The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, locally known as the V &A, is a year-round, 365-day carnival of a place at Cape Town's restored historic harbor which also happens to be South Africa's oldest working harbor. Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's second son, ordered construction of the harbor in 1860 and with obvious humility, named the basin after himself. The second basin was named after his mother, and she got top billing on the name: The V & A. It's a hectic, frenetic esplanade of upscale boutiques, shops, restaurants, and entertainment covering ~300 prime acres right in the heart of the city.
We've visited and wandered around the V&A several times since we arrived. It's about a 30-minute walk from the yacht club and the best and closest supermarket is at the Victoria Wharf mall there. It's easy to get side-tracked taking photos of all the sights and peeking into shops rather than doing grocery shopping, believe me. The Waterfront Clock, for instance, is a dockside icon. Built in 1882, this Victorian Gothic-style clock tower, which is now a national monument, was originally a look-out for the Port Captain allowing him to oversee all harbor activities. How can you walk by this bright red clock tower with all that history and not stop and admire it? Even the original clock mechanism still works, thanks to careful restoration.
The Cape Wheel wasn't here the last time we visited in 2007. It's a new addition to the waterfront a la the London Eye and the Las Vegas High Roller. It has no big distinction like the highest wheel in the world (that's Las Vegas at the moment), but it is the only “giant observation wheel” in South Africa and the views from the top are reportedly great. The waiting lines are long, the rides are short and the cost is dear. We were content to photograph it without paying for a ride. That was free.
The African Trading Port is housed in the old Port Captain's building. It's a huge souvenir shop attempting “to bring Africa under one roof”. It's three floors stuffed to the rafters with all things Africa … from masks, postcards and woven baskets, to life-size beaded elephants and water buffaloes. They claim to attract 3,000 visitors a day and seem to do a land office business. I'd wander around for hours, probably buying nothing, but the captain starts getting fidgety after 5 minutes or so.
David's favorite is always the buskers and they're are lots of them. Contortionists, acrobats, singers, dancers, magicians, Dixie-land bands … you name it. They're always entertaining.
Just walking around is energizing. There are sculptures and artwork placed strategically here and there. There are signposts and ship's figureheads to ponder and a giant chess set, in case you're in the mood for a game.
The whole area is dazzling with the backdrop of Table Mountain every time you look up.
Midst all the hubbub of tourists and retail establishments, this is still a working, commercial harbor. There's actually a pricey marina tucked inside, and fishing boats and tour boats come and go regularly. A huge swing bridge controls access to the inner basin and holds up pedestrian traffic for 10-15 minutes each time it opens.
Among the other 450 retail shops in the V&A are lots of jewelry stores and outlets. Think diamonds and tanzanite when you think of South Africa. There are diamond and precious gem museums and showrooms galore. They offer free tours, but the pressure is on to buy. I chose several gems, but unfortunately, when I checked our budget, there was not a category for diamonds nor precious gems, so I had to do without. Sigh! Guess it's time for that grocery shopping.