This energetic working harbour is one of South Africa's most popular tourist attractions. Today the V&A Waterfront attracts more than 20 million visitors each year - locals and international tourists alike. With over 400 stores and 45 different restaurants and bars to offer, an arts and crafts centre, an internationally renowned aquarium, a children's science exploratium and a museum - it's not difficult to see why !!
Since its origin in 1860, the Port of Cape Town provided an important haven along the Eastern trade routes. By the time Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's second son, tipped the first load of stone into the sea to initiate the construction of Cape Town's harbour, the city had already been transformed into a hive of seafront activity. Even today many exotic and diverse products can be found here. The discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa necessitated an elaboration of the existing harbour section.
The two harbour basins were constructed between 1860 and 1920, and the area is noted for its heritage buildings which retain the charm of Victorian industrial architecture and a harbour built for sail and the early days of steam travel. Redevelopment of this famous site began in 1988 and continues today around the original Victoria and Alfred basins.
With over 400 stores, the V&A Waterfront caters to all shopping needs in a huge range that will suit any budget or taste. The unique blend of Victorian architecture, maritime tradition and African culture creates an environment that is lively and cosmopolitan. All stores at the V&A Waterfront are open until 9pm, seven days a week for your convenience, and there are over 6000 open-air and underground parking bays, patrolled and monitored 24 hours a day for greater peace of mind.
The Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre forms the bulk of the retail space at the Waterfront. The shopper is presented with a wide variety of national retailers, boutiques and services, along with a superb selection of restaurants, coffee shops and fast food outlets. The adjoining Red Shed Craft Workshop offers an eclectic wealth of ethnic treasures, handmade curios and art, shark's teeth and gemstones. The Alfred Mall is situated within the historic Pierhead and houses quality specialist artefacts, jewellery, curios and art with a nautical or African flavour.
The Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower was the original Port Captain's Office, which was completed in 1882. This icon of the old docks was restored in 1997, and has become an important focal point in the Waterfront's recent urban design.
The Time Ball Tower was built in 1894 and is situated next to the Harbour Engineer's former residence, the Dock House. The Time Ball is a signalling device whereby ship's masters were able to test the accuracy of their chronometers whilst docked. It remained in use for 40 years, then lay idle for 63 years when new technology outdated it, and was finally restored and officially recommissioned in November 1997.
The Dragon Tree (dracaeno draco) planted next to the Time Ball Tower is a species originally from the Canary Islands. Believed to have been planted over 100 years ago by a sailor passing through Cape Town, the sap ("dragons blood") of these trees was once popular as a medicine to treat dysentery and diarrhea.
The original Breakwater Prison was constructed in 1860 to house the convicts working on the breakwater. The remains of a treadmill alongside the former prison building remind of the punitive penal attitudes of the 1890's. The building now houses the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business and the Breakwater Lodge, a comfortable non-graded hotel.
The South African Maritime Museum showcases the maritime history of Table Bay and houses the most extensive collection of model ships in South Africa. Floating exhibits in the Victoria and Alfred Basins include the SAS Somerset - a retired Naval Defence Boom Vessel and the Alwyn Vincent - a coal-fired steam tug. Both may be boarded for a nominal fee.
There are numerous other historical buildings within the V&A Waterfront boundaries. Among the most interesting are Ferryman's Freehouse/Mitchell Scottish Ale House (1860), the Dock House (1880), the Old Power Station (1882), the Harbour Café (1902),\ and the Union Castle Building (1919).
The most special feature of the Waterfront is probably the familiar sight of a colony of Cape fur seals resting on the seal landing in the Clock Tower precinct, or on old tyres lining the quaysides. The seals are an integral part of harbour life, and can often be seen posing on postcards.
The Two Oceans Aquarium
The Two Oceans Aquarium is a window on the oceans, offering glimpses of the diverse life found off the South African coastline. Over 3000 living animals, including fishes, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles and birds can be seen in this spectacular underwater nature reserve. The Aquarium offers unique opportunities such as diving with the sharks and copper hat diving, sleepovers for children, facilities for conferences and functions and the daily feeding of the fishes at 15h30 in the I&J Predator Exhibit.
The V&A Waterfront Marina
Part of the vision for the V&A Waterfront was for it to be lived in. Six years of planning and designing are now taking shape in the form of the V&A Marina, one of the world's foremost Marina developments. The development is aimed at the world's most affluent, and offers a quality and standard of finish to rival the world's best.
The V&A Waterfront Marina is being developed in phases and when complete will consist of some 600 dwelling units with over 200 boat moorings. All the units are on the water's edge and a short walk through this secure estate along gently lit landscaped walkways finds you in the heart of the V&A Waterfront.