Complete 800 word article. More pictures available


CAPE TOWN, R.S.A. Doubtless many predictions were made in 1860 when Queen Victoria's son Alfred formally initiated construction of Cape Town's harbor. But, surely no-one would have imagined that less than 150 years later this site would become South Africa's most visited tourist attraction.

Soon after Prince Alfred tipped that first load of stone into the sea, gold and diamond discoveries produced an enormous flow of trade, leading to expansion of Alfred Basin and construction of another dock, the Victoria Basin. The twin basins were busy for 100 years until a downturn in the 1970s led locals to search for ways to increase public access to the partly-disused lands. Assets were many: a delightful climate and beautiful setting with views of the magnificent Table Mountain behind the city, ocean frontage and some remarkably charming Victorian industrial architecture.

Over two decades of planning and development went into the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, now a place of world-class hotels and residences, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, entertainment centres and craft markets, all surrounding a harbour busy with all manner of small craft and ocean-going ships coming in for repairs.

Notwithstanding its charms, no visitor would come to Cape Town for the V & A Waterfront alone. There is much more. What has come to be known as South Africa's Mother City was founded in 1652 when Jan van Reibeek built a small fort here and set about establishing a "refreshment station" for the Dutch East India Company's ships. The company had no dreams of African empire, it simply needed fresh meat, fruit and vegetables to keep its crews healthy during their voyages around Africa between Holland and what is now Indonesia. Later governors irrigated the garden strip and recruited European farmers to expand the settlement. The now beautified original Company's Gardens, became the growing community's focus.

A city walking tour based on these gardens takes in many of the more important public buildings. There is no better place to start than van Reibeck's monument near the railway station. From there, follow Adderley Street, the city's main thoroughfare towards Table Mountain. The Castle which replaced that original wooden fort stands a couple of blocks eastward on The Strand.

At Darling Street, a short diversion to the west brings you to Green Market Square. Now an interesting arts and crafts market, this is where farmers used to sell their produce to passing ships.

A little further along, Adderley Street becomes tree-lined Government Avenue, flanked on one side by the Houses of Parliament and the other by St George's Cathedral and the South African Public Library. At this stage, the avenue is lined on both sides by the Company's Garden, beautifully maintained with trees, lawns and flower beds. The district is known simply as Gardens, a lively neighbourhood of quality stores, restaurants and hotels. Continuing along the Avenue we pass the South African Museum, and the Art Gallery, until it ends close to the Mount Nelson Hotel's front entrance. Set in its own gardens, this grand hotel has hosted royals and presidents for over a century. Afternoon tea, complete with scones, jam and clotted cream in the old British tradition, survives here and costs less than it does in London.

Over two square miles in area, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden lies in a magnificent setting on Table Mountain's eastern slopes. It is home to nearly 5,000 plant species all native to South Africa. Outstanding examples are laid out in landscaped gardens connected by paths and lawns, dotted with sculptures.. Also, the remnants of a wild almond hedge planted by van Reibeek along his colony's boundary to deter cattle-rustling natives.

Some adventurous souls use a trail from the botanical gardens to climb to the top of Table Mountain, but it's not for the uninitiated. However, no visitor to Cape Town should miss the mountain summit and it is best to arrive at the lower cable station in the early morning, to avoid the crowds and the winds which often blow up during the day, sometimes bringing the clouds affectionately known as the Table Cloth. As well as the breathtaking views from this plateau 3,00 feet above the harbour, the gardens among the rocks contain 1470 species of plants, including many alpine varieties which grow nowhere but on this mountain. Not enough time for Table Mountain? Then take the road to the top of nearby Signal Hill. Its harbour views are almost as breathtaking, making it a popular place for picnics.

There is no need to drive to any of these sites. Distances are short, and cabs inexpensive. Or, take the City Hopper bus service allows you to hop on and off as often as you like and takes in major tourist attractions such as the V & A Waterfront, Table Mountain cable station, Signal Hill, and Kirstenbosch, (making it an inexpensive alternative to organised cruise ship tour excursions)

IF YOU GO: Cape Town is easily reached by direct flights from New York and Atlanta as well as many European cities. For more information visit or contact South African Tourism, 500 Fifth Avenue; Suite 2040 New York NY 10110, tel 212-730-2929 email:


1 Waterfront view with Table Mt

2 V & A waterfront view

3 Craftmarket vendor

4 Botanical Garden scene under the Table Cloth