Trip Report – Cape Town – an Insider’s view
My husband and I live in Cape Town and it has been our home for the past 25 years – I am from the England.
Most vacations we travel to some far away land with lots of advice from all you guys on the forums. This year was different. We decided to take a “staycation”. We had friends arrive from America and we planned to spend a while exploring Cape Town, our beautiful home city, with them. I thought it might be interesting to see our home town through visitor’s eyes, and at the end of the “stay” we were amazed anew at how wonderful and friendly and vibrant a city Cape Town is. I have given an outline of what we did and where we went and added a few links to the places we visited and ate at etc. The American visitors were 2 families consisting of 4 adults and 4 children with the children’s ages ranging from 7 to 17. They decided they did not want to stay in a hotel, too impersonal, so they decided to go for the villa rental option and found a villa in Fresnaye, Cape Town called Hamilton House. They hired an 8 seat van which they picked up at the airport – they used Europcar and they drove through to the villa – about a 30 minute drive from the airport.
Day 1 - My husband and I met them at the villa the day after they arrived. We were so impressed with the house – it was very big, modern and spacious with a lovely treed garden and a huge pool. The best part was that it was a really windy day – typical Cape Town – but in Fresnaye there was no wind at all. We joined them for breakfast at the villa and then we drove out to the Spier estate in Stellenbosch. The drive to Stellenbosch took about 40 minutes.
Spier is a large wine farm just outside Stellenbosch. We suggested we go there because there is lots to do for all ages. The children loved the bird sanctuary/rehabilitation programme at Eagle’s Encounter. Apparently they are all rescued birds and there was so much information about all the different types. We were able to touch some of the birds and there were plenty of guides to answer questions. There were 3 owls that “danced” to music - very cute. You can enter the Spier estate free, but we paid R30 per head to go into the sanctuary. We went to the Cheetah Outreach on the estate where you can interact and be photographed with hand raised cheetahs that are not able to be released into the wild. There was an entry fee of about R10, but you pay extra to go and touch and be photographed with the cheetahs – the money is used to support the programme and for education.
We booked for lunch at Moyo and we requested a table in a tree. The setting as always was magical. The service very good, and the little touched such as the African face painting – very stylish little dots – and the wandering musicians all added to the charm of Spier. However, I must warn you, the food which was never great at Moyo in the past was beyond disappointing that day. It’s an African buffet where you can select from many different food types from salads to game meats as well as fish and chicken. I am not sure that we would eat there again, though we would spend a day at Spier again.
After lunch we wandered around the craft markets – which were excellent – the people were not pushy at all and you could browse in peace. We walked round the old farmstead where we visited the art exhibitions – really good. We walked around the lake and through the gardens. You can book a picnic in advance and collect it to eat by the lake – you can’t bring your own picnic onto the estate – I think next time we will go the picnic route. There is however a new restaurant called Eight which we haven’t been to yet but it’s supposed to be very good
We all headed back to Cape Town early evening and our friends spent the evening at the villa.
Day 2 - Our friends went to Robben Island. They went across from the waterfront to the island on the Robben Island tourist ferry. The boat ride was apparently quite rough as it was a windy day.
Some of them enjoyed the visit feeling it was important to take in the history of South Africa, others didn’t like it, finding it too hot and dusty.
The younger children went to the Two Oceans Aquarium with an au pair organised for them through the villa they rented. The price was R105 for adults and R50 for age 4-16 and free for under 4. Pensioners and students with ID was R80
We have been to the aquarium many times as a family and it is brilliant – in fact when our son was younger I felt we were there every weekend and I got to know all the creatures in the touch pools by name!
We met for lunch at Willoughby’s at the waterfront. This is one of our favourite restaurants. It’s very unassuming and casual and the fish is some of the finest you will ever eat. There is a huge sushi menu – I like the Rainbow Nation Rolls – a mix of salmon and tuna around rice and avocado. My husband likes the pan fried kingklip (a white light fish) pan fried and served in its pan with thick potato wedges. Our friends had various fish dished, and one had the teriyaki beef which was brilliant. The children had fish and chips and some had pasta.
The afternoon was spent shopping at the V&A Waterfront – our friends were very impressed with the mix of big international brands and local shops. We walked along the quays and looked at the yachts and the seals. The V&A is a working harbor and there is always interesting things to do. We sat a while at the little amphitheatre and listed to some music whilst we ate ice cream.
Our friends loved Woolworths food department and one person said it was like walking through the aisles of Dean and Deluca. Also a great place to stock up on nice quality clothing at good prices. There is a good on line shopping service where you can get everything you need in advance and then delivered to your door for the start of your holiday – I use that option when the clothing business gets too mad busy to allow me to shop. On the first floor – at the back of where the ladies clothing is, there is a tapas bar with beautiful views over the harbor – not many people know about this but we highly recommend it for a late afternoon snack and maybe a glass of wine. We have been there for breakfast many times and the organic coffee and fresh fruit salad with granola and yoghurt is excellent – lots of other choices too.
Our friends spent the evening at the villa and then the au pair looked after the children and the adults went for dinner to Beluga at the Foundry in Prestwich Street, Green Point. The food was excellent as always.
Day 3 - We went for a drive, starting at the villa in Fresnaye we headed left into Bantry Bay and followed the coast road through Clifton, Camps Bay, Bakoven, Llandudno and on to Hout Bay. We stopped for coffee at Dunes restaurant in Hout Bay and the children played on the beach for a while. The views along the coast to Hout Bay are stunning and we stopped several times for photographs.
We drove on over Chapmans Peak Drive, one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world. The road is cut into the side of the cliff so you have the mountain on one side of you and the ocean on the other. There are over 100 twists and curves in the road and the views at various points are breathtaking. It’s easy to pull over and take photos. On the Hout Bay side of Chapman’s Peak Drive there are lots of baboons and they come right up to your car when you stop- please don’t feed them.
You pay a toll to use the road. The web link gives you weather conditions and advises if the road is open – in winter it sometimes closed due to rock falls after heavy rains.
At the end of Chapmans Peak Drive we saw the beautiful view of Noordhoek Beach running all the way to Long beach (where the movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed). We drove on to Noordhoek Village – a few minutes further – and turned left at Village Lane and into The Noordhoek Farm Village. We had booked for lunch at the Food barn. We had heard very good things about this restaurant with its master chef Frank Dangereaux. Frank used to be the chef at La Colombe and we had eaten there regularly so we were keen to see how the food was at his new venue. Well we were more than impressed. The restaurant is next to the children’s playground which was great as the children could go and play between courses. The ambience is casual and the food is light and elegant. The risotto was a high light as was the line fish and the baby squid. We will definitely go back again.
There are other restaurants in the village complex, a playground, country pub and a few shops and a bakery.
After lunch, we drove down to Noordhoek Beach where the children road horses along the sandy beach. There are a few people there selling horse rides – a nice thing to do.
We drove back to Cape Town over Ou Kaapse Weg (M64) and then on to the M3 all the way to town and up over High level Road back to Fresnaye. There are stunning views over the peninsula at the top of Ou Kaapse Weg
Day 4 – Today we met up at Bay Side Café in Camps Bay for brunch – the food as always was excellent. As we were there early enough in the day, parking was easy. We spent the rest of the morning on the beach which was beautiful and fully deserves its reputation as one of the best beaches in the world. As per usual, the wind came up close to lunch time so we left and headed up to Table Mountain – we drove up over Kloof Nek drive to get there – the views down over Camps Bay are great.
We bought out tickets for cable car on line a few days earlier, you save 10% but the main advantage is you don’t have to queue at the ticket booth, but you still have to queue for the cable car – it is busy everywhere in the Christmas/ New Year peak season though. Table Mountain is such a central part of Cape Town and a constant back drop wherever you are that it would be a pity not to take the time to go up to the top of it. You can of course walk on and climb up the mountain and there are hiking maps and routes available on line, but the 5 minute cable car ride is great. The cable car rotates as it goes up so it doesn’t matter where you are standing to start the ride – go stand at the back out of the way – you will soon be at the front. The mountain is 1000m above sea level, ie above Cape Town, and the views from the top over the peninsula are truly spectacular. There is a restaurant and coffee shop on top, though we haven’t eaten there. It would be a good idea to go up late afternoon and watch the sun go down from the top. Table Mountain is now one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world – go us!!
Our friends spent the afternoon at the villa swimming and relaxing in the garden – again, great advantage of having no wind there as by then the Cape Doctor (our South East wind) was starting to blow.
My husband and I were invited up to Hamilton House that evening for dinner. The villa is located on the slopes of Lion’s Head on the border of Fresnaye and Bantry Bay – an established exclusive area with magnificent views of the ocean and the mountains. Whilst we were there we saw a group of whales right by the shore line below us. We sat on the terrace and watched the sun go down – truly beautiful – a real African sunset, like a painting. Our friends had hired a chef who took over the kitchen to prepare a meal for us all. The weather was glorious and we sat on the terrace for the evening looking over the Atlantic Sea Board and all the twinkling lights of Sea Point below us, and Robben Island in front of us. A perfect evening.
Day 5 was Wine route tour day. Our friends booked the au pair again who took the children to the beach and then to the Scratch Patch where you pick up little semi precious stones at the waterfront and then back to the villa for a swim and a restful afternoon.
Our friends hired a chauffeur, arranged for us by the villa to take us on the wine route – drinking and driving is not an option so the chauffeur was a big hit. My husband and I did not go with them that day. But here are a few links anyway.
If you don’t want to drive all the way out to Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl, there is the Constantia wine route just outside Cape Town
Day 6 we all went on a drive around the peninsula. We decided to head out in the morning in case the wind came up and because we had already done Hout Bay and Chapman’s Peak/ Noordhoek route, we took the direct M3 route to Simonstown. From there we went up the Silver Mine mountain pass and across to the other side of the peninsula and you come out at an intersection where you can go right to Scarborough or left to Cape Point. We stopped here to look at the amazing African sculptures and art works, well worth a stop.
From here we continued on to Cape Point and down through the nature reserve. We saw baboons along the way and some eland and antelope – (I think?). An interesting fact – Cape Point, is not the southern most point of Africa, but it sure looks like it. The most southern part is Cape Aghulas which is about 3 hours out of Cape Point and will one day be another trip report – if you all like this one that is. We parked at Cape Point car park and you can take the funicular up to the light house, but we walked up – lots of baboons around here.
There is a viewing platform below the old light house where you can take in the great ocean views. We walked along the trails some and looked at the monuments to Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias. We wanted to walk the shipwreck trail but the children were keen to move on to the next stop
Here’s a site with some nice pictures:
The next stop was the much anticipated Boulder’s beach where you see the famous penguins. We drove back out of the Cape Point reserve and turned right to follow the False Bay coast, via Miller’s Point. Boulder’s beach is 3km before Simonstown, just after Froggy Pond. Boulder’s is a pretty area of small sandy coves with massive boulders, and it’s home to about 3000 jackass or African penguins. You can get close to the penguins, but can’t touch them – they are cute but a bit smelly. The children loved them, especially the grey fluffy chicks.
Some great penguin pictures
From Boulders we drove through Simonstown, you can stop here and visit the town and harbor, but we went on through Fishhoek and on to Kalk Bay. We parked in the harbor car park. There are 3 or 4 restaurants in the harbor house building, but the Harbour House Restaurant is on the first floor (not the ground floor) upstairs – upper level. You need to book for this excellent restaurant, the fish seems to be straight from the sea – request a table in the window where the waves crash below you. We bought some of the peasant bread Harbour House serves with lunch and took it home with us
After lunch we strolled along the harbour wall and bought a fresh fish for the barbecue (braai) for that evening’s supper. Then we explored the antique shops and art galleries in Kalk Bay village. We drove home over Boyes Drive and then along the M3 back to town.
Day 7- We spent the morning exploring Cape Town itself. We started at The Castle of Good Hope right in the centre of town opposite the city hall. The castle is a stone pentagonal building dating back to 1666 and is still the head quarters for the Western Cape military command. We visited the military displays and the old Cape Dutch furniture and paintings. A brief but interesting trip
From there we went to Long Street and we explored all the little clothing and art shops. There is an antique market at Church Street just off Long Street. Also in Church Street we visited the Cape Gallery, an excellent art gallery that has been there for years – nice displays of locally made art glass and sculptures
We went to the District 6 Museum – this is a brilliant museum on Buitenkant Street, a very moving and informative exhibition about South Africa’s troubled past. The old wood ceiling church is beautiful and the stories around you are such an important part of our past – well worth a visit.
From here we went to the Gold Museum, on Strand Street, just off Buitenkant Street. I love this little museum and have been a few times. The way the history of gold is explained and the lighting and display cases is very well done. You can attend a goldsmith workshop by arrangement; the info is on the link below.
Time for a well earned lunch and we headed over to our favourite pizza and pasta restaurant at the old Cold Storage depot at the bottom of Cape Town (42 Hans Strijdom Avenue, Foreshore). We eat here quite often and there is a huge selection of excellent thin based pizzas with some quite inventive topping combinations – I always seem to go for the ham, avocado and feta though! The salads are huge and really good and the prices are very reasonable
For the rest of the afternoon we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – about a 15 minute drive away from town along the M3. Kirstenbosch is a very special place. The gardens were first established in 1657 and cover 500 hectares on the slopes of Table Mountain. With a few exceptions, most of the plants here are indigenous to Southern Africa
Near the entrance there is a very good exhibition of African stone sculptures and the gift shop is well worth a visit too. We spent a couple of hours walking around and then found a comfortable spot and settled down to watch Zebra and Giraffe a local Indie Rock band (we had blankets in the car and a bottle of wine). The Kirstenbosch summer concerts are somewhat of an institution here - you can buy tickets on line in advance and just find a nice spot and settle down
This just about sums up our “staycation”. We had a great time and so did our friends and they said they would most definitely be back again. There is so much more to do and so much more to explore.
If anyone would like to ask any questions, we will gladly try to help. We are not in the tourism business but we can offer a locals view of a city we love. Our next trip will be up the east coast of the Cape to Knysna and beyond with some friends from England – maybe we should post that trip report?
Oh well, end of holiday, back to the rag trade!
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Trip Report – Cape Town – an Insider’s view
Trip Report – Cape Town – an Insider’s view