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Whether it’s summer bush fires or winter storms, the Cape is not lacking in drama. So why do we welcome them?


Torrential is the only word to describe some of Cape Town’s recent weather, with the streets turning to spruits and hail stones hammering off tin roofs. Seated in the Gardens district in the lee of Lions Head, the Welgelegen House is protected from the worst of the nor’westers which have battered the Cape’s Atlantic shoreline this winter. And despite the cold and horizonal precipitation we are smiling: the silver lining in the dark cloud is that the dams are filling, with the cumulative city levels back to 64% and rising. It’s a great recovery considering that they were at 56% at this time in 2018 and at a crisis level of 27% in July 2017.

Winter storms are normal for the Cape, and their absence in recent years has been a big factor in the drought. Water use restrictions have been eased, but all Capetonians are now in the habit of saving water regardless. Here at Welgelegen, our rain-water tanks are overflowing and the garden has had a much needed soaking. Since we have our own borehole we are less at risk from the next drought, but we still observe best practice in water usage.

During the nastiest bouts of weather, our guests were happy to have an excuse to do little but chat or catch up on their reading and wine tasting by the open fire in our cosy drawing room, while the board game collection also got some intensive use.

For visitors to the Mother City, rainy days can mean a late change in plans, but there are no shortage of options and many of them a short hop from the guest house as we covered in a recent blog, Whats’s on in Cape Town Gardens district in winter 2019.  Further afield at the waterfront, bad weather stops boat tours to Robben Island, but there are a host of indoor attractions in the area, including Zeit MOCAA which often has family-oriented workshops alongside thought provoking exhibitions. Close by, the Aquarium is also perfect for little ones and their minders. The famous V&A Waterfront complex is buzzing all year round and has enough covered shopping and eating options to fill a full rainy day.

The Table Mountain cableway reopened earlier than expected after its annual winter maintenance on August 12th, but often closes in winter when winds are too high. Not to worry: while the panorama from the top on a fine day is a wonder, some people prefer the view from Signal Hill, which has the advantage of showing off not just the city, but Table Mountain itself. It’s free to access, and the summit is just a ten-minute drive from Welgelegen Boutique Guest House. Views are best in early morning or late afternoon, or visit at midday to see (and hear!) the Noon Gun fired.

In January this year we watched in horror from the windows as huge bushfires sent flames and dark clouds across Signal Hill and Lions Head, threatening buildings. Out of control fires are quite scary and city firefighters did a fantastic job in preventing loss of life and property. The destruction to bushland and wildlife was severe, but not long lasting. Naturally occurring bushfires have occurred for millions of years, and many Cape fynbos species are not only adapted for fire, but actually need it to propagate. Some plant seeds lie dormant, waiting for fire to clear the overstorey before growing to flower and produce their seeds, before getting overwhelmed again by larger plants. The seeds then lie in the soil, waiting for the next fire to open their air space. Already, when the morning sun lights up Lions Head, we can see a noticeable shift to shades of green as this type of fynbos takes advantage of summer’s fiery clearance to resprout and flourish.

It’s tempting to hike up there for a closer look. For the first months of this year the walking trails on Lions Head were closed for maintenance, but the spiral route to the summit reopened in March, and the renewal works on the trial between Signal Hill and the green-domed Kramat shrine are just complete. It takes about an hour to climb Lions Head via the spiral route from the parking area, and less than two hours on foot all the way from Welgelegen Guest House. It’s an invigorating winter activity, with the reward of one of the world’s great views – weather permitting.

Written by resident blogger: Hlengiwe Magagula