The Western Cape is one of South Africa’s premier tourist attractions, and for good reason. It is home to the famous Table Mountain, vast winelands, magnificent beaches, world-class restaurants and cosmopolitan entertainment haunts. The Cape boasts exquisite scenery and a myriad of cultures and tourist treasures that are just waiting to be discovered, so get going to the fairest Cape…
Situated on the south-western tip of Africa, the Western Cape is the meeting point of the cold Atlantic and the warm Indian Oceans. Its capital city Cape Town, is dominated by the flat-topped bulk of Table Mountain. The province has South Africa’s fifth largest population, numbering in the region of 4.5 million inhabitants. The story of the Republic of South Africa began in the Western Cape, some 350 years ago, when it was inhabited by the Khoi, San and other Bantu-speaking groups. In the late 15th century European seafarers arrived here in search of a halfway stop on trade routes to the East and thereby changed the face of South African history forever.
The Western Cape enjoys hot summers and mild, green winters– perfect weather for the production of fruit, grains and, most important – wine.
Getting to know the Western Cape
Thanks to its scenic beauty and many attractions, tourism is a major and growing force in the Western Cape, which hosts over 50% of the country’s international visitors.
Major attractions in the area:
Cape Town Metropolitan area
The area between Table Mountain and Hottentots Holland comprises the Cape Town Metropole and encompasses pulsating cosmopolitan city life, beach playgrounds, forests and exquisite nature parks.
Cape Town’s most famous landmark – a quick spin by revolving cable car to the 1 086m summit will give the visitor a grand view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and of course the equally famous South African `Alcatraz’ – Robben Island.
The Famous V & A Waterfront
The most visited attraction in Cape Town is the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront with its assortment of shopping, eating, entertainment and sightseeing facilities, all set within a working harbour.
The V & A Waterfront is also the gateway to Robben Island, a former prison (now national monument) where a visit is an emotional journey echoing with the sorrows of stalwarts of ‘the struggle’ against apartheid. The island was `home’ to many of South Africa’s freedom fighters including Nelson Mandela.
The oldest surviving building in South Africa, and well preserved too, is the Castle of Good Hope, the pentagonal fortress built by personnel of the Dutch East India Company back in the 1660s-70s. Today it houses the regional headquarters of the South African Defence Force in the Western Cape, and a military museum.
Africa’s Most Southerly Point
Cape Agulhus is the most southern point of South Africa with spectacular views of the ocean. It is at this point that the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.
A stop at Cape Point gives the visitor the opportunity to boast of having been at the most southern point of the Cape Peninsula.
Some 26 shipwrecks have been recorded at Cape Point, some of them presenting good diving spots. A funicular takes visitors on scenic trips to an old lighthouse and the spot is a bird watcher’s paradise.
Township tours will remind the tourist how the will to survive can overcome any adversity. In Guguletu and Langa expect to be overwhelmed by hospitality, informal roadside traders, rowdy taverns serving local beer and toe-tapping jazz. Guided tours are recommended to get to most out of the experience.
Most Fabulous Beaches in the World
There’s a beach to suit every mood in Cape Town:
- Clifton for those who want to see and be seen
- Sandy Bay for the nudists
- Muizenberg with its colourful bathing boxes for a good swim in warm water
- Kommetjie for watersports.
- Fishhoek is a quaint seaside village
- Hout Bay has a colourful fishing harbour and craft market
- Kalk Bay attracts antique hunters
- Boulder’s Beach at Simon’s Town is home to a colony of Jackass penguins.
Cape Town has many markets and impressive shopping centres and malls. One of the most talked about shopping venues is the impressive 400-outlet Canal Walk Century City. It also boasts a 20-theatre cinema complex and for adrenaline-pumping entertainment, there’s Ratanga Junction, a 30-attraction theme park with and the glitzy Grand West Casino & Entertainment World.
Great Gardens of the World
A day in Cape Town might end with a classical concert at sundown in one of the world’s great botanical gardens – Kirstenbosch, a repository for many rare fynbos species and a wealth of indigenous plants, trees and flowers.
Cape Town city centre is known to many as the party capital of Africa, down just a few streets in the Mother City there are hundreds of bars, restaurants and clubs just waiting to be explored through to the wee hours of the morning. Cape Town is also known as a pink city, offering a warm welcome to the gay and lesbian community.
The West Coast
The West Coast offers some of the greatest of small town experiences in South Africa. This is a region that needs to be savoured, slowly, and therefore road trips along the West Coast are a firm favourite with locals and international visitors. Not only does the area offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the world – mountains, oceans and views that go on forever, this coast is also a haven for the finest South African hospitality.
The West Coast National Park (close to Langebaan) is where 50 000 migratory birds can be seen in the summer, and at Bird Island at Lamberts Bay, an unobtrusive viewing platform affords close-ups of a jam-packed breeding site.
The national park also contains 40% of the earth’s remaining strandveld fynbos, while the West Coast at large really blooms in the spring months of August – October, even the roadsides bursting forth with lilies, vygies and daisies.
Endemic Clanwilliam cedar and snowball protea can be sighted in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, which also claims unusual rock formations and well-known hiking trails.
The West Coast has two official wine routes, the Swartland Wine Route and the Olifants River Wine Region. West Coast seas also produce a bounty of quality seafood and line fish to accompany the fruit of the vine and some of the country’s finest restaurants are found along this coastline.
Just a 45-minute drive from Cape Town and you’re in the mountains and valleys of the Winelands – all gracious gabled Cape Dutch homesteads, cask-lined cellars, oak-treed towns and ultra fine restaurants. The towns of Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl are delightful and beg to be explored and savoured very slowly, like good wine.
The Garden Route
This land of lakes, bays, mountains and forests languishes on the southern coast from Heidelberg to the Eastern Cape's Tsitsikamma Forest and Storms River. It’s a nook of the country that offers inspiration to writers and artists whose presence gives the Garden Route a trendy flavour. It is also a top priority of many a foreign visitor.
This coastal drive links a series of charming towns interspersed with natural wonder. Along the way, every kind of adventure activity is possible – scuba diving, abseiling, fishing and more.
The Klein Karoo
One of the most geologically interesting parts of South Africa is the Klein Karoo, with its towering mountains and sheer gorges. A notable geological feature is the Cango Caves, a series of caverns and chambers naturally hewn out of limestone, outside of the city of Oudtshoorn. These caves are among the top ten most visited South African attractions.
Oudtshoorn itself, the heart of the ostrich feather industry when it was at its zenith in the late 1800s/early 1900s, is worth a visit. The grandiose, old feather palaces are still to be seen, while ostrich farms, now involved in the commercial production of meat, leather, eggs and feathers, can be toured, with the possibility of riding an ostrich. The town also hosts an annual music and theatre fest – the Klein Karoo Kunstefees.
The Central Karoo
The semi-arid Karoo derives its name from an indigenous word meaning ‘thirstland,” but the starkness this implies is deceptive. Dig a little below the surface and you find fossil-rich terrain, fascinating rock art, ancient stone-age sites, one of the largest varieties of succulents on the planet and star-filled skies to thrill the astronomer, no matter how amateur.
Peaceful Prince Albert at the foot of the spectacular Swartberg Pass makes a convenient base from which to venture out and explore. It’s close to Gamkaskloof or Die Hel (The Hell), once home to an isolated farming community that for a century was accessible only by foot or horseback. The Karoo National Park, as the largest ecosystem in South Africa, reveals how fauna and flora have adapted to their harsh environment.
The Breede River Valley
Some 15 attractive small towns have the good fortune to nestle in the fertile Breede River Valley, wall-to-wall in orchards and vineyards.
There’s Ceres, aptly named for the Roman goddess of fertility; Tulbagh with 32 historical buildings making for the largest concentration of national monuments in the country; Montagu, home of hot mineral springs famed for curative powers; Worcester and Robertson - known for their noble vintages.
Attractions in the valley include one of the largest brandy distilleries in the world (KWV Brandy Cellar), game reserves, tribal art and museums (try Kleinplasie Living Open Air Museum which revives early settler days with demonstrations of candle making, sheep shearing and harvesting).
An hour east of Cape town `over the mountains’ is the Overberg, marked by a coastline of holiday-friendly beaches, picturesque seaside towns, an ancient lighthouse that has witnessed many a shipwreck (at Cape Agulhus) and a whale route that draws more whales and more watchers each year. Between June and November crowds flock to Hermanus and its surrounds to watch the great mammals court and cavort.
In the interior, wheatfields are broken by Morovian mission towns such as Elim and Genadendal, agricultural museums (Grabouw and Swellendam) and a new casino, hotel and spa resort at Caledon. Ecotourists can plan an itinerary around the fynbos route that includes nature reserves and wild flower gardens.
Article courtesy of South African Tourism.