GAVIN Engelbrecht finds awesome scenery and a sense of optimism in his childhood homeland

The Northern Echo:

A sunset underlined by foaming sea at Camp's Bay, Cape Town

THERE is little that can beat the sight of Table Mountain in all its grandeur. Looming over Cape Town, the flat-topped peak has been a welcome sight for sailors and travellers for hundreds of years and stood sentinel on the southern tip of Africa for millions more.

Having being born in its shadow, for me, the first glimpse of it always has an added resonance. After flying across Africa, our Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner tilts briefly to offer a tantalising glimpse of mountain and bay, and tears well up. It's another emotional homecoming.

Barely an hour after landing our travelling party is gliding to its summit in a revolving cable car. All around there are gasps of awe and exclamations of "magnificent", "awesome", summing up the splendour of the panoramic drama.

Once on top, there is a lot to absorb. If you pause for a moment to listen, you can hear a low hum; the sound of a breathing city, alive and organic. Its streets are picked out in sharp relief, while stretching as far as the eye can see into the miasma are the suburbs to the north. To the south, the view takes in ragged peaks leading to Cape Point. And to the west is the Atlantic, where a container ship plies its way on a glimmering sea of silver. On the rocks below, a dassie, resembling an overgrown hamster, nonchalantly peers up at onlookers before continuing to soak up the sun.

This is a perfect introduction to the Mother City, a cultural melting pot where people wear easy smiles and the hospitality is genuinely warm. The pace of life here is just that much slower.

Our first couple evenings are spent at Onyx, a chic new city centre hotel with gleaming clean-cut lines. And what better way to start the first morning in South Africa, than with a shot of caffeine at the Truth Coffee Roasting, rightly described as quirky. I settle for an Albumen Airship, a mix of egg white and condensed milk served chilled in a cocktail glass.

We set off for the Zeitz MOCCA, an African contemporary art museum on the V&A Waterfront, set in a renovated former silo and containing galleries spread over nine floors. The art is at turns baffling and challenging, yet always relevant.

Crowning it is the Silo Hotel, the epitome of opulence. Along with luxurious rooms, it boasts a penthouse suite that is reputedly the most expensive in Africa, with a night’s stay starting at £8,000. But then you do get your own own sauna, pool, ten-seater dining room, private cinema and a bath where you can lie back and enjoy views of Table Mountain.

In complete contrast, only an hour’s drive away, we pass through the township of Khayelitsha - a legacy of apartheid, when black people were consigned to bleak sandy Cape flats. While poverty is rife here, there is a vibrancy, with thriving businesses run from from shacks. A woman has hair done in full view of the main road; a man selects an exhaust pipe for his car; everywhere children run around laughing and playing.

The sense of optimism in adversity is personified by the inspirational South African Masterchef finalist Abigail Mbalo. The dental technician decided to be an example to others and stayed in the township to start her own restaurant the 4Roomed eKasi Culture. Abigail has taken her childhood fare and elevated it to haute cuisine. Maize meal, or pap, cooked to perfection, chased-chicken stew and much more. To "spread positive vibes" diners can keep their crafted plate with a quote from Nelson Mandela and leave their own adage to be left on another diner's plate.

The Northern Echo:

African penguins at Boulders Beach Picture: GAVIN ENGELBRECHT

We get to feast on more of the Cape’s abundance of natural wonders, driving to Boulders Beach, where African penguins are the main attraction. The first couple of breeding pairs waddled to shore here in 1982, liked what they saw and stayed. There are now 3,000 carpeting the beach.

The drive continues to Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Beware the baboons. Any bag will be taken as containing food and is easy bait.

Then on to Chapman’s Peak Drive, which ranks as one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world, before making it just in time for a stunning sunset at Camps Bay.

Day two takes us to Biscuit Mill, which is a must for local food and crafts. Our next stopover is at Stellenbosch's Lanzerac Hotel and Spa, the ultimate destination if you are looking for affordable luxury. Set in a wine estate dating back to 1692, it is the home to the world's first bottled pinotage and the chocolate and wine tasting is a must.

Stellenbosch, is a wonderfully preserved town, boasting whitewashed churches and Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture along oak-lined streets. The Bite and Sites foodie walking tour is highly recommended.

On the subject of food, the Cape is very much a culinary adventure too. Among the restaurants we visit are Chefs Warehouse, the Alba floating restaurant where diner can eat and watching seal cavorting in the Cape Town's harbour. The highlight has to be Gate at Quoin Rock, with its a taster menu of 16 courses of mindblowing craziness, cooked up by Michelin award-winning chef,Rikku Ò’Donnchü.

Ethical foie gras injected into a duck egg, noodles are squeezed from a syringe, 25-year-old parmesan reduced to a heady foam... the piece de resistance is a balloon dessert, which has to be sucked in, with some diners ending up with it all over their faces, to much merriment.

But memories of the Cape are savoured long after leaving. For those who was not born there, The Mother City has a way of adopting all who touch its shores, leaving them with an abiding wish to return to the welcoming embrace of Table Mountain.

Travel facts

Gavin was a guest of South African Tourism and travelled courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines.

  • Ethiopian Airlines fly four times per week from Manchester Airport to Addis Ababa and onto Cape Town. Lead-in return fares start at £448 economy and £2,108 business class, inclusive of all taxes, bookable online at; tel 01753-967 980 or via travel agencies. For more information visit
  • Trailfinders is offering a seven-night holiday for £1,639pp for departures from June 6 including flights from London, two nights at Sheraton Addis, Addis Ababa, three nights at The Onyx Hotel, Cape Town with breakfast and two nights at Lanzerac Hotel & Spa, Stellenbosch with transfers and breakfast included. T: 020-7368-1200; W:


Addis Ababa Sheraton Hotel

The Onyx Hotel

 Room rates are available from R1,753 / ca. £98.90 per room, per night incl. breakfast

Lanzerac Hotel & Spa

Room rates start from R4,550 / ca. £250 for a double room, inclusive of full English breakfast, wine tasting experience and tax

Places to eat

Summerfield restaurant, Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa

Yod Abesanya cultural restaurant, Addis Ababa 

Chefs Warehouse and Canteen, Cape Town

Silo Hotel, Cape Town

Room rates start from R13,500 / ca. £745 for a double room incl. breakfast

The Alba Restaurant, Cape Town

Janse & Co

Food experience with South African Masterchef finalist, Abigail Mbalo

Gate Restaurant, Quoin Rock

16-course taster menu R1,250 / ca. £69 per person

Eike restaurant by Bertus Basson


Visit to Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy

Cable Car to Table Mountain

Visit to Zeitz MOCCA

Simons town and Boulders beach

Flying Dutchmans funicular, Cape Point

Visit to Old Biscuit Market

Lanzerac wine & chocolate tasting

Bites n’ Sites - foodies on foot tour, Stellenbosch

Bike tour at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve