Primarily used as a prison island since the facility was established in the seventeenth century, Robben Island has served many different purposes, and the earliest settlements on the date back to the Stone Age. Today, it is a living museum where tourists come to review the history of South Africa, as Robben Island prison once housed such figures as Nelson Mandela. In addition, the penguins on the island are a major tourist attraction and were resident when the Dutch arrived. Tours of Robben Island are available, and visitors can reach the island by ferry from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.
Thousands of years ago, the first inhabitants of Robben Island South Africa were prehistoric hominids. Archeological research has been conducted and continues at different sites on the island. During those ancient times, a land bridge connected this island to the mainland, allowing the inhabitants to walk to and from what was then a low hill, but rising sea levels after the last ice age eventually covered the bridge. When the Europeans arrived, animals alone occupied the island. Along with penguins and other birds, these animals were mainly seals, which inspired the Afrikaans name of Robbeneiland, which translates to Seal Island.
Historically, the waters have been treacherous for ships, which can get caught on the reefs and then be dashed to pieces by the incessant waves and rocks. The most famous of these is one Dutch ship that was carrying a cargo of gold worth millions of dollars; it met its demise on the shores of this island, and the fortune was never recovered, though a few coins wash up now and then as proof to the tale.
Beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Robben Island prison for criminals and political leaders was established and remained so for many years, persisting into the twentieth century. In addition to the Robben Island prison, the isle has had an assortment of purposes, often involving the isolation of certain groups; it has been a quarantine station; a colony for lepers, lunatics, and the chronically ill; a military training and coastal defense station; and finally, a museum and national monument, and it has officially become a World Heritage Site.
With regard to the wildlife on the island, the penguins diminished and finally disappeared from Robben Island South Africa until 1983, when a new colony of African penguins established itself. It has now become the third-largest group of the birds, and they are a major attraction, allowing visitors to approach the colony for a personal encounter in their natural environment.
Tours of the island are available from the V&A Waterfront. The price includes a ferry ride to and from the island, as well as a tour about the history of Robben Island. Tickets can be purchased at the docking stations or online, and early-bird specials are offered for those who book in advance. Robben Island South Africa is rich in wildlife, history, and intrigue, and visitors will surely enjoy the journey through time as they walk through the cells of the prison and learn of the varied purposes of the island, one of the most significant South Africa attractions.