Insider's guide to... Cape Town


What's the weather like now?Everyone in Johannesburg - Cape Town's rival - says it has been raining and windy here since June and it won't stop until December. In reality, even though the weather at this time of year - the southern hemisphere winter - tends to be akin to Marseilles in December, Cape Town is enjoying unusually balmy weather. But if there is no rain soon, the city will have water shortages and could suffer a repeat of last January's forest fires.

What's the weather like now?Everyone in Johannesburg - Cape Town's rival - says it has been raining and windy here since June and it won't stop until December. In reality, even though the weather at this time of year - the southern hemisphere winter - tends to be akin to Marseilles in December, Cape Town is enjoying unusually balmy weather. But if there is no rain soon, the city will have water shortages and could suffer a repeat of last January's forest fires.

What are the locals complaining about?The oil spill in June. A tanker sank after it was towed out of Table Bay harbour, causing a disaster for the world's biggest penguin colonies at Robben and Dassen Islands, off Cape Town. In an unprecedented operation, 20,000 penguins are being cleaned and fed. Another 20,000 were transported by road to Port Elizabeth and returned to the water. The authorities hope the water clean-up will be complete once the penguins have paddled back to Cape Town again.

Who's the talk of the town?Charlie Dempsey, the New Zealander who abstained in the last round of Fifa's voting over who would host the 2006 World Cup, causing the event to go to Germany. Little matters more to South Africans than sport.

What's the cool drink to order?Red Bull - the first drink to cross racial barriers in South Africa: if you're cool, you drink it. Best drunk with a sea view at Camps Bay, or at the downtown Blah Bar. Oh, and caffe latte has just arrived.

What are people eating?Fish, obviously - snoek from Hout Bay harbour or any of the local delicacies, like yellowtail, kingklip and Cape salmon. Always ask waiting staff to tell you the "line fish of the day'' and you could end up with the best plate of fish you've ever eaten.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV? S'camto - a new TV show on e-TV, the independent channel. It's aimed at teens and is all about sex. The 13-week series, currently showing, was made by 15 teenagers, and it has been endorsed by Zanele Mbeki, the president's wife, as part of her Love Life initiative to increase HIV awareness.

Where won't the locals dream of going?Anywhere fast: the pace of the Mother City is set, as if with a metronome, by the slow rolling of the waves on the beach. No one rushes, shops close early.

Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?Noordhoek - one of the most stunning, romantic beaches in southern Africa. It is 5km long, just 30 minutes from Cape Town, and has the best sunsets, walks and horse-riding.

Where are the chic shopping?South Africans think it's cool - but also practical and safe - to shop in malls. It is considered chic to buy imported clothes, especially if the label shows.

What's the trendy place to escape for the weekend?Darling. That's its name. The comedian Pieter-Dirk Uys has bought an old railway station there, about an hour's drive from the Mother City, and dedicated it to his drag character, Evita Bezuidenhout. He calls the cabaret venue Evita's Perron (Evita's railway platform in Afrikaans).

Alex Duval Smith is the Independent on Sunday's Africa correspondent.

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