A fresh look at Cape Town

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Copy of CW_va 30 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS HISTORY ALIVE: The Robinson Dry Dock, the oldest operating dock of its kind in the world, dates back to 1882. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Cape Town - One of the things I love most about being proudly Capetonian is being able to give people directions. There’s something deeply satisfying about pointing them the right way.

The same goes for being able to suggest dozens of ways to spend leisure time – from something chilled which can be done with a glass of wine in hand, or fun for the whole family, to an activity that requires an indemnity form and protective clothing.

Cape Town never ceases to amaze me. There is always something new to discover, or an old favourite to revisit. Having said that, I’d put good money on there being some of you who haven’t tried some of our best-known attractions, or not been there/done that for years.

It’s a safe bet because I’m that person too.

That’s where this new weekly feature comes in: I’ll be getting out and about, roping in some friends along the way, and searching high and low (sometimes literally) for the best Cape Town has to offer. It’s going to be fun, so let’s get cracking.

Free stuff is always good, and there is plenty to do at the V&A Waterfront that won’t cost a thing. One of these is the self-guided historical walking tour.

Copy of cw V&A Walking Tour 1932A READING MATERIAL: Information boards mean visitors can do their own walking tours. Picture: THOMAS HOLDER INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

All right, you can hire the services of a guide for R100 and, to be honest, that might not have been a bad idea if we were super serious about the history, and if I’d known they come in period costumes.

But Sexy Deborah and I are rebels who like to do our own thing, so we opted to guide ourselves. It also meant we could veer off midway for a cold beer at the Food Wharf.

First thing you do is pick up a map at the information office, which is next to Ferryman’s. It’s a dual purpose map; on the one side is the newly-launched running route which I’m pretty sure you could walk if you wanted. On the other is the historical route. I love maps but this one is very basic and could be difficult to navigate if you’re not familiar with the Waterfront.

While the listings on the map are minimal – B8 Marina Basin, B17 Robben Island Gateway Museum and so forth – there are more detailed information boards at each stop. For example – and this is where the guide would have come in handy because it took us a while to find it – the Breakwater Prison Tunnel.

According to the board: “The old builders of 1860 had a great problem – they had to get stone quarried from what is now the V&A Waterfront Marina to the other side of Portswood Ridge to build the breakwater. So they simply dug out a long cutting through which gangs of sweating convicts pushed cocopans full of stone to Quay 5, past where Ferryman’s, Mitchell’s Brewery and the Amphitheatre are today.

“Much later the cutting was roofed over and built on, and during World War II was actually converted – fortunately without ever being needed – for use as an air-raid shelter.”

Who knew? Not us.

We would have loved to have explored further but the tunnel is gated and padlocked against the likes of us.

It’s not officially on the route in its own right (cunningly hidden in the Portswood Ridge listing), but nearby is the time ball tower, a device invented in 1894 by Captain Robert Wauchope so ships’ captains could accurately set their chronometers while in the harbour. It has its own detailed information board.

The aforementioned Food Wharf is the old power station, adjacent to the pumphouse – now home to Jou Ma Se Comedy Club. The pumphouse contained the dynamo which allowed the dock’s administration to switch on the continent’s first electric lights on April 25, 1882, so work could carry on 24 hours a day. Cape Town itself was not electrified until April 13, 1895.

Right next to that is the Robinson dry dock. Whether it had been on the route or not, we would have stopped to have a look because there’s something fascinating about gazing upon a ship out of water, while sweaty workmen crawl over it… wait, where was I? Oh right.

The information board told us the dock, named after then governor of the Cape, Sir Hercules Robinson, “is the oldest functioning system of its kind in the world”.

Another advantage of being self-guided is that we didn’t have to do everything on the same day. That meant it was off to Harbour House for sushi.

l For more information go to www.waterfront.co.za - Weekend Argus

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