We embarked on a few day trips while we set base in Cape Town. They were all within a 2hour car ride, easy peasy. Many people back home (i.e. London) told us ‘be careful ‘ ‘it’s a dangerous city’ ‘ are you sure you’re going to drive around by yourself’ . Of note: no one from Cape Town ever said that to us, and we never felt threatened. Of course it’s a big city in a very poor country, but I am firmly in the camp of saying that you often drag troubles onto yourself if you do not comply with common sense and local rules, and they’re usually quite simple. Don’t wear shiny things, or obvious temptations such as a camera around your neck or an iphone in your hand. Don’t rent a show-off car (even if you can afford it!). And don’t walk on streets where it feels like locals would not walk themselves. Do like the locals do.
1 – Feeling the pain of The Long Road to Freedom on Robben Island:
The children had been learning about Nelson Mandela at school and I was looking forward to tie in our trip with their learnings. We were all quite emotional to spend the day where he and many others were imprisoned for so many years but I must say Amalya is the one who took the visit the most at heart, learning and remembering every fact, asking questions and jotting down her notes for a presentation that she then made at school.
Robben island is in the bay of Cape Town, 30 min by boat from the harbour yet so far away from the city. It is the staging for the prison where Nelson Mandela and another 3,000 men, mostly political prisoners, spent years in confinement and hard labor under Apartheid. Our afternoon there was both hugely informative and emotional.
The tour is given by former political prisoners, giving it the feeling that you are living history. You need to buy tickets online well in advance, the boat leaves 3 times a day from the Waterfront of Cape Town, and plan on spending about 4hours all together, with a lot of walking (we had Lior in a backpack but strollers are easy too) and a pleasant tour bus around the island.
We learnt how the prisoners were only allowed to receive a letter every 6 months from their loved ones, and most of the time they were censured and edited by the guards. We also heard how the lime quarry where the political prisoners were forced into hard labor became a place of hope as they would find ways to discuss their quest for freedom while working under harsh conditions.
2 – Touring Babylonstoren and the wine country around Stellenbosch
It’d be an overstatement to say that we went wine tasting with the three children in the back of the car. The only wines that we really tasted (and tasted. and tasted again) were the delicious reds, whites and rose from Babylonstoren, where we got lucky to spend two blissful nights. Babylonstoren is an exceptional place that you can also visit just for the day. It’s one of the oldest Cape Dutch farm and someone with very good taste, good brains and probably lots of money has reconverted it into a stunning sustainable farm/hotel. They produce their own organic food and wine and ship their olive oil worldwide, there’s a set of exceptional cottages to rent and two renowned restaurants including a greenhouse-turned-yummy lunch place for walk-ins. When you stay for the night, you can pick up any fruit, vegetable or herbs from the estate and cook them in your own kitchen, then have a meal surrounded by beautiful scenery.
There’s a beautiful swimming pool tucked away behind tall bambous, a spa to escape from it all, bicycles to rent for children and parents. Marcelo, Amalya and Lior loved collecting fresh eggs from the hens in the early morning, and having them for breakfast. They also made their own focaccia bread in the chef’s kitchen. And we all enjoyed canoeing on the pretty lake nearby, watching the sunset.
A little disclaimer: we stayed at Babylonstoren on very generous terms but my enthusiasm would be entirely the same regardless.
3 – Driving to the tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope
From the center of the city, it’s about a 2h30 drive all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southern point in the African continent. And what a stunning drive! When leaving Cape Town, you’re better off taking the road along Chapman’s peak for the best views (make sure the peak is open as it is unsuitable on strong wind days) otherwise it’s a faster ride if you cross via Muizenberg beach. And plan on spending quite a bit of time in the car! I’d suggest you pack a lunch as Cape Point is located inside a big natural park where there is absolutely nothing but natural beauty (and a very crowded cafe with obligatory toilet break near the lighthouse). We picked up sandwiches right after Simon’s town, and also packed beach towels and bathing suits for the day. There’s always a beach to stop and play.
4 – Paying a visit to a colony of African penguins
Ok, this could have been done the same day as when visiting Cape Point, but it would have made for a very long day and we did not mind driving twice along the coast. Boulder’s beach, where the famous African penguins congregate all year is truly a surprise. When you’re on the road, you’d never guess that thousands of cute penguins have chosen this very particular spot to mingle and pose for photos. I’m still regretting that we did not wake up Lior who stayed sleeping in the car, on the parking lot with Ceki, while I took Marcelo and Amalya to the protected area. It’s worth paying the small fee to enter the area as you will see many more penguins than on the public beach! Here’s the link to Simon’s town.
5- Enjoying a Sunday family lunch at Steenberg Farm
About 1h drive from the center of CT is Steenberg Farm, another wine making estate with a delicious restaurant. Given the current exchange rate hugely in favour of US$ and £, Bistro 1682 was a very special meal indeed, perfect for a family Sunday lunch with no tourists in sight.
All in all, we worried we might be bored with 10 days in Cape Town but between the day trips and the citycation, we had a rather busy agenda.
Our trip was a combination of stunning landscapes + learning about the dramatic history of this country who lived through racial segregation until not long ago (Apartheid only ended in 1994). It gave us opportunities to discuss with the children how low humanity can get and how one must always fight for freedom.