Luxury and indulgence, with a splattering of maritime heritage

Eager to delve into the history of the Dock House Boutique Hotel, located in the heart of the V&A Waterfront, Ryan Enslin uncovers tales of maritime exploits that have become the stuff of legend.

By Ryan Enslin
The Dock House Boutique Hotel Aerial View
Secreted away within the V&A Waterfront The Dock House Boutique Hotel is flanked by the Time Ball Tower and Table Mountain © Ryan Enslin

Above the bustling V&A Waterfront lies a place like no other. Hidden beside the oft-forgotten Time Ball Tower, in the Portswood Precinct, and behind a colonnade of strategically planted trees, lies the Dock House Boutique Hotel. The villa-styled property offers five elegantly appointed luxury rooms plus one suite, and exudes a sense of sophistication that speaks to its rather distinctive heritage. 

Built during the mid-19th century as the Port of Cape Town Harbour Engineers’ residence, many a distinguished soul has walked her passageways. At the time the Dock House was built, much was happening on South African shores; like the diamond rush of 1867 that saw a big hole emerge in Kimberley and the 1886 discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand. Throughout, the Port of Cape Town did service to keep commerce moving forward during an age of unprecedented discovery.  

The entrance to The Dock House Boutique Hotel leads the discerning guest to a spectacular world of opulence beyond © Ryan Enslin

It’s in the details 

The Dock House Boutique Hotel excels in its attention to detail, which is evidenced throughout the property. Furnishings contrast traditional Victorian pieces, many of which have been given a rather eclectic upgrade, against the opulence of more contemporary accoutrements, lending an increased sense of splendour to your stay experience. 

Bathrooms are expansive and well-appointed and beg to be enjoyed in long, lavish bouts of self-indulgence. In a somewhat uncharacteristic move on my part, I succumbed to this call and tapped myself a bath, foregoing my usual shower routine. Pure bliss. 

The entrance to The Dock House Boutique Hotel leads the discerning guest to a spectacular world of opulence beyond © Ryan Enslin

Idyllically intimate and private  

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about my stay at The Dock House Boutique Hotel was the intimacy and privacy of the property, despite its location in the heart of the bustling V&A Waterfront. Intimacy is achieved through a limited number of rooms, which on occasion, felt as if I had the run of the property to myself. Privacy, on the other hand, is cleverly maintained owing to the trees which border the front of the property. It’s as if you are hiding in plain sight, just below Table Mountain, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. 

The Dock House Boutique Hotel Bathroom
The Dock House Boutique Hotel provides ample space for a time of indulgence, even in the bathrooms © Ryan Enslin

Facilities to complement your stay 

Despite being a small property, the facilities offering at the Dock House Boutique Hotel bats with the big boys. The Elements Spa, located alongside the hotel, provides first-class spa and gym facilities to guests while a private garden and pool continue the luxury offering.  

Morning meals can either be enjoyed in the sun-filled morning room or at the adjacent Queen Victoria Hotel, where dinner is also served. Should you wish to continue the sense of intimacy, all meals can be ordered as room service and taken on your private balcony.

The Dock House Boutique Hotel is one of Cape Town’s most exclusive hotels, voted among the top 25 luxury hotels in South Africa. Its position allows for convenience, but on your terms.

Sitting on my balcony and soaking up the last few rays of the sun, where maritime engineer Eric Mowbray Merrifield is rumoured to have written in his diary of retrieving anchors in Table Bay, I gazed out over the vibrant waterfront. Grateful for my little slice of serenity, and pure indulgence. It is indeed good to be travelling again. 

Secreted away within the V&A Waterfront The Dock House Boutique Hotel is flanked by the Time Ball Tower and Table Mountain © Ryan Enslin

Little is recorded of the various incumbents who occupied the Dock House, but a few notable engineers from within the ranks have been associated with the port over the years. Their possible exploits fed the fancies of my mind during a recent stay at the Dock House Boutique Hotel, as I walked the self-same passageways and slept in rooms they too may have occupied.

Sir John Coode (1816 – 1892), widely known as the most distinguished harbour engineer of the 19th century, was tasked during the 1850s with drawing out plans for a new harbour in Cape Town. Up until that point, the Port of Cape Town was a rather rudimentary affair, consisting of three wooden jetties, established by Jan van Riebeeck back in the day. 

Coode’s progressive plan for the development of the Table Bay Harbour complex would eventually lead to the reclamation of the foreshore and double the area of the Cape Town city centre. He also contributed to the development of other harbours around South Africa, including East London and Durban. 

Another notable engineer, Eric Mowbray Merrifield (1914 – 1982), was appointed the Cape District Harbour Engineer in 1947, a post he held until 1961 when he was transferred to the Port of East London. During this time he invented the Dolos, which would revolutionise breakwater construction around the world. His design approximated the general shape of an anchor which would interlock and form a unit to effectively dissipate wave energy.  

The idea for his rather unique shape came to him while working in the Port of Cape Town, retrieving sea anchors after a small boat sank in the dock with a number of these onboard. They had become interlocked and had to be cut up to reduce their weight before they could be raised. The rest, as they say, is history. Wanting his invention to benefit all people, he was determined to never patent the design, receiving subsequent acclaim for his feat of engineering brilliance.

Author Bio 

Ever the global communitarian, Ryan Enslin sleeps with the proverbial fully packed camera bag by his side. Storytelling flows through his veins as he connects with people and their stories. 

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