The Cape Doctor is the local name for the strong south-eastern wind – also known as the South-Easter – that blows from False Bay and funnels through to Cape Town and Blouberg during the hot summer months. It is said to clear all pollution in the city and across the Cape Flats, offering an amazing clear sky and view of the Mother City.
The wind picks up moisture from False Bay and pushes it up against the flanks of Table Mountain, creating clouds (and rain) along the eastern slope. This phenomenon is locally known as ‘the Table cloth’: the top of Table Mountain is enveloped in a huge cloud, dripping over the mountainside.
Cape Town. The Mother City. Crouching beneath the majestic backdrop of Table Mountain in the south-west corner of Africa. Once a tiny stopover for fresh supplies along the trading route between Europe and the Far East, now a buzzing metropolis where the Rainbow Nation welcome visitors with open arms and huge smiles, lots of good food and great wine. You haven’t been there? What are you waiting for?
What do I love most about this city ?
1. The Views
whether it be the sensational all round city and peninsula views you get from taking a cable car ( or climbing if you have the energy) up to the top of Table Mountain, the dizzying view of the coast from the impressive 9km Chapman Peak Drive, with its 114 curves, where you literally hang off the cliff or the wide-open view of False Bay from Boyes Drive down in the Cape Peninsula, you cannot get enough of the scenic landscapes that this city has to offer. It must be one of the most scenically situated cities in the world.
2. The Beaches
now personally I can think of nothing worse than lying on a beach and baking in the sun, but I know many people do like to do that and Cape Town has the most incredible beautiful beaches all around – it is on a peninsula – so you get northern beaches where the wind whips the sand into a frenzy, so perhaps best suited to wind-surfing than sun-bathing; the western beaches which are on the frigid Atlantic coastline so these attract the ‘in’ people who strut their stuff along Camps Bay or Clifton, occasionally playing Frisbee, or volley-ball or more likely be supping bold espressos in the bars lining the beachfront (that’s if you can get parking) OR the fabulous Indian Ocean beaches where the water is warmer and when the surf is up is filled with surfing dudes, wind-surfers, kite-surfers (they stay on the sand not the water) and people like me, who just want a long beach to stroll along. And then there’s the penguins. Now tell me, where else in the world can you visit a beach with resident penguins? And not freeze.
even in the heart of the city you will find the Company’s Gardens. Once literally an allotment where fruit and vegetables were grown to feed the visiting traders, now a little oasis in the city bowl. A serene place to wander through, full of trees and plants, European squirrels and native birds. And the view of that mountain behind you. No-one should come to Cape Town and not wander through this garden. And if you are not a fan of gardens then this is where you will find the ‘Tuynhuys‘ which is used by the President on state occasions (and not open to the public), the ‘Delville Wood Memorial’ and the ‘Rutherfoord Fountain’. This area is known as ‘Museum Mile’ in that the vast majority of Cape Town’s museums are concentrated into the same small space around Government Avenue including the South African Museum and National Gallery and The Iziko Slave Lodge which lies just outside the entrance.
A little further south is Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. A must see. And you can climb up to the top of Table Mountain from here up through Skeleton Gorge. If that is too much, then feel free to wander around the acres of native flora – proteas, restios, pelargoniums. Did I tell you that the Cape is home to more than 9,000 plant species? No? Well it is.
And finally, the Cape Point reserve. Where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet and the waters surge and crash together making it one of the world’s most dangerous routes to navigate round. The reserve is full of the fynbos that the Cape is known for, it is also home to ostrich, kudu and sable antelope, and baboons. Watch out for the baboons!
So that’s that. My favourite city and three reasons why I like it. No make that LOVE it. Cape Town. The pearl in the African Crown.
Accor Hotels are running a competition to find your favourite city. Cape Town is mine. Which one is yours?
December 2000. As far as I was concerned this was the time to celebrate the millennium. When 2000 rolls over into 2001. Last Christmas and New Year I was unable to take any leave because I worked in IT and because the whole world was obsessed with the effect Y2K would have on all our computers. Working practically around the clock to ensure nothing disastrous would happen to the 1000 plus machines the department I worked in was responsible for was manic and being ‘on call’ for the 1st Jan was annoying in the least. I had dreamed of visiting my son in Sydney to see the 20th century disappear over the Harbour Bridge watching the firework display that the Aussies are famous for. It wasn’t to be.
So now, at the beginning of December, a 26 day camping journey around South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe awaited me as I stepped off the plane at the politically neutral named Cape Town International Airport. I couldn’t wait. After living in South Africa for 12 years in the ‘70s and ‘80s I was more than ready to explore the dramatic landscapes surrounding my beloved country.
Considering the number of years during which I lived in Cape Town plus numerous visits since, it is surprising that I have only ever been on top of Table Mountain on three previous occasions and then only once was a bright and beautiful day when you could see for miles. The thing you have to remember about this particular mountain is that it often gets covered in cloud (the ‘Tablecloth’) blown in from the Atlantic by a wind known to locals as the ‘Cape Doctor‘, especially in the summer months. And if it is windy then the cable car does not operate – so don’t rely on it to get you back down.
If you intend to visit the Mother City and want to go up the iconic mountain then my advice is that you keep your eye on the weather forecasts and get up there as soon as you can. Don’t wait for tomorrow because tomorrow may be raining or windy and if you do get up then make sure you allow sufficient time to explore as there is a surprisingly large area up there.
Many things have changed on the top since the 1980s – but not the 360° views of Cape Town, the ocean and the neighbouring peaks. There is now a large self-serve restaurant and deli and an ice-cream shop and walled, paved courtyards and pathways which makes it a much safer pleasure to walk around taking in the views and there is even a route suitable for wheelchair users. You can of course still wander off on hiking trails and indeed there is the Hoerikwaggo Trail (Hoerikwaggo meaning ‘Mountains of the sea’ in the original Khoekhoe language), a five day trek for serious hikers linking Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope.
As neither my husband nor I are in the flush of youth we took the cable car up and down. (I once attempted climbing to the top via Skeleton Gorge on my first visit to Cape Town back in 1973, but I was thwarted by the weather closing in suddenly and having to retreat below the clouds. I did come away with a rather splendid spider bite though, so have an everlasting reminder on my forearm.) The recommended route for the walk hike up is via Platteklip Gorge to the Upper Cable Station which, at 3 km, is not long but it is fairly strenuous and can take between one and three hours to complete.
The weather was perfect, the bluest of African skies and not a breath of wind. It seemed as though everyone else had the same idea though and we ended up parking half way down the mountain slope so we were quite breathless before we’d even reached the lower cable station. When stepping out at the top I felt very emotional seeing the wonderful panorama spread beneath my feet. I was home.
There simply aren’t words apt enough to describe the stunning vistas. South to Hout Bay and Kommetjie along the spine of the Table range all the way down to Cape Point you can even see the curvature of the earth.
North you have the Lions Head and Signal Hill looking like a slumbering dragon on the shores of Table Bay, with the Cape Town Stadium, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and Robben Island in the distance. (header photo)
There are three signposted walks and several viewpoints from which you can view Clifton and Sea Point, the Cape Flats and the Cape Peninsula.
The Table Mountain National Park is also a World Heritage Site. There is a lot of Fynbos vegetation on the mountain, with over 1 460 different species of plants and populations of Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), commonly known as Dassies, are plentiful on the mountain.
You may also see porcupines, mongooses, girdled lizards, agamas, snakes and butterflies. Several indigenous bird species can be seen, including Redwinged Starlings, Cape Verreaux’s Eagles, Rock Kestrels and Sunbirds.
A couple of hours later and armed with hundreds of photos we reluctantly went back down and I drove over to the R27, the west coast road, through the western suburbs of Milnerton (a former home) and north towards Tableview, Sunset Beach, Bloubergstrand (blue mountain) and Melkbosstrand (milkwood trees) to take that infamous photo of Table Mountain across Table Bay.
I was not surprised at how much this area has changed over the years with so many new housing developments, but so unattractive in my opinion, just dreary looking little boxes and some pretty ugly high-rises. But with exceptional views.
This is a place where I spent a lot of time dune walking with my first-born in my arms and usually trying to get out of the wind which whips the sand across your legs with painful accuracy. Not today though. Scarcely a breeze.
Sitting, hugging my knees on that powder-soft white sand I stared at Cape Town, snuggled at the head of Table Bay, with its incredible back-drop, and remembered the happy days I had spent there.
Eventually we returned to Constantia and spent another couple of hours in Kirstenbosch before driving down to Hout Bay to dine at the Mariners Wharf – this time more Kingklip, chips and tartare sauce followed by Cape Brandy tart and ice cream for him and a Fruit Pavlova with berries, raspberry coulis and granadilla sauce for me. A bottle of sparkling Nederburg Cuvee Brut accompanied to celebrate our last night in Cape Town. Total cost £34
Have you been on top of Table Mountain? Or another mountain which stirs the soul?