Some 6,000 miles away from Liverpool, Cape Town, the legislative capital of South Africa, has been described as one of the most beautiful places on earth.
With distinct and awe inspiring mountain ranges looming all around the city and some fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean, this city by the sea is South Africa’s most popular tourist destination.
Next year it will play host to eight World Cup finals games. The new stadium down by the waterfront is under construction and you can feel the sense of anticipation around this vibrant city, as they get ready to host one of the biggest shows on earth.
In July I spent a month in Cape Town. For two weeks I volunteered in a local newspaper and then I spent another two weeks helping out in a crèche in a local township. In between I got a chance to explore this fascinating city and other parts of the Western Cape area.
Working as a volunteer I got to experience the real side of Cape Town, not the five star version and one of the benefits of this was getting to ride the unique, unreliable, but nonetheless entertaining public transport.
Trains do not arrive at any set time; they just come when they come. They are regular enough during the week, sparse on a Saturday and like gold dust on a Sunday.
The train has first (Metrorail) and third (Metrorail plus) class carriages. For a few extra rand you can enjoy the ‘luxury’ of first class which is recommended for volunteers like me who travelled to work each day.
As well as the trains there are the 'mini-kombis' that roam around the city and its suburbs. The public buses are not recommended to volunteers here so instead we used these supposedly safer, clapped out, old Toyota mini vans.
Getting on one is a real adventure. The mini buses don’t leave until they’re full and I mean full. In one supposed 13-seater, I sat in the boot, or rather folded myself up while my friend sat on the spare tyre. With about 17 of us in there it was an intimate affair.
Seat belts are non-existent and speed limits are broken as the weary, battle-hardened drivers race around the city looking to get as many people on and off as quickly as possible to maximise profit.
Cape Town’s most popular tourist destination is Robben Island, the previous prison 'home' to many anti apartheid leaders, including the country’s most famous resident, Nelson Mandela. He spent 18 years isolated on the island prison which is largely untouched since its closure in 1990.
Robben Island is about five miles from Cape Town’s coast. A ferry from the beautiful waterfront takes you there where you get a bus tour around the island before a former prisoner takes you on a tour of the prison cells including Mandela’s. There’s a certain eeriness to it all. The place is bare but for a few props to give visitors an impression of what conditions were like.
The ferry to and from the island gives you some splendid views of Cape Town including Table Mountain which looms high over the city. The mountain, as its name suggests, is like a table with various peaks.
Climbing it can be an arduous but entirely fulfilling experiencing. A few friends and myself reached the highest peak, which stands at 1087m high. Standing above the clouds, the views out onto the city below you and the Atlantic Ocean are nothing short of breathtaking.
Cape Town’s nightlife is also something to be sampled. If you’re looking for a place to party look no further than Long Street in downtown Cape Town. It is lined with bars, clubs and restaurants, many having upstairs balconies to peer down on the mayhem below you.
If you want a view from a little higher up there is Hemisphere. Located on the 31st floor of the ABSA bank building, the views over Cape Town city are amazing.
Getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life is easily done too. A good place to head for is Muizenburg beach where cafes and restaurants line the beachfront haven for surfers.
Go a little further down the coastline and you come to Kalk Bay where right on the train platform is the Brass Belle, a fantastic bar/restaurant where you can enjoy a pint of the fabulous Hansa beer and watch the waves crash against the windows of the bar.
For a more upmarket experience then Camps Bay is the place to be. The surrounding sections of Table Mountain give it an amphitheatre feel. The area is a tourist haven, but they best have their money on them. The bars and restaurants aren’t cheap by normal South African standards and the houses around Camps Bay are the most expensive in Cape Town.
But the sunset there is nothing short of incredible, you feel like you are on the edge of the world. Along with the views from atop Table Mountain they are the two highlights of my trip.
There was so much more I could have done there but there simply wasn’t enough time. My volunteering commitments meant my tourist excursions were limited to weekends. To truly experience Cape Town I may have to return again. And one day I hope I will.
By Hugh O'Connell
JMU Journalism travel articles
Looking out on the world from atop Table Mountain; Cape Town gets ready to host the World Cup