Michael Church in South Africa

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2010, 12:00am

Local resident Ridhwan asks what Cape Town and a pregnant woman have in common. It takes nine months for anything to happen! The contrast between Cape Town and Johannesburg is immediately apparent on the approach to the Mother City; the dusty, dry grasslands that surround the country's biggest, most vibrant - and indeed most crime-riddled - city feel like they are a continent apart.

The savannah of the highveld gives way to mountains and sheer cliff faces as the coast approaches and where once the land appeared barren, the topography goes through regular and striking changes.

Beyond the jutting peaks of sandstone and granite that make up the Cape Fold Belt range, the fertile flatlands that provide Cape Town and its surrounding area with much of its sustenance unfold below; lush, deep greens dominate the landscape. It's not hard to see why the Western Cape region is home to the country's booming wine industry, such is the fertility of the soil that plays host to such colourful flora.

Nothing, though, compares to the spectacular sight of Table Mountain as it majestically peers over the city below; the approach has been likened to the iconic symbol of 2014 World Cup host Rio de Janeiro.

From the sheer cliffs down to the flatlands that sweep all the way to the bays and the beaches in the distance it must rank as one of the most spectacular sights in the world; such a vista makes it easy to appreciate the reasons the earliest European settlers made this their landing spot of choice. With the very different environment comes an altogether different experience when compared to the vast northern expanses of South Africa.

Missing is the nervous energy on which Johannesburg feeds; there is no sense of foreboding or impending concern of conflict. Instead, Cape Town is tranquil, relaxed and possessing the air expected of Africa's premier holiday destination.

Some in Johannesburg refer to Cape Town as 'Slaap Stad' - the sleeping city in Afrikaans - and while the atmosphere is certainly calmer, there is no lack of vitality in a society that is so strikingly different to the rest of the country. Poverty still exists here - how could it not in a nation largely in its grip? - and what the South Africans call the 'informal settlement' of corrugated iron shacks that sits adjacent to the exit of Cape Town International Airport seems to stretch for miles.

Closer to the city, though, the signs of affluence and security abound and yet there appears to be no significant need for razor wire and high electrical fences. Walking through the streets at night is no more of a risky endeavour than it would be elsewhere in the world. Showrooms for the highest quality brands are in abundance: Ducati, Aston Martin and Lexus are on sale to those who can afford them, and with the number of Mercedes and BMWs on the road, it's clear there is a significant market.

Along the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, boats and yachts of varying capacities bob up and down on the ocean as the tourist throngs stroll past the restaurants and bars that populate the shoreline; it's reminiscent of Sydney's Darling Harbour.

A short wander inland lies Long Street and the earthier bars and restaurants that populate a street dotted with backpacker lodges and Cuban themed pubs, still touristic but lacking in the middle class sheen that exists less than a kilometre down the road. Both are in the vicinity of Cape Town Stadium, the home of the city's involvement in the World Cup and a venue designed to be as impressive as the surroundings among which it sits.

Built on the site of the old 18,000-seater capacity Green Point Stadium - the reason the name continues to be used for the venue, even though Cape Town Stadium is its official title - the new stadium cost in the region of 4.4 billion rand (HK$4.7b). Along with Soccer City, it has become one of the icons of South Africa's hosting and, approaching at night, Cape Town Stadium possesses an extraterrestrial aura that only increases the sense of the spectacular.

On the other side of town, up and over the steep-ridged roads that run below Table Mountain is Camps Bay, where the beautiful people spend their evenings sipping on champagne and partying until the small hours by the side of the Atlantic Ocean, along palm tree-lined boulevards. It is a buzzing, throbbing centre of fine restaurants and nightclubs populated by a cosmopolitan crowd of indeterminate racial mix. It represents the perfect collaboration of the positives of South Africa's turbulent history.

Where Johannesburg is obviously a city dominated by the black population and where the sight of mixed-race couples is rare, Cape Town is a racial melting pot; coloureds - as the South Africans have long designated those of mixed heritage - are in the majority. It only serves to highlight the diversity that makes South Africa such a fascinating nation and which has made this country such a enthralling and engaging host.