Summer Tourism in Cape Town

This holiday, we went out of our way to do a few things in Cape Town that would normally – traditionally – be reserved for the visitors rather than the residents of the place. There’s something a bit odd about being a tourist in your own city: you see those “sights” every day on your way to work or when you’re doing some mundane activity like shopping – why would you want to look at them all again? Or why would you want to pay through the nose to do stuff solely designed to trap unwary and free-spending holidaymakers into paying through the nose?

In the name of research and entertainment, that’s why.

First off, the Cape Town City Sightseeing Open-Top Bus tour. These buses are found in beautiful cities across the world and Felixstowe (they do not operate a service in Jo’burg) and though I used to see them regularly in Oxford and London, I never took the ride.
Cape Town’s version isn’t cheap, at R110 per adult (including online discount) and R60 per child (5-15 years old),  but if you have a couple of kids under 5 years old, it represents fairly decent value. For that price, you get a pair of headphones to listen to the informative tour guides (14 different languages available) and even the non-paying kids get an activity pack including crayons, magazine etc., plus their own headphones to listen to the excellent kids channel on board.
We did the red tour – all around the Waterfront and City Bowl, then up to the Cableway and down the other side to Camps Bay and back along the Atlantic Seaboard to the starting point at the Aquarium. The bus stops at lots of tourist sites in the city (District Six Museum, Cape Town Museum, Cape Town Tourism, CTICC etc)
For us, the best bit was the flexibility and regularity of the buses, which meant that we were able to jump off at Camps Bay and have a run on the beach and an expensive ice cream before jumping back on and heading back to the car without having to worry about getting back to the stop at any specific time. The kids also enjoyed it and we all learned some interesting stuff and got a different view of places in Cape Town. Oh, and their website is excellent.
Best bit: Well organised, friendly, informative.
Worst bit: Bit pricey.
Don’t forget: Sunscreen!

Next up:  Snow at Canal Walk.
Now, this one has been and gone already, but if the popularity of it this year is anything to go by, it’ll certainly be back. It’s basically in two parts: an inner tube snow slide for the older kids and a snow play area for  the younger kids. I took Alex (4) along to the play area, which cost R30 for him and R15 for me for a 45 minute session.
Now, if you or your kids grew up with snow (I did), then you are going to be very disappointed. And walking into the play area – a sunken pit about 5m by 6m and about 40cm deep – I was very disappointed. What I had forgotten is that Alex had never seen snow before: he was amazed, fascinated and a little bewildered, as were several of the kids around us. I had to teach him what to do with it.
The snow is rather wet and icy, but that does make it good for building with and so we built with it.
The whole thing wasn’t particularly well organised, with the “No kids over the age of 5 in the play area” rule completely ignored which made it a bit boisterous for many of the younger kids. It ended up being policed more by the parents, rather than the ineffective “Snow Crew”.  But it was great value and just to see my child experience something completely new was amazing.
Best bit: It’s snow!
Worst bit: Organisation was woeful.
Don’t forget: Spare clothes for all involved.

From snow to ice and the Ice World ice rink at the Waterfront.
We got there early and took both our kids along. What a great decision on both counts. This was brilliant.
R50 per skater gets you skate hire and an hour on the ice – Kristen (2) got in as a freebie. When we got there (10:15am) there were only two other visitors on the 200m² rink along with the two Ice Marshals. Apparently, they have had up to 70 people on the ice at one time, but that doesn’t sound like fun to me.
The live DJ was already in full swing, but we felt that his choice and volume of music could have been more appropriate to the clientele at that point. 110dB of hardcore gangsta rap just didn’t hit the mark with us, our two kids or the pair of 6 year old girls on the ice. Play it safe, dude – stick a bit of Britney on, hey?
Aside from that though, this was fantastic – they have small plastic orange pushchairs in the shape of seals which mum and dad can push the kids around on (see the photos on the links above and below). The kids loved it, we loved it and this one comes highly recommended.
Best bit: Lots of fun, good value.
Worst bit: Early morning muthaf*****g gangsta rap for the kids.
Don’t forget: Spare clothes, socks and to get there early.

The Wheel of Excellence
I still can’t get over the name for this – it sounds like something out of Monty Python or The Mighty Boosh to me – but it’s proving to be a big hit in Cape Town, as have similar wheels all over the world, including Sheffield.
They’ve moved this big wheel to the Market Square in the Waterfront (outside Vaughan Johnson’s) and the kids have been begging for a go on it. I was more reticent when it was opposite the CalTex, but we figured we’d give it a go now it was in a less industrial setting.
It was windy and busy when we were there, but we were impressed by the stability of the 42m wheel (which is bigger than you imagine and certainly bigger than it looks) and by the efficiency and organisation of the staff.
The views (unsurprisingly) are great and the cabins are fully air-conditioned. The ride is 3 full revolutions, plus however many little bits you have to do to get people on and off. This did seem a bit expensive at R80 per adult and R50 for Alex (Kristen was a freebie again), but it’s a chance to get a unique view of that Waterfront and the surrounding area (including how dirty the local roofs are and how public this place’s swimming pool has become).
Best bit: Views deluxe
Worst bit: Quite expensive
Don’t forget: Camera, vertigo-settling Klippies before entry.

Picnics at Buitenverwachting
We did this on New Year’s Eve afternoon instead of partying the night away. And what a relaxing end to the year. Wonderful food and wine on the lawn under the oak trees while the kids collected acorns and more acorns,which they simply had to bring home. Suffice to say that my back garden is going to be an oak forest in just under 200 years time.
The numbers of places for these picnics are strictly limited so that the place doesn’t get hideously overcrowded and although you can see the other people enjoying their afternoon as well, they are by no means on top of you.
The picnics run throughout summer opposite their winter soup evenings, which I also recommend. On arrival here, you get offered wine and your picnic basket is brought out to you. The food is excellent but the portions are a little small. However, you can (and we did) ask for more of anything that you want. The service is attentive, but relaxed: you wave to them across the lawn if you need anything, otherwise they leave you alone to enjoy your afternoon. At R120 per person (kids picnic basket at R45) and wines from R50 a bottle up, this is an expensive treat, but as a laid back alternative to a traditional New Year’s Eve celebration, it worked for us.
Best bit: Relaxing, great food & wine.
Worst bit: Quite expensive.
Don’t forget: Cash (they don’t take cards), something to carry acorns in.

Aside from these attractions, we also did other things, such as beaches (a morning at Noordhoek and sundowners at Llandudno) and Cecilia Forest (great for a cool walk on a hot day). And the kids still have another 2 weeks of holiday.

How ever are we going to keep up?

And then…

A couple of days ago, I had a bit of a pop at Karibu restaurant for their really terrible performance – particularly as we are trying to impress the huge number of tourists during the World Cup (aren’t we?).
And then… I realised that there is more to impressing the tourists than tacky Waterfront restaurants – stuff that we humans can’t actually mess up. I took the family (tourists, over here for the World Cup) for a trip around the peninsular, which is a pretty touristy thing to do. And if you are a tourist over here for the World Cup (and I know you’re reading this blog in your ones) then you should do this.

We took in breathtaking vistas, saw a breaching Southern Right Whale at Llandudno, admired the crashing waves at Misty Cliffs, sat watching a troop of baboons near Cape Point and then went to see the penguins at Boulders.
And that was where things really kicked off – if you pardon the footballing pun.

Because while we were enjoying the penguins – not in a carnal sense, obviously – there was a little commotion out in the bay.
Dolphins. Hundreds of the buggers:

And instantly, people were staring away from the funny little waddling birds (who took the opportunity to try some unobserved flying practice). “Ooh! Dolphins! Look at the dolphins!” they exclaimed in various different languages.

But my brother was looking at something else. Probably because he doesn’t understand Italian or Japanese for “Ooh! Dolphins! Look at the dolphins!”. My brother was looking at the two, possibly three Killer Whales which were following the pod of dolphins, presumably eating one or two every now and again.

Yes. It’s a whale, but it’s very Jaws, isn’t it?
Der dum. Der dum. Der dum dum dum, Der dum dum dum… etc.

The tourists were in their element. Hell – I was even quite impressed. The penguins were annoyed – after all, this was their gig and no-one was watching anymore. But generally, the mood was one of excitement and enjoyment.

I hope that the tourists have made it away from the tacky Waterfront restaurants. I hope that they didn’t have to queue for too long to get up the Mountain and that they took the time to go and see what else the Cape has to offer. Because, if they did, they’re coming back – and they’re bringing their friends, family and even their neighbours.
So never mind, Karibu. Maybe you haven’t ruined everything. There’s enough elsewhere to make up for your deficiencies.

Probably. Just.

P.S. Winelands/Peninsular photos here.
P.P.S. Portugal v  North Korea photos here.

What a good idea

Sometimes a good idea comes along and doesn’t get anywhere because it doesn’t get the support it deserves or needs to take off. I would give you examples, but because they never got the support they deserved or needed, I’ve never heard of them. Usually, the only ideas that ever get anywhere are those that are going to make someone, somewhere, some money: cars, computers, drugs etc etc.

But the good idea I heard today isn’t going to make much money. Instead of Rands and cents, this one is all about the currency of goodwill. Which makes you feel all happy and warm inside, but won’t buy you beer. So not perfect, by any means, but still pretty good.

The idea is the brainchild of the improbably-named Dean Oelschig, a creative type from Jo’burg. But let’s not hold those facts against him, for he has come up with the idea of #worldcuphost. This is what is called a hashtag, which is a word or phrase, prefixed with a # that people can search for easily on Twitter.
And Dean’s idea is that willing people from South Africa advertise themselves on Twitter as #worldcuphosts so that visitors coming over from foreign parts can ask all those vexing, awkward or downright stupid questions about the country and how to “do stuff” here – and hopefully get a quick, helpful answer.
I am already predicting a plethora of beer-related queries, interspersed with several on transport, a couple on the weather and maybe even one or two on the football. But mainly beer.

And because the people on twitter are generally of a somewhat higher intelligence and educational standing than on other, less enjoyable social media platforms which involve feeding other people’s penguins on their imaginary farms, the answers those tourists will get will be honest, informative and helpful. Right?

So, go and advertise yourself as a #worldcuphost
Better still, retweet this post (use the little button below) so that people know what it’s all about, because obviously, the more people that are aware of this – on either side – the better it will work. 
Let’s do our bit to make this World Cup a even better experience for those visiting South Africa.

Oudtshoorn flashback

Oudtshoorn (roughly pronounced Oats-Horn) is a small town in the Western Cape which claims to be the ostrich capital of the world. And that might not sound like much of a pull, but if you want to do anything to do with ostriches, visit ostrich-related attractions and buy ostrich-related merchandise, Oudtshoorn is your number one destination of choice. It’s a couple of years since I was last there, but I don’t think it will have changed much, based on the fact that when I was there it didn’t appear to have changed much since colonial times.
I got into a spot of bother with my traveling companions on that particular visit, due to a comment I left in the guest book at the excellent Jemima’s restaurant. Having enjoyed all that Oudtshoorn had to offer during the day, I felt compelled to sample the speciality dish – ostrich – for my dinner. Then, perhaps buoyed by a sense of a day completed in fine style, together with some (or more) decent Cabernet Sauvignon, I reached for the visitor’s book on the way out and wrote:

Saw one.
Fed one.
Rode one.
Ate one.

Which, despite being absolutely true, was considered – in stark contrast to dinner – to be in rather poor taste and invoked the spirit of the Derbyshire butcher specialising in game meats who had the display of rabbits hung outside his shop next to the sign:

Watership Down.
You’ve read the book.
You’ve seen the film.
Now eat the cast.

All of which meandering brings me to and its startlingly similar tagline:

Choose pig.
Name pig.
Visit pig.
Eat pig.

Personally, I think they lose it slightly with the extra syllable on the third line, but it’s still a good effort. And yes, you adopt a piglet, they lovingly care for it, nurture it and feed it; and then slaughter it, chop it all up and deliver it (vacuum packed, nogal) to your door.

A whole pig weighs in at about 40-50kg of meat. This usually works out between £280 and £350, though never more than £380. For this price you get all of the meat back from your pig, butchered, vacuum packed, weighed, labelled and priced ~ just how you would like to find it. In terms of cost, you are paying about £100 more than in a supermarket, the same as in a good butchers, and £160 less than London prices. Any offal you choose to have from your pig is free of charge.

The advantages of this system? You know exactly where your pig came from, where it has been and what it has been eating: “From field to fork, from pasture to plate – tracking your food every step of the way”.

I can already imagine the Oudtshoorn farmers planning the South African equivalent. If only there was some tear-jerking family film about a talking baby ostrich which they could use the name from. 

Perhaps that’s all that’s holding them back.

South Africa: Places to visit in 2010

Number 2. Brakpan, a mining town in Gauteng.

The name Brakpan was first used by the British in the 1880s because of a non-perennial lake that would annually dry to become a “brackish pan”.

While in the now defunct uranium mining town named after a dirty lake, you can visit the Gyproc factory, which produces almost a quarter of South Africa’s plasterboard. Alternatively, you can visit the site of the world’s biggest mine dump (higher than the pyramids, nogal!) or just enjoy life as it would have been in a previous age.
An age when people still lived in caves.

For more great places you can’t afford to miss on the South African tourist trail, just follow the TOURISM TIPS category in the sidebar. Suggestions welcome.