The City Sightseeing ‘Hop on, Hop off’ red bus is a common sight in Cape Town. I’d always wondered where it was taking people, idly thinking it must be somewhere pretty good judging by the eager looks on their faces.
Turns out it is somewhere pretty good, or rather a lot of somewheres. Arriving at the Two Oceans Aquarium pick-up point a little early, I watched red buses pulling in and out like clockwork. People hopped on or off as the buses stopped next to either the red sign or the blue one.
I was destined for the blue ‘peninsula’ route and upon entering the bus I was greeted with a genuine smile and told to sit anywhere I liked. Like an excited little boy I rushed straight to the top and to a seat right at the front, from where I could peer through the huge wall of window in front of me.
Happily the front part of the top of the bus is covered, effectively defeating Cape Town’s determined deluge.
As we began moving there was a buzz of excitement from the people sitting around me. I thought I was used to Cape Town, but sitting high up and going nowhere in particular I quickly started to notice new things as we moved across the foreshore and into town. Accordingly, I felt like I was on holiday, and I wasn’t the only one judging by the healthy banter being slung around on the second storey of the bus. Having met a bunch of new people, and with our eyes swivelling in unison to latch onto sights of the Mother City, I was really starting to click as to why the famous red bus is so successful.
Finally paying some attention to the bundle of earphones I had been given upon entry I plugged one side into the box next to me, selected English (there are 16 languages available) and popped one into my ear. I was rewarded with commentary that systematically pointed out landmarks and points of interest before providing rich historical background information. Occasionally, geared at tourists, the voice would take the opportunity to effuse on how amazing Cape Town is. Fine by me.
One earphone if you feel like being social, two if you don’t. Either way, when you’re on the road, you’re definitely going to learn about some things you didn’t know about before, whether it’s Cecil John Rhodes, indigenous plant life, historic battles, folk tales or humorous pieces of history. This is a very well informed voice.
This particular tour deviated slightly from normal, and we stopped to pick up Miss Earth SA’s finalists. Suffice to say that levels of excitement on the bus rose a little.
We made a short stop at the brand new ticket office/delicatessen for sandwiches and biscuits before continuing on our way to Groot Constantia.
Despite the rain, it was a beautiful drive, and as the all-knowing voice pointed out, the city of Cape Town is humbled by its surroundings. We all go on about the mountain, and don’t get me wrong – it’s a great mountain – but there is so much more to appreciate, and the red bus opens your eyes to a bunch of other things you never realised you loved so much. That old windmill next to the M3 for example, the Newlands forest and those huge trees lining the road to Constantia. Hearing about these things and seeing them from a tourist’s point of view filled me with pride. There is so much to South Africa that we have become too used to, but I’d bet even the most jaded South Africans would start to feel more attuned to their country after a trip on this bus.
Efforts made by the City Sightseeing company for a greener operation have led to the red bus being officially certified as the first Carbon-Neutral bus operator in South Africa. This has been achieved by reducing carbon emissions wherever possible and offsetting remaining emissions by purchasing carbon credits in support of Cape Town composting company, Reliance.
When we got to Groot Constantia we were treated to fine wine tasting and some phenomenal finger foods. The atmosphere was laid back and conducive to conversation, and by the end of the stop I had a sense of who most of the people on the bus were and was familiar with all of the faces. This is the unsung element of the red bus – it’s really a shared experience, and the group dynamic gives the trip that extra bit of excitement that tops off the whole experience.
Back on the bus, I decided to join a few others on the open deck at the back of the bus. The wind and rain ensured a thrilling and carefree stint of open air, even if it did force us back under cover before long.
The trip continued to the Imizamo Yethu township in Hout Bay, where, due to time constraints of this special media tour, and possibly also the high heels of the Miss Earth contestants, the walking tour was cancelled. But we were bundled into a township taxi and taken to Ikhaya le Themba, a ‘home of hope’ for young children which offers holistic after-school care and meals. It was heart-warming and inspiring to see what is being done there, and after spending some time with the children we made our way back to the warmth of the bus and headed along the beautiful coastal road through Camps Bay and Sea Point, eventually arriving back at the aquarium.
Hopping off for the final time and bidding farewell to my newfriends, I felt a pang of sadness that it had all come to an end, coupled with the warm feeling of a full and constructive day well spent.