Robben Island rose to notoriety as a prison whose most famous captive was former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned on the remote outpost for 18 years of his 27 year sentence, which was dealt for his activities in conspiring to overthrow the National Party’s white-only government. Located about 12km off the coast, the diminutive island offers a fascinating glimpse of South Africa’s political past, making it an informative day trip from The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa.
Surrounded by the chilly, treacherous, shark-patrolled waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Robben Island is certainly an ideal location for a prison. Mandela was not the only well-known prisoner to spend time on the island. Other notable inmates include South African presidents Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma alongside numerous freedom fighters and political activists. Today the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has erected an engaging and informative museum detailing the stories of its erstwhile inhabitants.
First used as a jail by the Dutch settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, Robben Island housed prisoners from the Dutch East Indies. The British followed their predecessors’ lead and made use of the island as a penal facility. By the second half of the 1800s, Robben Island was serving as a leper colony, with sufferers forced to moved there to live out their days with no opportunity to return home. The fortifications that can be spotted on the island are left over from World War II, when the island served as a military base.
Not only steeped in history, the island is also a hub for wildlife. It’s home to around 132 species of bird, including African penguins, three different types of tortoise, springbok and eland.
Access to Robben Island is weather dependent, with ferries leaving the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront every day at 9am, 11am and 1pm. Keep your eyes peeled en route for Cape fur seals and southern right whales. The ferry arrives at Murray’s Bay Harbour, from which point visitors can hop on a bus and tour iconic historical sites such as the maximum security prison, including Nelson Mandela’s cell, the lime quarry where prisoners were forced to do hard labour, the World War-era bunkers and leper graveyard.
Ask the concierge at Red Carnation Hotels’ The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa to arrange a day trip to Robben Island from the V&A Waterfront, a 30-minute drive away.