Upon approaching Robben Island there is a sense of calmness that washes over you, as you gaze over the terrain. For an Alcatraz of sorts, with a rather dark history, Robben Island is one of the Mother City’s most beautiful destinations. It encompasses the rich history of the world heritage site. The Robben Island Museum (RIM) history recounts the tale of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment on the Island for eighteen years.
My companion and I arrived bright and early at the V&A Waterfront
We took a stroll, passing all the shopping districts, crafts, local talent, restaurants, and all mall goers. The atmosphere was practically bubbling with energy.
Robben Island tickets can be purchased online or from the box office found near the Clocktower at the V&A Waterfront. We paid R400 per ticket for the general tour, after showing our South African ID. There is also a new longer tour to choose from.
Our ticket included the return journey by boat, museum entrance upon arrival on the island and expertly guided tour experience. The Robben Island Museum is responsible for managing and maintaining the world heritage site.
We are free – “Sikhululekile”
The Robben Island Tour is a 3.5-hour picturesque adventure (roundtrip). Our day of departure was warm and sunny, with a slight breeze from the ocean. We boarded our spacious, modern, and well-named ferry “Sikhululekile”. This is the Zulu word, meaning we are free. The ferry of freedom ensued and we got closer to the island, where we witnessed the magnificent views of Table Mountain and Cape Town from the ocean.
The boat ride to the island is approximately an hour
When approaching Table Bay, you might spot dolphins out enjoying the waves caused by the boat. The waters of Table Bay have also been known to be choppy and this can cause a bumpy boat ride. If you’re concerned about feeling seasick, it’s best to bring along an anti-motion sickness pill. You should also try and secure a spot above deck, in the crisp air.
Once on the island, we were led onto our tour bus. This makes it easier to tour all the sites the island has to offer. As you make your way onto the island be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the abundance of Cape fur seals, frolicking in the water. This is the inspiration behind the name of the island, ‘Robben’, which is a Dutch word for ‘seal’.
The island has been known to get pretty chilly at times, so be sure to bring a jacket along, however, the sun can also be strong, so bring a pair of your favourite sunglasses, and some sunscreen.
Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe
One of the highlights on the Island was getting to see the maximum-security prison, in which Nelson Mandela was kept. The limestone quarry, where convicts were forced into strenuous labour was another. We also got to see the house where Robert Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement. Our tour guide was very informative, sharing the fact that Nelson Mandela would visit the island, his prison cell, and the quarry.
The island also has a post office, church, school, and lighthouse. Once merely a place used to stow away those who were deemed ill with lepers’ disease, would later be used as an insane asylum, and then used to house convicts. The island is also home to many old buildings and many graveyards. Many of the graveyards were filled by those who died from lepers.
In spring the island is blooming with arum lilies, and tortoises can also be found slowly making their way from pillar to post.
Today the island represents the beauty and resilience of the human spirit. Better known as the place of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, the island has fantastic landscapes and history, just waiting to be explored.
To stay up-to-date with new developments and announcements at the Robben Island Museum:
Visit our website www.robben-island.org.za and social media pages
Good to know
This new Walking Tour is not the standard tours on offer to Robben Island (which is priced between for R400 for adults and R210 for children under 18). This new Walking Tour will cover some sites that are not covered by the standard bus tour. These sites were upgraded during the nationwide lockdown in 2020/1 – including the Visitors’ Centre, the land of banishment and the Robert Sobukwe Complex. What also makes it unique is the fact that visitors will be walking to these sites (on the footsteps of those who came before us) and have a chance to ask questions and interact with the tour guide who will be guiding them on the walking tour. In addition there is the rich biodiversity of the island that will be showcased. The new Walking Tour includes the ferry ride to/from Robben Island.
Share your top Cape Town Big 6 moments with us!
ONE DESTINATION, SIX UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCES
There is no one way to explore all of the Cape Town Big 6, and much of what makes each of them so special is the variety of things to see and do at each. So if possible, take your time to explore each of the city’s most visited tourist attractions in as much depth as possible – as any local will tell you, you can spend a lifetime at each of the Big 6 and still not tire of them. Find the 3 and 4 day itineraries and tips here.