From the time of the first recorded “Discovery” of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, by Portugal's Bartholomew Diaz, seafarers looked forward to the sight of Table Mountain. Like a gigantic sign, promising hospitality, approaching ships could see it from over 150 km away. Passing ships would leave postal matter under inscribed stones for other ships to find and carry forward, the so-called post office stones.
In 1580, Sir Francis Drake sailed around the Cape in The Golden Hind and the ruggedness and breathtaking beauty of the peninsula caused him to write - "This Cape is a most stately thing and the fairest Cape in the whole circumference of the earth".
Antonio de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it Table Mountain. “Table Bay” got its name from the dutchman Van Spilbergen, in 1601. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company (VOC), decided to establish a post at Table Bay. They sent three small ships, the Drommdaris, the Reijger and the Goede Hoop under the command of the 23-year-old Jan Antony van Riebeeck, a ship's surgeon, to establish a stronghold on the shores of Table Bay. Jan van Riebeeck's fort, subsequently called The Castle of Good Hope, was Cape Town's first building.
The Cape became an outstation of the Dutch East India Company's eastern empire, based in Batavia in Java, and fell directly under the Governor-General of the Indies. From 1672 the Cape had a Governor of its own, but remained under eastern control until the end of the Company period in 1795.
From Table Bay, the Cape Peninsula extends southward, a long narrow mass of highlands varying in width from three to seven miles, until it tapers to the high narrow promontory of Cape Point, nearly 48 kilometres away. The meeting place of the Great Two Oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian, is a mere 200km south, at Cape Agulhas, the Southernmost Tip of the continent of Africa.
The wagon road used by the woodcutters to the tree-covered mountain slopes of Newlands and Kirstenbosch was the first road to be opened by the European settlers. From the nearby anchorage near Orange Kloof, which was named Hout Bay (Wood Bay), the wood was shipped around the Mountain to Table Bay.
Trial crops of wheat, oats and barley succeeded admirably on the deep, loamy soils of the Liesbeek River valley, and this led to the Company's grain-farming enterprise being transferred there in 1657. A large granary, De Schuur, was built near a round grove of thorn trees known at first as Rondedoornbosjen (modern Rondebosch). The residence Groote Schuur, reconstructed in 1896 on this site is a beautiful example of old Cape architecture. It was formerly the residence of Prime Minister Cecil John Rhodes and was bequeathed by him as the official residence of the Prime Minister of South Africa.
To supplement the Company's crops, a number of its servants were given their discharge and settled as independent farmers along the valley in the area now known as Rondebosch and Rosebank. Van Riebeeck himself acquired an estate farther upstream, a wooded hillside known as Bosheuvel (now the Bishopscourt Estate) on whose granitic soils he established, in 1658, the first extensive “wynberg “or vineyard in South Africa. Van Riebeeck handed over the government of the Colony in 1662 to Zacharias Wagenaar and returned home to his native land.
Further expeditions and colonisation took place inland, into areas today known as the Blaauwberg, Tygerberg, Helderberg, Overberg, Overstrand and Breederivier regions, all rich in beauty and diversity. Rolling, ever changing, landscapes of wild flowers, orchards, vineyards, grain fields and pastures, all framed by magnificent mountain ranges and superb beaches.