Over the past 140 years, the harbour has undergone numerous changes, which continue even today with the redevelopment of land and buildings surrounding the original Victoria & Alfred Basins. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront project is the culmination of nearly three decades of planning and development proposals.
The City Centre of Cape Town has many unique attractions and features. A guided tour of The Castle of Good Hope ( every hour, on the hour) will show some of the history of the early settlers. The Castle replaced the first fort built by Jan van Riebeeck, which was the first Cape Town's first building.
The Houses of Parlement, St George's Catherdral, South African National Gallery, Tuynhuys and other buildings of historical importance are housed in The Company's Gardens, as well as the South African Museum & Planetarium, The Michaelis School of Fine Arts, The Little Theatre, Bertam House and a Tea Garden, a lovely park with Rose Gardens, Fountains, Statues and wonderful fish ponds along the pathways. Take a walk through Government Lane and feed the Squirrels.
The Italian Style Town Hall, built from sandstone, overlooks the Green Market Square Flea Market, in the Grand Parade, where there is something to suit every taste, as well as tribal dancing and drumming on occasion. Facing the flea market is Nino's and La Petit Paris, where wonderfully tasty meals and snacks are available.
The Old Town House is now a gallery which houses some fine art works, including the Michaelis Collection of old Dutch and Flemish Masters.
In Strand Street we find Koopmans De Wet House, an example of a typical old Cape Town house, also the Lutheran Church, Martin Melck House and Sextons House.
In Buitenkant Street is the 18th century house Rust-en-Vreugd, which contains the bulk of the noted William Fehr Collection of Watercolours.
The Malay Quarter in the Bokaap, is the colourful residential area of Malay slave decendents and immigrants brought to the Cape during the Dutch occupation. The Bokaap museum, a typical example of this type of building is in Wale Street.
The Shopping Centres, Malls and many interesting specialist shops cater for gifts, curios, fashion, jewellery, art & craft materials and much more.
Breakwater Prison (Lodge)
The original Breakwater Prison was constructed in 1860 to house the convicts working on the breakwater. A dramatic reminder of the punitive penal attitudes prevalent in the 1890's is the remains of a treadmill visible alongside the former prison building, now housing the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business and the Breakwater Lodge - a comfortable non-graded hotel. Tel: +27 (0)21 406 1911
Built in 1714-1725 by the Dutch East India Company, the Chavonnes Battery was designed to further protect the Cape, together with Fort Knokke and the Amsterdam Battery. Eyewitness accounts described the Chavonnes Battery as being the most formidable of the Table Bay fortifications. By mid-19th century, the Chavonnes Battery had been put to a number of uses. Besides serving a military role, it was used as an isolation and convalescent wing of the old Somerset Hospital. Crew and passengers of ships stricken with contagious illnesses such as smallpox were confined to the battery until they were considered fit. The Battery was decommissioned in 1861.
As part of the new development, the Chavonnes Battery has been retained and part of the ruins opened to the public for viewing - and acts as a real feature of the Clock Tower Precinct. For more information teleTel +27 (0)21 416 6239
The Dragon Tree (dracaeno draco) planted next to the Time Ball Tower is a species originally from the Canary Islands. Well over 100 years old, this is one of the largest of its type in Cape Town. Believed to have been planted by a sailor passing through Cape Town, the sap ("dragons blood") of these trees was once popular as a medicine to treat dysentery and diarrhea. Unfortunately, the Dragon Tree was severely damaged in storms in 2001 and the tree in in the process of regeneration.
Historic Clock Tower
Near the site of the original Bertie's Landing Restaurant, is the Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower. This was the original Port Captain's Office completed in 1882. On the second floor is a decorative mirror room, which enabled the Port Captain to have a view of all activities in the harbour. On the bottom floor is a tide-gauge mechanism used to check the level of the tide. Restoration of the Clock Tower was completed towards the end of 1997.
Robben Island Embarkation Building
At the end of Quay 5 on Jetty 1 is the embarkation building for prisoners sent to Robben Island. Although the purpose and use of the island changed a number of times over the last century or so, it more recently gained international notoriety as a prison for contemporary political figures including South Africa's first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela. The Robben Island Exhibition and Information Centre situated next door to the Historic Clock Tower building, is a unique museum depicting the history of Robben Island and the political struggle for democracy. Bookings for guided tours are essential, and can be made at tel: +27 (0)21 419 1300.
Daily ferry trips to Robben Island depart from the jetty near the Robben Island Exhibition and Information Centre in the Clock Tower Precinct and from the Robben Island Embarkation Building on Jetty 1. Guided tours and bus tours on the island include a visit to the prison with viewing of the limestone quarry, Garrison Church (1841), lighthouse (1863), Leper's Church (1895), guesthouse (1895) and a Kramat, or Muslim shrine. Seabirds, African (jackass) penguins, ostriches and bontebok are some of the wildlife on the island. Tickets may be purchased from the Robben Island Embarkation Building, tel: +27 (0)21 419 1300.
It is unusual to get a close view of seals, as offshore islands are their preferred breeding grounds. A colony of Cape fur seals are however a familiar sight resting on the seal landing in the Clock Tower Precinct next to the original Bertie's Landing Restaurant and on old tyres lining the quaysides around the Waterfront. They are an integral part of harbour life and Capetonians are fortunate enough to have these seals living in such close proximity.
Time Ball Tower
The Time Ball (invented by Captain Robert Wauchope) is a signaling device in which a ball is dropped at a given time in order for ship masters to determine the error and rate of their chronometers whilst in harbour. The Time Ball Tower in the Waterfront was built in 1894 and is situated next the Harbour Engineer's former residence (Dock House). It remained in use for 40 years after which new technology led to it lying idle for 63 years before being restored and officially recommissioned in November 1997.
South African Maritime Museum
The museum showcases the maritime history of Table Bay and houses the largest collection of model ships in South Africa. Floating exhibits in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront include the SAS Somerset - a retired Naval Defence Boom Vessel and the Alwyn Vintcent - a coal-fired steam tug. For more information teleTel +27 (0)21 419 2505.