We didn’t have much of a plan for Africa so as we sat on a deckchair admiring the rolling hills in the distance and zebras grazing nearby we clicked ‘confirm’ on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. After our three weeks in Kruger we really didn’t know where to go next, we were thinking about volunteering but the locations were remote and the long distance buses had mixed reviews for safety due to recent stoning and shootings towards the drivers and sometimes customers and the buses all seem to arrive at around 2am which is not practical at all. I’ve wanted to visit Cape Town for years so it seemed like the best option for us.
The two hour flight from Johannesburg offered views of snow capped mountains which was quite a surprise and as we approached Cape Town we had the fabulous Table Mountain dominating the view. Our first three weeks in South Africa we were driven around by a friend so now we were backpacking on our own again. At the airport we purchased a SIM card with data so we always had the option of going online and booking an Uber as that’s the best way to get around the city.
Our Uber dropped us off at Villa Viva Cape Town hostel which was such a lovely place and a rather unusual building for a city – it was like a huge bungalow with lots of courtyards throughout. Some of the walls were painted a terracotta colour and it really gave off New Mexico vibes but apparently it’s a Cape Town style. It was actually an old, Victorian building that was modernised but still featured the wooden floors and high ceiling. There was a nice garden area with mosaic walls surrounding the pool and a phenomenal view of table mountain. Our room was simple but comfortable with crisp white sheets and spotless shared bathrooms. I liked the place already!
We got some info at the front desk and were warned not to walk anywhere after sunset so we decided to avoid getting an Uber and have an early dinner instead. Just a short stroll from our hostel was a Mexican joint which had seriously tasty bean tacos. We instantly loved the vibe of the city, it felt very hip and modern and table mountain was visible around every corner.
The next morning we woke to clear blue skies and without any plans we decided to hike up Table Mountain. Apparently it’s been nonstop rain here lately so we had to take advantage of the good weather. I quickly researched the routes up and there were a few; the most straight forward and popular route is Plattekip gorge, there’s a back route called the Skeleton Route and a very adventurous route whose name I can’t recall but we had to scrap that one after reading about the vertiginous cliff-edge sections we’d have to walk along. We opted for Plattekip as it would get us to the top quickly so we’d have more time to explore the flat-topped peak. Just as we were about to leave a staff member from our hostel asked what our plans were and he basically schatt on our idea and highly recommended the Skeleton Gorge instead. He said the only way to access the path is through the botanical gardens which would cost 90 Rand entry, about £4.50. After catching an Uber to the botanical gardens we saw a sign saying the price was R90 for locals, tourists however had to pay a whopping R210, about £10! I tried asked if we could at least pay the local price as we weren’t even interesting in the gardens and just needed to walk through them but the lady wasn’t having it so we had to fork out £20 which was an awful lot to us.
We both walked around with disappointed faces after that but to be fair there were some pretty nice views from the gardens of Table Mountain. We made sure to walk along the rather short tree-tops trail which was an elevated path that wobbled under each step. The botanical gardens was very plant orientated, there didn’t seem to be many flowers but maybe we were looking in the wrong areas. A map would of been very helpful but they had the audacity to charge extra and I refused to pay anymore. We didn’t have much time to look around though as we had a long hike ahead of us so we left the gardens and followed the signs to the Skeleton Gorge. There weren’t many people around and I felt a little worried about possible muggings which can occur on the hikes in this area. The trail climbed through the gorge and alongside a stream with wooden ladders taking us up the steepest sections. Soon the path completely vanished and we had to improvise and rock-hop right through the stream until we eventually found the main track.
When we reached a cross junction we peeled off down a path made of white sand which eventually led us to a lake. It wasn’t an ordinary lake though, it had red water. The colour was absolutely incredible and really vibrant thanks to the white sandy floor. As the water deepened it turned into a deep blue colour, it was a really unique place and I loved how there was a tiny beach too.
We tore ourselves away from the lake and continued hiking uphill to the official summit of Table Mountain. The views were nice but not wow, we could see the city sprawling below us and all of the coastline but yeah I think Table Mountain looks best from down in the city itself. Our walk wasn’t over though, we followed a trail across the flat-topped mountain to the cable car station where the views improved. We could see Lions Head, a pointy mountain nestled between the hustle and bustle of Cape Town and we got good vantage of the sheer cliffs.
After a really quiet hike up we suddenly met crowds of people who had caught the cable car up. We were considering getting it back down but after spending so much money on the botanical gardens we felt we should try and save a few bucks. So off we went, down the popular Plattekip route. It led us through a wide gorge with steep rocky walls on either side of us and it ended up being a pretty relentless hike back down.
After yesterdays tough 17km hike we could of done with a relax day but the weather was too good to sit back and do nothing so we caught an Uber to Camps Bay Beach. It’s not far from the city yet it boasts a lovely windswept beach with white sand and a tidepool at one end so people can swim in the perfectly calm and clear water when the sea is too rough. The mountain backdrop was absolutely spectacular and as far as city beaches go this has to be one of the best in the world. We followed the coast north, stopping for tea on a bench to take in the view and then we arrived at the Clifton Beaches. There are four beaches separated by giant boulders but we preferred the view from Camps Bay in the end. Blue bottle jellyfish covered the tide mark along the beach so swimming didn’t sound very appealing.
There was a walkway that continued all the way along the coastline so we stuck to that and felt mostly safe as it seemed to be quite a wealthy neighbourhood. Saying that we walked past a parking area covered in glass where someone had recently broken into a car. We veered inland a bit to look for the Mojo food market for some lunch. The place was very hip and trendy but strangely quiet, maybe it has more of a buzz at the weekends. It was basically like a world street food market which made it very tricky to choose what to eat. We opted for some Indian curries to fuel our energy for the rest of the walk.
We stayed on the same road which felt like a normal high street in any town. There was a section of building work so a tunnel was built over the pathway to protect people from falling debris and right at the start of the tunnel was a very suspicious looking man. I saw him look at us and then quickly turn away to stare in a shop window and it just felt off. There wasn’t anyone in the tunnel and Craig also got a bad feeling straight away so we quickly crossed the road to avoid him.
As soon as we were back down on the coastal promenade we felt safe again. Our legs were tiring and we still hadn’t reached the V&A Waterfront yet. We eventually made it though and arrived at a modern mall with a bustling waterfront right on the harbour. The place had a nice holiday vibe and table mountain dominated the skyline. Local musicians were playing xylophones and drums so we took a seat to enjoy it. They were all wearing colourful patterned shirts and had a very entertaining salesman with them who was in charge of shifting the cd’s. He was hilarious, dancing like no one was looking. In fact it’s like Africans are born with rhythm in their bones, kind of similar to how the Scandinavians are said to be born with skis on their feet.
We then had about 5km more to walk back to our hostel and we opted to take Long Street which is a very popular road in downtown. While we were still in the fancy waterfront area we noticed the man walking in front of us was spinning a 4 inch knife around his finger. We both clocked it straight away and as he was in front we were able to just stop walking and get some space between us. I’m sure he wasn’t planning on using it on us and it was probably just a habit spinning it but who the fuck carries a 4 inch knife around with them?
Anyway, as soon as we left the waterfront area we felt the vibe shift. Suddenly things seemed a little rougher on the edges and we weren’t feeling too safe anymore. It was 5:30pm so we had another hour until sunset but there just weren’t many shops or places open on the street so it felt eery. We picked up our pace and were moving pretty fast through Long Street. We both kind of sensed a shadow behind us but maybe because of our speed-walking we disregarded it until we got to a traffic light and Craig said “let’s go up this road”. I was confused so we turned right and he said “that man just tried to pick pocket me”. I looked back and he had continued crossing the road and then stopped to look around for where we were going next. Luckily we were right next to a bar, ironically with a security guard sat right outside just two meters from where the incident happened. I was a little shaken up and could see the man was still hanging around the area so we were going to call an Uber but then we realised there was just 1.5km left to walk so we decided to continue on foot. We also noticed that Craig’s side pocket was totally open which means the man had already unzipped it and when he only found water bottles he moved onto the top pocket. Boy were we lucky we caught him as Craig’s phone was in that top pocket. We moved our valuables into the main part of our bags, studied the map on our phone so we knew exactly where to go and off we went. There were quite a lot of men hanging out on the street corners, calling out to us but we just speed walked past them and finally we joined Kloof street which felt safer and was very close to our hostel. Hooray!
The following day we headed to the Bo Kaap neighbourhood, where many of the cities Cape Malay population live. It was such a pretty little neighbourhood with cobbled roads and houses painted a kaleidoscope of colours. We visited on a Friday which to Muslims is the equivalent of a Christian’s Sunday. So everyone was leaving the mosque and filling the streets as we arrived.
After 5 days in Cape Town, eating our way through the world food at the vibrant city markets we decided to head further south so we could explore Cape Point and see the penguins.