As travel surprises go, you can’t beat Cape Town. Tourists touch down at the airport, clutching their valuables and expecting a wild slice of Africa. The start of the journey into town doesn’t exactly shatter this preconception, as the N2 highway passes the townships of the Cape Flats, with their jumble of shacks, bungalows and state-subsidised ‘Mandela houses’. Groups of scantily clad boys happily kick a football or splash in a rainwater pool, as six lanes of cars surge past – a good example of the rainbow nation’s contrasts between African and Western lifestyles.
Then you enter the city proper, perhaps on the mountainside rollercoaster of De Waal Drive, which crosses the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak with Table Bay and the harbour below. Finally, you round a corner and there it is, one of the world’s most iconic sights: Table Mountain. Beneath the cable car climbing to the 1000m-high plateau, well-to-do neighbourhoods pour into the aptly named City Bowl, sloshing up the sides of the sphinx-like Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. As the buildings run towards the sea, they become the towers of the CBD and the market complexes and museums of the V&A Waterfront precinct.