Veronica's look was beautiful: a pale blue body patterned with the multiple colours of South Africa's rainbow nation. Inside she was the epitome of analogue cool – plenty of unfussy seating inside her 1990s Volkswagen Kombi frame. Ageing, she panted a bit on the Cape Town hills but she was cool company for our urban safari which blitzed the Cape Town Sights in a day.
Kiff Kombi Tours, launched last year in Cape Town, offers first-time visitors an overview of this gorgeous South African city by capturing its top sites in snapshot stops. There's no way you could cover this much ground in one day and – if you only have one day to spend in the "Mother City" – this is a great way to connect to Cape Town's vibe. Only problem is the tour will leave you hankering for more.
Spices and candy coloured homes of Bo Kaap
Our group – a rainbow mix of folk from Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, and Zambia – boarded Veronica in downtown with guide Richard at the helm. Our first stop was a picturesque area once known as the "Malay Quarter". On a rising slope in downtown Cape Town a couple of streets are lined with buildings painted in ravishing colours – fuchsia pink, canary yellow, cobalt blue, and neon green. It was time for the sunglasses as the sun bounced off the dazzling coloured walls.
This is Bo Kaap, Richard told us, the Malay and Muslim quarter of Cape Town.
"Bo Kaap means ‘Above the Cape' in the Afrikaans language."
Richard explained as we walked past the bright pop colours of the buildings in Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian style – the first built in 1760 which was later converted into a mosque. By 1900 the population was half Malay and half Muslim, by 1950 it was a fully Muslim quarter after the government decreed it a Muslim-only area.
Tucked away behind parked cars is the Atlas Spice Shop. We could smell it way before we walked through its doors. Turmeric, dates, cinnamon and a hundred ther rich smells wafted out into the street luring shoppers in.
Slaves and scurvy
As we munched on fresh dates from the store, Richard put the pedal down on Veronica giving us juicy snippets of history as we crossed a downtown chock full of traffic lights. When the Dutch settled in 1652 they numbered 116 men and 16 women. We passed the leafy entrance to Company Gardens, where those first Dutch settlers planted vegetables, and a vineyard.
The Dutch built a vineyard to prevent scurvy, Richard recounted. The imposing corner plot of the Slave Lodge marks the spot where slaves were sold over 170 years of trading before abolition in 1834. The Castle of Good Hope, built by the Dutch in 1679, was dwarfed by buildings and freeways, we noted.
Cape Town's District Six
Richard pulled in at Charly's Bakery on the edge of District 6, one of the city's most famous bakeries, and a star of several TV shows. It's both eye candy, and confectionery heaven with its sweet line in bright cup cakes in 101 sugary styles. There's no limits to the imaginations of these master bakers; the Norwegians buy a "turd" cupcake, a chocolate creation that looks like a steaming pile of ... The verdict on the taste was very good, though.
Veronica climbed into the District 6 area as Richard explained that under the apartheid government in 1966 the administration moved the area's non-white residents to an area called the Cape Flats, now home to millions in townships.
"Some 60,000 people lived in District 6. The apartheid government didn't want any non-whites living there. Today all that remains is a mosque and a church. Everything else was bulldozed."
Veronica passed whole swathes of grassy areas devoid of life and buildings. In any other country on earth such prime real estate would house dozens of residences but these empty plots of the city are mired in controversy and future plans are battled over by multiple interested parties.
Nearby was a more life-affirming location – the hospital where Dr Christiaan Banaard performed the first heart transplant, 60 years ago in December 1967 at Groote Schuur Hospital.
Cafes, culture, craft beer and street art
Swinging into the Woodstock District to the sounds of South African Afro-Indy band "Ben Dey" and the "Concrete Lions" on the stereo, Richard told us about Woodstock's transformation.
"Thirty years ago this area of the city was run down; it was a notorious neighbourhood and was patrolled by gangs with drugs as the trade of the day but now it's quite trendy with new apartment buildings going up."
We cruised by urban-cool cafes, boutique shops, restaurants, and huge walls emblazoned with street art, a form of protest which emerged here in the 80s.
Lunch was at the Devil Peak's Brewing Company Salt River Taproom, a huge brick industrial building converted into a cavernous space for eating and drinking. Here was a chance to tap into Cape Town's emerging craft beer scene by tasting beer and sausages.
Our paddles were served with five beers and five sausages. My favourite was the Xperimental, a pale ale with a citrusy fruity flavour paired with a very moreish curry sausage. My only complaint was that I could have done with a second round!
Hout Bay highlights
Heading out of Cape Town to the sounds of electronic duo "Goldfish", Veronica struggled. Maybe it was the extra weight from the beer and sausages' lunch, or maybe Veronica didn't get enough juice herself? She grumbled and then refused to go any further.
Uber came to the rescue and we continued our tour, beer bottles in hand, gliding rather more effortlessly through fresh-air forests towards Hout Bay. When the good-looking stakes were handed out in South Africa, Hout Bay was up there taking the top award. This perfectly curved bay is a stunner.
"Hout Bay means 'Wood Bay'. Hout Bay folk even had their own passports. They regarded themselves as special."
Richard told us as the sea came into view. With awesome views like this, why wouldn't they?
Hout Bay is a segregated community, though, and the squatter camp Imizamo Yethu is the "perfect example of South Africa" Richard explained, referring to the continued segregation and economic inequalities that persist in South Africa today, some 27 years after apartheid ended. A fire last year destroyed half the township and the government erected shipping containers for those who lost their homes. The shipping containers are visible in a plot of land opposite the camp.
From Hout Bay we climbed towards Chapman's Peak Drive, an awesome cliff-hugging road which curls its way out of Hout Bay towards the Cape Peninsula taking in the wild coast of the cape and panoramic views of Hout Bay. The sun is out, the shades are on, and the views are breathtaking. There really was no need to be anywhere else!
In 1936, the last leopard in the area was spotted in Hout Bay; a bronze replica can be seen perching on the rocks set against the sparkling, chalky turquoise sea.
Wine, sea and sun
I thought the views couldn't get any better but we passed Noordhoek, a wild creamy crescent of sand, popular with horse riders, lapped by the indigo seas of the Atlantic, before swinging inland to Cape Point Vineyards for one of South Africa's greatest attractions: chilled white wine.
The six-times award-winning vineyard laps up breeze which "cools the grapes" our taste master explained. Cooled grapes obviously make great wine. Its fruity Splattered Toad Sauvignon Blanc 2017 slipped down nicely as we sat in the sunshine with distant views of the sea.
Our last stop was to a secret location, Richard revealed, as the Uber whisked us half way up a mountain. At the end of a residential road, we walked right onto a cliff edge past giant boulders, for another of South Africa's dreamy views. Stretched out, facing the sea, were a series of protruding cliffs from the base of Table Mountain – known as the 12 Apostles – overlooking a series of sandy crescents backed by highly desirable coastal residences.
"Those beaches down there are the Clifton Beaches but they're divided up into the hipster beach, the family beach, the nudist beach, and the gay beach."
Richard pointed out.
"What if you're a hipster gay nudist parent? Where do you go?"
I asked, still surprised that Richard didn't clonk me over the head.
Kiff means "super cool". Sat up here on the boulders with this magnificent view, it'd be hard not to agree that Kiff Kombi was a cool way to explore this coolest of global cities.
Note: In late December, Veronica was retired and another van joined Kiff Kombi, a Toyota, by the name of Trev!