Cape Town - The first time I saw Table Mountain was on board ship, returning to South Africa from England, after my first trip abroad playing tennis. I remember thinking how spectacular the cloudy tablecloth looked – more so, because it represented home after months of living out of a suitcase and on the breadline.
I had left Durban earlier that same year aged 14, penniless, washing dishes and painting railings on an Italian ship, heading up the African coast to Venice, and then travelled across Europe by train to London to try and make it as a tennis player on the British circuit.
Somehow fortune favours the brave and my plan had panned out.
My friend, Mayler Schneider, and I still had relatively little cash to spare as we set foot on terra firma and couldn’t afford to hang around and admire Cape Town. Instead, we immediately started hitchhiking back to Joburg.
We got as far as a petrol station in Laingsburg at dusk.
While digging a ditch along the side of the road to bunker down for the night, a police van arrived, believing we might be about to blow up half the town, making the Klein Karoo even kleiner, and insisted on giving us free board and lodging in the local jail.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when my more natural talents (tennis) surfaced, that I bought an apartment in Clifton and now visit the Cape as often as possible.
Having spent so much time at sea and touring the English counties, fish and chips has become a favourite food. I always make a beeline for Snoekies, nestled in Hout Bay Harbour at the foot of the Sentinel, which offers the best fish and chips in the whole of Cape Town.
They serve it in packets printed with old newspapers, and you sit at wooden tables with the waves crashing and seagulls swirling around.
One can then pop into the weekend Hout Bay Craft Market in a nearby renovated fish factory, listen to live local music and meander around a host of innovative stalls.
Hout Bay Beach is my favourite for a walk and swim, mainly because the water is much warmer than Clifton or Llandudno and your chances of spotting the odd pod of whales or a school of dolphins hugging the shoreline are good.
Despite the recent environmental uproar about the addition of a new toll office block at the start of Chapman’s Peak Nature Reserve, and the drive linking Hout Bay to Noordhoek, this remains without a doubt the most breathtaking scenic stretch of road in South Africa and reminds me of parts of the Italian Amalfi Coast and the South of France – only more dramatic.
I love taking a long drive through to Kalk Bay – another colourful working harbour, jam-packed with small boats and flanked by antique shops – and then on to the unique Boulders Beach with its colony of Happy Feet (penguins), who parade around as if they own the joint.
A compulsory stop en route would be the rural Noordhoek farmers’ market, straddled across pastures of grazing horses and dairy cows near Noordhoek Beach.
There are one or two terrific bistros stretching out across the lawns, and one of the best delis in town, surrounded by a library of second-hand books you can browse through and buy, while diving into a cream scone.
Former Springbok rugby player Bobby Skinstad’s popular pub, The Frog, is always a magnet over weekends.
If you are a jazz and blues fan, like me, then Steenberg Hotel and Golf Estate at the foot of the Elephant’s Eye Cave in Tokai is worth another U-turn.
One has to book well in advance. They have different bands playing every Sunday at Catharina’s Restaurant under the oaks to the tune of a buffet lunch and view of the surrounding vineyards. The array of delicious Cape Malay food rivals any beachfront restaurant.
Muizenberg Beach, to where Father used to take us by train on visits as infants – way beyond my memory bank – appeals as inspiration for a painting. I enjoy watching wave upon wave breaking, foaming with surfers and swimmers, like Bondi Beach in Australia, where I played on the South African Anzac team – but I have seen one Jaws movie too many to want to join them.
The Cape Dutch architecture, which we probably take for granted, with its simple, clean-cut lines and large doors and windows, is easy on the eye. These wonderful Cape national treasures – Vergelegen, Boschendal, Groot Constantia and a host of others – with their rose gardens and perfectly laid-out vineyards – are places I never get tired of visiting.
This is less for the opportunity to drink good wine, but more for the excuse to drink in the beautiful scenery and realise that we have much to thank our Dutch and French ancestors for, over and above great Premier League and World Cup soccer strikers.