Since moving to South Africa eighteen months ago this week, there have been countless moments where I have to stop and marvel that I am lucky enough to spend a few years here. Cape Town is one of the places where I often feel overcome with gratitude. It is an easy city to be awestruck in – the city is endowed with an incredible natural beauty like no other city I have visited. First off there is the shorn flat Table Mountain and numerous other dramatic peaks that dominate the skyline (when not ensconced in clouds). The deep blue Atlantic Ocean adds to the dramatic scenery and sense of solitude in this easy-going city. There were several moments during my weekend jaunt to Cape Town where I was overcome by gratitude at being able to experience this remarkable city.
Perhaps because I have visited Cape Town before, I didn’t rush from one experience to the next, but leisurely soaked in the city and all it had to offer. Two top experiences were photographing the city from atop Lion’s Head and finally visiting Robben Island.
On most of my recent trips to Cape Town, I have looked up James Gradwell of Photography Tours. On this trip we hiked up Lion’s Head just before sunset. Being a relative newcomer to digital photography (many of my shots are sheer luck rather than skill), it’s nice to have a hands-on photography lesson. Not only will you get taken to certain locations where you will be able to get a great shot, you learn a lot of useful techniques. We spent quite a bit of time on auto exposure bracketing a great technique for landscape photography. While I wish I could say the photos from Lion’s Head are entirely my own, they are largely the result of James’ instruction.
I also finally made it out to Robben Island. I visited the day after Human Rights Day – a public holiday in South Africa commemorating the 1960 Sharpeville massacre that killed 69 people protesting the pass laws. I would have liked more time to have been able to reflect more on how many people fought for racial equality and democracy in this country and my chief complaint is that the structured tour doesn’t allow time to take in the island at your own pace. The Island is a 30 minute ferry ride away and when you arrive you are shuttled to a large bus for a quick drive around the island. From there you visit the prison where a former political prisoner narrates a quick tour that is incredibly powerful and personal. Then back to the ferry and a 30 minute ride to Cape Town. The whole tour takes about three and half hours and is a worthwhile addition to a Cape Town itinerary. You will want to read up on the anti-apartheid history and the Rivonia Trial before you go to better understand why Robben Island is such an important struggle site.
Cape Town is 2.5 hours by plane from Johannesburg and is an easy destination to escape to for a quick weekend. It is also a must for anyone visiting South Africa – just make sure you allot at least four days for exploring the city and surrounding areas. See my post Planning a Trip to South Africa? for more tips.
I stayed at Four Rosemead, a lovely eight room boutique hotel in Oranjezicht. My room had a small balcony with a direct view of Lion’s Head from my bed and a stellar view of the city center and harbor from the terrace. The staff are remarkably helpful and every morning at breakfast they inquire about your plans for the day and then find ways to make it better by suggesting nearby sites or restaurants.