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SCENIC CAPE TOWN AND ITS ENVIRONS
by Ted Cookson
Published in March 2006
Sailing into Cape Town, 44-second video clip
Called South Africa's "mother city" because it was the first locality to be settled by the Dutch in the last half of the seventeenth century, Cape Town today is simply amazing!
Protected by 1,086-meter-high Table Mountain, Cape Town's city center and its nearest residential suburbs lie in the City Bowl. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, redeveloped in the late 1980s, includes luxury hotels and a lively mall with expensive shops and restaurants which are frequented by both tourists and local residents alike. Nearby is the Two Oceans Aquarium featuring creatures unique to this area near the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Catamarans depart from the V & A Waterfront to Robben Island where one can view the very cell in which Nelson Mandela was long incarcerated. The tours, led by former prisoners, often prove to be a very emotional experience. As a bonus, fairy penguins are sometimes glimpsed resting comfortably on Robben Island under the bushes near the catamaran dock.
Table Mountain itself is easily accessible by revolving cableway. However, queues for the cableway can be long. Also, operation of the cableway is stopped whenever there are high winds. Interestingly, tourists in a sometimes windless City Bowl may not be aware that strong winds atop Table Mountain have forced the cableway to close. Therefore one should ring the cableway to check if it is operating before hopping a bus or taxi to the lower cableway station.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, southeast of Table Mountain, contains some 4,500 floral species. This is a lovely venue for a picnic or, for the more adventurous, a hike on the slopes of Table Mountain.
A day trip to Cape Point in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve should begin with a stop at Boulder's Beach, just south of Simon's Town, the naval port facing east onto False Bay. The penguin colony there is one of only a very few mainland colonies in the world.
Continuing south and entering the nature reserve, one finds other vehicles slowing and stopping to watch the Cape baboons which boldly clamber onto the cars, begging for food. At Cape Point, the southwesternmost point in Africa, the scenery is remarkably rugged; and the winds can be fierce. A 15-minute hike takes tourists up to the lighthouse. Or, for those who may not be in a hiking mood, a very short funicular railway is also available. For a nominal fee, tourists may pose for a digital photo which is then e-mailed by the photographer as an attachment to a friend back home.
The other "must do" day trip from Cape Town is to the Winelands. Wine has been grown in this region for over three centuries. Winelands tours generally include visits to wineries in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and/or Paarl. But even those who don't drink wine will still enjoy a delightful day, feasting their eyes on some of the beautifully-restored old mansions which are treasures of Cape Dutch architecture. The Winelands offer gorgeous, green grassy landscapes and panoramas with mountains behind. In addition, there are interesting museums nearby.
Hermanus, the self-proclaimed whale capital of the world some 80 km from Cape Town, celebrates the return of the southern right whales each autumn with the Hermanus Whale Festival which is staged in late September and early October. About 1,000 of these large mammals are thought to swim in the waters off the coast of South Africa.
Cape Town is also the jumping-off point for the Garden Route, a scenic coastal drive stretching east from Mossel Bay some 250 km, as far as Storms River in the Tsitsikamina National Park. One can rent a car in Cape Town and drive to the Garden Route via Outshoorn where ostriches are farmed. The rental car can then be returned in George or Port Elizabeth. From either of these cities it is possible to fly back to Cairo via Johannesburg.
The best time to visit Cape Town is from October to March -- that is, before, during, or after the Southern Hemisphere summer. During this time of year it is dry and the days are longer. Only 0.6 mm of rain falls per month in January and February, the driest months. During December, the warmest month, the average daily low is 20 C. (68 F.) and the average daily high climbs to 27 C. (80 F.).
However, those considering a visit in December or January would do well to reserve far in advance. Bookings during this school holiday period are normally heavy due to the fact that most tourists in South Africa are in fact locals!
Those who must plan their visit between June and August, the Northern Hemisphere summer, should not fret as Cape Town is worthy of a visit in any season. The mother city's rainiest month is June, with only 93 mm; and the coldest month is July, when the average daily low is a moderate 7 C. (44 F.) and the average daily high reaches 17 C. (62 F.).
ABOUT TED COOKSON: Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world! He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club). A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi. Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at: Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301. Fax 2359-1199. E-mail: email@example.com. Web site: www.eptours.com.
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