Cape Town and Surrounds, South Africa

Cape Town is the best city that I have ever visited. I fell in love with it as soon as I arrived and found it a difficult place to say goodbye to.  It’s not just the landscape of Table Mountain or the stunning beaches, it’s the general vibe that makes you feel welcome and at home.  There are endless activities to keep you busy here and you should take advantage of the time that you spend in this magical place.  I was lucky enough to study for a while at Stellenbosch University, in the middle of wine country, about 20 minutes outside of Cape Town.  From here I was able to visit beautiful Cape Town and the surrounding areas often.  I have family that lives in Cape Town so was able to stay with them while I visited, however, there are a lot of backpackers and hotels that are both inexpensive and fun to stay at.  You definitely want to spend at least a week here to really get a taste of everything it has to offer, but obviously longer would be better.

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I will start by talking about the most obvious place you would like to visit here – Table Mountain. Table Mountain is unique and stunning, and any trip to Cape Town should include a climb up it.  You can make the assent as difficult as you like due to the many routes up the mountain.  A good mid-range option is the route starting from Kirstenbosch Gardens, which takes you through the beautiful Skeleton Gorge.  You get to see a bit of the famous gardens and it is a bit more meandering (but will take you a bit longer) than the straight climb up Platteklip Gorge.  Also, hiking up table Mountain is free and easy to do on your own, so don’t bother with paying guides to take you up.  Do bring water and appropriate footwear, it can get very hot.  Once at the top it is a great place to walk around and admire the view.  It truly is stunning.  You can then either pay to take the cable car down or just walk down a different route (I did the latter).

There are a lot of mountains that you can climb in Cape Town other than Table Mountain. Another popular hike is the one up Lion’s Head.  It is a fantastic place to watch the sunset from and gives you good views of the city and Table Mountain.  Bring a flashlight for the walk down afterwards.  Another climb I enjoyed was the one up Devil’s Peak.  Once again it offered great views of the city and Table Mountain and was a good way to spend the day.  Watch out for the fog though, once at the top of Devil’s Peak we couldn’t really see anything because the weather changed very suddenly (very common), so take a buddy and obvious precautions.  Hiking in Cape Town National Park, particularly Silvermine, offers some great views and scenery as well.

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View from Lion’s Head at sunset
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View whilst hiking up Devil’s Peak
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Hiking in Silvermine in Cape Town National Park

Taking a drive to see the beaches around Cape Town is a must-do. The drive from the city to Cape Point allows you to take in all the sights and stop at many places along the way.  Llandudno Beach and Long Beach are very beautiful and nice places to stop at, while the drive passed Hout Bay is incredible.  Boulders Beach is a good place to stop to see the Penguin Colony but you do have to pay to get in.  Cape Point itself is the most South Eastern point of Africa and offers great views of the rugged coastline.

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Llandudno Beach
Long Beach
Long Beach
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Hout Bay
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The beautiful, winding drive
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Cape Point

There are plenty of activities to do in the downtown area itself. The Waterfront is always busy and has a lot of good restaurants to eat at, as well as being the launch point for a visit to Robben Island.  This is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.  It is a really interesting place to visit and will take you about half a day.  It’s important to understand the history of South Africa and this place certainly teaches you a lot.  Tickets are about NZ$25 and include the ferry ride and both a bus and a walking tour once on the island.  While in the downtown area it is also worth visiting the markets in Greenmarket.  They are pretty extensive and a good cheap place to get any souvenirs and gifts.  And if you haven’t been exposed to enough history then a visit to the Castle of Good Hope right in the centre of the city gives you a good run down of colonial times.  A ticket to get in only costs about NZ$5.

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Castle of Good Hope

Cape Town is home to one of the most beautiful universities in the world, right in the foothills of Table Mountain, where my brother, Guy, was lucky enough to attend. Taking a walk around the grounds is really beautiful, with old brick buildings with ivy climbing up the sides, not to mention Table Mountain towering in the background.  While in the area it is also worth popping up to the Rhodes Memorial to catch a glimpse of colonial history and see some nice views of the city.

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The University of Cape Town

To understand what a lot of South African people’s living conditions are like, then visiting a township is something you should do. It is so sad to see these large, sprawling shanty towns everywhere you go in South Africa, and it is pretty easy to organise a tour of one of them.  I visited Kayamandi Township, near Stellenbosch, and it was pretty sobering.

As I have mentioned, I studied in Stellenbosch so was able to take advantage of being near many vineyards. The wine in South Africa is very good and while visiting Cape Town you should take a trip out to one of the wine areas like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or Constantia.  These areas not only offer great wine and tours but are very beautiful and full of the lovely Cape Dutch architecture (white walls and red roofs).  Stellenbosch itself is a lovely town to visit and is really the heart of Afrikanerdom, with Stellenbosch University being the main aspect of the town.  It is beautiful and historical and very colonial.  There are also a lot of nice restaurants and bars to stop at.  The town is also surrounded by mountains which offer great views and nice hiking trails.  I loved my time in Stellenbosch definitely recommend a stop there if you are in wine country.

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Stellenbosch Uni
Stellenbosch University

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The cold Atlantic waters around Cape Town are home to the infamous Great White Shark and what better way to see these terrify, magnificent creatures than by taking a shark cage diving trip. The best place to do this is in Gansbaai, which is about a 2 hour drive South of Cape Town.  It costs about NZ$200 for a pretty once in a lifetime experience.  The boats head out and chum is thrown into the water, the cage is lowered and the diving commences.  If you get seasick then definitely take something before heading out, I was incredibly sick on the choppy water.  It was a pretty incredible experience seeing these sharks so close and some literary skimmed the bars of the cage.  They are huge and we saw about 5 different sharks that day.

Only an hour North of Cape Town is the West Coast National Park and it is a great place to head to and visit for a day or to stay in the area overnight, if you want to visit the Cederberg area as well. The West Coast National Park is stunning and a great place to see some wildlife.  Our favourite spot in the Park was Langebaan Lagoon where we saw hundreds of flamingoes.  Some friends and I stayed in Clanwilliam for the night which is right in the Cederberg region.  Everything is rocky and desolate and makes for some pretty nice sunsets.  There are ancient Bushman paintings in this area that you can visit and the terrain is so stark.  Nearby is Lambert’s Bay which has a small desert that you can go quad biking through – a lot of fun.  The beach itself is a great lunch spot where you can buy crayfish for about NZ$3 and you can visit the Gannet colony nearby.

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West Coast National Park

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Cederberg Region

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Cape Town and the Western Cape in general is one of my favourite spots in the world. This blog post is only a taste of what this incredible city has to offer and I strongly urge you to visit.  The nightlife and restaurants are incredible and the people make this place a dream.  It is a pretty cheap destination as well, you are looking at about NZ$80 (USD$60) per day if you stay somewhere cheap.

Editor’s Note: Visited South Africa in 2010, updated in 2017.

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The famous ‘tablecloth’ over Table Mountain

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