Cape Town, South Africa
33° 55' S 18° 24' E
Jul 23, 2009 20:25
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Pottering about in Cape Town

As has become our custom over the past few trips, we try to factor in a theme park to appease the younger members of the family.  This year we chose Ratanga Junction, on the outskirts of Cape Town.  The theme park is adjacent to a larger commercial development called Century City and the Canal Walk Shopping Centre.  Ratanga Junction has more than 30 attractions (23 of which are rides).  What of course really attracted me is the all inclusive entry fee of R120 per person, which is vastly cheaper than Disneyland Resort Paris.  But still in essence a grin and bare it type of day for yours truly.

Well it was until the 9th July when I discovered that the theme park closed on the 19th July at the end of the Western Cape school holidays!  The next school holidays are not until the 23rd September!  Erin & Ailsa were not very pleased.  Still it gives us the opportunity to put to one side this place of unlimited entertainment and choose instead a more educational experience!

We previously visited Robben Island with Erin in 2000.  I recall her walking up and down the corridor outside Mandela’s cell, shutting all the doors as she went.  Robben Island is steeped in history, particularly from the Apartheid period.  However I do not choose to dwell on this era but rather upon the island as a fortress protecting Cape Town from German raiders during World War 2.  The famous English travel writer, H.V. Morton, was a guest of the South African military on Robben Island in 1946 and noted:

“From the first moment I arrived in Cape Town the sight of that island lying in Table Bay, apparently as bare as a billiard ball, had roused my curiosity.  Its queer history, it was in ancient times a leper and a penal settlement, made me anxious to visit it, but I found this not easy because it now belongs to the Union Defence Force and has been closed to visitors for many years.”

In the post war years, Robben Island was used as an artillery school and gun emplacements can still be seen.  The island was the location for the first crude beacon for shipping on the coast of South Africa, having been erected on Fire Mountain (Vuurberg) on the instructions of Van Riebeeck.  Today Robben Island has a modern lighthouse.

Of the Leper Colony, which once existed on the island, little evidence remains.  Perhaps over time the sad history of the Apartheid prison system on Robben Island will also fade and there will be genuine reconciliation between the races in South Africa.  Until then the country is no better off than Northern Ireland, where communities keep to themselves and irrational prejudices are perpetuated from generation to generation.  But we live in hope!

We booked on the 0900hrs sailing to Robben Island, mostly on account of it is a third cheaper than any other sailing.  Nothing beats an early start!  Up at 0700hrs, breakfast consisting of tea/coffee/juice, Cereal and toast in our own kitchenette.  Then off down to the V & A Waterfront via Portswood Road.  We cut it a little fine as the footbridge at the Old Clock Tower was closed for ten minutes to allow a fishing boat to leave its berth.  Unfortunately when we arrived at the Mandela Gateway we found all tours cancelled due to high sea swells.  Nothing to do but queue for a refund.  Oh well, three of us have done the trip before and Ailsa was not that fussed.  Time to think on our feet and find another ‘educational’ experience.

‘The Chavonnes Battery Museum’! 

“The Chavonnes Battery Museum celebrates the life, death and re-birth of Cape Town’s oldest major fortification except for the Castle of Good Hope. Built at the instigation of Governor Maurice or Mauritz Pasque, Marquis de Chavonnes, it was the first of a series of lethal defensive works which for most of the 18th Century deterred sea-borne aggressors on either side of the Dutch East India Company outpost which was later to be called “Cape Town”.

When completed in 1726 the Chavonnes Battery was a massive fortification, built in the shape of a splay-legged “U”, whose stone-faced wall reared up from the rocks at the very water’s edge and mounted 16 great guns which between them had an arc of fire of nearly 180 degrees.

The battery continued in active service till 1860, when construction of the Alfred Basin began. Part of it, including the left side-wall, was totally demolished, the stone being re-used in constructing the new docks. The rest vanished beneath warehouses and later a fish-processing factory. The Chavonnes Battery became a legend remembered by only a handful of Capetonians, doomed to remain hidden forever.

Or so it seemed. But in 1999 the Board of Executors obtained the site for its new head office. The BoE had the battery scientifically excavated by archaeologists of the University of Cape Town led by Tim Hart, who re-discovered the exact location of the site. Then it created a magnificent museum in the basement, thereby preserving this important but almost forgotten piece of early Cape history for generations yet to come.”

The museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday and only costs R25 for adults and R10 for kids (ten years and above), a real bargain.  I am really surprised I have missed this establishment on previous visits.  It is after all located on the Clock Tower precinct at the V & A waterfront.  We checked it out yesterday afternoon and had penned this in for this afternoon.  We just moved the time to 0900hrs!  Erin even got in for free, which was a bonus.

We were the only visitors between 0900hrs and 1000hrs, which was a shame considering the effort to save the archaeological excavations for future generations.  The notice boards were also quite informative.  If you want quiet time at the heart of the V & A, this is the place to come.

After this we concluded some administration at Victoria Wharf (Post Office, Pick n Pay, Postcards etc) before heading back to our accommodation just before noon.  The children insisted on visiting Toys R Us on the way back and we had the opportunity to set our watches by the Noon Gun.  The gun is only about half a mile away, directly above the Protea Cape Castle Hotel, on the lower slopes of Signal Hill.

We had a picnic lunch at our accommodation, then plan to sample some African meat at a Cape Town restaurant in the evening, either Cafe Sofia or the Scottish Ale House (Mitchell Brewery).  In the afternoon we ventured into the CBD (central business district).  No need for a map as we know the area so well.  I left Ruth, Erin & Ailsa at an Internet Cafe on St George’s Street Mall (corner of Hout Street) then went on a walk.  First to the Railway Station, which is now the centre of serious renovation work.  The old Scottish steam engine has gone but will hopefully be restored along with the Cape Colony Railway logo.  No time to enquire about buses to Livingstone (Intercape), instead I headed to Greenmarket Square to take in the market stalls and then examined the menu outside Addis in Cape (Ethiopian).

As we all headed back to our accommodation, Erin started to decline.  She felt a bit hot and was definitely under the weather.  We put her to bed at 1700hrs and that killed off our dinner plans.  Instead we ate sandwich material left over from lunch.  Still I saved £40 on a decent dinner in Cape Town!  Erin started to recover after 2100hrs, by which time her dinner consisted of water and toast!  Better luck tomorrow.

Photos / videos of "Pottering about in Cape Town":

Shipping in dry dock next to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa.  Table Mountain in the background. Ship in dry dock next to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Clock Tower at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Erin & Ailsa Burnett at the Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Erin & Ailsa Burnett at the Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Erin & Ailsa Burnett at the Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett at the Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Duncan Burnett at the Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Tudor Hotel, Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, South Africa. Cape in Addis Restaurant, Cape Town, South Africa. War Memorial, Cape Town, South Africa. War Memorial, Cape Town, South Africa. Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Clock Tower and the Chavonnes Battery Museum, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. A fishing vessel being escorted by a pilot boat out of the V & A Waterfront area, Cape Town, South Africa. A pilot boat following a fishing vessel out of the V & A Waterfront area, Cape Town, South Africa. Clock Tower at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Clock Tower at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa.