Here’s something not many people know about me… Don’t laugh, but I am a huge sissy when it comes to taking boat rides out on the ocean! After one too many experiences of going green around the gills, I do try to keep my adventures mainly land-based. It is a far more reliable surface to explore!
Nevertheless, with heart pounding and prayers to Poseidon for smooth seas, we booked an early morning trip to the historical Robben Island Museum for my family of three. It would be my second time to this historical location and our daughter’s very first. She was really excited about it as they learn about Nelson Mandela and apartheid at school and she would now see the former apartheid prison first-hand.
V&A WATERFRONT NELSON MANDELA GATEWAY
The Nelson Mandela Gateway is an experience in itself! I must admit, I did not realise this on my first trip a few years back, but on this occasion, we took the time to explore this triple-story glass museum – a stark reminder of this place of banishment and imprisonment. The exhibition space is great for taking in more Robben Island information before heading on the tour as it has a timeline dedicated to modern South African political history which you can take in at your leisure.
THE BOAT RIDE
Poseidon really pulled through for us! The boat trip aboard the “Jester” was a pleasure and there were no “incidents” along the way. Thank the Greek Gods! Sitting on the upper deck of the ferry taking in the beautiful view of our Table Mountain was absolutely exhilarating (even though I stuck to one spot the entire ride!) and made me forget about any pending queasiness.
THE ROBBEN ISLAND TOUR
Not too much longer, we approached the island at Murray’s Bay Harbour. There were several other boats docking as well and quite a few busses waiting for us to board for our 45min island tour. We were equally blessed with possibly the most entertaining, knowledgeable and witty tour guide, Sobantu, who explained in detail all the various landmarks on the island and the history thereof. If you get a chance, look out for this guy and be sure to board his bus!
Among the many stops, such as the prisoners’ clinic, the various churches, the school for the prisoners’ kids and the lighthouse, the limestone quarry was possibly the most poignant. This was where Mandela and many others were forced to crush limestone for no good reason and where they also contracted TB. But this is also where they educated themselves during their brief lunchbreaks in a cave when the guards weren’t watching…
There is a lovely little stop for snacks and photo opportunities along the bus route. Here you can stretch your legs, take a quick toilet break, grab a coffee and snap a few selfies with Table Mountain posing attractively in the background!
ROBBEN ISLAND PRISON TOUR
Once we had said goodbye to Sobantu, we were met by our next prison tour guide, a former Robben Island political prisoner, who shared his own stories of his time on the island. Of course, we were taken to Nelson Mandela’s cell. Just like every other prison cell and easy to walk by unnoticed, with no special extras, this was a prison cell like every other.
I wish we had more time to read the information panels which had more detail about the political prisoners, but there were several groups moving through the prison so unfortunately, we had to move along. Perhaps with smaller groups, this can be made possible.
All too soon, we were heading towards the exit and shaking hands with our guide as he ushered us out of the maximum security prison.
The experience is a little too rushed, but one cannot deny the importance of experiencing a tour to Robben Island and the role it played in South African history, so this is one tour I would highly recommend to anyone.
LAYERS! Be sure to dress for Cape Town weather (winter and summer in one day!). It will most likely be chilly on the ferry but may be slightly warmer on the island, depending on what time of year you’re heading there. Just be prepared. And don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes.
Arrive at least an hour before your trip so that you can take your time walking around the Nelson Mandela Gateway. You get FREE access to the exhibitions with your ticket.
Buy your tickets online and well in advance as this is a major tourist attraction and can get booked quite far in advance.
The tour groups are large. Be prepared for this and try to stay close to the guide so that you don’t miss a thing that he/she says. According to Sobantu, there are plans in the pipeline to do guided bike tours which I personally think would be great for smaller groups and much more personal.
Book tickets via Webtickets here > http://webtickets.co.za/events/tourism/robben-island-museum-tour/76219
Visit the Robben Island website for more information > http://www.robben-island.org.za/
Share your favourite Robben Island memories with us!
One Destination, 7 Unbelievable Experiences
There is no one way to explore all of the Cape Town Big 7, and much of what makes each of them so special is the variety of things to see and do at each. So if possible, take your time to explore each of the city’s most visited tourist attractions in as much depth as possible – as any local will tell you, you can spend a lifetime at each of the Big 7 and still not tire of them. Find the 3 and 4 day itineraries and tips here.