By Laurianne Claase
They divide the Indian from the Atlantic Ocean, enclose valleys of fruit and wine and flowers and for the outdoors enthusiast, they provide exhilarating heights and dizzying drops, awe-inspiring views, s-bends and roller-coaster curves and the rush of two-wheeled adrenaline, for those so inclined.With its warm, dry summers and mild, green winters, Cape Town and its surrounds have year-round pursuits and the city is fast becoming one of the outdoor capitals of the world. For a hiker, mountaineer, or biker, Table Mountain is Paradise Found. There are more than a hundred walking routes over the mountain and its attendant Devil's Peak, Lion's Head and Signal Hill, surrendering views of city, sea and indigo peaks. Or, take the cable car, for the same effect.At higher altitudes, try drifting over the wine-lands in a hot-air balloon. The winter months of June to August lend themselves to long walks, wine-sipping and whale-spotting as Antarctic right whales come to have their young in the bays and coves of the peninsula. At sea-level, there's kayaking in False Bay or off Cape Point while divers can explore a number of marine reserves around the peninsula. .Winter's also the season for picking up great travel deals. September sees the wild flowers set the land on fire and May has the vineyards ablaze. Recently voted Africa's leading destination for the second time by the World Tourism Organisation, this city at the southern tip of Africa is the scenic gateway to the continent and straddles the inter-continental divide with cosmopolitan aplomb.The Cape Metropolitan area is home to four million people. You'll hear local languages like Afrikaans and Xhosa spoken but English is the most widely used of the eleven official languages. Since its establishment in 1652 as a way-station for European sailors rounding the Cape of Storms, Cape Town has long been known as the Tavern of the Seas. Three hundred and fifty years later, it retains this reputation.The city's diverse cultural heritage is reflected in the dining, shopping and sightseeing on offer. Malay, Indian and Indonesian slaves bequeathed the spicy food of the East, the distinctive mosques that dot the city and the annual New Year Coon Carnival, a vaudeville parade of white-faced, racoon-eyed minstrels, banjos, whistles and drums.The restored Victorian buildings of the city centre recall an English colonial past but today they house antique dealers alongside African jazz clubs. Jazz is a local speciality and in recognition of this fact, Cape Town is the venue for the international North Sea Jazz Festival every year.On the Foreshore, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a mall-rat's mecca built around a working harbour. Here too is IMAX, the biggest cinema screen in Africa, the world-class Two Oceans Aquarium which showcases the fishy denizens of both the Indian and Atlantic deeps as well as the departure point for the ferry to Robben Island, South Africa's first World Heritage site in honour of the prison's most famous inmate, Nelson Mandela.South of the city, the land juts 25 miles into the Atlantic like a crooked finger, enticing the visitor to explore further. The mountainous spine of the peninsula separates the cold Benguela from the warm Agulhas current flowing in from the Indian Ocean, on the east coast.West of the mountain ridge, the famous beaches of the Atlantic seaboard provide a spectacular viewpoint for sunset but the water is too cold for swimming. Surfers, swimmers and paddlers take to the tidal pools and warmer waters of False Bay, east of the Table Mountain range.A leisurely way of exploring this side of the peninsula is to take the train from Cape Town Station to the end of the southern line at Simonstown. Beyond the Southern Suburbs that genteelly shelter Kirstenbosch, one of the world's finest Botanical Gardens, the railway line encounters the sea at Muizenburg. Sea- kayaking, boardsailing, windsurfing and sailing are popular summer pastimes.From here, the railway line follows the coast around the western curve of False Bay past tidal pools and colourful bathing huts, quaint fishing harbours and gentle sweeps of beach.Climb off the train at any station to delve a little deeper into an eclectic shop or sample the seafood at the most popular restaurant this side of the mountain. Work up a thirst first by undertaking a caving expedition in the hills or walk from Muizenburg along the seaside path to Kalk Bay for lunch.The Brass Bell at Kalk Bay overlooks the village's fishing harbour as well as its own tidal pool and the lobster and calamari are as fresh as you'll find on a fishing boat. Then pick up the train for the next leg to Clovelly and Fishhoek for a dip in the Indian Ocean and finally on to Simonstown.A naval base since 1814, it has the air of an English seaside town with whitewashed Victorian boarding-houses overlooking Mediterranean-blue seas. Nearby Boulders Beach harbours a jackass penguin colony and here in the bays and shallows, you can snorkel amongst both boulders and penguins.Continuing from here on mountain bike as the railway line comes to an end, the coastal road leads to Cape Point where the Nature Reserve lies between you and the south-westernmost point of Africa. Antelope and ostrich share the end of the peninsula with day-trippers come to hike or bike on the hills and beaches. From the lighthouse, the sea falls away towards the Antarctic.The intrepid cyclist can continue on towards Cape Town, along the rocky Atlantic shoreline, on the west side of the peninsula, past quiet villages and deserted beaches, where only surfers brave the freezing waters. The leafy neighbourhood of Noordhoek boasts the longest beach on the peninsula and, unsurprisingly enough, horse-riding is a popular pastime in these parts along with the monthly art route through the studios of local artists.From Noordhoek, the road climbs ever upwards over Chapmans Peak where the cliffs loom tall above the crashing surf below. There are myriad walking trails through these windswept heights but two wheels, or four, will eventually roll you down the hill into Hout Bay.Another expansive beach and sheltered bay encourages sand-and-sail pursuits and the trendy restaurants and popular pubs are well-frequented in summer.The Atlantic seaboard is well-known for its beaches and the picturesque nooks and crannies of Llandudno, the next beach on our roller-coastal ride, allow a more private enjoyment of the spectacular scenery.Closer to town, the connoisseur can choose from the umbrellas, palm trees and volleyball nets of Camps Bay to the blondes and bikinis of Clifton. And if that doesn't raise you heart rate, there's always cage diving with the Great White Shark.Copyright © 2002 Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.