Five audio walking tours in Cape Town

Posted by Iain Manley on 12 March 2015

I owe most of my view of the world to other people – to Mohammed, who guided me through a network of unpaved, medieval streets in Cairo, and to Jassem, who I followed into the cavernous depths of Aleppo’s souk, which was alive with the greetings of a thousand merchants then, but is rubble now.

Street art by Mak1 on the Revolution Route, an audio tour that tells the story of the freedom struggle in Cape Town.

Street art by Mak1 on the Revolution Route, an audio tour that tells the story of the freedom struggle in Cape Town.


I owe it to Dr Shastri, who spent hours talking to me about how life in his village on the Indian coast was being upended by tourism, and to Haining in Shanghai, who explored the laneway houses of his home city with me before we roved out of them together, into remote corners of China.

I met these people and many others while travelling, and I was lucky enough to spend almost all of my twenties overseas, mostly on the road, crossing borders overland. Then, two years ago, I came home to Cape Town and decided that it was time to stay, at least for a while.

I wanted to see Cape Town by looking at it through the eyes of other people, like I had seen places far away. What would Kirstenbosch look like if I was a botanist? How much more colourful would the Bo Kaap be if my family had lived there for nearly a century? Wouldn’t a walk along the Mouille Point promenade be totally different if I lived there and surfed at Off the Wall whenever there was a westerly swell?

It was this that inspired Lauren Edwards and I to start VoiceMap last year. (The work Lauren and I did providing tour buses and cruise ships with commentary that played at specific GPS co-ordinates was also an important stepping stone – but that’s another story.)

VoiceMap is a publishing platform for location-aware audio tours – or, with less jargon and more poetry, a way of seeing the world through another person’s eyes. We have 19 walking tours in Cape Town now, and because anybody can use our tools to tell a story, we hope to have 50 here by July, then 100, then 500, reflecting Cape Town’s many competing views and surprising intersections. To take a tour, all you need is our free app for iPhone or Android devices.

I’m proud to have played my part in all of these stories, but I have my favourites. I’ve listed five of them below. Some I mapped, edited and recorded myself; others I experienced for the first time as intended, by plugging in my headphones and going for a walk.

 

1. Mouille Point Promenade: A Maritime Meander

Shipwrecks play a prominent role in Justin Fox's story, especially the wreck of the Athens.

Shipwrecks play a prominent role in Justin Fox’s story, especially the wreck of the Athens. You can still see a part of it in Mouille Point, just off shore. It’s a short swim out in normal conditions, but the sea was so high when the Athens ran aground that none of the crew survived. A pig from the cargo hold had better luck.


Justin Fox is familiar to many of Getaway’s readers. He was the magazine’s Editor at Large, the editor of Getaway International and he is, in my opinion, South Africa’s most accomplished travel writer, with innumerable books under his belt. Justin is also a surfer, a sailor and a resident of Mouille Point. It’s his intimate connection to this part of the coastline that I like most about his walk, A Maritime Meander.

 

2. The Revolution Route

The Revolution Route is a walk by Gael Reagon and Iain Harris. Gael worked for an underground newspaper in the dying days of Apartheid and covered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for SABC TV. Iain is a music producer and journalist. When you hear men marching up Buitenkant Street or KhoeKhoe poet Jethro Louw singing about the third world, you’re in his excellent company.

The Revolution Route is dense in places. For the first half hour, while Gael sets the scene, you won’t walk much. I prefer to keep moving, but I’ve included the Revolution Route here because it has music and poetry and speeches, and they do a lot to augment your experience of place. It’s one thing to hear Mandela shouting “Amandla!” at home and another thing entirely to imagine him shouting it in front of you, to hundreds of thousands of people, on the Grand Parade.

 

3. Bo Kaap Walking Tour

Longmarket Street is steep with rough, irregular cobbles, but Shereen remembers nonchalantly riding her bike down it as a girl.

Longmarket Street is steep with rough, irregular cobbles, but Shereen remembers nonchalantly riding her bike down it as a girl.


Like Maritime Meander, the Bo Kaap Walking Tour is personal. But while Justin talks about a solitary intimacy with the sea, Shereen Habib describes her intimacy with a whole community.

There is also something wonderful about the Bo Kaap itself. Shereen calls it “the village in the city” and I only started to fully appreciate the neighbourhood when I first went on this walk. I’ve done it at least ten times since, with new staff, potential investors and journalists writing about VoiceMap, and I find myself tuning into something new every time – into the hand-painted signs, unpretentious street food or, most recently, a koran left open inside the tomb of a Sufi saint.

 

4. Kirstenbosch Walking Tour

The Boomslang

The Boomslang was recently voted the most beautiful object in South Africa.


This Kirstenbosch walking tour is our trickiest to follow because of the way it weaves through the garden. If you miss a turn, getting back on track can be like a treasure hunt. You’ll get there eventually with the help of our on-screen map, and the complexity of this route is actually a testament to how well Jeanette Clarke knows the gardens.

She’s a botanist and for the last 17 years, she’s visited Kirstenbosch almost every weekend. It’s her church and I find her passion for fynbos and the plant life from the rest of the continent infectious.

 

5. Muizenberg to Kalk Bay: A Coastal Stroll

Two are Muizenbergs many cultures:  the Victorian propriety of bathing boxes and surfers

Two of Muizenberg’s many cultures: the Victorian propriety of bathing boxes and surfers that say “shoo wow”.


I did this walk yesterday. It follows the catwalk from Muizenberg to St James, where it joins Main Road and carries on to the Brass Bell. Muizenberg resident Maggie Follet is excellent company, and her slightly eccentric, old-fashioned language complements the fading grandeur of the False Bay coastline perfectly. (At one point, Maggie mentions going online for photographic evidence of George Bernard Shaw surfing at Muizenberg. It’s here.)

I ended the walk as Maggie suggested, with “a carefree quaff or two” at the Brass Bell’s crowded upstairs bar. There’s a door that opens out onto Kalk Bay Station, and when a train rattled past, I was a traveller again for a moment, looking out at Cape Town with different eyes.

 
Iain Manley is the CEO and Co-founder of VoiceMap.






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