Seeing as our other two options are quite far afield, we thought we’d bring things a little closer to home and visit the South African Museum in the City center, located in the Company Gardens.
The museum has a fascinating display devoted to the Khoisan people with the possibility of listening to sound clips of the language (which is an absolute joy to hear). There are all manner of artefacts, artwork, outfits and installations which are super informative and very well laid out.
In the way of a trigger warning, please be aware that this is a story that does not have a happy ending and that it is in essence another version of the story of the aborigines, the native north american indians and of so many inigenous peoples the world over. So, whilst being tactfully displayed, the installations are honest and factual.
You can also view black and white footage of early encounters between local tribes and settlers, which is played on a loop in a darkened room.
The rest of the museum is also a must-see, make a morning of it and then head over to trendy Kloof Street for some nibbles.
The area we’re looking at today is in the surroundings of a small rural town roughly 45 kilometres away from Ceres, a historically citrus producing area in the Western Cape.
This is a guided tour by an expert in the field who has made it his life work to keep the vibrant history and art of the area a point of interest. Peter leads a 3-hour walk through grasslands and fynbos, imparting his knowledge on the archaeology of the area and his insights into the lifestyles and traditions of the San people who originally inhabited this area are truly mind-blowing.
Spring and early summer have the added benefit of seeing the astounding beauty of the wild flowers on display.
Remember comfortable walking shoes, refreshments are included and some sort of sunscreen/hat is also advisable.
South Africa plays host to some of the most amazing and ancient rock art in the world. Specifically the mountainous regions from the Koue Bokkeveld, through the Cederberg to the Agter Pakhuis, contain more rock painting per square kilometre than anywhere else in Southern Africa. Some of the tribal Khoisan artwork in SA has been dated back as far as 28 000 years old, with the images in the Cederberg region said to be between 200 - 8000 years old.
The going theory is that the art is part of a shamanistic expression of the mystical beliefs of the Khoisan people, painted using precious substances like Eland antelope blood and gall. They show spiritual “vision-quest” people and animals and serve to connect the Khoisan shaman to the spirit world, like a portal. This effectively makes these rock paintings the cultural equivalent of a Notre Dam, designed to showcase religious iconography and modes of belief.
There is a lot of great material and theories to read about these beautiful contributions to the cultural landscape, and we can highly recommend looking them up.
The Bo-Kaap Museum gets its name from the surrounding suburb on the fringe of the Cape Town CBD. The area is vibrant and full of character, many of the brightly coloured houses are national monuments dating back to the 1750s.
Bo-Kaap’s inhabitants are descended from slaves that were brought from Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Indonesian Archipelago. Nowadays the area is 90% muslim, with the area still being incorrectly labelled as “The Malay Quarter”
The museum delves into historic issues of the area, the fears around forced removals and the socio-economic struggle of the residents of this neighbourhood. All of this juxtaposed against the political climate of the time in question.
It’s nice and central, you can easily turn this museum trip into a walking tour of bo-kaap and then a jaunt through the market quarter in the CBD.
Stellenbosch (South Africa’s second oldest city) has often been called “Eikestad” (Afrikaans, City of Oaks) and if you visit Dorp Street, the why will become obvious to you in no time.
You will find some of the most beautiful surviving examples of Georgian, Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture in the Cape. Take your time walking through the national monument (world heritage status) that is Dorp Street and enjoy its secluded lanes, water furrows, little cafes and restaurants. It is so “quaint” in all the best senses of that word.
Surrounded by pristine views of mountains, vineyards and orchards the clear air and sheer beauty of the area will take your breath away.
Along the way you will see the Old Lutheran Church which dates back to 1851, and with a short detour you can have a look at the Rupert Museum, or pop into Drosty Street to view Moederkerk and a few more stunning buildings.
Must see: Oom Samie’s se Winkle, open since 1904, just go, you’ll see why :-)
Built from 1666 - 1679, the Castle is the oldest surviving building in South Africa. The site has been the centre of civilian, political and military life at the Cape from approximately 1679, making it crucial to Cape Town life for approximately 350 years.
Within the compound of the Castle itself you will find several exhibitions, such as the William Fehr Collection (managed by Iziko Museums of South Africa), a permanent ceramic exhibition (FIRED) and the Castle Military Museum.
Once upon a time these buildings housed a church, bakery, workshops, living quarters, offices, cells and numerous other facilities.
Take the trip down to the cells and experience firsthand what it must have been like in the interminable darkness of those dank lock-ups.
Fun fact: The Castle’s pentagonal shape allowed for overlapping fields of fire from the cannons on the 5 bastions.
From the Huguenot Memorial to De Villiers Street you will find a vibrant stretch of artistic paradise with over twenty galleries and art studios and a walking route that ensures you take everything in. Along the way we urge you to pop into the Huguenot Memorial Museum, with its pristine shaded lawns (superb for a bring-along picnic) and its quaint back story.
From 1957 – 1967 this building was moved, brick by numbered brick, from the Cape Town City Bowl out to its current location. Painstakingly and lovingly rebuilt, honouring the legendary French architect Louis Michel Thibault.
The museum houses many original items from the first settlers, including bibles, diaries, tea sets and furniture, allowing you to catch a unique glimpse into the hardships, perils and successes these early pioneers faced. The experience is very personal, almost private and takes the mind back to simpler yet more difficult times.
Previously we did a post describing the Table Mountain Cable Car experience and seeing as there was some interest to delve a little deeper into the story behind our iconic landmark, we decided to put together a small collection of facts and stories about Table Mountain, and its place in our hearts.
This is a pretty and singular town; it lies at the foot of an enormous wall (the Table Mountain), which reaches into the clouds, and makes a most imposing barrier. Cape Town is a great inn, on the great highway to the east. - Charles Darwin in a letter to his sister, Catherine, 1836
Table Mountain has been named one of the new 7 Wonders of the World and gets its name from its flat looking top (sheared off ages past by glaciers) and the beautiful crown of clouds that seem to hurtle down the side of the mountain, ever disappearing into the dew point, the “Tablecloth”. It commands panoramic views over most of the peninsula, out to Robben Island, across Table and False Bay and is criss-crossed by hiking trails for all abilities.
Legend has it that the tablecloth is actually the smoke from the duel between the retired pirate Van Hunks and the devil himself, doomed to be repeated every year (the devils punishment for Van Hunks, who bested him). Truth be told, this is most likely a literary contrivance that owes more to Kipling and Rossetti than to genuine oral tradition, but this is part of the reason why Duiwepiek (Peak of Doves) eventually changed to Duiwelspiek (Devils Peak).
Another story associated with Table Mountain is that of the African Sun god Tixo who, along with the Earth goddess Djobela, conceived a son, Qamata who created the world. Whilst Qamata was trying to forge dry land, The Great Sea Dragon become enraged and tried to stop him. Enlisting the aid of his mother, they brought into existence 4 giants to fight the Dragon, one for each corner of the globe. As each giant fought and fell, they had one final request, to be made into mountains and remain as guardians of the earth. The largest of these was Umlindi Wemingizimu, who became the watcher of the South, Table Mountain, ever guarding against the wrath of the great Sea Dragon.
Fun Fact: Table Mountain is the only terrestrial feature to give its name to a constellation: Mensa, meaning The Table. The constellation is seen in the Southern Hemisphere, below Orion, around midnight in mid-July. It was named by the French astronomer Nicolas de Lacaille during his stay at the Cape in the mid-18th century (source).
Cape Town is known as “the city with the mountain” for a reason, and that reason is our spectacular range that forms the backdrop of every piece of tourist literature, Table Mountain. Around 300 million years ago the mountain top was at sea level, and ice sheets progressing across the peninsula during an ice age “sheared off” the top, giving it its unique profile. The trip up on the 65-person, 360 degree rotating cable car is as brief as it is spectacular, in no time (+/- 10 minutes) you will have ascended to a 1000 metres above sea level, with views that encompass the entire southern peninsula, all the way out to Robben Island and far beyond.
For the adventurous (and fit) there is the hiking ascent, with the firm knowledge that at the end of your summiting endeavours, you will be able to enjoy a fine glass of bubbly, the best view in the world, and a sedate cable car ride back down. On the “tabletop” you will find a restaurant and Deli that serves fine fare and delicious beverages as well as a network of paths (a lot of which are wheelchair friendly) and information boards that inform guests about the indigenous flora and fauna. Take heed when the cloud comes in, and especially when the summit station starts sounding it’s klaxon to indicate poor visibility, that means it time to head back.
Seeing as there is a “no bookings” policy, before heading through to the base station please call the information and weather line to see if the cable car is operational (+27 (0)21 424 8181) or you can try the office line (+27 (0)21 424 0015). On a regular day of operation, a cable car will depart from the summit and base station simultaneously every 10-15 minutes, and as a rough guide (remember to call the info line for specifics on the day) the first and last cars up are 08h00 to 08h30 and 17h30 to 21h00 respectively, and the last car down can range from 18h30 - 22h00.
Iziko is a isiXhosa term that signifies “hearth”, a place for gathering and exchanging ideas, stories and oral history. It is also the term for a collection of 12 national museum sites in Cape Town that do sterling work in the spheres of history, social history and the arts. Several of these can be accessed through a half day walk which includes the Company Gardens (originally laid in the 1650’s).
The South African National Gallery and the Michaelis Collection showcase historic art as well as curated collections and the latest offerings by the very talented students of the Michaelis School of Fine Art. A stone’s throw away you will find the South African Museum of local natural history and the Iziko Planetarium that will help you make sense of the night skies in the Southern Hemisphere.
A stroll through the Garden’s (and the inevitable squirrel and pigeon feeding that accompanies this) will take you to the Slave Lodge and St. George’s Cathedral (the former seat of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, our first black archbishop and legendary activist and peace broker). Parallel to the Gardens you will find Kloof Street which becomes Long Street, both of which contain deli’s, restaurants, clothing stores and the melting pot of curios, The Pan African Market, where you can pick up anything from Mali to Morocco, Kenya to Cape Town.