Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Table Mountain. Cape Town. South Africa.
This is a pretty and singular town; it lies at the foot of an enormous wall (the Table Mountain), which reaches into the clouds, and makes a most imposing barrier. Cape Town is a great inn, on the great highway to the east.
Charles Darwin in a letter to his sister, Catherine, 1836
A Cape of Many Currents
Cape Town and Table Mountain are among the most fashionable tourist destinations of late. Cape Point should be added to that grouping, standing as it does like a defiant exclamation mark at the southwestern tip of the African continent. When a southeaster is roaring and swells and wind-maddened spume batter that prow-like promontory, and cormorants wheel clumsily about in the roaring wind, you feel sensationally elemental. You can imagine that if the weather would clear you could see all the way to the Antarctic. Or maybe spot the Flying Dutchman, fated to try forever to steer a course around the stormy Cape.
For sailors wind has always defined the experience of arriving in Table Bay and rounding Cape Point, but it is the one thing the tourism literature will not tell you about. Sure, lots of places are windy, but this one can get very windy. A good day in Cape Town is like a glass of crispy Chablis, a bad one like a box of Chateau Plonk.
For most of winter (May to October) a cold, blustery northwester brings driving rain, sometimes for weeks at a time. But in-between these anti-cyclonic cold fronts lie days so perfect you are led to believe you have woken in some kind of earthly paradise. For much of summer, a dry, searing southeaster blows away the blues, and blows away anything else left lying about. Locals call the wind the Cape Doctor, because it scrubs up the atmosphere. In days of old many Europeans “weak of lung” were sent here to recuperate.
The first Portuguese who spied Table Mountain and rounded the fabled Cape in the 1480s named it Cabo da Tormentosa – the Cape of torment, or storms. The legend of the Flying Dutchman tells the story of Dutch Captain Van Der Dencken who, would try, try and try again, to punch through a juggernaut southeaster to round Cape Point. He ended up cursing God for his poor fortune. The Lord returned the favour and now the captain spends eternity in that pursuit. The strangest thing about this story, though, is how many people, from ship’s pilots to royalty, have claimed to see the fated ship plying the wind-whipped spray.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at The Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel while photographing and researching this chapter.
Not-So Trashy Trailer Park
How cities change. You have to wonder what founding father, Jan van Riebeeck, would have to say about what has become of his struggling little outpost in the cusp of Table Bay. And yet in more than a century the building at No. 38 Long Street (corner of Castle) has not for one day changed its function. Planned in 1894 as the Hamburg Hotel in German Renaissance style by one of Cape Town’s most prolific architects, it opened as the Metropole Hotel the following year.
It underwent a major makeover in 1900 when much of the German Baroque detail was removed. Then in 1928 the wrought-iron verandah was replaced with the existing concrete ones and the projecting concrete balconettes and window hoods evident today were added.
Fashion, then as now, does not endure sentimentality.
In the early 21st century the building re-invented itself as the Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel.
Current owners Jan and Jaci van Hetteren (who own the very successful Jaci’s Lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve) have repurposed seven shiny silver Airstream trailers on the rooftop terrace, five stories above street level. Each of the seven trailers has a unique theme, with “proudly South African” décor. Here you will also find the Sky Bar and Pink Flamingo open-air mini cinema.
Through all these changes, not to mention those of the world around it, the hotel has for the last 120 years never stopped providing board and lodgings to visitors to the “Tavern of the Seas”.