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The History of Robben Island


The declaration, in 1999, giving Robben Island the honour of becoming a National Heritage Site, says it all because that is what it was; it housed many of the visionaries who, with an unyielding drive, construct the rich heritage that is commensurate with our country, today. After 27 years of imprisonment, our beloved Nelson Mandela stepped off the island, a free man and would rebuild the country from scratch after the Apartheid era tore it to the ground.

It is now visited daily by avid tourists who want to learn and soak up our country’s history. Boat trips there and back have been operating for approximately the last two decades, but another way to view this wondrous piece of history, is from the sky; Robben Island tours are available to take locals and internationals on an aerial journey that will allow you to explore the island from a completely new perspective.

However, it was not always a prison. It was discovered by Bartholomeu Dias in 1488 when his ship docked at Table Bay; it was hope to a wide variety of wildlife, including seals and it is from these beautiful sea animals that the island was christened, “Robben”, which is Dutch for seals. Other inhabitants included penguins and a plethora different species of birds; therefore it served as a grazing ground.

Over approximately the next 200 years, the island served as a refreshment station and a post office. This came into fruition because of the major influx of ships docking at Table Bay, many of whom were reluctant to interact with the population on the mainland; it therefore became a prominent “exchange of information” point.

The year of 1671 saw Robben Island become a “dumping destination” for convicts. It was soon after this that it’s potential as a prison for political exiles became noticed; Dutch kings, princes and other members of authority were banished here where they were told they would spend the rest of their lives.

The British annexed the Cape in 1806 and the island was permanently closed in 1820, but the allure of the land serving as a prison never truly left. Fast forward to 1961, the heart of the Apartheid era, it once again became a prison for black political dissidents who challenged the rule of the National Party.

In 1990, the then President of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk authorised released Nelson Mandela from incarceration and he then spearheaded the movement to turn the country into the democratic society that we enjoy, today. NAC Helicopters provides the most prestigious helicopter flights in the city – book your package now.

12-15 Minutes Hopper Tour
16-20 Minutes Atlantico Tour
16-20 Minutes The Robben Island Tour
24-30 Minutes Three Bays Tour
40 Minutes Cape Point Tour