In Summary

  • If you are interested in paying silly amounts of money for overpriced crafts and knickknacks and jostling in a sea of tourists, then the V&A Waterfront is for you; I was exhausted within 15 minutes of being there.
  • Slightly over an hour’s drive from Cape Town is the southernmost tip of the continent, Cape Point, where we took the funicular up to the tall lighthouse built in 1859.
  • The stillness there, disturbed only by raging winds and the sound of crashing waves below, demanded a respectful solemnness I have never been able to explain.

A damn good time is what happens when you pack South Africa’s Western Cape Province, copious amounts of wine, and good food into one holiday. This happened to me a few months ago when a friend and I were invited to join a group of campers on the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains at a family-run farm in sleepy Kruisrivier.

Cape Town is heaven for seafood lovers, and the first thing we did when we arrived was to enjoy some sun, sand and the freshest aquatic creatures expertly prepared at most eateries. By the end of the first week, I was about ready to sprout fins. South Africa boasts world-class dining experiences, but it would be criminal not to warn everyone that you should steer clear of fast food chains offering seafood. Once, after calamari from a Wimpy (I know, what was I thinking?), I decorated half the city with my hurling.

And it’s not just seafood; beef, prepared in the stewed dishes of the immigrant Cape Malay people, is not to be missed. One steak, in particular, I will never forget because while I was going at it sitting at a bistro in the Hout Bay area, a Caucasian beggar lady removed a haggard breast from under her shirt and proceeded to wave it in my face.

Postcard-perfect might sound like a cliché, but there is no other way to describe the landscape of Cape Town. Table Mountain rises from the earth flanked by Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak and Signal Hill to provide a most magnificent mountainous backdrop, in beautiful contrast to the Atlantic sea around it. Closer to town, there’s the most charming little Muslim hamlet called Bo-Kaap, made up of neatly arranged rows of houses painted in various vibrant colours. If you are interested in paying silly amounts of money for overpriced crafts and knickknacks and jostling in a sea of tourists, then the V&A Waterfront is for you; I was exhausted within 15 minutes of being there.

SOUTHERNMOST TIP OF THE CONTINENT

Slightly over an hour’s drive from Cape Town is the southernmost tip of the continent, Cape Point, where we took the funicular up to the tall lighthouse built in 1859. The stillness there, disturbed only by raging winds and the sound of crashing waves below, demanded a respectful solemnness I have never been able to explain.

Not one to pass up an opportunity for a wine-tasting, I demanded we head out to the wine lands of Stellenbosch less than an hour out of central Cape Town. More glasses have never been thrown back between two people. The scenery at the three wine farms we visited was so breath-taking it seemed impossible to want to leave.

Cape Town is so racially segregated that it feels like two different worlds when you move from the slums of Khayelitsha, where the population is black, to the affluent suburbs of the south with its world class restaurants, hotels and beautiful colonial homes. We would often find ourselves the only black people in these restaurants, apart from the waitstaff. While this can be very disconcerting, it is a necessary discomfort to help one remember the darkness and lessons from the Republic’s past.

The waters surrounding Cape Town are too cold to swim in but we had a great time basking on the beach and driving the endless corniches. Before long it was time for the next leg of our trip. Our Afrikaner host drove five hours from Kruisrivier to pick us up in his Ford Ranger pick-up truck (called bakkies over there) and he allowed me to drive through the treacherous mountain passes of the Swartberg Range. At some point I begun to experience mild vertigo and returned sheepishly to my place in the back of the truck.

The sea disappears to give way to endless mountains and boulders on every side as far as the eye can see. The air is drier and the peace calming. When we arrived at our camp between the towns of Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp, it was all I could do to keep from passing out before pitching my tent. The following days were spent cycling in the woods, attempting to fish, hiking and chasing after farm animals. We were treated to a real South African tradition when, on our last Sunday, everyone at the camp site got together for a street braai – what we call a nyama choma party in Kenya – only with better meat and cooks.