It’s no secret that Cape Town, one of the most-visited and beloved cities in the world, has a water-management crisis compounded by abnormally low rainfall and soaring temperatures. The good news is, thanks to huge water savings by residents, augmentation of the water supply and some seasonable rain, Day Zero has been pushed out to 2019, contingent on good winter rainfall.
Go2Africa is based in Cape Town, almost all our staff live here and it’s one of our most popular destinations for our international clients. We love being able to show you Table Mountain, the Winelands, the African penguins at Boulders Beach, the southern right whales along the coast and the magnificence of Cape Point. We love sharing our funky restaurants, great food, affordable accommodation and overall fantastic attitude.
We’ve decided to take a positive approach to Cape Town’s future and your visit. While it’s definitely not ‘business as usual’, with some clever planning and our expert advice based on two decades’ worth of on-the-ground experience in Africa, you can still come to Cape Town during the drought and have a memorable, comfortable and water-wise vacation.
1. Choose a hotel with water-management resources in place
There is no more or less water on the planet today than there was in the past – it’s just taking different forms (icebergs are melting and rivers evaporating) and falling in different places and at changing times of the year.
So we all have to get smarter about holding onto and reusing the limited water we have access to. Hotels across the city have already put various measures in place like:
- Harvesting rainwater in huge containers called ‘JoJo tanks’. This water is used for topping up swimming pools, washing vehicles, watering gardens and so forth.
- Reusing grey water (‘used’ water) from bathrooms and kitchens, often to flush toilets.
- Rethinking cleaning schedules: towels and linen are not changed daily; tablecloths and napkins have disappeared; and waterless solutions are being found where possible.
- Rejigging menus. Pasta is out since it uses too much water and items that are generally boiled are now being steamed. Tap water is being replaced with bottled water in recyclable containers.
- Removing plugs from tubs and basins so that guests can’t fill them up.
- Saunas, steam rooms and hydro therapies like hot tubs may not be available in spas.
- Outdoor pools may be covered during the hottest part of the day – 10am to 3pm – to reduce evaporation. The African sun is at its most damaging then and it’s good to be indoors or in the shade, not baking next to the pool, so this is actually a win-win.
- Installing low-flow showers and low-usage toilets. A shower can use 18 litres / 4.7 gallons of water a minute – this mechanism reduces that significantly.
- If Day Zero is declared (the day there is insufficient water in the dams to provide water to households through the reticulated pipe system), then every person in Cape Town will be allocated just 25 litres / 6.6 gallons for daily use. It's crucial to note that visitors will not have to queue for water and that Day Zero is not inevitable - if enough water is saved, it will be avoided.
Here are some of our favourite water-saving hotels:
Cape Grace is a refined hotel in the V&A Waterfront with a reputation for superb service has implemented many water-conscious initiatives offer the years. Guests get a personal bottle of hand sanitizer when they arrive and will find low-flow showers and tap aerators in their bathrooms, as well as ‘baby dams’ – water-saving devices for little ones. The hotel also has a ‘Water From Air’ machine that gleans water from humidity, Heatsavr liquid on the pool to minimize evaporation and a laundry service that purifies and reuses up to 80% of its water.
One&Only Cape Town Boasting among the best views of Table Mountain, an enviable position in the V&A Waterfront and Africa’s only Nobu restaurant, the hotel is also splashing out on a small-scale desalination plant (it is situated near to the harbour) and has a borehole as well as a tanker system for the delivery of water.
The Cellars-Hohenort A classic hotel lying in the affluent Constantia neighbourhood, the Cellars has access to borehole water. Constantia is a great location because you are within convenient striking distance of quaint Kalk Bay, Cape Point, Boulders Beach, Chapman’s Peak Drive (one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world), Hout Bay and, of course, the magnificent vintages of the Constantia Winelands, which are the oldest in Africa and date back to the 1700s.
Winchester Mansions This grand dame of the Atlantic Seaboard has large water tanks, a borehole and access to an underground spring to supplement its water supply. It is close to the city centre, Table Mountain the V&A Waterfront and the famous beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay.
The Cullinan and Southern Sun Waterfront These sister hotels have plans in place to desalinate the sea water that gets pumped out of their basements (they are built on reclaimed land along Cape Town’s Table Bay shoreline).
Remember, just because a hotel has access to alternative water, it doesn’t mean it is business as usual. You will still need to use water very sparingly and be mindful of where every drop goes. Groundwater accessed by boreholes is a finite resource and has to be used carefully for necessities, like hygiene, only.
Other Cape Town hotels that have significant water-saving measures include:
The Vineyard Hotel This charming hotel in the leafy Newlands neighbourhood has put several measures in place and even takes suggestions from international guests on how to save more. It is close to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and the Constantia Winelands.
The Table Bay A popular hotel in the V&A Waterfront, the Table Bay has not one but two greywater systems to reuse water for ablutions and the swimming pool. Changing to a ‘drip’ system has reduced their garden irrigation needs by 60%. Being in the Waterfront, it is very conveniently located and has superb views of Table Mountain.
Welgelegen Boutique Hotel It might be unpronounceable for our foreign guests but Welgelegen has put in several measures, including three big tanks to catch rain water.
2. Choose to stay outside Cape Town and do day trips into the city to see the sights
This is a great idea and a win-win: you’ll see even more of South Africa, avoid the worst of the drought restrictions and have personalised, guided day trips planned especially for you. We work with highly reputable drivers and guides that will design an entire day around your schedule and interests. This is part of our tailor-made service.
We can arrange private trips in upscale, air-conditioned vehicles with English-speaking, professional driver-guides. Depending on your interests, we can do any number of combinations like:
- Cape Point and Boulders Beach plus Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens or the Constantia Winelands
- Table Mountain and the Bo-Kaap in the city centre
- The V&A Waterfront and Robben Island
- Hermanus and the Whale Coast (especially from about August when the whales arrive. Hermanus also has a wonderful boutique wine route that is worth discovering).
- The West Coast to discover new places like the West Coast National Park along the Atlantic Ocean. The park is home to several antelope species, wildebeest, zebra and plenty of birdlife.
Properties outside the city limits are more likely to have access to borehole water or, in some instances, be ‘off the grid’ or on a different reticulation system entirely.
Since there are in the same province as Cape Town, you will still be under water restrictions but they may not be as severe.
Here are some ideas:
Silver Forest Boutique Lodge & Spa Lying in the beautiful Helderberg Mountains near Stellenbosch, Silver Forest has access to crystal-clear borehole water and all aspects of the lodge like the spa and swimming pool are functioning perfectly. The town of Stellenbosch has strict water limitations but Silver Forest is not dependent on municipal water. Stellenbosch is 50 kilometres / 31 miles from Cape Town.
Spier Hotel This historic Stellenbosch hotel’s water-saving measures began in 2007 with the installation of a mini water-treatment plant to reuse ‘waste’ water that incorporates environmentally friendly elements like an indigenous reed bed. We recommend taking a walk to the water treatment facility – it incorporates a labyrinth designed by a local artist and has resident nesting fish eagles.
Le Clé Country Lodge A luxurious boutique hotel with delicious food in Franschhoek, Le Clé has worked hard to go ‘off the grid’ and find alternative sources of water, including a stream on the property. Franschhoek is an amazing destination in its own right and just 90 kilometres / 55 miles from Cape Town.
3. Time your visit carefully
It’s obviously much hotter in summer (from about November to March) than in winter (from about May to September). The mercury regularly goes over 30°C / 90°F in summer, meaning you’ll want to cool off in swimming pools and under showers that may not be available.
Fortunately, peak safari season aligns almost perfectly with Cape Town’s cool winter so you can easily combine it with the Kruger National Park and the Victoria Falls. If you visit from July to September or even October, you’ll have some of the best game-viewing on the planet and hopefully have to use much less water.
4. Stay even further afield
If you’ve been to Cape Town before and checked off the major sights already, consider staying even further afield and planning very specific trips into the city to see places like the new Zeitz MOCAA art gallery or to have lunch in one of Cape Town’s brilliant new restaurants. Or combine your arrival in the city with a single overnight stay before moving on to the rest of the Western Cape province.
There is astonishing accommodation to be had:
Ocean House A luxurious villa in the heart of De Hoop Nature Reserve, you can fly to Ocean House on a small plane and land on the airstrip amid grazing antelope. The house features wood-burning fireplaces in every bedroom, a sunny swimming pool, a hot tub with an ocean view and direct access to the gorgeous coastline for walking, sandboarding and whale watching. The reserve is 270km / 168mi from Cape Town.
Bartholomeus Klip Translated as ‘Bartholomeu’s Rock’, this wonderful working country farmhouse is a sophisticated take on classic rural South Africa. It is near the Elandskloof Mountains, which are home to a reserve with leopard, springbok, jackal and, of course, eland. The nearest town is Hermon, which is about 100km / 62mi from Cape Town.
The Robertson Small Hotel A former Victoria home that’s been transformed into slick boutique accommodation, the Small Hotel has put a number of water-saving measures in place to accommodate water restrictions, like greywater and rainwater catchment systems, the removal of plugs from bathtubs so guests take short showers instead of bathing, and the reuse of all the shower water. It lies on Route 62, the longest wine route in the world! Robertson is 157km / 97mi from Cape Town.
Is it ethical or morally acceptable to visit during a drought?
We are pleased that so many clients have asked this question as we appreciate their concern for Africa's limited resources. Like anything to do with the environment, many factors have to be taken into account.
Tourists generally make up 1% of the city's population - this climbs to about 5% over very peak and limited seasons such as Christmas and New Year's. With all the measures that hotels, restaurants, malls, airports and attractions have put in place, the water usage by travellers is not unmanageable, especially since 95% to 99% of the resident population uses much more.
Secondly, travellers like you help support over 320 000 jobs in the city, from your transfer driver and guide, to your server and housekeeper. Each of them may support up to seven other people - it is estimated that every employed person in Africa maintains seven to nine other people, often very young or elderly.
The third factor is that visitors bring R40-billion (about USD333-million) into the city. This revenue is crucial to build even more water-saving infrastructure.
The small impact you have by taking a short shower once a day is far, far outweighed by the good you do by visiting. The loss of jobs and revenue will have a much greater - and worse - affect on Cape Town than travellers having a sensible and conscientious approach to water use.
We believe that savvy visitors can have a wonderful time, and we welcome them with open arms.
What you can do to help when you’re here
- Please take your dirty vacation clothes home and launder them there. Rewear your clothing as often as possible.
- Use the ‘safari shower’ method: briefly wet yourself and your hair, turn off the water, get lathered up, and then briefly rinse off. Catch all the water – especially the first few seconds of cold water – in the bucket provided. Once you get into it, its amazing how little water you really need.
- Don’t worry about having dirty hair – Capetonians will totally understand (and feel better about our own!).
- Switch off the faucet when you brush your teeth or shave – a tap can go through a massive 10 litres / 2.6 gallons of water in a minute!
- If Day Zero eventually hits, everybody in Cape Town will be restricted to 25 litres / 6.6 gallons a day. The average American uses 80 gallons / 302 litres to 100 gallons / 378 litres a day through long showers, deep baths, flushing the toilet after every use, using dishwashers and so forth. Think about priorities and steer your water use in that direction. The current limit is 50 litres / 13 gallons per day per person for all hygiene, washing, cooking and drinking. This is proving to be absolutely sufficient for normal needs.
- Bring good hand sanitizer, wet wipes and dry shampoo. Please recycle all the containers and choose eco-friendly products where possible.
- Be understanding about dry gardens, closed swimming pools, dusty vehicles and so forth. There is so much natural beauty and charm in Cape Town that these little things shouldn’t detract from your stay.
These may seem like little things but, like little drops of water become a rain shower, they soon add up to a substantial saving. If we all do our part, then we can easily continue to welcome visitors to Cape Town.
Can I still go on safari?
Yes, definitely. Cape Town is over a thousand miles from the prime safari areas of Kruger, the Sabi Sands and Madikwe, South Africa’s flagship Big 5 destinations. There are direct flights into Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport and, from there, direct flights and transfers to your safari accommodation. In addition, Johannesburg is a hub for Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique, putting you far from Cape Town.
If you’re ready to start planning your Cape Town holiday, get in touch with a friendly African Safari Expert today.