Robben Island Tour in Cape Town

My Robben Island Tour


I Took A Guided Tour Through South Africa's History: Robben Island


I had the following two days off from my internship at Riverlodge Backpackers and I was planning how to spend those days when I thought: Hey, why don’t you participate in a Robben Island Tour? That could be fun…. So my decision was made. Unfortunately, you need a credit card to book your ticket in advance, problem being that I don’t have one...But luckily my father agreed to let me use his. Problem solved, ticket booked for Saturday morning at 11am. And I was so excited!

On the Friday evening, I was invited over to dinner at Hannes’ friend's house. The evening was very nice and the dinner was absolutely delicious. We ended up staying there rather late. So, needless to say that I didn’t make it on time for my Robben Island tour. How could that happen? But never mind, I spend the day exploring Long Street in Cape Town's city centre, which was also fun.


Long Street night in Cape Town

Cape Town's famous Long Street  (Source: Google Images)


Luckily on Monday I was off again, so after a long indecisive phase, I spontaneously decided in the morning to spend my day at Robben Island. Once in the Robben Island Museum at the V&A Waterfront, it wasn’t so difficult to get at ticket for the next tour, also at 11.00, although we were supposed to be there half an hour before the start of the tour for the security check.  As I still had about an hour left until I had to be back again, I went off to grab some breakfast and get some snacks for the tour at Pick’n’Pay.

But let’s finally come to the interesting part: At some point it happened to be 10.30am and I was back at the Robben Island Museum and went where I previously was instructed to go: down the stairs right next to the information. I really couldn’t miss it because dozens of people were already on their way there. After going through the security check, I put on that orange bracelet saying Robben Island that identified me as a participant of the tour. Then we all proceeded to the departure point and got on board of the ferry “Sea Princess”, which was quite spacious and modern.
Sea Ferry to Robben Island Tour Cape Town
Sea Princess Ferry
Unfortunately all seats on the upper deck of "Sea Princess" were already occupied, so I had to sit inside during the 30 minute long cruise to Robben Island – but at least I didn’t get cold.

The farther we went out, the better the view of Cape Town got – it always amazes me how beautiful this city really is.
When we arrived at Robben Island, we got off of the ferry and were told to directly proceed to the buses, which would take us on a tour around the island. As they were pretty full, I got the guide’s seat, which was a single seat right in the front, which gave me a great view of everything. Our guide, whose name was Thabo, was very funny and friendly. He told us a lot about all the buildings we were passing, the history and everything we wanted to know. Our first stop was the Limestone Quarry, where we were allowed to get off the bus and take photos.
Limestone Quarry on Robben Island, Cape Town
Limestone Quarry ( Source: Google Images)
We learnt that each day the prisoners (including Nelson Mandela) of Robben Island were sent to the Limestone Quarry where they spent the day breaking limestone into piles of rocks. The work was exhausting. However, Nelson Mandela transformed the quarry into a classroom. Through many requests to the Red Cross and others, Mandela was able to obtain books of literature, history, politics and philosophy. Each prisoner was given a text and their assignment involved not just reading and understanding but also leading a seminar on the text for all the other prisoners. 
We got back onto the bus and continued our tour of Robben Island, nearing our “we made it halfway-stop”, where we were allowed to grab coffee and relax or explore the landscape for 20 minutes. The only thing I could focus on was the breath-taking view of Cape Town. I took a whole bunch of photos and was disappointed that the time went by so quickly, because after what felt like 5 minutes only, Thabo called for us to come back to our bus and occupy our original seats, so that we can continue our journey. 
On our left hand side we saw two completely black Oystercatchers and as they are not seen as often as the normal Oystercatchers, we stopped and our guide gave us a lecture about their uniqueness, how to spot the difference between male and female (the one beak is longer by approximately half a centimetre, which is of course absolutely noticeable) and made us aware of the fact that they are endangered, as they only lay very few eggs per season.
African Oystercatcher
African Oystercatcher (Source: Google Images)
On our right hand side, we could see vast grassland, almost totally covered with African Sacred Ibis. Although we already thought there were a lot of them, Thabo informed us that there would be many more in summer. I could only wonder where the heck they would all fit in. But nevertheless, it was a very impressive sight and those animals are really beautiful, at least in my opinion.

As we were about to pass the guns that were built for the World War II, but were only finished years after the end of the war (welcome to Africa), two little tortoises crossed our path and as we obviously couldn’t drive over them, Thabo had to get out and collect and place them on the grass next to the road, so that we could continue our tour. I bet I wasn’t the only one on the bus who would have loved to do that in his place! They are really so cute.
Following that, we only had a short look at the lighthouse, passed a lot of Eucalyptus trees and then our bus tour came to an end when we stopped in front of the actual Robben Island Prison, which was officially only closed in 2007, although all prisoners were released during the 1990’s. Did you know that? At least I didn’t…
Robben Island Prison Tour, Cape Town
Entrance to Robben Island's prison (Source: Google Images)
After bidding farewell to Thabo and our bus driver Andre, we were picked up by an ex-prisoner, who showed us around in the building and told us about his 5 years on Robben Island.

We got to see many single cells, of course Nelson Mandela’s cell, a group cell, the inner courtyard, the censor’s office and much more. All in all it was very informative, interesting and authentic, above all, due to the fact that our guide was an ex-prisoner, he had a lot of stories to tell.
Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island
Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island (Source: Google Images)
Our Robben Island Tour should have come to an end at 2pm, but by the time we finished, it was already half past. Then we were allowed to walk down the street to our ferry on the exact same way that Mandela walked after having been released.  And as we were rather late, the woman already called out for us to proceed to the ferry quickly and some of us almost missed the departure.
On the way back to the V&A Waterfront, I could get a seat outside, but still not on the upper deck, but that didn’t matter, because nonetheless I had the sun and the wind in my face. The approach to Cape Town was all in all simply beautiful, because it again allowed to a great view of the city and later also the Waterfront.
View on the way back from Robben Island
View of the way back from Robben Island
And that was the end of the Robben Island Tour and also a great day! Now I can tick off another thing on my “Things That I Have To Do Before I Leave Cape Town List”.

Nina Dammann
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