The Obz Trail (Observatory, Cape Town)

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“Obz has also become a popular destination for travellers and others looking to experience an alternative Cape Town.” – Observatorybackpackers.com

Observatory, commonly known as Obz or Obs, in Cape Town, can go beyond just the normal experience of finding nice little eateries.

Obz is an interesting area, but probably more suited for the younger generation, for the traveller and, even more, for the backpacker.

Yet, on the evening that I was eating there, there was a really good mix of people.

B&Bs and rented accommodation in the area are much cheaper than in the central area of Cape Town.

The nice thing about staying there is that the young traveller can launch out to all parts of Cape Town and the Western Cape, with Obz as their base – there are taxis and a train service to enable this.

Obz is well known for its sidewalk cafes, little shops and alternative kinds of places.

Obz is on the main Southern Line, about ten minutes from Cape Town, in between the Mother City and Simon’s Town. The trains normally always stop at Observatory.

  • To get to the Observatory train station, go under the Station Road bridge, and decide in which direction you would like to proceed, so as to find the correct platform – to Cape Town or toward Simon’s Town.

Generally, Obz has a wide range of things to do, from visiting nature spots, to sport (like golf), eateries, browsing and shopping. 

Today, Obz is a popular suburb with young tourists, backpackers and students who attend the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the UCT Medical School.

Obz is situated on the north-facing slopes of Devil’s Peak. The slope on which it is built runs into the Liesbeeck River.

At one time, with the suburb being a marshy estuary formed by the rivers, there was game roaming the area, such as zebra and even bigger game like buffalo and antelope. Some say there were hippo, elephant and lion, but that must have been far back in time.

Not that one should confuse it with one of Cape Town’s mountains, Lion’s Head, named so because of its shape, resembling a crouching lion or a sphinx. Some descriptions of Cape fauna mention lion in 1842. Luckily, those days are past. 

History and heritage

Obz reflects a very strong political history, having defied apartheid during the sixties, when laws passed by the National Party prohibiting black persons from living in white residential areas were implemented.

Obz, today, can be proud of its heritage, and is still a suburb of Cape Town, where South Africans of all races live. In this way, Obz exists in the true spirit of the South African rainbow nation.

Its architecture reflects the late C19 Victorian semi-detached houses, and, as a residential area, it has greatly grown in popularity. Added to its rich history is its Bohemian-hippy reputation, with many arty shops, boutiques and even health food stores.

Its lifestyle is vibrant during the day, and it has a nightlife that continues until the small hours of the morning. Obz is bordered by two Cape Town suburbs, Mowbray to the south, and Salt River to the north-west.

UCT is situated above on the mountain slopes. UCT is a public research university founded in 1829 (then, it was called the South African College), which today makes it the oldest institute for higher education in South Africa. It received full university status in 1918.

Close by are two important sites that are world renowned, the Royal Observatory and the Groote Schuur, renowned for the first successful heart transplant on 3 December 1967, performed by Dr Christian Barnard and his team.

Stargazing

In between sightseeing in Cape Town, visiting the observatory – after which the suburb is named – is strongly recommended. It is called the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and is part of the National Research Foundation (NRF). There are regular talks at the observatory (visit the link supplied above for more details).

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The NRF was established as an independent government agency “to promote and support research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities, in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge, and thereby contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all South Africans”.

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One of South Africa’s greatest treasures are the telescopes 15 kilometres outside the small Karoo town of Sutherland, which is a pleasant four-hour drive from Cape Town. These telescopes are linked to the observatory, which is the astronomical HQ of the country. For the stargazer, a trip to Sutherland is a must. It is where the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is to be found – the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world. It has a hexagonal primary mirror array 11 metres across, comprising 91 individual one-metre hexagonal mirrors.

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For nature lovers

Furthermore, there is a most exquisite bird sanctuary for bird watchers, called the Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary, which protects 10 hectares of land along the Liesbeeck River as you go down towards the plain.

Among the many species of birds to be found there are a very rich variety of water birds, such as the sacred ibis, Egyptian geese as well as many duck species. Efforts are currently under way to clean up the pollution in the river and remove the invasive alien plants.

Work is being done to make the area form part of the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP), aiming to include many surrounding areas to form a larger integrated natural area of Cape Town.

The two rivers involved are the Liesbeeck and Black Rivers, and these areas are intended to be merged with several Provincial Heritage Sites, such as the South African Astronomical Observatory, built in 1827, the Valkenberg Homestead of 1830, as well as the Nieuwe Molen Windmill and the Oude Molen Farmhouse complex.

Sport and family-friendly entertainment

Surrounding the area are some of Cape Town’s important sporting complexes, such as the Hartleyvale Stadium, which hosts hockey and soccer matches and tournaments, and is currently the home of Western Province Hockey.

There is also a golf course in Obz, situated on the Liesbeeck River.

And, established as far back as 1939, today the River Club features as a landmark well known for its conference venues, and it also provides family-friendly entertainment.

Cafés | Antiques | Clothes | Books | Coffee

At the time I visited Obz, Café Honeybun was packed out, and this friendly dog, which obviously belonged to one of the patrons seated inside, was friendly enough for me to be able to pat it. The photograph to the right is of the main area of Obz’s shops and eateries, known as Lower Main Road.

Today, due to the escalation of the prices of new clothing, and also because of the greater absence of clothing made of natural fibre (the age of polyester), second-hand clothing stores are popular with patrons.

One such example is on Lower Main Road and is called Maids of Honour. There is a nice selection of warm coats to stay the cold, wintry Cape weather. The shop is housed in one of the old-styled buildings that are characteristic of the area.

There is more browsing to do in Obz. Visit the old antique shop, also in Lower Main Street, called Duke and Dolls (“retro, collectables, quirk”). One can get lost searching for antiquities.

A great stopover between roaming through Obz is one of its many coffee shops, Mimi (78 Lower Street). Not to be missed is the burger special every Tuesday and Thursday night. A patron has also posted that they enjoyed the delicious freshly grilled yellowtail, seafood pasta and calamari.

Mimi

One of the classic stops in Obz is Obz Books. Here, many favourite authors are to be found, including Paulo Coelho, Martin Meredith and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a very nice bookshop for the more serious reader, selecting from topics such as history and art, in addition to providing a great variety of general books.

Obz Books features book launches and has sales of books at very affordable prices. Make sure you’re armed with enough time. And, there is coffee and muffins to be purchased, so you can enjoy it all. 

Attached to Obz Books is an entrance on the side to The Main Loaf, where beer and wine and a food menu are available for the avid reader.

Backpacking enthusiasts: experience the local culture

As already mentioned, Obz suits the younger traveller and the backpacking enthusiast, providing several places to choose from.

One is Observatory Backpackers, which is a hostel that offers the visitor the opportunity to soak in the laid-back atmosphere and experience the local culture – a wide variety of entertainment and activities, and a range of restaurants, bars, local music and theatre.

It is a much-loved venue for international students, civic and medic volunteers, interns and others looking for an extended stay in Cape Town. From here, the beaches and mountains are easy reachable, and, as the blog says, “Obz has also become a popular destination for travellers and others looking to experience an alternative Cape Town.”

It offers all the facilities one expects from such a place: free Wi-Fi, DSTV, fresh cotton linens and a fantastic garden to relax in.

Obz Café, an iconic landmark of the area

One of Obz’s classic eateries is Obz Café, an iconic landmark of the area. Its atmosphere is relaxed and chic, and it has some interesting inside décor, such as the exposed brickwork and the family photographs on the walls.

Entering into this zone provides one with an escape from the hustle and bustle of the suburb and the city. The staff are friendly and well informed on the menu. They like to think of it as being more of a “dining experience”.

Obz Café

There is some sidewalk seating if the weather is nice or if you want to get the true sense of the so-called “Bohemian suburb” that is Observatory. The menu has lots to choose from, but, no doubt one of the favourites – and for which it’s best known – is its “wood-fired peri-peri chicken”, along with burgers, nachos and “tapas-style small plates and pastas and salads bursting with all kinds of delicious flavours”.

There is also a choice of thin-crust pizzas, as well as wheat and gluten-free pastas. Patrons like the late breakfast and casual business lunch. They also make special arrangements for birthday parties, and dinners can be the romantic type.

Inside, it’s warm and cosy during winter, because of the pizza oven; and, in summer, air-conditioning units are in operation.

The fully opening front windows keep it cool in the summer, at the same time making contact with the live side of the street.

Free Wi-Fi is provided, as well as a good selection of craft beers on tap, a fantastic cocktail menu and some of the best milkshakes in town.

Happy Hour is on weekdays from 5 pm to 7 pm – you pay half price on all cocktails and beers on tap.

Dining out on Thursday evening 1 August 2019, I went for the full monty at the favourite, Obz Café.

The very friendly staff made sure that I began with a fine glass of local red. I never order any specific wine, other than to request the house’s freshest screw-cap – opened not more than an hour before – and have never been disappointed with such a selection.

Staff member Shemaih ensured the freshest Greek salad, following pretty soon afterwards – fresh and crispy cucumber and nice firm tomato and feta, with a non-fatty dressing. 

The neighbouring table had ordered thin-base crusty pizza, and at that stage, I was not sure whether I had done the correct thing by ordering my main course – chicken. Needless to say, the table tucked into their pizza, and one could hear the beautiful breaking of crusts and see delighted smiles on faces.

But then came the coup de grâce – the chicken peri-peri, the establishment’s signature tune. Allow for an hour to prepare (in the pizza oven). It’s free-range chicken, succulent, not too spicy and just right with the red wine. It can take a good 30 minutes or more to enjoy such a dish, which, of course, is what good eating is about. So, be prepared to stay for a while.

How could one resist cleaning the palate with a white glacé, sprinkled with a bit of ye traditional old chocolate sauce?

Obz Café, once again, did itself proud: easy to find, cosy, good vibe, lovely staff and really good food in the bistro style – nothing fancy!

Such is Obz and surroundings: you have to soak it all in.

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For some of the recent reviews of Obz Café, go to: 

◊ https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/life/obz-cafe-is-a-familiar-friend-with-delicious-new-twists-18907823

◊ https://thelittlehedonist.co.za/2019/02/12/my-latest-obzsession-obz-cafe/

◊ http://www.boringcapetownchick.com/2019/04/obz-cafe-review

◊ https://www.capetownetc.com/food-and-drink/now-serving-old-new-favourites-obz-cafe/

◊ http://www.ilovefoodies.com/review-hanging-obz-cafe/

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 Live theatre | sushi | pizza | burgers | organic food | biker pubs

♦ Read more here about the Magnet Theatre. 

♦ Read here for a wide selection of restaurants and eateries in Obz.

♦ Bikers can go to their own pub

Komati Foods is at 74 Lower Main Road, supplying fresh oils and nuts, including organic and paleo-friendly products (read more here about the fashionable paleo diet).

Narona is on the corner of Trill Road and Lower Main Road – good for pizza, tramezzini and grills. They also deliver. Visit their Facebook page here.

Mr Lin’s in Obz is ideal for nice sushi and Thai food. Check out the menu here. Visit their Facebook page here.

♦ For more sushi and a great vibe and music, read more here.

♦ Jerry’s Burger Bar is at 123 Lower Main Road.

♦ Hello Sailor is at 86 Lower Main Road.

♦ Read more here about Reverie Social Table.

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  • All photographs are by the writer.
Buro: MvH
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