Robben Island or not?

Old Mar 28th, 2010, 02:07 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 105
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Robben Island or not?

We are booked on a 17 day tour of South Africa in May and will only have 4 days in Cape Town before returning home. Robben Island is an optional excursion while we are there and I am wondering whether we should opt for this or use the time to see more of Cape Town?

We will be touring the winelands and also plan to take an optional excursion to Cape of Good Hope and Kirstenbosch gardens. Apparently there is an opportunity (weather permitting I expect) to take the cable car to Table Mountain.

As our time is very limited we want to make the most of it. Really what I am asking - is Robben Island a "must see" or should we be looking to do something else?
Dotty6 is offline  
Old Mar 28th, 2010, 07:24 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,147
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
For me anyway, absolutely a must. This is kind of ground zero for the South African revolution, and the former prisoners are still alive and act as guides. You won't have much longer to experience that.
It will take you the good part of the day, but if you go in the morning earliest you'll still have the afternoon to knock around the V&A waterfront if you like. Tickets can be hard to get, so be sure to order in advance. We stayed in a nice hotel (the Cape Grace) and the concierge got them for us.
LAleslie is offline  
Old Mar 28th, 2010, 09:37 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 5,286
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Absolutely yes! It was an experience you won't forget. And try to time it so your return trip is at sunset so you can see the sunset over the city and Table Mt. No need to go with the group. Assuming you are staying at the waterfront, it is in walking distance. The other excursions are must do's too. We did all of that in three days, plus the hop-on, hop-off bus to see Cape Town. We loved it all.

Have fun!! You're gonna love it!
christabir is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2010, 06:22 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 35
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Robben Island is a must - but I guess it depends on your interests as well! If you are interested in SA history etc, I won't even consider not going. If not, though, spend some more time in the Winelands. Some of the most beautiful farms, best wines and CHEAP!!!
Martine200 is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2010, 07:13 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,085
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I agree with everyone else - a trip to Robben Island is a must. You will not be disappointed. If you haven't seen the movie Invictus , then go and see it. It will prepare you for your visit, as will the book Long Walk to Freedom - the autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

Here is what I wrote home to family and friends in Canada after our 2004 visit to Robben Island (my DH, then 17-year-old daughter and I were living in SA at the time). I should add that having the opportunity to attend the lecture and listen to Nelson Mandela speak was a great privilege and a highlight of our year in South Africa.

This evening, we will be attending the 5th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at UCT. Steve Biko was a Black Consciousness leader in the sixties and seventies, at a time when many ANC leaders were serving hefty prison sentences. He encouraged Blacks to take destiny into their own hands, and endured banning, detention, and other harassment at the hands of the state as a result. He died in 1977 after brutal police interrogation. His death triggered international outrage, turned opinion further against the apartheid regime, and led to the imposition of a UN arms embargo against South Africa. This year’s lecturer is none other than Nelson Mandela! Are we excited? David managed to secure three tickets for us - goodness knows how. The tickets never went on sale, but were given out to select people, mostly UCT students and some faculty. Won’t they be surprised when we show up!

In preparation for the evening, Laura and I went on a tour of Robben Island this week, the island where Mandela was imprisoned for so many years. At various times a prison, leper colony, mental institution, and military base, the island is now a museum. The ride to the island, on a high speed catamaran, took about 25 minutes. The view of Table Mountain and Cape Town as we pulled out of the harbour was fantastic. The island tour itself lasted 2 1/2 hours, and began with a bus tour, which took us past the leper church and graveyard, the warden’s village, the lighthouse, the WW2 guns, and the lime quarry, where political prisoners, including Mandela, pounded rocks and ruined their eyesight (from the glare and dust!). The highlight of the day was the tour of the prison, where we saw the tiny cell in which Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment (think small walk-in closet – no bed, just a woven mat on a cold, concrete floor!). We saw the garden that Mandela had planted, which prisoners fertilized daily with the contents of their (toilet) buckets, and the volleyball court and rugby field (our tour guide learned to play rugby on that field) that the prisoners had made themselves. Our tour was conducted by an ex-political prisoner and ANC member, who spent eight years imprisoned on the island with Mandela. He offered a very poignant account of what it was like to live there. Laura and I were both struck by his lack of bitterness, and the calm manner in which he was able to relate his horrific experiences. Laura felt that she never would have been able to return to the island if she had been imprisoned there. Interestingly, our guide now works beside ex-wardens (they too are guides) who once upheld the system that kept him incarcerated. Amazing! The tour of Robben Island was an experience that neither of us will forget, and it has certainly given Laura and me a greater appreciation of the man that we will hear speaking tonight.


When you go on your tour of the Cape Of Good Hope, ask to walk between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point - tours usually drive you from one to the other. It is a one-hour easy hike (more of a walk that a hike) and the views are lovely. It is worth the umpteen steps down (and back up!!) to Diaz Beach - the beautiful beach that you will see from the lighthouse and that you will pass on the hike.

Kirstenbosch is lovely. Be certain to visit the shop near the main entrance. Their prices are high but, in case you aren't given many other shopping opportunities, it has a good selection of SA crafts.
Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2010, 09:16 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
If possible, I would put Robben Island above other sightseeing.

Here are my Robben Island comments:

The morning departure is at 9:00 am and returns about 12:30 pm back at the Waterfront dock.

This was a tremendously moving experience for me, not so much because of the physical buildings I was seeing, but because our guide was a former prisoner. Once on the island, we spent quite a bit of time sitting, looking out the bus window, and listening to Guide Mosebe (spelling?) explain the area and his experiences in prison. He told of his first impressions of Mandela, which were quite negative, and how he came to respect, admire, and follow the man. It was riveting.

Seeing Mosebe’s view from his cell and where his bunk stood while he explained to us his typical prison day routine was surreal. He even recited a poem he had written while in prison. Somebody asked Mosebe if he sometimes became emotional during these tours. He responded that a few weeks ago, he came around a corner and the sudden sight of the prison building that had been his home caused him to collapse and fall to the ground. It took him a few minutes to recover and continue the tour.

This is not a tour for little children, at least not the way I did it. There is too much sitting still and listening for the attention span of little ones. It is not like a museum where you wander around at will and can escape with fussy kids. We had an incident on our bus where a 2- and 4-year old were causing a disturbance and being allowed to do so. Mosebe had words (and rightfully so) with the parents who were very defensive and argumentative but after that they kept the kids quiet by feeding them biscuits non-stop.

Mosebe also admonished an adult whose cell phone went off and who took the call (chat, chat, chat), talking over Mosebe’s account of hardship and torture in the prison. Unbelievable! Fortunately, these incidents were early on in the tour while we were on the bus and detracted only momentarily.

* If Robben Island is a priority for you, plan it for your first day in Cape Town so if the ferry cannot sail, you have some backup days. Bad weather and waves cancelled eight straight days of trips before I arrived.

* I walked the 2-3 blocks to the Clock Tower where the ferry to Robben Island departs, leaving from The Waterfront Hotel about 7:40 am, sunrise in mid-July. The Waterfront area employs its own security and it was very safe as I wandered around until 9:00 am departure time.

* Buy your tickets a few days before departure. Maybe even a few weeks or months. I had Take2 Tours do this for me and charge my credit card about $18, a tremendous value in my opinion. Maybe you can call the ticket office direct.

* If you can pick up the ticket the day before, that’s good so you do not have to wait in line just before your trip departs. The ferry holds about 260, so that’s lots of people in line.

* Hang onto your confirmation number and bring your credit card that you used to make the Robben Island reservation. I had a small problem due to computers or something and the confirmation was helpful for me.

* The 30-minute ferry ride was not enough to cause me to reach for the bags that are provided at each seat, and I had not taken anything to prevent seasickness, but I was glad to get off when we docked. Seas were rolling but fairly calm that day with only a few white caps.

* On the lower deck of the ferry, a video on the history of the island plays on the way over and a video on how the ferry you are riding on was made plays on the way back.

*You get to see Mandela’s cell. That was what drew me to Robben Island. By the end of the visit, I found the cell itself to be just a tiny part of the overall Robben Island visit, as I experienced it.

* I had been told about the infestation of rabbits on the island. They were everywhere and pose a big environmental problem.

* If you are going on to Boulder’s Bay, don’t worry about not being able to get pictures of the numerous but elusive penguins on the island.
atravelynn is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2010, 02:24 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 646
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
It seems I am a lone voice here - I would say miss it. We did the trip in January 2009 and I thought it was very disappointing. This is what I wrote after the trip:

"Then we headed off on the Robben Island trip. It had been impossible to book on line and we had therefore nearly decided not to go, but as it is very likely that Daughter #2 will study this period of South African history at school in the next year or two, we got Carina to book the trip for us. I found the trip to be extremely disappointing, and would definitely not recommend it to others. We took the boat over to the island which was simple enough. When we got there, we were herded onto buses “Come ! Come! Onto this bus! Still plenty of room inside!!” On we hopped and looked hopelessly around for seats. We found seats in three separate places – absolutely not possible to sit together as a family. The buses had “airline like” seats – very high backs – 2 on one side and 3 on the other. If you were not sitting next to a window, you had absolutely no chance of seeing anything! Never mind, it was just a mode of transport .... or so I thought. For the next 45 minutes we were taken around the island seeing absolutely nothing. The guide did not like to use the microphone, so hearing much was impossible. I politely put up my hand and said we could not hear anything, and the whole back of the bus voiced their agreement. He simply explained that to use the microphone the bus had to be running, and he did not like that. Eventually Daughter #2 (who we had especially done the trip for) had tears in her eyes from frustration. She wears 2 hearing aids and could hear absolutely nothing (not that those of us with perfect hearing could hear much more), and she could see nothing. From what we have read, Robben Island has a long and fascinating history, but the trip focussed on a very small part of that history. Our guide had spent 18 month on Robben Island, and I felt like I was being fed a heap of propaganda! Please don’t get me wrong here – I think the whole apartheid era is a blight on South Africa’s history, but I did feel that we were not getting “history”, but rather some personal agenda. After getting off the bus we had another guide who took us through the prison. His presentation appeared far more factually based and a totally different “tone” to that of the guide we had on the bus. In any event, after all that, we have bought Mandela’s book, The Long Walk to Freedom, to get another perspective on that part of South Africa’s history."

I don't think one can beat driving around to Bloubergstrand and viewing Cape Town from that side. Cape Point is well worth a visit, and if at all possible I would say do NOT miss the trip up Table Mountain. And as for the Winelands - one of my favourite parts of the world!

Hope you have a great trip!
PRLCH is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2010, 03:29 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,514
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We were south of Cape Town for 3 weeks last month and did not get to Robbens Island due in part to one ferry having run aground and being out of service and problems with another ferry. (also it was the 20th anniversary of Mandela's release and there were some official ceremonies there). Reason for my post is if you are interested you might want to book tickets soon as the ferry situation was still pretty uncertain when we left - and the subject of a lot of press/political flak.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2010, 05:33 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
PRLCH, You certainly had a disappointing visit. I recall being told the quality of the visits can vary. My visit was riveting and really emotionally draining; it was an experience in contrast to your unfortunate trip.

As for the ferries, I know bad weather can cancel the visit. I was urged to book way in advance and I did.
atravelynn is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2010, 06:50 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,147
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We had a bit of trouble hearing the bus guy too at times, and the bus was full, but good god to concentrate that over the fascinating history, I just don't get it, sorry. Of course some guides voice personal views--they were prisoners treated like subhumans in a completely segregated society ferchrissakes. Yes, they were communists and yes they smuggled arms. All part of the story. Worth witnessing, in person, how a tyrannical, undemocratic government can brutalize people, often in the name of God, despite some very minor discomforts, IMHO.
LAleslie is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2010, 04:49 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 114
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The simple answer to your question is 'yes'.

The history, the impact of the political prisoners there, and it's resonance with modern day South Africa is something that can't be missed.

However.....we've visited the island 3 times over the last 3 years, and each time our experience has worsened.

They simply cram too many people into one trip.

As pointed out, the buses they use are now larger and the guides seem not to want to use a microphone.
That means that you have to strain very hard to hear what is often (unfortunately) already very heavily accented English.
For people near the back of the bus the experience can be frustrating.

They also have seats which can accomodate 3 people...if you happen to be sitting on the inside it can be very difficult to see what's happening outside.

The prison tour itself has changed from a informative 'visit' to basically a small lecture in a dormitory and in the prison courtyard.

The guides themselves are obviously very pressed for time and work from a set-script which they often fly through (too) quickly.

As I initally said, Robben Island is a 'must see' if you wish to even dip your toe into the recent history of South Africa.....but I also get the unfortunate impression that as tourism to Cape Town booms the whole experience is becoming ever more a money-making exercise.

BTW, don't neglect the District 6 museum in Cape Town for a more relaxed and very informative look into the evils of apartheid.
MacSporran is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2010, 10:58 AM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 105
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you so much everyone for your extremely helpful views and advice. I suspect that as Robben Island is an optional excursion with our tour company, they will be able to obtain tickets for us should we decide to go.

I have a friend who has just returned from a 6 week trip to SA. She was very disappointed that her planned visit to Robben Island was cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather!

I have read all replies with great interest - many thanks to you all once again. I will post a trip report when we get back and let you know what we decided and how we got on!!
Dotty6 is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2010, 07:19 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,085
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
MacSporran: What a shame! The whole experience sounds quite different from our 2004 visit, which felt small and personal. I do remember that the bus trip was the least enjoyable part of the trip, but our bus was much smaller, we weren't crammed in like sardines. We could certainly hear what the guide was saying and easily see out the windows. The prison tour, where we wandered through the cells while the guide spoke very eloquently about his experiences, was the highlight. As atravelynn noted, it was an incredibly moving experience. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2010, 07:22 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,085
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Oh - and I agree with your assessment of the District 6 Museum. Our township tour with Inkululeko Tours began in District Six and we found the museum fascinating. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2010, 07:28 AM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 105
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
As it will be Autumn when we visit (or Fall for all you US citizens!), I wonder if there might be less tourists, which would make it a more comfortable excursion. Or maybe the crowds will be there whatever the season.

Robin - glad you had a good experience. I think if we don't do the trip we may regret it when we get back. My husband wasn't all that keen to do Alcatraz when we were in San Francisco but we were so glad we did - it was a memorable visit.
Dotty6 is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2010, 03:00 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,085
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
There aren't any SA school holidays in May, so that might help. Hopefully, it won't be too busy.

Perhaps try the 9:00am tour - you might have calmer seas and fewer people. Here is the Robben Island website, in case you haven't seen it. Robin

http://www.robben-island.org.za/inde...d=15&Itemid=14
canadian_robin is offline  
Old Apr 1st, 2010, 05:40 AM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 105
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks Robin. I hadn't got round to looking at the website - that is extremely helpful.

I'm getting really excited now - only few more weeks to go!!
Dotty6 is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
NikandMo
Africa & the Middle East
19
Oct 19th, 2010 11:30 AM
atravelynn
Africa & the Middle East
88
Oct 18th, 2008 01:36 AM
Nancy41
Africa & the Middle East
5
May 7th, 2007 04:20 AM
Kavey
Africa & the Middle East
93
Aug 26th, 2005 02:32 PM
Tahimi
Africa & the Middle East
15
May 24th, 2005 05:23 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:01 PM.