ATTENTION: Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, events may be cancelled or postponed. We will endeavour to keep this site updated with the latest news on such decisions. Please follow us on Facebook and Instagram, or sign up to our Newsletter for the latest information, including how to claim refunds.

Review: Below the Surface Tour


Below the Surface tourIt’s Saturday morning and I’m in a tunnel underneath Upper Buitenkant Street with a guide who looks like Shane from The Walking Dead. This is definitely not a regular Cape Town tourist attraction.

The Below the Surface tour is run by the adventure and events company Figure of 8. The concept came about spontaneously when the company used the tunnel for a team building exercise. It was so well received that it became a tour on its own.

It was an early start with a rendezvous at the Castle’s parking lot from where we were transferred by a mini bus taxi to our first manhole. A quick briefing, a headlight and bulky gumboots later and I was down a drain, having a remarkable amount of fun.

For the most part the air merely smelt musty, like wet clothes that were left in a basket overnight. Not at all like a sewer. Happily there were no rats to be seen but there was more than enough wildlife in the form of cockroaches to get the get the skin crawling with mild revulsion every now and then, though the fascination of the tunnels themselves quickly distracted me.

Below the Surface is ideal for three kinds of people: history buffs, engineer types and dreamers. The history buffs will particularly appreciate the 200-350 year old sections of the tunnel. These older parts were made out of the bricks that were used as ballast to weigh down the slave ships that came over from Britain empty.  The ballast was dumped in Cape Town, to be replaced with a cargo.  At one place it is possible to see the stamp of a British brick company that went out of business a few decades ago.

The engineer types, and I use this as a broad term, will enjoy explaining the “why” to everyone, even if they just figured it out themselves. The first year chemical engineer student of our group was fascinated about the oldest part of the tunnel that was slightly less round than the newer sections. This led to a long discussion about the technology that was available at the time.

Meanwhile the dreamers were pretending to be in a secret passage, escaping marauding hordes or perhaps the attentions of an over amorous suitor. Until they slipped on slime that is. I am the latter category.  Stop looking up at the mountain, people, and spare a thought for all that is going on under your feet.

by Jana van Heerden

Figure of 8 in association with Reclaiming Camissa is holding Walk of Cape Town in celebration of Wold Water Week. The tours include a historical and cultural walk around Cape Town ending in the tunnel adventure. The tours run from 19 – 25 March 2012. For more details of this tour and the regular Below the Surface tour go to




Discussion3 Comments

  1. As a Civil Engineer who has been working as a tunneller for many years I found the description of the Cape Town sewer tunnels of great interest. There must be someone who knows about the history of these tunnels – said to be 200 to 300 years old. The oldest water tunnel was built in the E.Cape in about 1840, and of course there are two water tunnels on Table Mountain constructed somewhat later. As a member of the History & Heritage Committee of the SA Institution of Civil Engineering I’m keen to learn more about what must be the oldest Tunnels in SA. Who can tell me more?? regards, Tony Boniface Pr Eng

    • Piet, ek het dieselfde vraag aan Dwain (eienaar van Figure of 8 en organiseerder van die ervaring) gevra en ek was meer as tevrede met die R400 nadat hy sy antwoord gegee het. As jy in ag neem dat die R400 vir die Kasteel, Fo8 staf en groepleiers, die kopligte en batterye, die gumboots, die taxis/bussies, die koeldrank en die versnapperinge wat ‘n mens na die tyd geniet gaan…nie eers te praat van Dwain se petrol en eie tyd om die ding te organiseer (en elke individu soos ons se e-mails en vra te beantwoord nie)…kan ‘n mens sien dat hy dit beswaarlik vir minder kan doen. En tog is Figure of 8 oop om oor die prys te gesels as ‘n mens met ‘n groot groep na hulle toe gaan. Dis nou nie iets wat ‘n mens elke naweek sal wil doen nie, maar vir ‘n “iets anders” is dit beslis die geld werd!


Leave A Comment

  • Sign up
Lost your password? Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.