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  • Hilary McCormack

Cape Town, the Mother City

Updated: Jan 3

“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up” Nelson Mandela
V&A Harbour, with Table Mountain

Cape Town, South Africa: I really enjoy living and working in the Middle East, but Africa is a place I also love.

I feel I know Africa, even though I do not. The reason for this deep sense of affinity is because, growing up in Ireland, we kids gave our pennies to Africa; we knitted things, baked things, and sold raffle tickets all for hungry little babies in Africa!

So, when I got an airline job back in 1994, I had a checklist of places I wanted to see, and Africa was high up on that list. I got to Kenya, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Jo'burg, and Durban and covered most of North Africa, but I never made it to Cape Town.

My chance finally came in 2019 when I was able to plan my first trip to Cape Town, The Mother City. There is plenty of choice in terms of airlines to fly with from Saudi Arabia, but I chose to fly with Ethiopian Airlines. I managed to save a bit on the normal economy fare by doing so, but I promptly spent a portion of those savings by bidding to upgrade to Business Class.

The first stop was Addis Ababa, and with only 45 mins changeover for my connecting flight, I was a bit nervous I would miss it. The golden rule for connecting flights is to give yourself at least 2 hours of connecting time if your flight is delayed along the way. In Addis, those of us going on were ushered off the flight down the steps and round the nose of the aircraft to our awaiting onward flight. Given the dash, I was confident my bags would not make it.

Upon arrival in Cape Town (CT), I was relieved to see that my driver was waiting patiently for me, not my bag. They were due the following day, which scuttled my plans for the start of my trip. But hey, it was nothing that a quick trip to the corner shop would not solve. I booked to stay in the Sea Point area for my time in CT. I had a corner room with a very comfy bed and a balcony facing the beach promenade in Riviera Suites. It was a great view to wake up to each day.

V&A Waterfront Singers

Since I was traveling alone on this trip, I carefully curated my itinerary to ensure I was never really alone. I found a company called Venture, and I bought their 5-day Attraction Pass, which set me up for the start of my trip. It included a 3-day hop-on hop-off bus pass which took me all over CT, and two full-day trips to Aquila Safari Park and Franschhoek. I also had entry to several Museums, art galleries, and other attractions, plus discounts in various restaurants around town.

Hop-on Hop-off Bus

There is so much choice with the card; I guess the value is that it makes it easy for you to plan your trip if you are going to a new destination. I was lucky to stay in Sea Point as the Hop-on, Hop-off bus stop was outside my door.

If you don't want to invest in the card, you can just buy the bus pass and head off at will. There are four city bus tours to choose from Purple Tour, Yellow Downtown, Red Route City, and Blue Mini Peninsula Tour. The bus drivers are very helpful and will let you get on without a ticket to take you to the Head Office based in the V&A Waterfront, where you can purchase the ticket you want.

Camps Bay

My first days were spent going around the bus routes on the top of an open-top bus, just checking out the whole city while getting on and off at leisure. The weather was sunny, with a slight nip to the breeze. So if you go to CT (the Mother City) in August, you must bring some warm clothing. But overall, I didn't encounter a lot of queueing anywhere I went, so once again, going in the off-season has its benefits.

The cable car ride up Table Mountain is a must for every first-time visitor to CT. You can imagine my excitement when I got to share my car with Jodie Foster and her friends. We had been warned on the Hop-on and Hop-off Bus of the likelihood of encountering a famous passenger, and we were cautioned, "don't bug them". I did as I was told. But when I got to the Tabletop, I whipped out my camera to take plenty of photos of the amazing view and tried my best to squeeze Jodie into the frame. Alas, I was not successful.

Cable Car View

As you wander around Table Mountain, you might come across a little fat mammal, which I came to learn, is called a Dassie or Rock Hyrax and are distantly related to elephants. Table Mountain is also home to porcupines, mongooses, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and a rare endemic amphibian species that is called a Ghost Frog, which I didn't get to see. I guess the clue is in the name!

Rock Hyrax

There are a lot of great beaches to visit around CT, but I fell in love with Bloubergstrand Beach, which is 15 km's north of CT. It's a mecca for local surfers and kite surfing. Lucky for me, I have some friends who live in the area, so I got to enjoy a very decadent seafood lunch at Blowfish Restaurant, catching up with them and relaxing in a seaside chic setting. It's what holidays are for, honestly.

The V&A Waterfront & Harbour is more than a day out in and of itself. Since you will spend time there, I really can't overlook a shout-out to the Zeitz Mocaa. The building alone is worth a story of its own; the gallery is cleverly chiseled out of an old idle grain elevator. Inside you will also find the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world plus work from many other international artists.

Zeitz Mocaa
Zeitz Mocaa

Situated alongside the Zeitz is the Silo Hotel, and perched on top of the fantastic hotel is a rooftop bar that offers an amazing panoramic view of the Mother City, the harbor, the ocean, and the Table Mountains. With so much pent-up excitement about checking it out, you can just imagine my disappointment when that particular venue was closed during my visit. However, I did learn that for my next visit, I need to make a booking as the Rooftop is extremely popular with hotel guests and visitors.

I toyed with the idea of visiting the Diamond Gallery for days. Simply because I was concerned that the magpie in me would be tempted to bust open my wallet and make a serious investment. Diamonds in SA are the highest quality Certified Diamonds and sell at much lower prices than in other parts of the world. The salesperson assured me that their diamonds come with a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is very reassuring to know but unlikely to benefit me much, as once I make that sort of a commitment... On this trip, I did hold fast, but I would like to return at some point to rescue one of these beautiful specimens for myself and have my own Kim Kardashian moment!

There are several great free walking tours to do while in the Mother City. There is no need to book them; you just show up on time to join in.

  • Table Mountain offers free walking tours that depart every hour from the Twelve Apostles Terrace.

  • The historical City Tour departs twice daily, starting from Motherland Coffee Company in Mandela Rhodes Place. You'll discover the history of the city, from colonial times to the present day, and learn about some of the people who shaped the city. Highlights include the Company's Garden, Parliament, Green Market Square, The Castle of Good Hope, and The Slave Lodge. You just need to arrive at 11 am or 4:20 pm at the meeting point, 365 days a year, and keep your eye out for the green umbrellas.

  • The BO KAAP walking tour was perhaps my favorite walking tour. Departing twice a day from Motherland Coffee Company in Mandela Rhodes Place. It starts at 11 am and 2 pm each day, and you will get a tour of the delightful, colorful houses, smell the spices of the East, hear the mosques calling for prayer, have the chance for Cape Malay food to tempt your taste buds, and take some charming photos.


My first out-of-the-city trip was to Aquila Safari Park. It's a 2-hour drive inland, heading west. If you have no transport of your own, the Park will pick you up from your hotel, which is very handy, but be warned, it is an early start to the day. The drive to the park is comfortable and the landscape every changing all the way to the semi-desert natural region of Karoo.

This park is situated in the historic town of Touws River, in a valley between the Langeberg and the Outeniqua Mountains. The 10,000-hectare private property has evolved from its early days of being a residence for various antelope species to a reserve for a small gathering of animal members that make up the Big 5 – elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino, and leopard – as well as various other wild game, some of which roam freely on the reserve. The big dilemma Africa has with its wildlife these days. Us tourists want to see the animals in their wild spaces, but the locals don't want them to disrupt their lives. Hence the whole of Africa and SA, in particular, is peppered with some amazing private Game Reserves.

But in Aquila, the traditional African clubhouse and the adjacent accommodation are very appealing, and the setting is tranquil. The staff was extremely helpful and knowledgeable of their environment and the animals. There is no touching or getting too close to the animals, which is as it should be for these wonderful creatures. So bring your Nikon zoom camera.

Aquila Safari Park
Aquila Safari Park

Everyone has their favorite must-see animal on these trips; I was just happy to see what I could see. The star attraction was, without question, the lions. But on my visit, the lions were not the slightest bit interested in us, and after lazily lifting their heads upon their distant hilly mound, so they could find out what the rumble was, they quickly got back to relaxing in the midday sun.

If you want to make Aquila an overnight stay, it will cost US$110 per person for a standard room. You can choose from a number of different activities while you are there, from horse riding to quad bike tours. This day out was the most expensive on my whole trip to SA, but it did include a hearty buffet lunch, my pickup from the hotel, and my return that evening, plus my half-day tour.

My next big day out was to Franschhoek, which is a beautiful small town in the Western Cape and one of the oldest towns in South Africa. Again, the 85 kilometers to Franschhoek is a lovely drive through some very pleasing countryside. On arrival in Franschhoek, it would not be too outrageous to think you had landed in a little French village in the Bordeaux region of France. Fine wines, gourmet dining, artists, and artisans at every turn, all of which got their start in the region when Huguenots refugees first arrived back in 1688.

Franschhoek Architecture

Accommodation is on average 150 US$ per night to stay in one of the many beautiful boutique properties scattered around town. In terms of things to do, there is a lot of choice in Franschhoek, and I would hate to leave anything out in my round-up. The Scenic Tram is fun; you can be a foodie, a connoisseur of fine vintages, or a seeker of unique handmade items for your home or to adorn yourself. You can walk in nature because Franschhoek is an incredibly beautiful natural setting in a deep valley, surrounded by majestic mountains and exquisitely manicured vineyards.

Franschhoek has many fine and award-winning restaurants, and all promise an amazing dining experience. The only question will be, do you have time to try enough of them!

Day Trips

My last days in the Mother City were spent shopping. Having exhausted myself and emptied my wallet of all remaining Rand, I hailed a taxi to take me back to my hotel... the friendly Taxi driver was interested to know where I was from? When I said Ireland! He asked most earnestly... Madam, will you build me a house?

The Niall Mellon Township Trust: Founded by Irish property developer and philanthropist Niall Mellon in 2002, the charity began building houses in its first township, Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, in 2003.

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