Cape Town - Government Avenue

Government Avenue
Cape Town - South Africa

Government Avenue

Government Avenue Cape Town

Government Avenue is a walking street although it is occasionally used by cars during parades etc. Before starting your walking tour buy yourself some peanuts from the hawkers so that you can feed the squirrels that live in the oak trees lining the road.

At the Adderley street entrance to this walk is the old slave lodge which over the years housed up to a 1000 slaves at a time. It was built on the edge of the Company gardens which was laid out by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. The gardens were very labour intensive and as the local Khoi people refused to work for the Dutch they had no alternative but to bring in slaves from India to do the work. All the slaves who were brought from the east were lodged in the slave quarters which were built in 1679 by Simon ven der Stel the then Governor at the Cape.

Government Avenue was built by Simon van der Stel and was named Company Avenue. What made it special is that it was planted on both sides with oak trees. Over the years it became one of the places in Cape Town to be seen. As many of the original trees have become diseased with mildew it has been necessary to replace them with a different species of oak tree which is apparently more immune to mildew than the original ones.

The Avenue in times of van Riebeeck bisected the gardens which were 18 hectares in size. On the right hand side of the entrance to Government Avenue is the world famous St Georges Cathedral. It has been the centre of many anti apartheid meetings and marches over the years. Bishop Tutu used to be the Bishop in charge in the cathedral. The Catheral was visited by Queen Elizabeth on her visit to South Africa a year or two ago and has also been graced by many foreign dignatories over the years.

As you walk up Government Avenue the first buildings to the left of you are the Houses of Parliament. This is the rear end of them as they front onto Parliament Street As a young man I was called up to do my National Service and ended up in the State President's Guards. I remember the "Opening of Parliament Parade" which we did in our ceremonial dress. We had to stand at ease for about two hours while waiting for the president to finish his speech. It was very hot with a slight wind blowing. The problem we had was to keep our caps on as they had large ostrich feathers on the front of them and with the wind blowing kept trying to blow off.

The next building on your left is Tuynhuis where the presidents used to stay. It is one of many Cape Dutch style buildings which still exist in Cape Town.

This building is used for state banquets and occasions and to entertain foreign dignatories. The President stays at Grootte Schuur in Rondebosch. After about 500 metres the avenue widens and you enter The Delville Wood Memorial garden.

This garden commemorates a battle during the first world war where 3032 soldiers and 121 officers of the South African Brigade entered the Delville Wood forests in France and only 5 officers and 750 men left it uninjured after a 5 day battle. It was one of the most memorable battles of the war. To the extreme left of this memorial garden and forming part of it you come across the South African National gallery. The gallery is worth a visit as there are some important works housed in it.

Beyond the Memorial Garden we reach part of the avenue where some of the oldest oak trees which date back to the time of van der Stel are still growing. In times past the Dutch had their menagerie here. Today the University of Cape Town's Hiddingh hall stands on the site. At the top of the avenue we arrive at the huge pillars which mark the entrance to the Mount Nelson Hotel.

The Mount Nelson Hotel was built by the Cape Steamship Company in 1899 and was the unofficial headquarters of the British Army during the Anglo Boer War. Today it is a five star hotel. Over the years many of the upper crust of British Society have stayed there. It has a beautiful setting having been built on the lower slopes of Table Mountain. At this point we will retrace our steps and on our walk back will explore the Company Gardens.

The first building we visit in the Gardens is the South African Museum. It is well worth a visit with some lovely displays in it. At the entrance there used to be a display of bushmen in their natural habitat. It has been removed due to complaints received from certain elements of the community. What was interesting in the display was that one of the bushmen had six toes on one of his feet.

The next building which is sited tothe left of the museum is the planetarium. Interested in the stars in the sky in the southern hemisphere, this is a good place to find out about them, From the planetarium we make our way through the Delville Wood memorial garden to the company's rose garden. A really beautiful place to visit when the roses are in bloom. Near the rose garden are some tree aloes which are reported to be more than a 100 years old. As you walk through the gardens you will see many American Grey squirrels running around. They are quite tame and if you bought some nuts as you entered Government avenue you could feed them. The squirrels were introduced at the time of Cecil John Rhodes.

In the gardens are some large fishponds with some massive goldfish in them. They must be the most well fed fish in the world as children visiting the gardens on school outings throw their lunches in the pond.

Near the rose garden is a large Outeniqua Yellowwood tree that was planted there in the 1700's.Its about 30 metres high and is lovely to sit under on a summers day. At the restaurant which is to your left you can enjoy a light meal or something to drink before exploring the rest of the garden. Opposite the restaurant about 50 metres away is an aviary which has many budgies and other small birds in it.

There are 25 species of bird found in the garden ranging from starlings to doves and pigeons including pheasants and peacocks. There are a number of statues in the gardens and one of them is a statue of Cecil John Rhodes with his arm pointing north. Cecil John Rhodes was an influential man in his time and had a big influence in South Africa. The old country of Rhodesia was named after him. Rhodes is buried in the Matopas in Rhodesia , of course now named Zimbabwe. In front of him in the middle of a circular rock pathway is the sundial which is dated 1781. Don't have a watch and need to know the time. Its spot on.

The gardens have laid out pathways and in between them are many beds with flowers and lawns and beautiful vegetation.. The setting is very peaceful and very popular on the weekends. Near to the sundial is a saffron pear tree which was planted at the time of van Riebeeck and still bears fruit today. It is the oldest tree in the garden and has undergone major surgery of late.

Following the pathway we come across an aloe garden and a huge clump of wild bananas which was planted in 1772.

The next feature of the garden is the herb garden which has been planted as a woodland walk. It is much the same as it was originally planted in the times of Van Riebeeck. Near the main entrance to the garden on the Adderley street side are some lovely shady pathways to explore. Hidden between them is a statue of Sir George Grey in front of the facade of the SA Library. Sir George Grey was one of the British Governors of the Cape.

We have now come to the end of this walking tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Why not visit Cape Town and see it for yourself.

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