Cycling the Seaboard
Hello and Housekeeping
Hello, and welcome to your bike ride with Up Cycles, Cape Town’s only drop and go bike hire company. Now is a good time to adjust your volume. And find a comfortable place for your phone in your pocket.
Just before you start your ride, we have a few reminders to ensure your safety, and that you have as much fun on your journey as possible. Please don’t forget that our bicycles are back-pedals. Some of you might know them as contro-pedal, or rerto-pedalage.
What that means is that you need to pedal backwards to slow down or stop the bicycle. If you are not familiar with the braking system, have a quick test-spin around the square before you go. A good thing to remember is: the more you pedal, the easier it gets!
If you would like to ride with a helmet, make sure you have received one from an Up Cycles assistant before you depart. If you have any problems with the bicycle along the way, like a puncture or accident, our phone number is located under the seat. Give us a call, and we will come and rescue you.
Each bicycle has a bell, which lets people along the way know you are coming. Ringing it is also half the fun of the ride, so be sure to make yourself heard. If at any stage during the ride you feel nervous or uncomfortable, you can always get off the bike and walk until the coast is clear.
I'll give you directions as we go, so you can just put your phone away, and listen to the stories. VoiceMap uses your location to play commentary automatically. There might be patches of silence, but you'll hear my voice when you reach each location. If you think you might be lost, stop and take a look at the map to get back on track. Otherwise, just enjoy the ride!
Now you’re ready to go, make sure that you are standing with the Clock Tower behind you. You should be looking over the water, with the swing bridge ahead of you. If you’re lucky, the bridge will be open. If not, you may have to wait for a ship or two to pass.
You can ride or walk across, depending on the traffic. Go straight across and down the ramp, with the African Trading Post on your left. Be careful down the ramp and head towards your left-hand side. I'll meet you on the other side.
Veer left after the bridge
Once you are down the ramp, go towards the big yellow picture frame, with Table Mountain in the background. If you like, stop and take a photo. Table Mountain was recently voted one of the world’s seven new natural wonders.
Now turn right
When you're ready to move on from the frame, turn right. There are often buskers and singers here, and you can stop to enjoy some kind of traditional African music. Or maybe you’ll hear some cover versions of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of South Africa’s best-known bands.
Keep going around to the right, between the buildings up ahead
Keep going to the right, between the buildings up ahead.
Make sure the NSRI- the National Sea Rescue Institute- is on your right, and go straight towards the amphitheatre. The Waterfront often hosts free concerts here, and screens sporting events when South Africa’s national teams are in action.
Right again, beside the water
On your left will be a giant wheel, which offers fantastic 360 degree views of Cape Town. Turn right again, beside the water. Be careful down the ramp!
You can walk here if it is full of people.
On your right hand side you’ll see the jetties, where all sorts of boat tours into Table Bay depart from. Here, you can take a cruise into the bay, sail on a plush yacht around the Atlantic Seaboard to take in the sunset on the water at Clifton, or if you’re brave, head to Seal Island to see great white sharks.
Robben Island Jetty
Keep heading straight, with the water on your right. Behind the white building on your right is the original Robben Island jetty. It hosts an exhibition about the island.
Throughout your ride, you will see Robben Island on the horizon if you look to your right.
As far back as the 1700s, the island was used as a prison by the Dutch and then the British colonisers. It was also a leper colony in the 1800s. Most famously, it was where political prisoners like former state president Nelson Mandela were held during apartheid.
Today, the island is a heritage site. You can visit it, and see the cells where South Africa’s struggle heroes were confined, and the limestone quarry where they toiled. I always wonder how during apartheid, people in Cape Town could simply go about their lives, with Robben Island such a solidly visible reminder of the injustice in their midst.
Under and out
Carry on riding straight through the archway beneath the building ahead. Keep the the water to your right. This is where passengers from cruise ships often disembark, and take their first steps on South African soil.
We wish we could have a bike stand right here, so people could get off the boat and straight onto our bikes! Follow the road, and go past the security boom. I'll meet you at the stop street ahead.
Okay, we're taking a left here. If it’s safe, cross over the road and ride towards the opposite pavement. Make sure the coast is clear.
If you are not from a former British colony, now is a good time to remember: in South Africa, cars drive on the left!
Across the road and up the ramp
Once you have crossed the road ride up the ramp onto the pavement.
Veer left to ride along the concrete promenade with the ocean again on your right. For the rest of the ride you’re going to follow the water
Turn left with the dollose on the right
Turn left onto the deck.
On your right you’ll see some odd looking concrete structures. Those are dolosse. They are complex geometric shapes, weighing up to 20 tonnes each. Strewn along the sea wall, they protect the shoreline from the force of the Atlantic’s powerful waves.
Dolosse were invented in South Africa in 1963, and are now used in coastal cities around the world. The name comes from the Afrikaans word dolos, meaning "knuckle bone". It refers to the ‘knuckle bones’ used by African traditional healers, and by rural African children as toys.
The story of their invention has become a great South African tale of intrigue. Two engineers - Eric Mowbray Merrifield and Aubrey Kruger - both claimed credit for inventing them. Kruger insisted that it was his idea- which came to him in a rush of creativity one day over lunch. Sitting at his kitchen table, his version goes, he cut up some broomsticks and fastened the pieces together with nails, designing the rough shape that dolosse eventually became. But for some reason or other, it was Merrifield who ultimately claimed the accolades.
To us, the dolosse have always retained a kind of rugged aesthetic charm. They remind us to keep a sense of perspective. When faced with problems in our lives, the solution may seem complex, but it’s probably much simpler than we think.
Stay next to the water: The Atlantic
Keep riding along the deck alongside the water.
To your right is the Atlantic Ocean. Along with the Indian Ocean to the east, it forms South Africa’s coast line. The Atlantic gives Cape Town so much of its personality, contributes so much to the city’s atmosphere, and influences our daily experience of life here.
The Atlantic is many things to many people. As the Cape of Storms, it has been murderous. And as the main route for the Atlantic Slave Trade, it has painfully shaped the world’s history.
The water is harsh and cold - seldom more than 15 degrees. It is fed by the Benguela current, which brings icy flows from the South Atlantic. But to most Capetonians, watching the sunset beyond the horizon on our patch of Atlantic sea is truly magical.
Gratefully, the Atlantic also offers us frequent reminders that we are not the only ones here. The ocean is home to an incredible array of wildlife. It often makes us feel as if we are living inside a National Geographic documentary.
From cormorants, to oystercatchers, warblers and terns, birdwatchers will marvel at the life in the Cape’s Atlantic skies. Although right now if you look up, you’re most likely to see seagulls!
In the water, we’re often treated to the heart-warming sight of Cape fur seals. Or bottlenose, dusky and Haviside's dolphins.
And if we’re especially lucky, we see humpback whales, southern rights, Bryde's whales and sometimes even orcas, breaching and slapping their stupendous tails across the surface.
Cross the road and up the hill
You've now come to the end of the gravel path. Cross over onto the other side of the road, and ride up the hill to the stop street
Stadium and park
Turn right at this stop street.
In front of you is the Cape Town Stadium and Green Point Urban Park precinct, which were built by the City of Cape Town for the soccer World Cup in 2010.
The development was controversial. Critics suggested the stadium would become a white elephant, and that the public money should be spent on more pressing social needs. Today, it has become an iconic part of the Atlantic Seaboard skyline, and plays host to concerts as well as sports events.
South Africa’s national soccer team - Bafana Bafana - has played here. And the stadium is home to the city’s best local football club, Ajax Cape Town, who are known as the Urban Warriors.
The adjacent Park and Biodiversity Garden really is a special feature of the city. Inside you will find a well-maintained green belt that perfectly reflects the natural beauty of the Cape.
There is an indigenous plants garden, where you can learn about native flora and their medicinal and other benefits. And there are play areas for both children and adults that are free for the public to use and enjoy. It’s in this public space where the real magic of the new South Africa can be seen taking place. On any given weekend, you will see families of all shapes and colours, representing the country’s vibrant diversity.
Separated in the past, children of all backgrounds play here together. It’s loud and alive with the promise of South Africa’s unified future.
Pass the Radisson Blu
Keep going straight past the Radisson Hotel on your right, until you see the ocean ahead of you. Then, just keep following the pavement with the water on your right
Wreck of the Athens
If you look carefully out to sea, not far from the shore you will see an odd, man-made shape sticking out of the water.
That is a piece of the engine from a ship named the RMS Athens, which was wrecked between Mouille Point and Green Point on the 17th of May, 1865. On its way to Mauritius, the Athens fell victim to our coastlines’ tempestuous seas. All 300 hundred crew members drowned.
Today, there is little left of the wreck. But recreational divers can contemplate the tragedy, when they see the over one-hundred-year-old whiskey and medicine bottles still scattered below.
For good reason, the Cape has long been known to sailors as the Cape of Storms, or the Graveyard of Ships. There are as many as 300 sunken ships littering its ocean floors. In fact, another ship, The Piscataqua, sank in the exact same place as the Athens.
The first European to arrive in South Africa was Bartholomew Diaz in 1487. It was he who gave the Cape its ominous nickname, after his daunting experience navigating the rocky, angry coast. Perhaps the sea was angry about what the arrival of the ships would mean for the future.
It can be said that the terrible journey South Africa has travelled would never have taken place, if Diaz and his successors had never arrived.
And so, maybe the Cape of Storms was only trying to protect the country, by wrecking so many of the ships that attempted to land upon it.
From here, keep riding straight along the pavement, towards the beginning of the Promenade.
Right onto the prom
Now, turn right. This is where the Sea Point Promenade begins, although technically you’re still in Mouille Point. This Promenade is one of Cape Town’s most popular outdoor places. It is our home turf, and we love it.
Every day you’ll see people of all ages, shapes and sizes coming out to exercise, walk their dogs or go for a romantic sunset stroll. The Prom is inclusive, and everybody is welcome here, from players to prayers. It’s one of the places that gives the city its flavour, and we consider ourselves lucky to call it our backyard.
From the beginning of 2015, the City of Cape Town has embarked upon an impressive rehabilitation of the Promenade and the sea wall. Every time there is a big swell, during the winter or like a spring tide, the waves become especially violent. They batter the sea wall, and over the years they have had a devastating, corrosive effect.
And so the city is currently fixing the paving, and parts of the broken wall, so that we can continue to enjoy the Promenade for years to come. Pay attention to the tide as you ride past, or else you may find yourself sopping wet from one of the Atlantic’s sneaky waves!
Keep cycling along the Prom, with the ocean on your right hand side.
Although you’re still in Mouille Point, you will soon pass the Green Point Lighthouse. It's painted red and white like a candy cane, or barber’s pole.
First lit in 1824, this eye-catching feature of the Seaboard landscape is not just a pretty place to take a picture. It is the oldest operational lighthouse in South Africa.
It's called the Green Point Lighthouse, even though it is in Mouille Point, because the old Mouille Point Lighthouse was destroyed. And according to Lighthouse tradition, a new lighthouse may not take the name of an old one.
Local residents have a love-hate relationship with the lighthouse, mainly due to its loud and distinctive foghorn. The horn was installed in 1926, even though three years earlier, residents had written to the mayor, begging him not to allow it. When the coastal fog of winter descends over the Atlantic Seaboard, the lighthouse truly comes into its own.
It’s flashing white lights cast an otherworldly glow into the gloom, through which the ocean can be heard but not seen. And above it all, like a mother elephant mournfully searching for a lost calf, the foghorn bellows its deep and resonant tone.
While there is certainly something reassuring and even romantic about it, many a local has cursed a restless night of sleep, lost to the foghorn blows.
No cycling or skating
Keep going straight. If you look down at the ground, you may notice fading painted signs that suggest you are breaking the law!
Right up until 2012, cycling, rollerblading and skating were prohibited on the promenade. And some signs from the bad old days remain along the way.
Thankfully, you can ignore them, because the City of Cape Town has embraced the principles of active mobility and shared public spaces. Now, joggers, walkers and pets share this space with all forms of non-motorised transport.
But there are still a few old fashioned walkers who want bikes banned from the Prom. So be sure to ring your bell and smile as you cycle carefully past!
The City has viewed Up Cycles as an experiment, and kept us in their beady gaze. Although few people initially voiced their concern, bicycles quickly became part of the fabric of the promenade lifestyle. The Promenade is currently one of our only protected cycle paths. And we consider it a model for what can be achieved.
Our dream is to help develop a network of bicycle lanes, so that people can commute safely and quickly by bike. By participating in this voicemap ride, you have unwittingly become an advocate for a more bicycle-friendly Cape Town. So thank you!
As you follow the coast line you will pass a much-loved part of the Atlantic Seaboard. It’s a child and family friendly recreation zone.
You may have heard about the crime and security issues we sometimes face in South Africa. And visitors cannot help but notice the high walls we live behind.
But right here we can see that despite it all, Cape Town remains a fun place to be a child. Of the major South African cities, I think that Cape Town is the best one to grow up in. This is another one of the public places where you can see the healthy, outdoor lifestyle most of us love to lead, throughout our lives.
It’s a traditional place to bring your kids to play on the swings, ride the train or get lost in the maze. And the miniature golf course is a favourite for those awkward first dates. There is also something old-fashioned about this strip of the beachfront. It reminds me that this is one of South Africa’s most enduringly popular holiday destinations.
During what locals refer to as ‘season’, this place will be swarming with holiday makers from across the country and around the world, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of summer by the seaside.
Three Anchor Bay
This area has been known as Three Anchor Bay since the 1600s.
The name probably refers to a defensive chain that the Dutch colonisers stretched across the bay, which may have been secured by three anchors dropped into the seabed.
The bay has become part of South African literary folklore, since the suicide by drowning here of the poet Ingrid Jonker in 1965. Jonker’s mainly Afrikaans poetry was highly critical of apartheid, and she became a pariah to the community of her birth. After her suicide, her father- a functionary of the apartheid state - famously and callously said: "They can throw her back in the sea for all I care."
Keep following the promenade alongside the sea wall. On your left you will see the Sea Point outdoor gym. It has become Cape Town’s equivalent to Muscle Beach in Los Angeles, ever since it was opened in 2014.
As you continue to cycle along the Promenade, you will come across some interesting public art installations. The giant sunglasses on your left made news around the world, after they were installed on the grass.
The sculpture was originally intended to be placed on the beach at Camps Bay, and was simply designed to suggest some aspect of Cape Town’s beach lifestyle. The City then decided to move the sculpture to the Promenade instead, with its unbroken view of Robben Island.
And so the artist opportunistically claimed that his work was in fact - all along - a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who wore similar shaped sunglasses when working in the quarry as a political prisoner on Robben Island. The artist also received sponsorship from a sunglasses company, who festooned their logo on a plaque nearby.
Within days, the sculpture was the subject of outrage, cutting artistic critique and graffiti. People were enraged that the legacy of Mandela was co-opted and commercialised. And a vigorous debate about the nature of public spaces, and the question of who owns history, arose.
Today, while those philosophical questions continue to be asked, the sculpture has become a fun - and much climbed on and photographed - feature of the promenade landscape.
The Atlantic Seaboard is Ward 54 of the city’s municipal network, and in 2014 Art54 was launched. It’s a project which facilitates the placement of art in public spaces. We love how Art54 has turned the promenade into an outdoor gallery, even if not every piece of art on display is entirely to our fancy.
Keep pedalling along the promenade, and you will come to Rocklands Beach, which marks the beginning of our neighbourhood, Sea Point. To many, Sea Point is a quintessential seaside holiday neighbourhood. Many of the apartments stand empty until the holiday season, when their owners come from around the country and the world to relax for a few weeks.
But to us, Sea Point is our quirky, dynamic and ever-changing home. It is believed that the first development of the area that is now Sea Point took place around 1739, when Francois le Seuer arrived from France, to be the spiritual advisor of the Cape Governor.
Le Seur’s family lived on a large estate named Winterslust, which included land that is now both Sea Point and Fresnaye above. The Gallic connection endures, with so many French street names in the area.
During the 1800s, Sea Point grew as a residential area. And by the early 1900s, 10 000 people were resident here. According to the most recent census, as many as 14 000 people are lucky enough to called Sea Point their ‘hood today.
During apartheid, Sea Point was classified as a ‘whites only’ suburb. And while some aspect of that vulgar and unjust segregation lingers, Sea Point has evolved into a far more diverse and cosmopolitan place. To us, it seems as if contemporary Sea Point is a reflection of modern urban South Africa as a whole. We are no longer entirely separated by the colour of our skin. Instead, it is the colour of money that has become the main signifier of difference in South Africa.
On Beach Road for example, the sea front property is extremely expensive, and is owned by the rich and the few. But just one block up, on Main Road, Sea Point becomes a melting pot of people and cultures. There, South Africans from across the country, and migrants from every corner of the globe, go about their daily existences together.
In fact, the great scientist, Charles Darwin, would have been proud of the way Sea Point is changing for the better, after he made landfall in the area during his epic journey of discovery in the late 1800s.
The Sea Point contact zone, further along the Promenade, is a wonderful memorial to the evolution that we are all constantly a part of.
Keep riding straight along. Soon you will arrive at the Sea Point Pavilion, which is the home base of Up Cycles. We’ve been operating from here since November 2012, and I think that we have the best ‘office’ in the world.
We started our business with just five bicycles and two plastic chairs, and spent months just sitting at the Pavilion, talking to anybody who would stop to listen. We must have said something right, because three years later we’re still here! Our fleet has grown to 200 bicycles, with a network of stations, and thousands of happy customers. Riding a bicycle on the Sea Point Promenade is one of life’s simple pleasures.
We believe that getting more people to ride bikes is good for the city for so many reasons. And we couldn’t ask for a better place to realise our ambitions from. And we often have to pinch ourselves to make sure we’re not dreaming, and that our big idea to get ordinary Capetonians cycling is really taking off.
The Sea Point Pavilion is one of Cape Town’s most special public spaces. It belongs to everybody. People come to have picnics with their families, eat ice-cream and enjoy the view. On weekends and public holidays the Pavilion teems with life, with locals from every part of the city mixing together. In the summer time, people linger here late into the warm nights.
Down below is a popular beach, and next door is the Sea Point Public swimming pool, which people travel from all around the world to swim in.
Until recently, the destiny of the Pavilion was uncertain. Although it is a public space, a corrupt politician had awarded a businessman the right to construct a large private development here. The plan was to build a fancy hotel, a gym and a shopping centre, which would have radically altered the nature of the place. It would have meant that the average citizen would no longer be welcome here. The development would also have had a major ecological impact on the coastline.
Fortunately, the community said no, and a not for profit organisation named the Friends of the Sea Point Pavilion was formed, which mobilised to fight against the unlawful development of the space. Through the tireless advocacy of the Friends, the city authorities came to realise that the Pavilion is meaningful to many people, who would not give it up without a fight. The battle went all the way to the highest courts in the country, and was waged for over 10 years.Ultimately, the people emerged victorious, when a judge ruled that the Pavilion will be a public space forever, and that no private businessman will be allowed to develop it.
Today, that war may be over, but the Friends of the Sea Point Pavilion remain the guardians of the space. They have a lease from the City of Cape Town to look after the Pavilion, and they are our landlords. The money we pay as rent to trade here goes towards the upkeep of the Pavilion and the pool.
So once again, we have to thank you for your unwitting help! As our customer, you too have contributed to the maintenance of one of Cape Town’s favourite public spaces, so thanks!
That's the end! We hope you made it here safely, and that you enjoyed your ride. You can park your bicycle now, or if you still have some time left, we recommend following the ocean along the pavement for about 2.5kms more.
You find the amazing Sea Point Contact rocks, where Charles Darwin advanced his theory of evolution. You can then return your bicycle to the Up Cycles Sea Point Pavilion station.