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Robben Island Ferry - Transport Link to This World Heritage Site

Updated on March 9, 2015

There are various day trips that a visitor can choose from when visiting the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa. The Robben Island Ferry trip to Robben Island remains one of the most popular.

The trip on the ferry lasts for about 40 minutes and the scenic views of Cape Town with the majestic Table Mountain in the background make this ferry ride an exceptionally memorable one.

Robben Island Ferry with Majestic Table Mountain in the background.
Robben Island Ferry with Majestic Table Mountain in the background.
Nelson Mandela's Cell Robben Island
Nelson Mandela's Cell Robben Island

Destination - Robben Island

The real excitement is held in the destination. People the world over have their own preconceived ideas of what it must have been like for political activists during the apartheid years. This ferry takes you to a place where you can find the answers.

Some of the answers will already be revealed  on the ferry as you watch a video on the struggle in the Old South Africa while leaving the bay.

Robben Island exemplifies and symbolizes the struggle for freedom against oppression of basic human rights as well as the triumphs and victories gained though these struggles. It became notorious during the apartheid years when it became world-known for its institutional brutality while being used as a maximum security prison for political prisoners. Robben Island is synonymous with Nelson Mandela and vice versa as it was this island that the former South African president and many other black freedom fighters came to know as home.

During the years that the prison was in use many indigenous African leaders as well as Muslim leaders from the East Indies, anti-apartheid activists and Dutch and British soldiers and civilians served their sentences on Robben Island. Another famous politician that spent time in the prison at Robben Island was the founding leader of the Pan African Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

Mural over Robben Island Main Gate
Mural over Robben Island Main Gate
Robben island
Robben island
Leper Graveyard on Robben Island.
Leper Graveyard on Robben Island.

History of Robben Island

Besides being used as a prison since the early 1600's when the Dutch arrived in the Cape, Robben Island also served as a whaling station in the early 1800's. The whaling station was closed by the authorities in 1820 after prisoners managed to escape on whaleboats. The Island served as a defense and training base during the second World War.

Going back even further the island housed hospital facilities for lepers as well as chronically and mentally ill patients from 1846 until 1931. The main reason for choosing Robben Island as a hospital for lepers was its isolation from the outside world, providing the opportunity to keep these patients in quarantine.

During this period people had no cure for lepers and mentally and chronically ill patients and banishing them to the island seemed like the best option for patients suffering from these incurable diseases.

Robben Island Prison
Robben Island Prison

Robben Island Today

What was once a place of imprisonment, banishment and isolation was proclaimed a World Heritage Site and a museum in 1997.

Robben Island serves as a constant reminder of the pain and hardship people suffered during the struggle for freedom and a democratic South Africa. Today Robben Island's dynamic museum pays tribute to those that formed an integral part of South Africa's heritage.

It is with good reason that Ahmed Kathrada said " While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument to our hardship and suffering. We would want Robben Island to be a monument...reflecting the triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil."

Where is Robben Island

This World Heritage Site is situated just 10km (6.2 miles) offshore from beautiful Cape Town.  Robben Island offers its visitors absolutely magnificent views across the ocean with Cape Town's natural landmark, Table Mountain as a perfect backdrop.

The island is almost circular in shape and covers an area of 575hectare. It is 5,4km in length and 2.5km wide. It has an average rainfall of between 300 and 400mm.

Robben Island Guide
Robben Island Guide

The Island and Prison Tour

On arrival at the Island visitors will be given a guided tour of the island by former Robben Island political prisoners.  They will discuss both the pain and the triumphs and victories that this island represents.

Besides discussing these themes the island tour will also provide the visitors with details of the detaining and isolation of the lepers, mentally ill patients and prisoners. The Prison tour will provide the visitors with an insight into the lives of the political prisoners that were detained on the Island during the 1960s until 1991.

Guided tours and  a 45 minute bus tour on the island include a visit to the prison and the limestone quarry, Garrison Church (1841) Lighthouse (1863) Leper Church (1895) and a Muslim shrine.

Limestone Quarry - Robben Island
Limestone Quarry - Robben Island
Robben Island Penguins
Robben Island Penguins

Protected Nature Conservation Area

Robben Island is  also a protected nature conservation area and this ferry trip provides the visitor with the opportunity to see a wide range of seabirds and marine mammals including seals, penguins, whales and dolphins.

The Island is home to 23 species of mammals including springbok, fallow deer, bontebok and eland. You may also be fortunate enough to see tortoises, geckos, lizards or ostriches that are increasing in number on the Island.

Robben Island Seals
Robben Island Seals

If you are ever in Cape Town don't miss this unique ferry ride and the opportunity to retrace the footsteps of Nelson Mandela as well as a tour of the island's rich fauna and flora treasures.

The tour will also include a visit to the lime quarry and the village where former warders lived.

To avoid disappointment book in advance at the Robben Island Museum's ticket office in the V&A Waterfront. The entire trip lasts about four hours and the ferries leave intermittently during the day, throughout the year, weather permitting.


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