Cape Town's popularity as a holiday destination has as much to do with the areas that thrive just outside its borders as the attractions that lie within the Mother City itself.
The Cape Winelands
This is a place where elegance meets untamed nature, where immaculate vineyards are pressed against unruly mountains and in which small-town charm is combined with well-traveled sensibilities. Visitors to the Cape Winelands can easily spend anything from a single afternoon to a few days exploring the various wine estates and towns, the most famous of which are Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.
Founded by the Dutch in 1679, Stellenbosch has a long, celebrated history and is the most famous of South Africa's winelands regions. Meanwhile, with almost as many restaurants as there are wine cellars (around 30 at the most recent count), Franschhoek is considered the food and wine capital of South Africa. Originally settled by French Huguenot refugees, the town has maintained a strong French tradition. Located in a secluded valley, Paarl is conveniently close to the other winelands' towns and is well worth a visit. Located about 45 minutes' drive from Cape Town, Elgin is quickly becoming known as a producer of some of South Africa’s best wines, the most famous of which come from the Paul Cluver and Beaumont estates.
As the whale watching capital of South Africa, Hermanus is just a one-two hour drive from Cape Town. Every year, from June to November, Southern Right Whales converge on the small harbour town to mate and calve. A 14-kilometre network of walking paths wrap around the rocky coastline, makes Hermanus the best land-based whale-watching destination in the world. Alternatively, you can chose to take to the sea on a boat tour and get within touching distance of the Southern Rights.
From Kalk Bay to Cape Point
The journey from Cape Town to Cape Point is punctuated with mountain passes, dramatic ocean views and hidden seaside towns. Kalk Bay is a favourite local hangout. This small fishing town is the perfect place to spend a Saturday or Sunday. There is a main avenue lined with antique stores, cafes and restaurants. Be sure to take a stroll along The Kalk Bay Pier, a place alive with sounds from fisherman and holidaymakers to seals.
Boulder’s Beach is located in Simon’s Town is and is a sandy safe haven for hundreds of African penguins. The beaches adjacent to the penguin colony are popular with sunbathers, while the main beach is the exclusive hangout of a colony of African penguins. You can view the penguins from the beach or explore the network of raised boardwalks that thread through this protected area.
Despite often being misconstrued as the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian oceans (that distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa is roughly 170km from Cape Town) Cape Point remains a highly popular South African attraction. A network of walking trails carve through the reserve, which is rich in both marine life and wildlife. While you’re exploring the shipwrecked beaches and mountain paths, watch out for the local baboons, which are prone to snatching food from sea-gazing sightseers. You can climb to the top of Cape Point by waling trail or by taking a cable car.
When it comes to holiday activities in the Western Cape, it’s not all wine estates and wild animals. Visitors who want to get a real sense of what life is like for most South Africans should embark on a guided tour to one of the nearby Cape Town townships. If you land up in Gugulethu, be sure to pop into Mzolis for lunch. This township restaurant has an eclectic clientele and is as popular with foreigners and businessmen as it is with the easy-going locals.