Africa Sightseeing International
V & A Waterfront (Cape Town, South Africa)
The V & A Waterfront is situated by Cape Town's harbour and is a modern and busy shopping and entertainment area. It is close to the football stadium and you can see Table Mountain from here also (clouds permitting). It is from here that you can access boat trips around the harbour and also to Robben Island, the former prison that ... held political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela. It is quite a vast development and includes some hotels and top-end luxury apartments, plus private mooring spots for your yacht.
The full name is Victoria and Alfred (not Albert as I first assumed) Waterfront. Alfred is Queen Victoria's second son, who tipped the first load of stone to build the breakwater that began the building of a harbour here in 1860 (two years previously, thirty vessels had been wrecked in winter storms here).
Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre is a massive two level centre which features a variety of shops. As a general rule I found the 'High Street' mainstream shops on the lower level such as Woolworths (like Marks & Spencer in the UK), up-market gift and souvenir shops, chemists, bookshops and fashion chains. The upper level is more designer shops, sports chains (Nike etc) and luxury international brands.
The Alfred Mall just along from here is smaller and contains small boutiques and independent or specialist shops. There is also a large warehouse with a craft market and wellness centre. I really enjoyed browsing the market; there are some interesting gifts that you don't always spot elsewhere. It isn't the cheapest market, but some of the paintings are really amazing.
Across the moving footbridge (it moves to allow boats through) is the access to Robben Island and a few cafes. There is a smaller centre behind it containing offices, banks and some further shops but I didn't really explore this part.
Victoria Wharf also has a range of places to eat here: fast food joints, chain family restaurants, coffee shops and some really large, modern restaurants outside by the water, where we ate a few times (reviewed separately). If you are looking for a nice evening meal you will definitely find somewhere to eat a long this stretch of the waterfront. For more casual dining, there are places within the mall or visit some of the cafes across the footbridge toward the Robben Island Gateway.
ENTERTAINMENT/THINGS TO DO
There is a small outdoor amphitheatre that holds some events during the day to entertain shoppers, near the fast food area. This is seasonal and they were not showing whilst I was there in the winter. You can access boat trips here, not just to the afore-mentioned Robben Island, but harbour tours, fishing trips, party boats, dinner cruises etc. We also saw a 'Tug Boat' tour for those with young families (with the most annoying, repetitive tune - I doubt you will disembark with your sanity intact). Quite a few tour operators have sites around here so you can use the waterfront to look at other places to visit in the city. The 'Red Route' and 'Blue Route' open top sightseeing bus also stops here (by the Aquarium). The Red Route takes you around the city; the Blue Route takes you further out of town.
As well as the craft markets and shops to browse there is Nobel Square with statues of the four South African Nobel peace prize winners (Nkosi Luthuli, Archbishop Tutu, F.W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela). The statues are a bit disproportionate, but a great photo opportunity. As you wander around this part you may also spot some basking seals. Signs warn you about interacting with them as they are wild animals of course, but they didn't seem to mind their photo being taken from a discreet distance (although they were asleep). When I was visited there was also a Crate Man made up of Coke bottle crates.
There are cinemas here also if you wanted to visit. The SK seemed to be more of an art cinema, whilst the Nu showed mainstream blockbuster movies.
The city aquarium is based here, although I did not visit it personally, two friends of mine did and said it was very good. They have sharks here apparently, and a good selection of fish and marine animals (including penguins - but not the African ones) from both the Atlantic and Indian oceans that border South Africa. It is ZAR104 for adults (£9.15/$13.90) with discounts for children (under fours are free).
It is actually walking distance (1km) from the business district and Sea Point areas where a lot of hotels are. However, you can easily get a taxi for about ZAR40 (£3.50/$5.35) to these areas. Local buses would also stop here as does the Red and Blue Route sightseeing bus. There are also several parking areas (mainly underground) but as we didn't use these, I cannot comment on the standard or how well lit they are.
If you are holidaying in Cape Town you will no doubt visit here at some point as there is so much to potentially do as a tourist, as well as being a main shopping area and a good place to come for a meal out. I visited for two evening meals and two daytime shopping/lunch visits as I was based quite close by.
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Iby Iwacu Cultural Village (Rwanda)
Iby Iwacu Culture Village - Rwanda Normally my husband and I steer clear of places like this having been caught out badly by the 'Maori Experience' in Rotorua, New Zealand and the Masai Village in Kenya where I had to join in the dancing, the Moroccan Bely Dance that my husband had to join in this list goes on of the cringe ... worthy experiences we have been forced to attend and many others where we have disappeared to the toilet just prior to them hauling people up to join in. We were rather reluctant to go to this but our guide seemed quite determined so we agreed.
The Village is just outside the National Park and was set up to give poachers and their families a means of earning money so that they no longer poached from the forest. Along with the setting up of the village the poachers were educated about the value of the National Forest and how important it is to protect this valuable resource, not only for Rwandans but for the world as a whole in the future.
The people who 'perform' in this display village live in the village just beside it. The Cultural village consists of the King's house and a few other huts but not a lot else. I have no idea what it costs to go to this village as it was part of our tour and so included. We were not aware of this prior to visiting but our guide told us that this was the case.
As we arrived we were warmly welcomed by the guide who introduced himself and explained what the village was and what we would see there. Then the welcome party of dancers arrived. These male dancers would have been the King's welcome party and they went with him where ever he went. They danced and then formed a tunnel of dancers with spears up above us and we walked into the village with the village guide and our guide towards the King's house.
THE KING'S HOUSE
This was a pretty enormous hut with a floppy thatched roof. The front of the hut had a concrete entrance in front of the hut door. We were instructed to take off our shoes and put on these plastic slippers then go in the hut through the right hand door.
Once we were inside, it was pretty dark as there is no artificial light, only what comes through the doorway, we were joined by a young lady who proceeded to dress us up. I thought 'what the hell, just go with it'. We were dressed as the King and Queen and then we had to go out of the other side of the door to be greeted by all the village! We felt right nanas but they clapped and cheered and danced to show how thrilled they were to see us. Apparently the King and Queen rarely came out to greet villagers in days of old so this was a rare treat. I think the sight of the pair of us dolled up was a pretty rare treat as well. We then had to go back into the hut and sit on our stools, the guide then asked if he could join us, the king had to point his stick to agree to him entering. He then clapped his hands three times and bowed before entering.
The guide then explained how very powerful the King was. He controlled the whole country and made decisions about all kinds of legal and control issues. People would come to him to ask how to settle a problem and all sorts of issues.
We sat in the central conference area which was a sectioned off inner circle within the hut. The guide explained that this was where the elders of the different regions would meet with the king to solve problems. The Queen sat on his left and could discuss with the king as well.
A woven curtain hung over a doorway off this central section which led to the Kings' bedroom. Only the king could enter his bedroom through that doorway. The queen or other lady guests had to come in around the back of the woven central section. We were told that the king was married to all ladies in the country and could choose from any he fancied to entertain him for the night. When a lady was selected she was given gifts of cattle or whatever so this was an honour and the real husband was pleased. Any children born as a result were brought up as the King's children; those born to the real husbands were brought up with their own family.
At this stage we were allowed to remove all the royal trappings and go back outside and put our boots back on as we were going around the village. We didn't lose our welcome committee though and we walked through the village through the tunnel of dancers towards the medicine man.
THE MEDICINE MAN
This young man was being trained to take over from his father who was the original village medicine man. He wore an extraordinary hat and had a very cheerful face. He started by chanting a poem which village people believed had special powers and sounded a bit like the Hakka without the facial contortions.
He then took some leaves and crushed them in a large pestle and mortar added some water and that resulting concoction forced vomiting to get rid of poison. Another leaf was used for fever, another to help men have erectile problems! His description of that was hilarious and my husband said I think I can guess that one before it was translated by the guide which caused much hilarity.
This man sat in a very small hut and had a pair of bellows worked by two sticks which I had to go and try. He popped his furry hat on my head and so I looked even more ridiculous in the tent with him. Amazingly this small fire got iron hot enough the shape into different things for the villagers.
Having operated the bellows so skilfully I was shown how to grind the grain on a stone and had to go and try my hand at this skill too. It wasn't that hard to grind and so it was actually a pretty efficient method but quite hard work if you had to do any great quantity.
MEN AT WORK
Next it was my husband's turn to show his skill. Men had to hunt with a bow and arrow and we were told and shown how when one man hit the target or animal he leapt around cheering and whooping to let the others know, a bit like scoring a goal in football! The little man from the village shot his arrow and hit the target and performed the whooping and dancing to celebrate. My husband hit the target and instantly achieved the same dancing and whooping for his efforts and indeed al the village dancers also celebrated. The little man was so funny with his performance and had a toothless smile and what looked like a ladies hat and he just made us laugh all the way through.
The visit ended with a dance performance and the guide explained that the men's dancing was to show strength and the importance of their skill. The women dances were softer and more beguiling to emphasise their femininity. The little fellow who was such a character went and got the blacksmiths hat and walked like a gorilla, he then scratched and ate bamboo shoots and then charged at us beating his chest gorilla style. He was a real character and such a performer. Obviously that is his style as I read in the visitors book other people commenting on how hilarious 'The little guy' was.
Towards the end everyone joined in the dancing and our original guide got up and danced too, luckily I was filling in the visitor's book when they asked if the king wanted to dance. My husband doesn't mind as much as I do about joining in with dances and he was given a huge round of applause for his efforts.
A small group of the village children came along to watch too and then followed us as we walked back through to the real village where our car was parked. Our guide was talking to them and telling them to not pester; he said that people should not give them things for two reasons. Firstly it creates a begging culture and secondly if one child is given something then it causes huge fights and arguments as they all squabble over the item. We waved and smiled at them as we left and they waved and smiled back so obviously no hard feelings and they were not putting their hands out and grabbing hold of us in any way trying to get stuff from us and being a pest in any way, they just walked beside us.
My husband asked out guide what sort of tip he should give the village and he said about £5 equivalent would be appreciated as they could all buy a beer or similar with that so that is what we gave the village guide. They all waved us off and off we went through to our car.
Our guide gave an old man a tip as he had stood guard over the car while we were in the village so he was obviously the car park attendant.
I hope they make a success of the village scheme as more people visit the area to see the gorillas. It isn't widely advertised but they not many people visit Rwanda and this area by themselves. At our hotel there were two or three smallish groups and a few other couples like us who had personal guides. It would be impossible to get to the lodge where we were staying and this village without a very powerful four wheel drive. This is not the kind of country where you turn up and do a self guided driving tour as the driving is a bit hairy at times and the roads are fine along the main roads but once on the side roads they are made of these volcanic rocks crushed and this makes for quite a bumpy ride.
As I said this is usually the sort of thing I, particularly find embarrassing but somehow they managed to make us feel very comfortable and fortunately I was not asked to join in the dancing as I really hate that, I'll grind sorghum or pump bellows and will even be dressed up but I hate dancing, probably as I am so rubbish at it.
Luckily we both found this an interesting and very entertaining hour and I would certainly recommend anyone to visit this village as you learn a lot about ancient Rwandan culture and have a most entreating hour with lovely friendly people. As we left they said 'We promise to take care of the forest' which we thought was very heart warming. This is a country moving in the right direction and one of very few in the African continent and considering what they went through as recently as 1994 and things were not really settled until the turn of the century I take my hat off to them for how far they have come.
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Cango Caves (Cango Valley, South Africa)
I visited Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, in January 2010 when I was visiting South Africa (for the second time) with my sister. We were driving from Cape Town to George and so we were looking for places to stop off along the way - and as we were driving through Oudtshoorn then Cango Caves seemed like a good place to make a ... scheduled stop.
***What are the Cango Caves?***
The Cango Caves are a series of limestone show caves that have been known and celebrated in Oudtshoorn since the Stone Age - and have been a place for tourist to visit the 1800's (although I'm sure it wasn't as developed as a tourist attraction back then!). They hold the record of being South Africa's oldest tourist attraction and, as such, they are a firm favourite on the tourist trail. I have visited show caves in several countries, including some of the worlds most renowned show caves (such as Waitomo Glowworm Cave, Ali Sadr Cave, Velebit Caves) and these show caves are probably the most beautiful and inspiring I have visited. This cave system is known to be very extensive and it is worth mentioning that only a relatively small part of the known cave system is accessible to the public - although what is accessible to the public is definitely worth seeing.
The caves are not the easiest place to get to unless you're planning to stay or make a stop in Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn is a smallish town in the Klein Karoo, which is a desert type area of South Africa which could be compared to "the outback". Having said that, Oudtshoorn is situated on the legendary Route 62 which is the most picturesque route that can be taken from Cape Town down to the start of the equally legendary Garden Route - and so despite being a small town, it does get its fair share of foreign visitors.
Driving the Route 62 from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn is about 300 miles (and takes about 5 hours) - and then from Oudtshoorn to George it is about another 50 miles. Although the drive from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn is quite a long drive, it is a beautiful drive and is not taxing as most of the roads are straight with fairly little traffic. If you leave Cape Town by 6am then you can easily be in Oudtshoorn by lunchtime and then this gives you the a good part of the day to spend in the town if you are planning to move on to one of the towns on the start of the Garden Route.
The Cango Caves are just outside of Oudtshoorn and they are will signposted once you get to Oudtshoorn. There is plenty of parking at the caves themselves. If you happen to go to South Africa without planning to drive (I really really recommend that you drive!!) then there are day tours you can book from Oudtshoorn - but this means rocking up in a coach and you're therefore likely to be in a very big group when you go into the caves and that may take away from the experience.
Oudtshoorn does have other tourist attractions that are within about a 20 minute drive of the caves. There are several ostrich farms (I recommend Rietfontein Ostrich Palace) and a type of zoo called Cango Wildlife Ranch (which I don't recommend unless you have little kids).
***Important to know if you're planning to visit***
If you visit the Cango Caves then you have to visit the caves as part of a guided tour where you will go into the caves in small groups. It is highly suggested that you do book a tour time prior to arriving because the caves can get pretty busy and if you haven't bookedthen you may either have to wait a long time or even not get onto a tour at all. We booked a few days before and we had our pick of times that we wanted. You can book on their website (www.cango-caves.co.za), or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone them on +27 44 272 7410. We found the booking system to be very efficient and times were strictly adhered to. It really is a well oiled machine - which does make it feel sometimes like they're herding you through, but having said that, I do think we were giving enough time in the caves and we didn't feel rushed or under pressure to move before we were ready to do so.
As I said, if you're planning to visit the caves, you must book onto a tour as you are not allowed into the caves unguided. I think this is partly because of safety issues and partly because I'm sure they don't want the caves to get too busy at any one time. There are two tour options that you can book - the "Standard Tour" and the "Adventure Tour". Everyone does the Standard Tour and then for those who wish then they can also progress on to the Adventure Tour. We did the Standard Tour and the Adventure Tour.
Both tours have a guide that speaks excellent English and who tell you interesting facts about the caves as you walk through. They seem knowledgeable and they were also very friendly and professional.
====The Standard Tour===
Everybody does the same standard tour - and so you all start out as one group. I would estimate that there were about 20 people at the start of our standard tour - which seemed about an okay number as the caverns on the standard tour are very large and there will only be one group in each cavern at any one time. When you get to the Cango Cave reception area, you check in and then they tell you to go up the ramp where you will be met by a guide at the allocated time.
The Standard Tour takes you into the largest and the most easily accessible of the caverns. Having said that, even to do the standard tour you need to be relatively mobile as there are steps involved and the group is rocky and uneven. I wouldn't take very young kids in there or any person who finds mobility difficult. We didn't have kids with us at the time, but having down the tour I would say that the standard tour is okay for kids who are 8 years old or older (I think the younger kids may struggle a little and if they fall they could really hurt themselves).
The first cavern you come to is called Van Zyl's Hall (the name of the first modern day explorer who helped put the caves on the map) and it is a very impressive cavern. The first thing I noticed about it is that it is absolutely huge and far bigger than any cavern I can remember being in. The dimensions are about 110m x 50m x 18m - which may not sound all that big, but for a cavern I can tell you it feels massive. This cavern is remarkable not only for its size, but also for the beautiful dripstone structures, in particular Cleopatras Needle which is 10m high and the impressive structure known as the Pulpit of a Great Cathedral. All of the structures of note are subtly lit by spotlight but not in a way that bathes the cavern in an overpowering light. The lighting is down sensitively and manages to keep an intimate atmosphere within the cavern. We were given time to wonder around the cavern and take a look at the various formations - both as a group or independently if you preferred. Then, as a group, we moved through to Botha's Hall.
Botha's Hall is a smaller cavern but one that actually I found to be more impressive that the first as there were many more formations over a smaller area. With a little imagination you can see the "Madonna and Child" and the "Three Wise Men". I did think that the formations really did look like the nativity scene and there was more than one person that uttered the phrase ".....it makes you wonder...". Regardless of whether you make these formations look like any religious scenes or not, the images within the cavern are very impressive and absolutely beautiful.
You then go into the Rainbow Chamber which was probably my least favourite of the rooms as it was quite narrow and it felt a bit crowded with us all in it. Large areas of the cave were also roped off and so you couldn't really wander about and decide where you wanted to look. For me, this room felt a little inauthentic as it was overly lit and tried to make it more spectacular than it was - and it didn't really need to have coloured lights etc.
The remaining rooms are quite small and so you move through them fairly swiftly, but having said that they are worth seeing. To get down to The Bridal Chamber you need to go down some pretty steep stairs, but it is beautiful and looks like it has been ornately crafted by craftsman instead of by nature itself. The Drum Room, which is the last cavern on the tour (and the smallest and least spectacular I think) has structures within it that if you "play" and strike like a drum will resonate for a long way.
This room marks the end of the standard tour. I would estimate that from beginning to end it takes about one hour and doesn't involve any strenuous activity. It was enjoyable and even beautiful in parts, and I think the whole cave system that is accessible on the standard tour is very well done with minimal artificial intervention. Sure, there is some lighting which helps you to view the cave, and there is are some roped off areas and some decking - but this seems to have been kept to as little as possible and it only seems to be such interventions when it's necessary.
===The Adventure Tour===
For those that want a little extra than the standard tour then you can continue with the Adventure Tour afterwards. Now, I would stress that this tour isn't really suitable for anyone with any type of mobility or agility problem, or anyone who gets claustrophobic, or anyone who is particularly overweight. Some of the areas you are expected to squeeze through are actually quite uncomfortable and there were times when I wish I could have turned back - which apparently isn't an option! There are also a lot of steps involved - and you will be expected to get on your hands and knees at times. To be honest, I didn't particularly enjoy this part of the tour and I'm not sure I would recommend this unless you really want to see something that is a little bit more off the beaten track. I do think that the best caverns are reserved for the Standard Tour, but it is true that going further into the depths of the cave system in a smaller group is an experience in itself.
At the end of the Standard Tour, you descend deeper into the cave system and end up in Lumbago Alley and as a small part of this alley is just over a meter tall, you will need to get down on your hands and knees - and its quite rough. At the end of here is the Crystal Palace which is basically a small cavern which has crystal style drip formations that look quite pretty. It is noticeably colder down here and wetter - but it's still well lit and I think this helps with the claustraphobia.
From Lumbago Alley, you descend even lower down some even steeper steps into King Solomon's Mines - where there are more interestingly shaped formations - although I do have to say that at this point my interest was starting to wane a little.
After King Solomon Mines was where I really started to decide that I'd made the wrong choice to do the adventure part of the tour. From here, I needed to climb down a ladder into a very small tunnel which meant crawling as parts of this tunnel are really very narrow (30cm!) and very low (75cm). I did not enjoy this at all and I really hadn't expected such a narrow tunnel - and really felt more warning should have been given. Although the tunnel was pretty short, this part was slow going and just not enjoyable! Once you get out of this tunnel - and breathe a sigh of relief - you are into the Ice Chamber and then......thankfully.....we got to stand up again in the Devil's Workshop. The Devil's Workshop had more ornate formations - but to be honest, I did feel it was more of the same.....just a little harder to get to.
And then, just when I really thought it couldn't get any worse......it got worse!
First came the Devil's Chimney - which I had been warned about but I didn't really appreciate how bad it would be. So - I actually don't know how I managed to get through an opening that was so small that at first I didn't even see it! The worst thing about it is that the Devil's Chimney goes upwards - and although short - it is almost vertical and about 50 cm wide. Yes, I did say 50cm wide. Hideous! It feels like you're slowly being squeezed and that you're going to get stuck and be left there to rot....because if you do get stuck I have no idea how they would get you out. Seriously! I grazed my knees on the way up - and one man behind me twisted his ankle. How this can be anyone's idea of fun is beyond me! But I made it......but there was no sense of relief because at the top of this hideous HIDEOUS tunnel was an even more hideous tunnel.
The Devil's Postbox is another tunnel that is only 27cm high (although thankfully wider) and means slotting yourself through and then grinding your way forwards towards the opening - and the blissful end of the tour. I cannot tell you how happy I was! The Adventure Tour took about an extra 40 minutes on top of the time taken to do the Standard tour - and so you need about 1 hour and 45 minutes in total.
In conclusion, while the Standard Tour was really enjoyable, the Adventure Tour really was not - and unless you like feeling stuck, claustraphobic, cold, wet and like you're being buried alive - I really really would not suggest this part of the tour to anyone. I just didn't feel it added anything for me - and I didn't see anything on this part of the tour that I felt made the extra effort worth it. I would highly recommend the Standard Tour however - and then suggest you go to the coffee shop instead of progressing onwards!
There is a restaurant at the caves which is fairly decent and not too expensive. The speciality is ostrich meat - but as I'm not a big fan of ostrich, I had the Karoo lamb which really was very good. There is an outside patio area to sit which is in a beautiful setting within the mountains, or alternatively you can sit within the air-conditioned seated area indoors which still has lovely views. Unless it's particularly hot (or particularly cold) I would recommend eating outside because it's very beautiful.
There is an interpretive centre which gives some history on the caves - but I really didn't find this particularly interesting and so really stayed in here only about 5 minutes.
There is the typical souvenir shop - which sells more products unrelated to the caves than related to the cave. There was a lot of ostrich - related souvenirs - as there is in most places in Oudtshoorn!
Visiting Cango Caves is actually very reasonable - as are most attractions in South Africa to be honest! In order to do the Standard Tour it costs R.69 (about £6) for adults and R.33 (about £3) for kids. To do the Adventure Tour it cost about R.90 (about £7.50) and for kids it was R.55 (about £5).
***Would I Recommend Visiting Cango Caves?***
If you are in the area of Oudtshoorn or passing through Oudtshoorn then I would recommend spending an hour or so at Cango Caves. It is close enough to the ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn that you can stop off here first and then go on to the ostrich farm - and even onto Cango Ranch if you want to (although I didn't particularly enjoy Cango Ranch). However, I'm not sure I would suggest traveling miles to see the caves because, to be honest, South Africa is such a beautiful country that there are so many other things to see!
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Africa Sightseeing International
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