I grew famous (or infamous) on a previous trip to Cape Town, by declining to join most of the international hacks, who were guests of Brands South Africa, on an evening shopping and site-seeing trek to the world famous V&A Waterfront.
Travel with Dusty Miller
Candidly I’m not much of shopper and the bus to the Waterfront was leaving the luxurious Indian-owned Taj Hotel in the CBD at 8:30pm, 15 minutes from dropping us there after an exhausting trek around the Cape Peninsula in which we’d seen beaches, fauna and flora including penguins and the famous fynbos; had a complicated, highly technical, briefing at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (the only one in South Africa . . . or Africa for that matter) and toured Solms-Delta Vineyards inland, 15km from Franschhoek.
That was more up my street than supermarkets, fashion stores and the rather spooky nuclear power plant near Melbosstrand on the west coast.
We had a lovely wine tasting of splendidly different innovative labels in a sunny garden shaded by venerable vines; taken whichever one of six specialist wine tours appealed to us; had a spectacular Cape-style sunny al fresco gourmet lunch in the Fyndraai Restaurant at which we were entertained by the vineyard’s resident Soetstemme Choir and then toured the winery’s museum with its focus on the slave heritage.
The day had begun at an early working breakfast with reps of trade, commerce, sport and tourism from the Western Cape at the Taj; when I returned there 14 hours after being awoken, 13 hours after breakfast began and 12 hours after starting our tour, I just wanted a sandwich, a chilled glass of Solms-Delta’s invigorating sparkling Cape Jazz Shiraz, a long hot bath, to check my e-mails and crawl into bed.
I didn’t need to trail around the V&A Waterfront which, I was sure, would only be another glorified shopping mall.
On my last visit Down South, as a guest of major wine makers and spirit distillers KWV, I actually made the V&A — named after (Queen) Victoria and Alfred, her son, not Albert, her husband — twice. Each time at the end of an open-topped double-decker hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Cape Town.
And guess what . . . it is just another shopping mall, but one to rival Dubai or Abu Dhabi for an amazingly wide choice and variety of shops, markets, restaurants, pubs, hotels, entertainment and services.
In fact, at one stage, it did belong to a Dubai investment consortium. Having bought it for R7bn the Arabs later sold it on to a South African group, including the government employees’ pension fund for R9,7bn.
Among many interesting attractions at the V&A Waterfront (and we’ll have to continue this next week as there’s just too much information for one page!) is the Robinson Dry Dock. Built for the British Royal Navy it was the largest facility of its kind in the southern hemisphere for many years.
Officially opened in 1882 by British Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, it served the Allies’ war effort by repairing more than 300 ships during World War II.
It is one of the few dry docks of its age anywhere in the world to still work; the Pump House next door houses the machinery to pump out the water.
The building was the location of the Planet Hollywood Restaurant in the 1990s and was the scene of a dreadful 1998 bombing which injured 25 people and killed one at a turbulent time during Cape Town’s history.
Chavonnes Battery is near the harbour Clock Tower. Part is outdoors where you can view the original defensive wall, cannon positions, original shoreline (before land reclamation) and arsenal rooms below. The remaining section is underground in the Nedbank building. A small admission fee is charged, but it’s really worth the visit.
The battery was the first major defence facility built by the Dutch East India Company in 1714-1725 after Cape Town Castle. Designed to protect the anchorage in the bay by cannons and mortars, some of the guns had a range of 1 500 metres.
When the British retook Cape Town in 1806, they chose nearby Blaauwberg as their beachhead as they knew a direct assault on Cape Town, via the bay, would be extremely hazardous and potentially costly in lives because of the fire-power of the battery.
The complex has also been used as prison, isolation wing for the hospital and in 1836 as a separate smallpox isolation hospital.
The original Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower was built in 1883 and was the Port Captain’s office in the then newly constructed harbour.
It housed the tide-gauge mechanism, which worked by a shaft connected to the sea: It was necessary to read the levels of the ocean and relay tide information to passing ships.
It also had all the instruments the Port Captain needed such as a clock for ships to check the correct time, signal flags, Morse lamps and a telescope.
In the three-storey single-room-per-floor building there was a snug reading room for ships’ masters; the second floor was a mess and the third room made up of mirrors on all walls so ships could be seen from every angle.
During the second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) the Tower became the headquarters of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Chichester and his staff; the Royal Navy occupied it again during World War I.
One of the great sights from the Tower must have been 128 ships in the harbour and bay during one day in 1901.
Not even the two World Wars mustered this number of ships in a single day.
More on Cape Town, especially the V&A Waterfront in next week’s NewsDay