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It wasn’t until the very end of our five weeks in Cape Town that we found a free day to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus. My uncle Jim was with us, and while he had done some roaming about town on his own, this was his biggest adventure out in Cape Town.
And it was a great one! If you only have one day in Cape Town, the Hop On Hop Off is a great way to see it.
We started our Hop On Hop Of adventure at the V&A Waterfront at the office next to the Aquarium, conveniently next to where we were staying. We had just missed the first bus at 8:15 am, but buses on all the routes claim to come every 15-20 minutes to every stop, so by 8:30, we had boarded the bus.
Each seat has an audio control with sixteen different languages available. Disposable headphones are provided, though it’s a normal headphone jack, so if you want to save some plastic, bring your own headphones (BYOH!).
We rode the bus through the Marina District and Silo District, learning that the MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Arts Africa) was once the second-tallest building in Africa (just shorter than the pyramids) and that this whole area was actually reclaimed land, engineered by the Dutch (I had no idea!).
We stepped off at the downtown office to catch the yellow Downtown line. This loop was only 20 minutes and is a great way to quickly see a lot of sights.
We passed through District Six, and learned about the forced evacuation and destruction of homes in the 1970s, displacing over 60,000 people and attempting to make it a “whites-only” area. Most of the land has never been developed, so empty lots, sometimes with a few shacks or tents, are still deeply embedded in Cape Town.
Next, we passed by the Castle of Good Hope. Due to the land reclamation, the castle used to be on the shore of Table Bay but now sits pretty far inland. It was built in the 17th century and is the best-preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort.
That was the end of the yellow line. We waited at the downtown office to pick up the blue line that would take us out to the other side of Table Mountain.
Along the way, we passed Devil’s Peak and the Rhodes Memorial before hopping off at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.
On the eastern side of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch has been open to the public as a botanical garden since 1913. As the flagship site of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, it showcases the native flora of South Africa. We spent about an hour touring the grounds, wandering through the sculpture garden, checking out the useful plants (with displays on edible varieties and medicinal uses), and checked out the otter pond (no real otters) and the main pond (real ducks).
Kirstenbosch is a great place to learn about fynbos. Fynbos is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the world’s six floral kingdoms, and is the most diverse and endemic kingdom, even though it’s the smallest.
From Kirstenbosch, we rode the blue line one stop down, to Constantia. Here, the Hop On Hop Off operates a short route that runs between three wineries: Beau Constantia, Eagles’ Nest, and Groot Constantia. We had reservations for lunch at Jonkershuis Restaurant at Groot Constantia.
Lunch was fantastic, though the wind had picked up so we were unable to east outside. David had bobotie and I had a lamb Malay curry, both traditional South African dishes.
After lunch, we walked over to the Groot Constantia tasting room. There is a paid tour available, but there are also free audio tours if you have the right app. Since we were just doing a quick visit, we opted for the tasting only. Uncle Jim and I tasted five of the Groot Constantia wines; you pick your five from the list of available wines. I’d already had a glass of their rose with lunch, but fortunately, the dessert wine was on the menu for the day and I got to taste that too, as well as some of the more traditional offerings.
Next, we wandered through the vineyards a bit. As with most of the wineries in Cape Town, the view is pretty stellar.
Back on the bus, we rode the blue line back towards the Waterfront. We passed Imizamo Yethu, a township. Townships like this are where many people moved who were displaced from District Six, or anywhere else the government was trying to cleanse. Now, guided tours are offered through the township.
The blue line carried us on through Hout Bay and along the coast. This part we’d driven through while doing our Cape Peninsula drive, so we were familiar with the scenery. Still, we learned new things about the areas we were driving through thanks to the audio guide.
We were dropped back off at the V&A Waterfront office a little after 5 pm.
What a great full day exploring Cape Town! If you have a short time in Cape Town or want a brief overview of the city, the Hop On Hop Off bus is a great way to see a lot! If you purchase a two-day ticket, that also includes rides on the Harbor Cruise or the Canal Cruise. The red line runs over to the Table Mountain Cable Car, so if you are keen to ride the cables or hike Platteklip Gorge, that’s a great way to get there.