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Explore the city

Sep 30, 2016

The red Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing buses are a familiar sight to the residents of Cape Town. I have always regarded them as belonging to a separate zone, a dimension of the city that exists for tourists only. Until recently that is, when I travelled on them for the first time and had my perceptions refigured entirely. As one who has hosted visitors to Cape Town many, many times, I only wish it had happened much sooner.

It was a bleak and overcast Thursday morning when I checked in at the Long Street office to buy a ticket. Not a promising day, but by the time I was waiting on the pavement for the Red route bus to arrive, I was already feeling quite uplifted. This is a remarkably well-run operation: Buses run every 20 minutes, the maps are good, the ticketing system is friendly, the staff helpful. You get a pair of headphones to be plugged in for the soundtrack with a choice of 16 languages.

There are four routes on offer with intersecting stops and the all-day ticket is valid for any and all of them.

I completed the two central routes, Red and Yellow, sitting on the upper deck where a see-through roof covers the first few rows. The Red tour takes off from Long Street, up Kloof Nek to Table Mountain, then down into Camps Bay before returning via Sea Point and the Waterfront. From the word go it is a thrill to have that elevated viewpoint and to see the architecture of the city eye-to-eye. As the bus continues up to Table Mountain the sweeping views of mountains, city and sea are absolutely breathtaking.

The soundtrack is technically faultless. It’s nice that the commentary isn’t wall-to-wall but interspersed with well-chosen music. It includes useful information, such as tips about hiking, as well as interesting anecdotes about Cape Town’s history and ecology. There are lovely site-specific moments - for example, pointing out the wind in Sea Point in terms of the shapes of the trees, or guiding one to turn in one’s seat to look at certain views, such as Robben Island in the saddle between Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, or the magnificent vistas of Camps Bay or Clifton in the rear.

There are times when the commentary falls short. We could do without the bits that are like rather kitschy advertising copy (“though we are a jovial people, we have seen and felt the darkness of the past” etc.) But that quibble aside, I am a new advocate of the City Sightseeing bus system.

The one-day pass costs R190 and an extra R100 upgrades it to two days, with a harbour cruise thrown in. There are free walking tours included and discounts for kids. It allows you to go independently to the cable car, to wine farms in Constantia, to Kirstenbosch, to beaches, to Robben Island, museums, and more. When one thinks of the price of a single taxi ride, this is surely a bargain and a liberation in this city where it has been historically hard to move around without a private car. For visitors of course, but also for outings with young and old, and even for the practical goal of getting around.

A suggestion: maybe it could be expanded to include the Woodstock gallery district too? 

Last modified on Thursday, 13 October 2016 16:16

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