Described as the place where the city meets the sea, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a magnet that attracts 24 million tourists a year, for good reason as Demola Ojo discovers…
Regarded as one of the most scenic cities in the world, Cape Town is defined by its peaks and the sea. From almost every part, one (or more) of the Table Mountain, Signal Hill, Devil’s Peak and the Twelve Apostles is visible.
They form a great backdrop for a city which lies by the blue waters of the Atlantic, and there is no better place to experience the relationship between Cape Town and the ocean than at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
Named after England’s Queen Victoria (like so many other places in Africa from Victoria Falls to Victoria Island) and her second son, the Waterfront is a one-stop shop for different activities.
It is a central part of the very beginning of Cape Town as a city. In 1654, two years after his arrival in this relatively safe bay at the foot of Table Mountain, Jan van Riebeeck built a small jetty as part of his task to establish a refreshment station at the Cape.
Much later in 1860, two years after serious winter storms destroyed dozens of vessels, Prince Alfred started construction of the breakwater for Cape Town’s first harbour to make it a safe haven all year round for passing ships. Thus the Waterfront was born.
Now, it’s a mixed-use development comprising prime residential and commercial property, hotels, retail stores, dining and entertainment facilities that spans 123 hectares.
The Waterfront is Cape Town’s tourist showpiece, a place where loads of people from far and wide gather to eat, drink, shop, socialize, and admire breathtaking views of the sea and Table Mountain. It is one of Africa’s most visited destinations with about 24 million visitors annually.
Situated in the oldest working harbour in the southern hemisphere, it has more than 80 restaurants with a fusion of local and international cuisine and also offers 12 hotels, over 500 retail options, seven museums, live entertainment 365 days a year, and a variety of leisure activities, from yachts to helicopters.
Its many heritage sites and tourism landmarks make it both exceptional and unique, including the recently opened Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), which hosts the world’s largest collection of contemporary art from Africa.
Of the total visitors to the V&A, 60 per cent are Capetonians, 17 per cent are South African and 23 per cent are international. Among these international visitors are Nigerians, who lead the way in the number of arrivals from the African continent.
Recently, this writer was part of a group of Nigerians in Cape Town at the invitation of South Africa Tourism. Many of the activities the group – which included tour operators and their clients – partook in revolved around the Waterfront.
Art, Food and Shopping
An enlightening tour of the Zeitz MOCAA was followed by a unique experience at the V&A Food Market. Art lovers should check out the Zeitz Museum, where everything, including the building itself, is art. The masterpiece is dominated by concrete tubes that once served as the city’s grain silo.
For food lovers, there are countless fine dining restaurants to choose from but for a more relaxed and eclectic experience, the food market is it.
The market features more than 40 vendors selling gourmet street food from all over the world; from burritos and shawarma to hand-crafted chocolates, Belgian waffles, and Thai noodles. And yes, a wide range of smoothies which many members of the group opted for and thoroughly enjoyed.
The restaurants and bars are reason enough to visit the Waterfront with majority combining excellent service with fascinating views of the harbour.
While it is still a working harbour with fishing boats and container ships clearly visible, the V&A Waterfront is more frequently thought of as a shopping destination, a boon for Nigerians who rate shopping high on their list of activities when they travel.
There are five shopping districts at the Waterfront with more than 450 stores, from local designers to a wide range of big international brands.
Helicopter and Yacht Tours
Among the exciting offerings available at the Waterfront are leisurely pursuits such as a sunset cruises on chartered yachts and helicopter tours to get a bird’s-eye view of the city’s stunning beauty.
There are plenty boat charter companies to choose from and they offer diverse services from laid back harbour cruises to speed boat adventures. The group got a taste of the former, snacking, sipping on champagne and taking awesome pictures, fully immersed and soaking in the spectacular scenery.
Depending on the cruise, you get to see some of the city’s famous landmarks like Robben Island, the Clifton beaches and more, as well as local wildlife including the Waterfront’s resident seals who we found sunbathing on a bright red buoy.
To see Cape Town it in its full glory though, nothing beats a helicopter tour with one of the charter companies based at the Waterfront.
NAC Helicopters is one of those who offer various sightseeing flights, ranging from 15-minute tours of the city itself (including landmarks like Camps Bay, the Cape Town Stadium and the Twelve Apostles hotel) to 50-minute flights along the length of the Cape Peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope.
Whichever you choose, the sight of the city with Table Mountain nestled between False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is one you’ll never forget and can only be fully appreciated when experienced.
NAC has different sizes of helicopters and our group of 14 was conveniently split into one six-seater and two four-seater aircraft. The exhilarating rides were capped by clinking glasses of celebratory champagne.
Marine Life, Night Life
There’s so much that can be done at the V&A Waterfront. For those historically-inclined, tours to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent most of his captive years depart from here. For others who appreciate wildlife, the Two Oceans Aquarium is a great place to visit.
The aquarium reflects the diversity of the marine life off South Africa’s shores, where the tropical Indian Ocean meets the temperate Atlantic, creating a unique ecosystem.
The aquarium boasts well-maintained displays of sea creatures from all over South Africa and beyond which include ragged-tooth sharks at the Predator Exhibit to the Penguin Exhibit’s colony of African penguins. And you can get up close with scuba diving opportunities alongside turtles and rays in the I&J Ocean Exhibit.
At night, the Waterfront buzzes with street entertainers, live music, and hundreds of sparkling lights. Many take leisurely walks along the promenade, admiring the spectacle of the illuminated Cape Wheel and soaking up the sounds and scents spilling from the restaurants and bars. Even though the defining hills and ocean fade into the darkness, the Waterfront retains its allure, holding tourists spellbound deep into the night.