mountain and Signal Hill, provides iconic views overlooking Table Mountain, the city bowl, the mountain range known as the Twelve Apostles and the Cape peninsula. There is a nice, easy-to-do hiking trail up the mountain and it only takes about 45min to reach the peak from the foot of the mountain (where you can park your car). Bring a nice bottle of South African white wine to the top with you and reward yourself after the short sweaty workout.
Hike up beautiful Lion’s Head. It’s worth it! • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Muizenberg Beach: With its picture-perfect colorful dressing cabins, Muizenberg Beach makes it onto nearly every postcard of the Cape region. The beach is a surfer’s paradise and is located less than 30km south of Cape Town. Apart from surfing you can take a long stroll along the beach, go swimming or snorkeling and learn how to kitesurf.
If you don’t want to drive there yourself, it is possible to take a train to Muizenberg (southern line: http://cttrains.co.za/). The ride takes about 50min.
Go swimming or surfing at Muizenberg beach • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Bo-Kaap (Malay Quarter): Houses painted in gaudy colors and cobble-stoned streets characterize this vibrant, multicultural neighborhood of Cape Town. The name Bo-Kaap stands for ‘Upper Cape’ because the neighborhood is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city center of Cape Town. Bo-Kaap, also informally known as the Malay quarter, is one of the oldest residential areas of Cape Town dating back to the 1760s. It has been predominantly shaped by Malaysian, Indian and African cultural influences which can be traced back to colonial times when Dutch settlers brought slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, India and from all over Africa to Cape Town to work for them in the city. It was in Bo-Kaap where most of the slaves would originally live under harsh living conditions and where they started to form new thriving communities within the former township.
The Malay quarter, established around 1760 • Cape Town Travel Guide
Most interesting for visitors is, naturally, to wander among the charming colorful houses of Bo-Kaap. In particular Rose Street, Wale Street and Chiappini Street feature some of the most picturesque settings for taking pictures. Bo-Kaap is also home to South Africa’s oldest mosque, Owwal Mosque (or sometimes called Auwal Mosque) on 43 Dorp Street, which was built in 1794. If you wish to learn more about the unique history and cultural influences that shaped the community of the Malay quarter over time, you can visit the informative Bo-Kaap Museum on 71 Wale Street. One last cool thing to witness is the Shooting of the Noon Day Gun at the Lion Battery on Military Road where navy officers have been firing the cannon every day at noon for more than 200 years now as a time indicator for people to know that it is noon.
Tip: Nielsen Tours offer free 90-minute walking tours of Bo-Kaap that run every day: http://www.nielsentours.co.za/capetown/
✓ Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a historic harbor that features sweeping views of the ocean and Table Mountain, a Victorian gothic-style clock tower, a giant Ferris Wheel, as well as tons of shops and some of Cape Town’s best restaurants and bars. Mix and mingle with Cape Towners, gobble down delicious Springbok Carpaccio or a vegetarian Bunny Chow and sit down for one of the South African’s most favorite drinks – brandy & coke – in a safe and relaxed setting.
The lively Victoria & Alfred Waterfront at night • Cape Town Travel Guide
Leg 8 – Cape Winelands: Wine Tasting at Paarl, Stellenbosch & Franschhoek
It does not always have to be French wine! Wine connoisseurs from around the world flock to the wineries just 45 minutes outside of Cape Town in droves in search for the Southern hemispheres finest wines. The Cape region’s wine-making tradition dates back to 1685 when Cape Governor Simon van der Stel founded the now world-renowned Constantia wine estate. Nowadays the vineyards have spread all the way up to Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Montagu and Robertson Valley along the Route 62 wine route. Exploring South Africa’s top vineyards and sampling some delectable wines at a tasting with the beautiful mountains of the Cape Fold Belt as a backdrop is a great opportunity to savor excellent Sauvignon Blancs, Syrahs and Pinot Noirs at a fraction of the price that they would cost in Europe.
Excellent wine and a dramatic backdrop – you can have both in the Cape region • Cape Town Travel Guide
The easiest way to get to the numerous vineyards starting from Cape Town (unless you want to drive back drunk!?) is to use the Vine Hopper http://vinehopper.co.za/ which follows different wine routes along which you can hop on and off at various points to stop for tastings at various wine estates. My personal favorite is the Eastern route with the incredible Lanzerac Wine Estate http://www.lanzerac.co.za/ standing out from a series of fantastic wineries.
Hop on the Vine Hopper to visit the various wine estates • Cape Town Travel Guide
Leg 9 – Scenic Route 62: Thermal Springs, Ostrich Riding & Cango Caves
Is South Africa’s Route 62 the world’s best road trip? While there might be other candidates – such as the world-famous Alcan Highway in Canada or the spectacular Atlantic Road along the Norwegian coastline – that might lay claim to offering the most breathtaking road experience, Route 62 certainly has good arguments to win the prize. Connecting Cape Town to Oudtshoorn via Robertson, Montagu and Calitzdorp, Route 62 is a dazzling highlight reel of craggy mountain passes, torrid semi-deserts, lush vineyards, kilometer-long limestone caves and head-bobbing ostriches.
The beautiful mountain scenery of Route 62 • Cape Town Travel Guide
See & Do
Here are some of our favorite activities along the way:
✓ One of our favorite South African craft beer breweries is located in Worcester on Route 62, some 110km east of Cape Town. Mountain Brewing Co. organizes beer tastings and tours of their brewery on Saturdays and Sundays. Booking in advance is necessary https://www.mountainbrewing.co/! They produce some outstanding craft beers including the Loadshed Lager made with local fynbos honey and the very refreshing Cape Kraken Belgian Amber Ale. The surrounds with the massive Stettyns mountain range in the southwest and the Du Toitskloof mountains in the west are also staggeringly beautiful, especially when the protea, erica and fynbos plants are in full bloom. Take a walk around the mountains if you have the time.
Taste a great variety of amazing craft beers at the Mountain Brewing Co. brewery • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Another highlight nearby is the Karoo Desert National Botanic Garden that lies at the foot of the Hex Mountain range north of Worcester. There are two beautiful hiking trails that take you around the unique vegetation. https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/karoo-desert Open from Monday to Sunday, 7am-7pm; entrance fee is 22Rand.
The enormous semi-desert expanse of the Karoo never stops to amaze me • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ One of the must-do attractions in Oudtshoorn is visiting an ostrich farm. There are a handful of farms catering to the needs of tourists, including the Safari Ostrich Show Farm http://www.safariostrich.co.za/, the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm http://www.highgate.co.za and the Cango Ostrich Show Farm http://www.cangoostrich.co.za/. Each of them offer comparable experiences that comprise feeding the ostriches, riding them (if you dare!), watching them race against each other, learning more about their lives from incubation to adulthood, as well as sampling a delicious meal with premium ostrich steaks and eggs.
A stately bird with the brain-size of a peanut. Still love them though 🙂 • Cape Town Travel Guide
Riding an ostrich is an amazing experience. Do you dare? • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Explore the underground tunnels and vast halls of one of South Africa’s most fascinating limestone caves. The famous Cango Caves are located 30km north of Oudtshoorn and form part of the Precambrian limestones at the foothills of the Swartberg mountain range. Some of the limestone formations in the caves are more than 4500 million years old. It is truly an encounter with eternity! Visitors can choose between two types of guided tours, a Heritage Tour and a more strenuous Adventure Tour.
While the Heritage Tour is a relaxed, though fascinating, one-hour journey past bizarre stalagmite formations and tremendous chambers, the Adventure Tour is an entirely different beast that doesn’t allow for any claustrophic tendencies. You should really have an adequate level of fitness if you consider going on the 90-min Adventure Tour as you will have to wriggle through narrow 27cm high openings and master steep climbs within an environment of limited oxygen. The Adventure Tour runs at 165Rand, while the Heritage Tour costs 110Rand. Reservations need to be made in advance! http://www.cango-caves.co.za
Explore the 4500 million years old Cango Caves • Cape Town Travel Guide
Leg 10 – Garden Route: Knysna, Plettenberg Bay & Monkeyland
The South African Garden Route is a 300km coastal drive that stretches from the harbor town of Mossel Bay to Saint Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape. Along the way you will discover enchanting lagoons, tidal bays and pristine white sand beaches, swim with seals and wander among the ancient yellowwood trees of the Tsitsikamma Forest.
See & Do
✓ Mossel Bay is the perfect first stop on the Garden Route. It is here that the first European explorers around Portuguese sailing-master Bartolomeu Dias landed on South African soil. The exploration party had originally been entrusted with the quest of finding an alternate trading route to India, but accidentally rounded the Cape of Good Hope before touching land at Mossel Bay.
You can learn more about the history of Mossel Bay starting with Dias’s first expedition and the first wave of European colonization at the Dias Museum Complex http://www.diasmuseum.co.za/. Also of interest is the beautiful St. Blaize Hiking Trail, a gorgeous 13,5km route that starts at the Cape St. Blaize Cave and leads past some dramatic cliff scenery towards Dana Bay.
Enjoy the natural wonders along the spectacular Garden Route • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ The seaside town of Wilderness welcomes you with endless sand beaches and sapphire-blue lagoons. This is a tranquil spot that invites to sit back and relax, lazily stroll around and collect seashells or to have a crack at some freshly-caught prawns. At nearby Wilderness National Park you have a chance to quench your thirst for adventure by going kayaking, doing a rappelling tour or paragliding in the sunny skies of South Africa.
Find your inner peace while kayaking at Wilderness National Park • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Stop at Knysna to admire the stunning Knysna Heads, two dramatic sea cliffs that mark the entrance to Knysna harbor. If you happen to be here come sunset, you can do a sunset cruise on the alluring lagoon (a bit on the pricey side though). Website: www.knysnacharters.com/sunset-cruise
One of the most picturesque spots along the Garden Route – Knysna Lagoon • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ One of the largest seal colonies in South Africa calls the Robberg Peninsula at Plettenberg Bay their home. Swimming with the seals there was one of the best experiences on our trip. The seal adventure can be booked with Offshore Adventures and costs 700Rand per person for an 80-90minute trip.
Swimming with these cute seals is an unforgettable experience • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ Only 25km from Plettenberg Bay lies Monkeyland, a multi-species primate sanctuary that is part of the indigenous Tsitsikamma Forest. The cool thing about this sanctuary is that monkeys, lemurs and apes don’t live in captivity but can roam around freely as they wish at the 12-hectare forest. You can expect to see a great variety of different species on a guided safari, including gibbons from Asia, lemurs from Madagascar, squirrel monkeys and hooded capuchins. Price for a guided tour: 230Rand. Website: http://www.monkeyland.co.za/
Roam around with lemurs, apes and monkeys, and figure out who is the monkey now 😉 • Cape Town Travel Guide
✓ There are several hikes that you can do at Tsitsikamma National Park that feature deep gorges, cloud-shrouded forests, the storied Big Tree – a 800-year old yellowwood giant – and a 77-meter suspension bridge over Storms River. Gates to the park open at 7am and day visitors are allowed to stay inside the park until 9.30pm. The Ratel Trail is the one that leads you towards the Big Tree, but there are plenty of other enjoyable walks. For more information check: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route
Crossing the Tsitsikamma suspension bridge • Cape Town Travel Guide