Seen the movie Invictus? In one scene, a plane arrives is arriving in town with the full view of Table Mountain in the background. That’s when I knew I wanted to go to Cape Town – and I did not know one other thing about the place.
The city takes it entire character from the Table Mountain in the backdrop. The view of the City centre, aptly called City Bowl, as seen from the top of the Table Mountain is breathtaking with the ocean on the other end. Take a cable car ride up to the top of this 1000 metre high mountain first thing. Not only will you get your bearings right as you see everything on both the coasts, you will also just feel very lucky to be in town.
Once on top, the name Table Mountain will make a lot more sense. You can trek on the plateau or just sit and have some beer – don’t worry! The last lion on the mountain was shot almost 200 years back. A thin strip of cloud forms over the mountain and it looks like the Table Mountain’s ‘tablecloth’.
After soaking in the views, if you have a few hours in your hand and a functional heart, try the walk down. But if you want to fly business class, try paragliding from the top of Lion’s Head – you will land on a cricket field in a country club right next to an awesome beach. That’s what I call a smooth landing.
Cape Town is a cape after all. Most famously, this is where Bartolomeu Diaz gave up his attempt to go around Africa – he named it Cape of Storms. Vasco da Gama succeeded and renamed it Cape of Good Hope.
What it also means for the city is that between the cliffs and the ocean, there are beaches. With sand the quality seen in Thailand, these beaches can be an absolute treat in the South African summer. No wonder all the beachfront property, especially the ones with their own little private corner of the beach, are being gobbled up by expatriates and rich Capetonians. You will find yourself noting down property agent numbers on For Sale billboards as you take a stroll through Clifton and Camps Bay.
But watch out if you wanted to take a nice dip in the water to make the day perfect. You may just freeze! The funny thing is, even in the middle of summer, the water on the Atlantic Seaboard is about 13 degrees C thanks to the Agulhas current.
Every second shark documentary is filmed off South Africa for good reason. The first thought that came into my mind when I realised I am going to South Africa was ‘shark cage diving’.
In a safari, sitting in an SUV with reinforced windows looking down on lions, you realise you can afford to be a bit relaxed. After all, we evolved on the savannah side-by-side with these animals. You can run, you can breathe, you can scream.
But a shark is different. You are literally out of your depth in the water, and your adversary is evolved to perfection to hunt here. Now imagine jumping into a flimsy aluminium cage in choppy, frigid waters and holding your breath underwater. All the while chumming the water around you with fish oil and a big piece of yellowfin on a hook to attract a monster from the deep. And it obliges.
The great white shark is the perfect nightmare – Jaws wouldn’t have been so successful with any other monster your imagination can conjure. There is nothing like having a 4-metre, 1-tonne, great white rattle your cage because it is hungry and looking for the tuna that it smells all around you.
For those who’d rather dive without a cage, and deal with a lesser monster like ragged-teeth sharks, you could just visit the Cape Town Aquarium and dive with their sharks. No cage means you have to be extra careful – no flash photography, no sudden movements or pointing fingers. Especially just before their weekly feeding time, fingers can look real yummy.
If you are like me, you will find New York and London too temperate, Singapore too tropical. That is why I love to visit the sub-tropical zone of awesomeness – like Brisbane and Cape Town, and maybe someday San Francisco and Rio.
To be fair, I have only been to Cape Town in its glorious summer. I will update this when I go over again in the winter. But in summer, this place is awesome. The sun is nice without being too sharp. And there is always a cool breeze floating around. You couldn’t break into a sweat if you tried without ever needing a jacket.
No wonder this place is increasingly becoming the place for the footloose global rich to have a holiday home to spend the months of January to March. Brisbane and California are too passe, and Rio does not speak English.
Capetonians are colourful people – literally. In the days of apartheid, Cape Town was officially anointed to be a city for the Coloured people. Coloured in the context of South Africa refers to people of mixed heritage – Khoisan, Bantu, European, Indian and Malay. This is at its most riotous heterogeneity in Cape Town – scientists believe these people probably have the highest levels of mixed ancestry in the world!
Half the people in this lovely city are coloured and within that is a wide spectrum. There is no greater way to feel unhinged and floating in a global village than to have people around you in every hue possible. Add to them, the more conventional colours of white and black, you are in a truly cosmopolitan city.
Add to them the large numbers of holiday-ers with every possible excuse – Brazilians learning English, Swedes on a stop-over, Americans volunteering and Singaporeans on work (ahem). Partying in Cape Town can be great fun – the people look great (whatever your persuasion) and they know how to have a good time. And you will never feel too foreign when you mix with them.