One thing I have learned about Cape Town, and that is the best advise I can give about this city, is never plan ahead, just go with whatever the weather says you can do. My first Robben Island trip got cancelled, due to bad weather conditions. When tickets need to be booked ahead, because they sell out in advance, you might find yourself in a pickle. Luckily my guesthouse hostess is the best weather forecaster ever, so I booked a new ticket for a trip in two days, and the weather was perfect. Happy 🙂
From my first attempt I had learned to be at the Robben Island ferry dock well in advance, as it was not easy to locate it somewhere in the big V&A Waterfront area. It also says on your ticket to be there 30 min before departure. Don’t know how strict they are about that, but the first time I was really, really late. Public transportation took a lot longer than anticipated, I got off at the wrong bus stop, and I had to run all the way down to the harbour. I got there 5 min before departure. Maybe it was a good thing the tour was cancelled…
While waiting for the departure, I wandered around the gateway premises, but there was not much to see. It looked like the spaces wasn’t open to public, at that moment anyway. After a while the line for the security check started forming, and when the boats (there are two of them) finally arrived (returning late from the island), we were able to get going. The two boats are very different. One looks like a passenger ferry and the other looks like a big fishing vessel. I went for the ferry. Just the smell of the fishing boat was sure to make me seasick. I did take sickness pills, to be on the safe side, as an Australian woman I met a few days before, told horror stories about her trip out there. A good thing I brought my earplugs/iPod too, because who knew this was going to be, what felt like, a booze cruise for 60+ year old women, who did not speak the same language – at least they united. Dancing, laughing, screaming.
When we finally arrived at Robben Island we were put on buses. Plenty of them. To take a guided tour around the island. The only place we could get off, was for a break, for getting refreshments, going to the restrooms, getting photos of Table Mountain or the penguins at the beach. After the bus tour we were dropped off at the prison, where we were taken around by a former inmate, who told us about life at the prison. Highlight, and I guess what most people had come for, was of course to have a look at Nelson Mandela’s cell. After the prison visit we walked back to the harbour, where there’s a souvenir shop, and back onto the boats.
I must say this tour was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. First of all there is a lot of people on each tour. Way too much for my taste. I guess they have to do it that way to be able to accommodate everyone who wants to visit the island. Second, we were stuck on the bus most of the time. Not very exciting. Third, there is a community on the island. People who work on the island are living in the old quarters. They are just not allowed to show any indication of this while there are tours going on. When the tourists leave, the island village come to life. There’s a school there, and the church are offering to preform weddings, free of charge. So popular that 2018 is fully booked.
The ferry ride back was a lot calmer, looked like the ladies were all partied out. It was getting cold, but it was still nice to sit outside on the upper deck. We were lucky to spot both seals or sealions and penguins swimming close to the boat. A nice bonus!