Day 4: Arrival in Cape Town, Waterfront and a Little Surprise
The Mount Grace County Hotel and Spa, Magaliesburg in the Gauteng Province had been our home for the past three days. We enjoyed our stay so much that we had become emotionally attached to the property and didn't want to leave. It wasn't our fault. South African Tourism had made our stay at Mount Grace memorable in more ways than we had imagined, but we had to leave as a matter of necessity. So as early as 5:00am on day 4 of our SA Specialist Experience, we were all in the bus for the drive to the O.R Tambo International Airport Johannesburg enroute Cape Town in the Western Cape Province.
Check-in at the South African Airways counter was seamless and soon enough, we were onboard a South African Airways Airbus A319 on our way to Cape Town. The flight was on schedule and smooth, and 2 hours later, we touched down in Cape Town. Just like the OR Tambo International Airport Johannesburg, the Cape Town International Airport is another befitting gateway to South Africa especially the Western Cape Province. After observing arrival protocols, we boarded our tour bus and hit the road. Jerry was our Tour Guide.
This was my first time in Cape Town and my first impression was that of astonishing beauty. Our adventure in this incredibly beautiful city began at the popular V&A Waterfront.
Located at the foot of the Signal Hill and situated on the Table Bay Harbour on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is a melting point of some sort. The history of the V&A Waterfront is traced to Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, who visited the Cape Colony harbour in 1860 as a sixteen-year-old on the Royal Navy Ship. Quantitatively, the V&A Waterfront is the biggest attraction in Cape Town where history, culture, tourism and commerce meet in one expansive, socially charged space. In fact, it is the attraction of attractions.
There are many ways to spend quality time at the V&A Waterfront, with activities including helicopter tours, gastronomic experience, sightseeing and Big Wheel Ride. With an area of 123 hectares with both residential and commercial real estate, the complex is shoppers’ haven as it houses over 450 retail outlets, including fashion, homeware and electronics. The V&A Waterfront appeals to individuals as well as families and attracts more than 23 million visitors a year. If you plan to explore Cape Town, whether as an individual or as a group, this is a very ideal place to begin your adventure. It has everything for everybody.
After taking a visual tour of the V&A Waterfront and admiring this melting point of tourism, it was time to take an adventurous ride on the Cape Wheel. We took a 20-minute ride to the skies in one of 36 fully-enclosed cabins on this 50m high, giant observation wheel. The roller-coaster ride afforded us the opportunity to enjoy panoramic and breathtaking views of Cape Town including The Harbour, Table Mountain and Robben Island.
Down from the Cape Wheel, it was time for lunch, and off we went to the Ocean Basket Restaurant at the Waterfront where we had an impressive gastronomic experience with a satisfying seafood lunch of fish and prawns. And to add a local flavour to the experience, the food was served in a frying pan. Oh yes, you heard me right.
After lunch at the V&A Waterfront, we drove to the Crystal Towers Marriott Hotels Cape Town. This modern luxury hotel in the heart of Cape Town would be our home for the next four days.
Located in the heart of the popular Century City, this modern and contemporary hotel provides accommodations with sophisticated decor and deluxe amenities.
Room facilities and features include electronic key cards, plush bedding, luxuriously outfitted bathrooms, LCD flat-screen TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi internet, ergonomic desks, restful chairs and scenic views of South Africa's Table Mountain and the Cape Town skyline. Check-in was seamless and hassle-free, we settled in, rested a little before the evening surprise.
The first major surprise of the SA Specialist Experience came on this day, and it was a very pleasant one pulled by Sonto Mbonambi and Mohammed Tanko. When we left the hotel in the evening in a couple of taxis and headed to downtown Cape Town, we could only guess what the surprise was. But when our taxis began to pull over one after another at an African restaurant in Cape Town's Central Business District, it dawned on us that this was going to be a pleasant surprise and that it was!
Before now, it had always been from one intercontinental dish to another (not that we were complaining), but that 'gastronomic monotony' was about to be broken. Here, South African Tourism treated us to different Nigerian dishes including Pepper soup, Eba and Semo with a choice of Egwusi soup, Onugbu soup, Okro soup or Vegetable soup. I had Eba and Onugbu soup with fresh fish, it tasted so authentically Nigerian that I wished it didn't have to finish.
From the time we arrived Johannesburg from Lagos and Accra few days earlier, we had been missing Naija/Ghana food and had been dying in silence to eat them, but here we were devouring them and they tasted just like mama's.
Indeed, this was a night of surprise and the beginning of more surprises. Why the excitement about finding an African restaurant in Cape Town, you may ask. Don't get it twisted, Cape Town is an African city, but is very eurocentric in almost everything including gastronomy. So finding an authentic African restaurant here is a big deal. If you're visiting Cape Town and you want to experience local West African cuisine, Aaron's African Restaurant, located on Loop Street, is a very good place to be.
Day 5: Winelands Tour and Wine Tasting
According to Salvador Dali, Great wine requires a mad man to grow the vine, a wise man to watch over it, a lucid poet to make it, and a lover to drink it. The day 5 of the SA Specialist Experience saw us do all of that (well, almost) in one single day. Our bus left the Crystal Towers Marriott Hotel in the morning and headed to Franschhoek Winelands where we toured and explored some of South Africa's oldest and most distinguished vineyards and wine estates. We also did some wine tasting while at it.
On our way to the Winelands, we stopped over at the Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek. Built in 1945, the Huguenot Monument is dedicated to the Huguenots who emigrated from France to escape religious persecution and settled in the area between late 1600s and early 1700s. The Huguenot Monument as well as the nearby Huguenot Memorial Museum are deeply symbolic and are a good place for religious tourism.
The Winelands tour and wine tasting started proper with our first stop at the Pierre Jourdan wine estate where we were received by Takuan, a second generation wine master. Takuan, who we were told, inherited the wine estate from his forefathers, even performed the Sabrage in our honour. Sabrage is a traditional technique for opening a wine bottle with a sword for ceremonial occasions.
Here, we tasted 3 different wines including Brut (60 % Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay), Belle Rose (100% Pinot Noir), and Ratafia (45% Chadonnay sweet wine) all from the portfolio of Pierre Jourdan. I'm not a sommelier, but the wines tasted great on my pallets. No, we didn't get drunk; there wasn't even enough wine to get us drunk, after all, it was wine tasting and not wine drinking.
After the first round of wine tasting, it was time to tour the Winelands on the Franschhoek Wine Tram which is one of the major two ways to tour the Winelands, the other being the multi-coach tractor carriage. Luckily, we used both. The Franschhoek Wine Tram is a unique way to tour the wine estates by means of a hop-on and hop-off tram system which runs on a railway line built in 1904. With glasses of welcome wine in our hands, we began our tour of the vineyards aboard the double-decker Franschhoek Wine Tram.
The tour took us through the length and breath of the vast vineyards and even offered us the opportunity to view the beautiful Franschhoek valleys and mountains. Of course, this was my first time of seeing a vineyard and the Franschhoek vineyards were just like the ones the Bible talks about. The tour constantly reminded me of the parable of the vineyard.
After the first leg of the Winelands tour, we pitched our tents at the Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate for lunch and more wine tasting. Here, we tasted four more wines including Chenin, Rose, Moscato and Zinfandel, all from Grande Provence portfolio. The wines were expressive with distinctive character. The history of this classic wine estate dates back to 1694 when a French man, Pierre Joubert, with a Bible hidden in a loaf of bread, fled from France due to religious persecution.
From the entrance, there are beautiful artworks scattered around this magnificent homestead. In fact, there's an art gallery here. This is one of the few places in Cape Town where there's a deliberate meeting of good wines, good food and good arts. If you love food, wine and art, then the Grande Provence should be on your list of places to visit while on the tour of the Cape Town Winelands.
The return leg of our Winelands tour was on the multi-coach tractor carriage which even gave us an opportunity to observe the vines more closely. Although the vines were still tender and hadn't matured for harvest, seeing them was a fulfilment of a long-time dream. I had always heard and read about them on the pages of the Bible, but here I was seeing and even touching them. Personally, this tour was very memorable and significant to me in more ways than one. And generally speaking, the Franschhoek Winelands tour was a life-changing 'wine & dine' experience.
Having worked up appetite on the day's adventure, we ended the day 5 of our SA Specialist Experience with a superb dinner at the Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel. In a deliberate attempt to keep us happy, the hotel's Malaysian Chef had prepared a version of jollof rice that very much tasted like Nigerian and Ghanaian jollof rice. This was of course, in addition to the intercontinental regulars Southern Sun is known for. And we even got some gift packs!
Before the dinner, we had a tour of the hotel where the hotel staff basically showed of this 4-star property, and we liked what we saw. Whether you're visiting Cape Town for business or pleasure, Southern Sun Waterfront is perfectly situated for all activities.
With 537 elegantly furnished rooms and an exquisite restaurant, all your needs have been catered for even before you arrive. Room facilities and features include electronic key system, tea and coffee making devices, fridge, flat screen television with satellite, electronic safe, en-suite bathroom with separate shower, hair dryer and fully equipped work station. Dining options here include South African inspired dishes at the hotel’s Yizani Restaurant and relaxed cocktails at the Southern Sun Waterfront Bar.
While a selection of rooms has views of the Table Mountain, others look out over Cape Town’s bustling foreshore and the vast Atlantic Ocean. The Southern Sun Waterfront is the perfect spot from where you can explore Cape Town.
Day 6: City Tour, Another Surprise, and Beach Picnic
Cape Town is known as the Mother City and we were about to find out why. The first half of the day 6 of our SA Specialist Experience was dedicated to a sightseeing tour of Cape Town. So after breakfast at the Crystal Towers Marriott Hotel, we drove in our bus to downtown Cape Town where we boarded the popular red bus for the city tour.
Operated by CitySightseeing Cape Town, the double-decker open-roof red bus is the best and the most convenient way to see Cape Town. Your visit to Cape Town is not complete without a CitySightseeing tour of the Mother City. There are loads of things to see, taste and do.
The tour bus featured audio guides via personal audio channels onboard the bus, which gave us some historical background of the city and its attractions as the tour progressed. The hop-on hop-off bus service followed various loops around the city and made its way to the popular Table Mountain where we made our first stop. Unfortunately, the weather was windy and didn't permit Table Mountain adventure. However, we admired the incredible Table Mountain Cable Car Lower Station as well as a breathtaking view of the city from the hill.
The return journey on the red bus was more of a scenic drive along the city's coastline where you have some of the most beautiful real estates in Africa. With lush and visually appealing properties, this place is so stunningly beautiful that it, in fact, reminded me of Miami, Florida in the United States of America. Directly overlooking the beaches, the estates on this coastline of Cape Town are where affluence, style and luxury meet.
Cape Town is not one of the most beautiful cities in Africa, it is THE most beautiful city in Africa. It's not just about aesthetics beauty. There's also the beauty of organisation, there's the beauty of the people and there's the beauty of architecture. The beauty in Cape Town is systemic. I've been to some of the world's most beautiful cities including Rome and Milan, but Cape Town stands tall in comparison to them. Not many cities of the world have the kind of stunning beauty Cape Town has. The beauty here is 'unAfrican' in more ways than one. Cape Town is truly the Mother City.
The second surprise of the SA Specialist Experience came hot on the heels of the city tour. Wow, we were going to ride on the popular Sidecars...to the beach. The Sidecars are chauffeured vintage Second World War motorbikes with an attached carriage for up to 2 passengers. We were very excited and couldn't wait for the fun ride on the side.
In addition to the chauffeur, each sidecar could carry 2 persons - one on the side and the other at the back. So we chose our partners, took a few pictures and off we went. Amanda was our ride and Eugene was our chauffeur.
Every eye in Cape Town was on us as we rode in a convoy through the city and painted the town red. We made a brief stop on the way and switched places before the fun continued to the beach. Of course beaches are beaches, but the thrilling sensation of being in the open air on a vintage chariot made our journey to the beach much more memorable.
When we first heard we were going to the beach, our minds went to the usual 'beachy' things like swimming, but apparently, our hosts had more in mind. Our beach adventure turned out to be a fun picnic in an informal and casual, yet very beautiful setting.
The table was set on the ground, but it was cute. We had lots of well curated food to eat and lots of drinkables including wines. After the dining and wining sessions, came the dancing and the swimming of course. From the beach, we drove straight to the Gold Restaurant in downtown Cape Town for dinner.
Located in Green Point, Cape Town, the Gold Restaurant is more than a restaurant, it's a micro Africa. The first thing that crossed my mind as we stepped in was Fela Kuti's Kalakuta Republic in Lagos.
Dinning at the Gold Restaurant is a celebration of authentic African culture, food, and people amidst life entertainment with lots of African fusion. Waiters were dressed in charming African attires and they really looked, well, African.
I cannot even remember what we ate here, but we were swept up in the excitement of original African stories told through the folk songs and traditional dance steps. We ate, we sang, we danced and even got the traditional face painting. In fact, we had a night of GOLD and it was a befitting way to end the day.
Day 7: Table Mountain, Bo-kaap and The Rands
After a quick breakfast at the Marriott Hotels, we stepped into the bus and headed to the famous Table Mountain for what turned out to be the adventure of our lives. The previous day, we had set out for the same adventure but the weather didn't permit as there were high speed winds.
Voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011, the Table Mountain is said to be one of the oldest mountains in the world. The height of the Table Mountain at its highest point - Maclear's Beacon - is 1,085 metres above sea level. The mountain's famous tablecloth is a meteorological phenomenon that causes cloud to tumble down the mountain slopes like billowing fabrics.
After obtaining our tickets, we joined the already long queue, but before we knew it, we were inside the Table Mountain Cableway on our way to the summit of the Table Mountain. The Table Mountain Cableway is an aerial cable car capable of accommodating up to 65 people at a time, transporting about 800 people per hour. At a maximum speed of 10 meters per second, it transports tourists from the base of the mountain to the peak and from the peak to the base. There are usually two of them working simultaneously on two different cables ways; one takes people up while the other brings them down.
Unbelievably, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has been in operations since 4th October, 1929 and has transported over 27 million tourists to and fro the summit of the Table Mountain. To say the least, the 'drive' from the base of the mountain to its peak is incredibly scenic, it literally took my breath away. This was a first for most of us, and if there was any apprehension, it was covered by the excitement. To give tourists a 360° view of Cape Town, the Cableway car slowly rotates while moving up or down. The rotation also provides better aerodynamics for the Cableway car which translates to a smoother ride for tourists. The base of the cable car has built-in water tanks that carry 3,000 litres of water which is used as ballast in windy seasons.
For me, being on the peak of the Table Mountain was a dream come true, I must have felt the way Neil Armstrong felt when he first landed on the moon. The view is picturesque, panoramic and uninterrupted, while the scenic beauty is out of this world, not like any other view I had seen before. The feeling from the top is orgasmic, exhilarating and heavenly, yet almost indescribable.
Practically every other landmark in Cape Town can be viewed from the top of the Table Mountain including the Cape Town Stadium, Lion's Head, Signal Hill, Robben Island, V&A Waterfront etc. Beyond taking a walk and enjoying spectacular views, tourists can also dine and wine at the top at the table Mountain cafe. If you're looking for a little souvenir to remind you of your Table Mountain experience, 'the shop at the top' is a great place to explore.
The Table Mountain is easily the most popular, the most imposing and the most significant landmark in Cape Town. If you're planning on taking a vacation in South Africa, visiting the Table Mountain in Cape Town should be the number one on your bucketlist, especially if you are the adventurous type.
From the Table Mountain we visited the Bo-Kaap community, a neighbourhood tucked away under the slopes of Signal Hill in downtown Cape Town. Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, this fascinating and unique neighbourhood has a rich Cape Malay culture with roots said to be as old as Cape Town itself.
The Bo-Kaap community is where the early slaves from Indonesia and other parts of Far East settled after they were released by their slave masters. The Bo-Kaap neighbourhood is bright and colourful. From very bright yellow colours to dim green and everything in between, the houses here are painted in different shades of different colours. If you call it rainbow city, you would be right.
Originally, houses in this community were painted in these colours by the first settlers to celebrate their freedom from the atrocities of their slave masters. Symbolically, these bright colours meant (and still mean) freedom - freedom from slavery, from oppression, from dehumanization and from humiliation; freedom of living and of being, of thinking, of expression and of creativity. The slaves, who were apparently highly educated, were brought to Cape Town for forced labour.
Sadly, the Bo-Kaap community has now become very sought after and currently faces a forced gentrification as wealthy outsiders seek to move into the area due to its choice location and scenic views. If you're interested in history, the Bo-Kaap community is a place you would like to visit. In addition to a viable craft market, the Bo-Kaap community is known to have delicious culinary secrets with a Cape Malay cooking class.
The last adventure of the day was a fun-visit to Rands Cape Town in Khayelitsha where we wined and dined with the locals in an informal atmosphere. Khayelitsha is a predominantly black township in the suburb of Cape Town with a population of more than 1 million people. Situated in the heart of Khayelitsha, Rands Cape Town is a premium Chisa Nyama and entertainment mecca offering signature local dishes and great music.
As we stepped into the Rands after passing a few security protocols, the setting was informal and outdoor, yet it had an exclusive feel. The atmosphere was charged with energetic vibes while a mix of house and hip hop urban contemporary South African music filled the air from the sophisticated stage.
Soon after we got our VIP seats, it was time to settle down to some local wining and dinning. We had assorted grilled meat including beef, lamb and boerewors while the sides were the popular chakalaka, creamy spinach and pap.
Basically made with baked beans, tomatoes, cabbage and curry, chakalaka is a spicy South African vegetable dish traditionally served with pap, bread or stew. The spinach soup is mostly made with fresh spinach leaves, cauliflower, olive oil, garlic, mustard and chicken broth. It's not very spicy. The pap is not like our own ogi or akamu we drink, but actually like our own eba, it's basically a cornmeal. The dishes were surprisingly very tasty, I finished my own plate and almost asked for more, but it was time to call it a night. Sadly, this was our last night in Cape Town and almost the end of our South African Experience.
Day 8: Con te Partiro
This was the day we all dreaded and wished it never came, but sadly, it came and it was time to say goodbye. Time to say goodbye to adventures, time to say goodbye to unlimited fun and time to say goodbye to excellent cuisine. We didn't want to leave Cape Town, but we had to leave Cape Town, so we left Cape Town in style.
We always knew this would happen because it was in our itinerary, but by the time 26 Harley Davidson power bikes pulled over in front of our Crystal Towers Marriott Hotel, our heads were already beginning to swell in excitement. They had come to take us to Cape Town International Airport where we would catch a flight to Johannesburg.
The atmosphere was electrifying, the air was filled with boundless excitement and the feeling was nostalgic. Having put our bags and luggage in the tour bus, we had some intense photo sessions and then it was time for the long awaited big ride. Bredon was my expert rider, and as I mounted the power bike, I felt like a superhero. Moving in a convoy, we caused a stir and literally painted the streets of Cape Town red as we rode to the airport.
Down from Harley Davidson power bikes, it was time to take a flight. Although the South African Airways flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was a little delayed, it was very smooth. The connecting flight from Johannesburg to Lagos was on schedule and even smoother. We touched down in Lagos at about 8:30 pm. And with that, our 2018 SA Specialist Experience came to a happy end.
If you missed the Part 1 of My SA Specialist Experience, pleases read it here.
Chidozie Uzoezie is a Travel & Tourism Blogger, a frequent flyer and a content creator. He is also the admin of the African Aviation Group on Facebook. You can reach him on email@example.com