Sun, sun, blinding sun. It beats down on beach and mountain and sea and turns it steel-coloured. Nature is large here – huge, in fact. It is unapologetic. Stuff fits around it, not vice versa. Space exists. There are no quotas on magnitude and beauty. It’s unceasing. The air looks different here.

Lions head and the city of Cape Town, viewed from atop Table Mountain

Cape Town was the first thing I ever saw. My impressions of the city’s landscape, and of the surrounding hundred kilometers or so, are moulded into me. They are my most potent memories – childhood memories. Memories that last a lifetime: home. Yet, when I returned there a few weeks ago – this time having lived almost twenty five years and having gone back many times since my birth – I was astounded more than I had ever been by its wonder.

I would sit and stare at anything – the sleeping mammoths that make up the mountains in Rooi-Els; the surging, swelling, foaming sea; the shadow of the Cape Peninsula from across False Bay – for hours and never get bored. Every moment was like seeing it for the first time.

The wild beach and sleeping mammoth mountains that decorate the coast at Rooi-Els

The Cape is a family place for me. My grandparents Bauhaus-designed house overlooking the wineland valley in Paarl, their seaside cottage in Rooi-Els, long lunches in Wine Farms, balmy evenings eating schwarmas in Sea Point, red wine, leafy Claremont, pins and needles sand, fresh fish. Cape Town is thriving with bars, pounding music and beautiful people… but I never experienced this side of it, safe for a couple of occasions when I went out and stayed the night with a friend.

The red rocks that give Rooi-Els its name – Cape Peninsula in the background

Lack of public transport in a sprawling city means that a young person without a car – or friends with a car, especially one who is not a native to the city – is kind of at the mercy of their parents’ movements. And that was OK. But on this visit the relative lack of freedom was frustrating. In the four years since I have been back to S.A., the majority of my travelling has been done alone. Thus, I have grown accustomed to a certain way of exploring, seeing and experiencing a place. A way that is very different to how our family holidays are conducted.

I landed expecting to live the city of my birth like I lived Bulgaria, Korea and Norway last year. I had completely forgotten this was to be a family holiday. I wanted to take Cape Town from being a childhood city to being a grown-up city. One in which I walked free in, met new people in and did my own thing in. I felt as if it was brimming with hidden secrets waiting for me to discover. This was the city where my parents went to University, and I have grown up listening to them talk about their golden Varsity days – WHAT an environment to spend a the three years after school in!

I was being prevented finding these hidden gems of adventure. The fact that we were staying over an hour’s drive from Kloof and Long Streets in Rooi-Els – the other side of False Bay – meant I was being kept a child. Hmpff. But then I realised: maybe it’s a wonderful thing to keep a place your childhood kingdom. Maybe if I explored it more thoroughly, the adult experiences would replace the childhood reveries… unpicking the young dream. Maybe if I were to use the same formula to dissect and discover every place I visit, I will leave no room for spontaneity.

Silhouette of Table Mountain, as seen across False Bay from Rooi-Els

So for now I am keeping South Africa’s adult secrets locked up, knowing that I will return again and again as a young girl. Who knows what will happen next time, or the time after that. And with the Earth providing South Africa with such a treasure trove of wonder in its rocks, vines, dunes and water… who needs bars!

Twilight view of the wineland mountains from my grandparents’ house in Paarl – which was designed by Pius Pahl of Bauhaus notoriety