4 Sizzling Things to do in Cape Town in Winter (according to locals)
Winter. Time to laze on the couch all day and stare at the wall, right? Wrong! Winter is a fabulous time to explore the Mother City. Just read what these proudly pro-Cape Town locals have to say about their favourite winter activities in the mother of all cities.
1. Have a Whale of a Time
In Cape Town over winter? You’re in luck. Dave Hurwitz, South Africa’s own whale whisperer and founder of Simonstown Boat Company, says the ideal time to spot these magnificent creatures is from July to December. One happy customer who took a tour with Whale Watching Hermanus had this to say: “This was my first time seeing two whales playing together. It was amazing to witness.”
Pembury Tours says the best time to view Southern Right Whales is from June to November. Baby Southern Rights can be spotted during calving season in July and August, and you can see Humpbacks from as early as May. These majestic mammals migrate along the coast from Hermanus for their annual summer holiday.
You don’t have to drive far to get to prime whale-watching areas – make it a day trip or stay overnight to enjoy more of what the local area has to offer. Tour operator Portfolio Collection lists these spots (just a hop and a skip away from Cape Town) as prime whale-watching territory in winter: the Overberg (which extends from Hermanus to Gansbaai and beyond to Cape Agulhas); the Garden Route (including the whale haven, Plettenberg Bay); and the Eastern Cape.
It’s also possible to spot whales without driving too far. According to the official Cape Point website: “Cape Point, at the very south-western tip of the continent on the False Bay coastline, provides a range of perfect vantage points to experience this annual phenomenon.”
Fun fact: Why is winter prime time for whale-flix in the Cape? It’s because they leave Antarctica’s freezing waters to mate and nurse their young in the comparatively warmer Atlantic. Apparently icy water is not conducive to amorous activities for whales, although “warm” is hardly a word anyone who has ever bravely dipped a toe in the Atlantic would use to describe our waters. Words like “Eek!” and “Aaargh!” are more likely.
2. Get Punch Drunk on Tea with Churchill’s Ghost
Perhaps a remnant of South Africa’s colonial roots, the High Tea experience in Cape Town is well worth any slight strain to elevated pinkie fingers – and a splendiferous way to spend a chilly day. Dylan, a local and proud High Tea ambassador, rates Mount Nelson in Gardens as one of his top High Tea destinations.
Dylan quips that there is something so enchanting about listening to the piano and sinking into silk cushions while gorging on tiny sandwiches and pastries. “For a moment you feel like you’re part of the gentry.” (Among other celebrities, Winston Churchill is rumoured to have sojourned here as a war correspondent).
Spend the morning walking the verdant grounds of “The Pink Lady” as the hotel is called (it has since been painted white; one can only imagine the interminable debates among shareholders about that decision). You will need to walk off those scones before heading to our next High Tea hotspot…
The Vineyard – what with its colonial history virtually yelling “tally-ho!” from the walls – is the perfect setting for High Tea. This famous hotel brings a bit of South African flavour to the Brit ritual, with treats like biltong cheese puffs to sample with your Rooios tea next to the fireplace. You might spot one of the many resident African tortoises, some of which, like the hotel itself, are centenarians.
Fun fact: A possible explanation for why it’s called High Tea is because the ritual occurred at a table. On the other hand, when the help was predisposed, tea was taken in low chairs or sofas. Thank you, afternoontea.co.uk.
3. Book your Personal Wine Expert Chaperone
Resist the urge to stick your head out the window of the Franschhoek Wine Tram and yell “Chochoo!” to the vineyards. (Okay well, um, maybe that’s just me). “The tracks were built in 1904 to serve as an alternative to ox-drawn carts for farmers wanting to get their produce to market,” says the company.
You can create your own experience by booking the “Hop On, Hop Off” option, which allows you to, er, hop on and off to explore en route attractions such as wine tastings, cellar tours, and lunch from your choice of 26 wine estates. So, there’s nothing to whine about (except maybe my bad puns).
Alternatively, splurge on the “Curated Wine Experience” and get your very own human – a wine guide who will accompany you to wine estates for premium tastings and pairings, a cellar and vineyard tour, and a three-course lunch. Please note you will have to return your human at the end of the tour. This double-decker tram affords amazing views of the Franschhoek valley, at a maximum speed of 32km/hour, so there is no chance of spilling your Chardonnay.
4. Go unda da sea
Two Oceans Aquarium is truly an aquatic wonderland say locals (including me). I don’t think I could ever tire of the fascinating array of exhibits especially the specimens that glow in the dark because who doesn’t love plunging into darkness and looking at inexplicable neon things? (Again, that may be subjective). There’s an enormous selection of things to do, from seeing African penguins in all their waddling glory, to watching people dive into shark tanks (and paying to do it).
What’s more, this local treasure does some great conservation work, including assisting with shark research and turtle rehabilitation. I also learned that they came up with a method to safely cut fishing lines from seal necks – an all too common occurrence which can be life-threatening. As a visitor, you can join one of the regular environmental educational talks about the aquarium’s conservation projects.
By Leigh-Anne Hunter