Friday, 29 February 2008

Cape Town Character

I've just returned from Cape Town which, inevitably, means eating and drinking too much (some of the best food and wine in the world, well, what can you do?) and visiting all my favourite places. Not the touristy sites but those that have drop-dead gorgeous landscapes and architecture or areas that have character - not tourist pastiche but real character, warts and all.

I've drawn comparisons with the latter before: Long Street with its Melbourne buildings and St Kilda style has a cosmopolitan atmosphere, ethnic shops and surviving culture. Kalk Bay, all Brighton boho with it's junk and arty shops and café's. OK, so they're just a wee bit faded, but they're not jaded, not at all. In fact they're more buzzy than ever: that extra confidence gained from the influx of visitors' cash means some new shops have opened and a café or two. Nothing as bold as a lick of paint, of course: don't want to try too hard and lose the "I'm too smart to dress up" charm.

And there's Muizenberg - seaside resort of yesteryear - with its Herbert Baker buildings and a beach to die for. The stretch of coast from there to Kalk Bay on the western coast of the peninsular was the place for Capetonians to holiday a hundred years ago: the arrival of the railway meant that everyone could afford a day trip at least. And for those who had the luxury of a week long holiday there were plenty of hotels and guest houses to suit every pocket along the coast of False Bay.

When the billionaire, Cecil Rhodes, bought a seaside cottage at St James – between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay - it was as good a nod as a wink to the wealthy: here was a healthy fashionable place to escape the hot and dusty summer heat of the interior. And they brought their money with them to build their seaside houses, to pay the fees for the bowling greens and the tennis club and to patronize the hotel restaurants.

On Muizenberg beach the white sand stretches as far as the eye can see: the water is warm enough to swim in and the waves gentle enough for novice surfers. Surprisingly perhaps, nearly a hundred years ago bathers in their long legged bathing suits strode out to sea to surf on short wooden boards: today the surfers are there in droves, all body-hugging rubber, high-tech fibreglass and four wheel drives.

Old postcards show children taking donkey rides or building sandcastles on Muizenberg beach, whilst mothers looked on with concern or pride: just like any modern seaside. The smart new wooden Pavilion that was built in 1911 had "every comfort and convenience": wash-room and changing facilities and a large tea room. And along the beach stilted wooden bathing huts – painted in a variety of colours – were built. Then a smart stone railway station was commissioned to announce that Muizenberg was on the map.

But the 1930's was probably its apogee: a larger pavilion replaced the wooden one - with more dressing cubicles, a larger tea room, theatre and dance hall – but it was not a success for a variety of reasons. Many of the hotels and buildings were taken over by the Government or troops during the Second World War and afterwards it suffered the steady decline that happened to English seaside towns.

But there's another beach Pavilion now, and owners of the new apartments and houses that have been built in the last couple of years want all the fun trappings of a seaside resort. So it's only a matter of time until Muizenberg is on the map again. In the meantime I'll continue to marvel at the beach from high above on Boyes Drive. I'll still visit the flea markets of Long Street and eat fish cooked to perfection straight from the harbour in Kalk Bay. And I'll hope that none of my favourite places become too popular too fast.


1 comment:

Helen Palmer said...

You are so right in your descriptions of Muizenberg and Kalk Bay, Lucy Ann! There is a certain 'something' about the place that draws you back, despite the current seediness, which I hasten to add, is rapidly being replaced with new, funky buildings.

Great beach for surfing!