Conolly’s Guide to Cape Town
Another strikingly beautiful feature of the Cape is this 669m high sugar-loaf peak on the Atlantic side of Table Mountain, connected to it by the saddle of land known as Kloof Nek. The naming of Lion’s Head remains obscure. It is said that the last lion of the Peninsula was shot here. Another version of the origin of its name is that it resembles the head of a lion with Signal Hill and the connecting ridge forming the rump and body. Its summit can be reached by path and helping chains and the views of the massive bulk of Table Mountain, the buttresses of the Twelve Apostles, the city and the ocean are truly stunning
Accessible by motor car, Signal Hill is one of the dramatic view sites of the harbour, city and Atlantic foreshore, especially at night. At its 335m high summit is the famous Lion’s Battery, used on ceremonial occasions and the electrically operated noon time-signal gun which is controlled from the Observatory.
Overlooking the Atlantic coast and stretching from above Camp’s Bay to Llandudno is the impressively steep line of sandstone buttresses that Governor Sir Rufane Donkin named the Twelve Apostles range.
A thousand metres above sea level, Devil’s Peak flanks the eastern (False Bay) side of Table Mountain and was first named Wind Mountain because of its connection with the Cape south-easter. It acts as the corner-stone in reactivating the wind into its gale force speed of up to 120km per hour and takes the name Devil’s Peak from the Malay legend. The legend attributes the ‘tablecloth’ to the smoke-cloud caused by a pipe-smoking contest between and old Dutch Burgher, Mynheer van Hunks and the Devil. Continuing through all summer, the contest ceases in the winter when van Hunks is stricken with rheumatism and cannot climb the mountain.
The Capetonian accepts the south-easter as a blessing. It blows from October through to February, taking with it the summer smog and pollution, cooling off intense heat and being in fact the ‘Cape doctor’. This south-easter is preceded by one of the most splendid natural wonders on earth, the laying of the tablecloth of cloud on Table Mountain. From the point of view of weather, the most perfect months at the Cape are March and April and the period of Greatest natural beaut, September to November, when the spring wild flowers abound and the colourful green appearance is surpassed nowhere in the world. From May to August the prevailing north-westerly brings the rain (up to 1500mm) without which this paradise would be non-existent.
A great port by any standard, Table Bay was used by the Portuguese navigators a hundred and fifty years before Jan van Riebeeck had landed. Energetic Antonio de Saldanha climbed Table Mountain in 1503 and gave his name to the bay below. Agoada de Saldanha, the name by which it was known until Joris van Spilbergen, the Dutch Fleet commander of the 17th century, renamed it Table Bay.
At the age of 33 as settlement leader of one of the bravest expeditions undertaken in history, van Riebeeck and his party, which included his wife Maria and their infant son, arrived at Table Bay. The voyage from Holland had been made in good time, 104 days.
The tiny 200-ton flagship ‘Dromedaris’ was accompanied by die yacht ‘Goede Hoop’ and the flyboat ‘Reyger’. The ships laid anchor on 6 April 1652. Always seeking promotion, van Riebeeck was made commander at the Cape in 1654, was finally transferred to Batavia (Djakarta) where he became Secretary of the Council of India and died in 1677. He was not to know that his greatest honour would be in South Africa, where he would be remembered as the founder of a nation.
Table Bay harbour is still the half-way-house between two oceans, it is one of the world’s greatest loading ports for fruit and is South Africa’s primary port for wine and fish products besides handling huge shipments of wool, wheat and mineral ore.
Cape Town has also become a principal container and oil refinery port and its dry dock is one of the largest in the world, able to accommodate giant tankers on the route from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
Incorporating a leisure environment with a working harbour was no mean accomplishment and the kudos for its success goes to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront company established in 1988 as a subsidiary of Transnet Ltd., the owners of SA railways and harbours.
It was Victoria’s second son, the very popular 15-year old Prince Alfred, who launched the first phase of Cape Town harbour, when he triggered the first truckload of stone into the sea for the construction of the breakwater, on 17 September 1860. When the new harbour, known as Duncan Dock, was completed during World War II the V&A Basins became essentially a fishing harbour and the substantial old dockside buildings fell into disuse. This is where an amazing transformation has recently taken place. The beautiful old buildings have undergone authentic architectural refurbishment and have been converted for practical, modern-day use.
Here the Pierhead precinct forms the commercial and entertainment core of the Waterfront with the /pièce de rèsistance/ the 4-star Victoria and Alfred Hotel, located in the huge 1904 North Quay warehouse, expertly converted into a gracious 68-bedroom hotel of relaxed, informal atmosphere with superior accommodation and cuisine in a romantic waterfront setting, revelling in the delights of things past, taking you back to the eccentricity of Victorian style and providing a breath of fresh air. Indeed an exciting place to stay awhile.
The arcade, adjoining the hotel, provides the ideal opportunity to browse in the speciality shops and boutiques, whilst close at hand is the free entertainment given by the fascinating Cape fur seals from Bertie’s Landing. At the Information Centre, directly opposite the hotel, up-to-the-minute advice is offered daily on Waterfront activities and entertainment. Guided tours are available and for the lone meanderers places worth visiting include Maratime Museum, Fisheries Centre, Mitchell’s Brewery, Scratch Patch, Union Castle House, Old Port Captain’s Building and a number of enticing taverns and restaurants from which to choose. Infinitely pleasurable are the daily harbour cruises and helicopter flips. The Old Breakwater Gaol, Portswood Road, a massive structure, completed in 1861 as the station, to house the harbour construction workforce of some 700 convicts, has been magnificently remodelled to accommodate the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town. Part of the residential block is operated as an hotel.
The labyrinthine complex which is today Fort Wynyard Museum of coast and aircraft artillery, will certainly revive memories for the veterans and excite young boys with a military bent. It is to be found by proceeding along Fort Wynyard Road off Portswood Road. Its long history of coastal defence began in 1795 and includes the erection of a new battery at the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 under the direction of Lt. Gen. Wynyard. The site having been declared a national monument in 1968 is was restored to its World War II condition and opened as a museum in 1987.