Cape Town is a metropolis rich in history and culture. But it’s all too easy to miss the hidden stories and finer details when you’re dashing around in a car. Far better then, to experience our Mother City via two wheels. AWOL Tours offers visitors the chance to do just that during their engaging 3-hour City Cycle Tour.
We began at the Visitors Centre at the V & A Waterfront where we met our local guides, Danielle and Melanie. After a brief safety chat, we set off, the morning air fresh with a taste of adventure.
The tour covers the V & A Waterfront, our historic city centre, Company Gardens and Bo- Kaap district before circling back via Green Point and the Atlantic Seaboard. And while it became quickly evident that each building, statue and street has a story to tell, these are some of the most intriguing tales that we enjoyed on our quest back in time.
1. 30 shipwrecks that marked the start of the V & A Waterfront.
As we admired the gleaming waterfront with her industrial buildings, dry docks (the oldest of their kind on the world!) and Clock Tower (walled with mirrors so that the station commander always had 360-degree vision), Danielle painted a vivid picture of how it all began – the harbour commissioned by Prince Alfred in the 1800s after a particularly vicious storm wrecked over 30 ships in Table Bay.
2. Cape Town has two names.
Navigating the unhurried streets (thanks to the public holiday), we popped over a bridge, past Cape Town’s famous unfinished freeways (there are interesting plans to develop them) and down into the heart of the city. It was hard to believe that the ground our bikes stood on existed only because of the foreshore extension – having been decidedly under the sea just a couple of hundred years before. Here we learned about the first European settlers in the Cape and the mystery behind Cape Town’s two names (first named the Cape of Storms by Bartolomeu Dias but renamed the Cape of Good Hope by the then Portuguese king in a great feat of PR). We further found out that the first Dutch settlers never intended to stop here, but were shipwrecked and stranded for months – after which they realised the potential for Cape Town to be used as refuel station for sailors on route to India.
3. The site of Mandela’s first speech as a free man.
Spinning up Adderley Street, we paused to admire the Flower Market (dating back over 150 years and handed down through generations of women), before stopping in Greenmarket Square. The grand City Hall, with its miniature Big Ben clock tower (and organ with over 3000 pipes) rose before us while the Castle of Good Hope stood resolutely to our left (the oldest colonial building in South Africa). While the square stood empty it wasn’t hard to imagine it bursting with excitement in 1990 as Nelson Mandela took to the balcony to address the nation as a free man, just hours after his release from Robben Island.
4. The gory history of Parliament.
Passing the District Six Museum and Truth Coffee (voted the best coffee shop in the world), we pulled over outside the gates of parliament, where Danielle and Melanie regaled us with the grisly tale of Hendrik Verwoerd (Prime Minister of South Africa and regarded as the mastermind behind the terrible Apartheid system)’s assassination by a messenger who was determined to marry his love but could not do so because of the preventive segregation laws.
5. The Old Lady on Crutches at the Company Gardens.
We took a turn into the neighbouring lush Company Gardens, established by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 to fuel those stopping in the Cape as a port. Hidden in a cluster of tall trees, a little way away from the replica vegetable garden lies an original pear tree – planted by Jan van Riebeeck’s gardener in the 1600’s! Known as the ‘Old Lady on Crutches’ for her steel support structure (she needs a bit of help these days), she is a remarkable living relic and still produces pears on occasion.
6. The reason for the multi-coloured houses of the Bo-Kaap.
Dashing past the Slave Lodge and St Georges Cathedral (previously led by Desmond Tutu), we climbed the steep cobbled roads into the colourful Bo-Kaap region, home to the descendants of many slaves and skilled craftsmen. Some say that it was in defiance of the Dutch prescriptive white washed housing standards, while others say that it was to identify tradesmen (the houses were unnumbered so pointing to the ‘red’ one may have been easier). Whatever the reason for their multi-coloured wonderment, they’re now the most photographed buildings in the whole of the Cape.
7. The hat that the Cape Town stadium was modelled after.
We bumped along and down into the Cape Quarter before making our way through Green Point and into the newly-established park, bordered by the rising round bowl of the Cape Town stadium. The design was modelled after a traditional Xhosa headdress, and now hosts concerts and sporting events of all kinds. We also paused to look back at the Noon Day Gun – Cape Town’s oldest tradition and the means by which ships set longitude. There is a funny anecdote to be told there too, but you’ll need to do the tour to find out what it is.
8. The nickname for the oldest lighthouse in South Africa.
Through the park we went, admiring the water features and indigenous plants fed by natural spring water. Crossing over onto the famed Sea Point/Mouille Point promenade, we wheeled past the Green Point Lighthouse – the oldest working lighthouse in South Africa, known as Moaning Minnie because of the loud foghorn she’s home to, before heading back to our starting point.
With a mind filled with new and amazing facts about Cape Town, I jumped off my saddle, looking with fresh eyes upon the city I feel so fortunate to call home.
Experience a City Cycle Tour with AWOL Tours
- Tours cost R600 per person (min 1 and max 10 guests) and are suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
- The tour begins at 10 am lasts for approximately 3 hours, but can be shortened or extended upon request.
- Bookings can be made online here.
Blog post by: Tarah Darge