Cape Town (Afrikaans: Kaapstad; Xhosa: eKapa), is one of South Africa's three capital cities serving as the legislative capital (Pretoria being the executive capital and Bloemfontein the judicial capital). It is also the capital of the Western Cape province. It is most famous for its mountain, aptly named Table Mountain because of its flat top. The agglomeration is estimated to have a population of about 2.9 million (estimate from 2001 census).
It was founded by the Dutch East India Company to be used as a replenishing station for ships sailing on the trade route to Indonesia. The location was chosen for its sheltered bay which formed a natural harbour and protected ships from the strong prevailing wind, the South-Easter. The first European settlement was led by Jan van Riebeek, who arrived on 6 April 1652.
The seas around Cape Town are notorious and it was referred to as the "Cape of Storms". However the Dutch displaced the Khoi and San who were the native inhabitants. The Dutch imported slaves from Asia. The descendants of these slaves (known as the "Cape Malays"), along with the mixed race-offspring of natives and white settlers, eventually became the ethnic group called the "Coloureds". Later the English conquered the Dutch to gain control of this strategic port.
Today, Cape Town is a popular tourist destination, offering the visitor a wide variety of activities such as water sports (including diving, surfing and sailing), angling, wine-tasting , shopping, scenic drives, mountaineering, hiking, kite-flying, hang-gliding and parasailing, and bird- and whale-watching.
The most popular time for visitors is the summer from October to March, though some visitors from more temperate climates might find the height of summer (December and January) uncomfortably hot. The city also becomes very crowded then as the local holidaymakers descend on the city for their summer school holidays. The most popular tourist attractions are, in order of popularity: The Victoria & Alfred waterfront, a popular shopping venue with thousands of shops, fine hotels, a world-class marina and an aquarium; Table Mountain, which can be accessed either by walking or a cable car; Signal Hill with the Noon gun, Cape Point; and Boulders Beach , home to a colony of penguins. The Cape Peninsula and the region around Cape Town offer wonderful walking and hiking opportunities from right in the middle of the city where the mountains can be accessed very easily to further afield in the surrounding mountain ranges.
Boat trips can be undertaken from the Victoria & Alfred marina to visit Robben Island. It is a well known spot for windsurfers/kitesurfering, mainly in the summer seasons (September to February).
Other boat trips can be undertaken from Simonstown (the main South African naval base)on the False Bay (Indian Ocean) coast to Seal Island and Cape Point and from Hout Bay, a fishing harbour on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, to Duiker Island which has a population of 6000 seals in breeding season dropping to 1500 seals in the off season.
One of the world's largest population of whales in the breeding season (August to November) can be found off the coast of the Cape Peninsula and the surrounding coast of the Western Cape. Many local observation points allow sightings from close by.
Local wineries offer tastings and informative tours are available. August and September are the best time to visit the west coast, because the desert comes to life after the winter rains and the wild flowers bloom in profusion.
A cable car system takes visitors to the top of Table Mountain, though it only operates in good weather as gale-force winds can make it dangerous or clouds can obscure the view from the summit. The operating status (open or closed) of the cable car is posted on a signboard at Kloof Nek.
The area is also famous for its unique plant life: Fynbos (an Afrikaans word meaning "fine bush"), a shrubby vegetation type similar to other winter rainfall shrublands, in which Proteas are prominent and characteristic and which occurs nowhere else but the Cape coastal belt, the adjacent mountains and some isolated inland mountain tops. Fire is a necessary stage in the lives of almost all fynbos plants. In readiness for fire, most proteas retain their seeds on the bush for at least one year, a habit known as serotiny . They do this in structures which resemble the original flowerheads. In some species these structures are strikingly beautiful and long-lasting, which accounts for their use in dried floral arrangements.
When leaving Cape Town, you will first pass the suburbs and Cape Town International Airport. After getting over the mountains you will enter the Karoo in the north-east or the coast regions in the north and east.
The Cape Town suburb of Newlands, besides being the home of Ajax Cape Town, is also the home of the Western Province rugby team, one of the powerhouses in South African rugby, as well as Western Province cricket. Newlands is also home to one of South Africa's four Super 12 rugby franchises, the Stormers .
The clement weather of the region allows open air sports all year round. Apart from team sports, golf and tennis are very popular and facilities for these exist all over the city. Conditions for scuba diving, surfing and both kite and board sailing are world class and attract many foreign tourists.
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