Explore Cape Town by night with us!
Let me first say that viewing yours and my favourite city, Cape Town from a height of approximately 4.39 m and at night, is far better than being down at normal car height, and worse still, being the driver who has to pay attention to the road and traffic.
I landed a trip for two on the maiden voyage of the new City Sightseeing Cape Town night tour for Friday, 29th October 2010, and having collected a friend of mine, ex-teacher Pat Steere, took an easy drive against the home-from-work traffic down to the V&A Waterfront. We arrived in plenty of time, parked at the undercover parking opposite the Aquarium [where the City Sightseeing buses leave from] and walked across the road to the assembly point. We were welcomed by Carmen Lerm and her assistant, and having got our little orange stickers for being good and arriving we repaired to a bench to listen to the band of Alexander Sinton High School, from Crawford, playing a selection of music.
This school band is currently trying to raise funds to go to Beijing in 2011 and is ably taught and supported by their music teacher, Ronelle Nagfaal and encouraged by the head of the arts department, Brian Adonis. They have performed at Artscape and the Baxter, and had a one hour slot at the FanFest for the FIFA World Cup, and they were very easy to listen to. After we left on the two buses they were going on to Bergvleit for some further fundraising. Good luck to them and I hope they get enough funds and sponsors to get to Beijing. It is great to see music coming back into our schools.
While we were listening to the band and enjoying some rather tasty and refreshing non-alcoholic drinks, one of the City Sightseeing travel consultants, Mzukisi Lembeni, changed ‘hats’, or in this case donned a wig, and became an entertainer, involving the audience in magic tricks and making it look really easy to blow up those little thin balloons that were then made into animals. Then we had a draw for some prizes followed by the cutting of the official launch ribbon.
And so, the time had come to board the two buses. Two buses so that everyone could sit upstairs and enjoy the views from the best point. Picnics and warm clothing were duly lugged up the stairs and once we all had our free earplugs in and plugged into the sound system the two buses trundled quietly out into the road to begin the tour. We were very lucky and it was a splendidly clear and sunny evening, although there was a stiff breeze blowing.
Whether you are on the day or evening tours you will be able to listen to a commentary, in a choice of languages [great if you have friends from overseas] and these commentaries are done so that they mesh in nicely with the time it takes the buses to move from one area of interest to the next. And if you think you know everything there is to know about your city, think again! They have managed to dig up many interesting bits of information that even someone born in the city probably doesn’t know. Since the buses trundle along at a nice comfortable pace you are able to look around you at the scenery and spot things that you would not be able to see from a car or, because you are not having to worry about driving or parking, things that you had just never noticed before.
The bus left the V&A Waterfront via the road past the old Somerset Hospital and from our vantage point we were able to look right over the wall at the beautifully painted building whilst listening to some history about the old hospital. We followed the road along the seafront past the oldest working lighthouse in South Africa, with information being given about wrecks along the coastline there, and turned onto the seafront road in Sea Point, where we were able to look past the tall blocks of flats to the mountains behind, or to the sea and across to Robben Island – and I shan’t spoil it by telling you why the island is so named either – take a trip on the bus and you can find out for yourself.
We continued along the narrow road that wends its way along the coast amongst the houses built into the rock to Camps Bay, all the time listening to the commentary and looking around at the amazing views, including that of paragliders coming down on the air currents from Lions Head. My companion exclaimed time and again about what wonderful views she was seeing, and how she had always meant to do the bus trips but had never got around to it, and now wished she had. She is already planning to take visitors on the bus next year. We passed other City Sightseeing buses going in the opposite direction back to the V&A and waved. I should just say here that the day bus tours operate on a hop on/hop off basis, so if you want to get off somewhere and visit you can do so. They even have a stop at the cable way for Table Mountain. This is fantastic as parking up there now is a nightmare. So much easier to park at the Waterfront and catch a ride, with fantastic views, there and back again once you finish your visit to that famous backdrop to Cape Town.
Having waved at, and been waved back at, various cafe and restaurant patrons at Camps Bay we travelled up out of Camps Bay with the most fantastic views of the 12 Apostles and backwards over the sea. This road winds upwards and at the top you can either turn towards the cableway or left to Signal Hill and Lions Head. We took the steep, winding and narrow road up towards Signal Hill and passed many cars that were parked near the spot most used by hikers of Lions Head. The commentary was quite full on this part of the journey as we looked out over the Mountain, the city, the harbour and the bay towards Robben Island. We reached the top, causing a bit of consternation amongst the car park guards because of parking, and having clattered down the winding steps, alighted with our blankets, picnics and cameras, to enjoy the uninterrupted view out over the Atlantic towards the setting sun.
It was all very friendly and people sat around eating their tasty picnics, chatting, taking photos, looking out to sea to watch the small fishing boats go to and fro, and the container ship, presumably at anchor. The sun slowly slipped away leaving some wonderful streaks of colour in the sky on the horizon with the small band of clouds out there, and twilight slowly took over, with the ugly bulk of the container ship becoming more attractive as twinkling lights came on all over it. Everyone packed up their leftovers and containers and climbed back aboard the two buses ready for the second half of the journey that would prove to be quite stunning in its own right. It was as I walked to the top by the buses that I realised the lights were on, on the mountain, lighting it up in all its night time splendour. What a bonus, they must have done it just for this trip.
The road out of the car park back down the hill is quite narrow and this time we were on the edge of the drop down the hill – glad I was sitting on the other side! The buses stopped at the top for people to take pictures across the bay with all the lights stretching away across the bay as far as the eyes could see. Sadly I am not as au fait with my camera as I should be and the flash spoiled the lighting effects of both the lit up mountain and the stunning views of all the lights across the city. It has to be seen to be appreciated but I can tell you that it looks like a myriad of different coloured jewels twinkling and winking away below. And the illuminated mountain is as overwhelming, if not more, than it is during the day. I felt like a visiting dignitary – the mountain is rarely lit these days for conservation and economic reasons.
We drove carefully down the hill and as we went we could see the tiny blue flashing lights of people hiking up near the top of Lions Head, looking for all the world as if there were a whole load of fireflies flickering away up there, with the odd flicker of people coming down. The lighted view of Table Mountain was absolutely stunning and I am so sorry that I was unable to capture pictures of it.
The buses drove down past Higgovale and into the city with ongoing commentary, and as we got to the bottom, near the huge and beautifully lit Wheel of Excellence [a smaller version of the London Eye], instead of turning left back to the Waterfront we turned right, going past the modern conference centre, around the roundabout and up towards Adderley Street past the newly refurbished Cape Town Station. We could also see the work currently going on to uncover the Adderley Street twin grachts that run down towards the sea, and some history linked to the statues at various points was given. These channels are part of the City of Cape Town’s plan to extend a water channel along the axis of Adderley Street to the Heerengracht, along the path of the original canal. It was interesting to think that until relatively recent times this site was once ocean.
Driving up towards the Company Gardens, that once supplied ships coming into the bay, we had to stop at traffic lights and I spotted, tucked away between two buildings, a clock on an old building I had never noticed before, in the area where slaves were once sold. We followed the road right, past St. George’s Cathedral and the road leading up to the Centre for the Book and Planetarium, before turning right back onto Buitenkant Street and the short drive back to the Aquarium.
Back from our magical evening tour with City Sightseeing! What a wonderful trip and one I would highly recommend to anyone, whether you have overseas visitors or not. The whole trip took approximately two and three quarter hours, so you really get your money’s worth not to mention a wonderful experience – and all for the paltry sum of R80 per adult and R40 per child. There were children on our trip and they all seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Real adventure stuff for young children particularly, although I would have to say, please don’t let your children hang over the side of the bus!
Now to the nitty gritty. The tours start daily from 1st November 2010 and will run until 27th February, 2011, but will not be available from 31st December to the 3rd January. The bus will leave Stop 1 at the Aquarium at 18.00 [6pm] and arrive back at approximately 20.45 [8.45pm]. The cost, as I have already mentioned, is R80 for adults and R40 for children, but if you purchase the two day ticket, which allows you to do the Blue and Red Routes [or two Blue or Red should that be what you want to do], you will receive your evening tour ticket free. Now that is real value for money and my advice is to take a couple of days off, purchase the two day ticket and do all three trips. You won’t regret it. Just one thing. Although the day time trips are operated on a hop on/hop off basis the evening one is not. It only stops at the top of Signal Hill for those who are already on the bus so that they can see the stunning views from there, and weather permitting, enjoy seeing the sun set before setting off back on the rest of the drive. Don’t forget to take some warm clothing as it can get chillsome.
You can buy your ticket at the kiosk opposite the Aquarium, which is located where the buses leave from, or on the bus or by visiting the website www.citysightseeing.co.za. City Sightseeing also has a Facebook page where you can go to read comments from people who have been on the tours and leave comments and pictures yourself, and often stand the chance of winning tickets. You can also follow them on Twitter – @Blatjan.
In conclusion I would like to say that my friend Pat and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and felt that we would enjoy doing it again. We were both overwhelmed with the fantastic views, so different at that late time of day and evening to those you experience during the day, and Pat commented on the fact that she learnt a lot of things about the area that she had not known before. A big thank you to City Sightseeing Cape Town for this wonderful opportunity. We’ll be back, definitely.
If you have read this to the end take my advice and go purchase those tickets!
Experience Cape Town and the Night Tour. City Sightseeing Cape Town’s blog tells you the stories behind the best attractions and events in Cape Town, South Africa.
Get your City Sightseeing Cape Town tickets at www.citysightseeing.co.za