One of Cape Town’s best-kept secrets is also a great place to seek relief from a sweltering summer day if the beach is packed. These lush, landscaped gardens are are all that remain of a 43-acre tract laid out by Jan van Riebeeck in April 1652 to supply fresh vegetables to ships on their way to the Dutch East Indies. By 1700 free burghers were cultivating plenty of crops on their own land, and in time the VOC vegetable patch was transformed into a botanic garden. It remains a delightful haven in the city center, graced by fountains, exotic trees, rose gardens, and a pleasant outdoor café, which was expected to be taken over in October 2014 by one of the city’s most innovative restaurateurs. At the bottom of the gardens, close to Government Avenue, look for an old well that used to provide water for the town's residents and the garden. The old water pump, engraved with the maker's name and the date 1842, has been overtaken by an oak tree and now juts out of the tree's trunk
some 6 feet above the ground. A huge statue of Cecil Rhodes, the Cape's prime minister in the late 19th century, looms over the path that runs through the center of the gardens. He points to the north, and an inscription reads, "your hinterland is there", a reference to Rhodes's dream of extending the British Empire from the Cape to Cairo. Continue past the pond and toward the South African Museum, outside of which the Delville Wood Monument honors South Africans who died in the fight for Delville Wood during the great three-day Somme offensive of 1916. A self-guided walking brochure with detailed historical information about the garden is sold at the office just outside the restaurant.