As is the scourge of the modern world, you sightsee everything twice – once on TripAdvisor and once in real life. Sadly, as a solo traveller, I see the review site as a necessary evil. I’d rather be forewarned and forearmed about rancid food, belligerent staff and interminable queues, than turn up and burst into disappointed tears without a friend to console me.
So whilst my ‘Cape Town Official Visitors’ Guide 2016’ extols 103-year-old botanical garden Kirstenbosch as “a heavenly national treasure on the gentle slopes of Table Mountain”, I have been in PR long enough (15 years) to know that the writer’s task was to make it sound like the most beautiful garden in Africa, so off to TripAdvisor I went.
“Not a very flowery botanical gardens”, moaned one.
“The echoing sound of screaming children burning off excess energy all over the gardens made it just like being in a big city. I am not sure you could really relax here unless you were hard of hearing”, huffed another.
“Wish the maps were free”, whimpered one.
“The wifi isn’t too bad near the headquarters”, fretted another.
Maybe this “heavenly national treasure” wasn’t the jewel in Cape Town’s crown after all? Yet there had to be a reason why Kirstenbosch was ranked number 3 out of 333 things to do in Cape Town (technically 2 as Table Mountain is number 1, and Table Mountain National Park 2) so I Navmii’d my way to the sheltered eastern side of the aforementioned mountain to make up my own mind.
Now let me tell you right now that ALL of the above-quoted TripAdvisor reviewers are completely barking mad. Off their nut. Loco in the coco. For Kirstenbosch is exactly how I imagine heaven will be. If St Peter opens up his pearly gates and I step into this 1,300 acre paradise I will not be surprised in the least. It’s a magical wonderland, a scene of great beauty and serenity, and will melt even the hardest of hearts (except for those four morons on TripAdvisor).
Home to cultivated themed gardens displaying collections of South African plants alongside wild nature reserve, Kirstenbosch also hosts a conservatory of succulents and ferns, a Braille trail, fragrance garden, various sculptures and art installations, a research centre, coffee shop, restaurant, concert venue (summer only) and the tree canopy walkway. Opened in 2014 to celebrate the Gardens’ centenary, this 130-metre-long steel and timber walkway snakes up to 12 metres above the ground and is, for most, the highlight of the Kirstenbosch experience. But for me, the entire shooting match is a joy to behold.
The City is just moments away but Kirstenbosch makes you forget it ever existed. It also makes you forget your problems ever existed. It wraps you up in a calm cocoon and cleanses your soul. I found myself talking to the plants, talking to god (maybe even God if my heaven theory is correct) and connecting with nature. I left several hours later (you need several hours to stroll, hike, sunbathe, graze, doze, meditate) feeling recharged and reenergised. You should try it, it’s far cheaper than therapy.
Speaking of ‘cheap’. To the buffoon who moaned about paying 5 ZAR for a map (29 cents in euro terms) on top of their 55 ZAR entrance fee (3.22 euros at today’s rate) – have you even been to any other botanical gardens?? Do you know it costs 15 pounds (19.18 euros) on the gate at Kew Gardens in the UK? 12 dollars (10.68 euros) to get into Brooklyn Botanic Garden? Kirstenbosch is a bargain AND it’s beautifully clean and superbly curated to boot.
Presumably the one complaining about the flowery-ness hasn’t heard of seasons and as for feeling the need to point out the inadequacies of the wifi, if you only want to connect with your virtual life, for goodness sake do us all a favour and stay at home with your iPad.
It just shows you that however wonderful your establishment, there’s just no pleasing everyone. To prove the point I checked out the current World’s Best Hotel on TripAdvisor, the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, India. Yep, you guessed it, three people rated it as ‘poor’ and TEN as ‘terrible’. Some comments included “the people are awful”, “the hotel is Orwellian”, “the tablecloths were dirty” and “they should be ashamed of calling themselves 5-star and charging $800/night”. In the words of travel analyst Jared Blank, “No melon is ever ripe enough for people on TripAdvisor.”