Exploring South Africa's Western Cape
05.11.2010 - 13.11.2010
Home to the souls of shipwrecked sailors and lonely lighthouse keepers, the Cape of Good Hope was one of the spots that was always on my RTW checklist. I did not realize the entire cape peninsula would be just as memorable. We set out from Cape Town in Kia #2 in fairly average weather for a long day down the cape. We started out by getting a better look at the cape town beaches. My hopes were up to catch some flagrant narcissists sunning themselves on one of the exclusive Clifton beaches but the general lack of sunshine and nippy weather left only one brave beauty on the beach.
The next stop proved more successful for beach voyeurism. The Boulders Beach is a popular spot for our flightless friends the African Penguin. Penguins in Africa? You bet, the wildlife viewing does not stop on the savanna. The Boulders is actually a protected beach were hundreds of penguins call home. A neat walkway of carefully laid boardwalks brings you past their nesting sights to the “boulders”, the main chill spot. We chilled as well, and watched them frolicking in the water and on the beach.
The Boulders Beach is one of South Africa’s extensive national parks. We laid down the cash for a couples annual pass, a Wild Card, and intend on hitting as many of the parks and game reserves as possible. We have heard great things and look forward to the courteous hospitality of the SAN parks campgrounds and facilities. We got of on the right foot with a informative sign informing us of the dangers of leaving too quickly.
Continuing south we paralleled the west coat of the cape on the scenic Chapman’s peak drive. Even with the cloudy skies and hazy horizon the scenery was incredible. The mountains dropped right into the thunderous sea and the road promised high consequences for letting your eyes drift out to sea for to long.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
We have been doing really well with recommendations from other travelers and our lunch stop in a grubby little take away place that did nothing to promote itself was another winner. We did not need the chips because the hunk of fresh fish that just finished swimming in the deep fryer was more than enough. Food this greasy should not be allowed to be eaten in the front seat of the car but seagulls must have gotten the same recommendation we did and left us prisoners inside the car at a beautiful roadside turn out.
The Cape of Good Hope. Our second National park of the day and the Wild Card is already paying off, it turns out membership does have it privileges. We blazed by all the scenic turnouts and side routs and made a beeline to the lighthouse at the bottom of the cape. We found a baboon taking in the tourist scene from the roof of a car. Penguins under your car, baboons on the roof? What’s next?
Cape point was busy with people making the short climb up to the main lighthouse but the side trails to the Cape Point and old lighthouse we practically empty. We fought gale force winds out along a skinny ridgeline that plummeted to the sea on either side to the old lighthouse. And impressive location on a barely accessible cliff face looking of to the south and the arctic. It lust have been a lonely life for lighthouse keepers.
Steps leading up to the main lighthouse with the Cape of Good Hope in the background
Feeling the wind
The main lighthouse at Cape Point
As we moved east along the cape coast we came across the town of Hermanus who staked its tourist flag directly in the blowhole of the Southern Right Whale. Growing up on the east coast I always thought that whale watching involved a boat trip hoping to see one or two whales in the open ocean. Not in Hermanus, this is considered one of the best land based whale watching locations in the world. One did not need to abandon one's cappuccino or frothy beverage to view the whales. They were in full view from the strip of bars and restreraunts that lined the coast. There was also a good walking trail and numerous spots to sit and gaze upon flukes and blowholes. We counted over a dozen from one vantage point and they came close enough to throw a stone at.
Watching Whales from the rocky soreline
Incase you were blind and still enjoyed whale watching Hermanus came complete with a Whale Crier who would blow his horn randomly at the dozens of whales in the bay.
The view from the road en route to Hermanus
Despight all its fame the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Point is not the most southerly point in Africa. We made the side trip to Cape Agulhas to see were the Atlantic and the Indian oceans meet. Real exciting stuff. After driving an hour out of our way we snapped a quick photo and turned around. One of those things you feel like you need to do and then wonder why as you are quickly jump back in the car.
Ok time to get back to Nature. Our Wild card was far from paying itself off and we wanted a desolate beach to chill out at so we set our sights for the De Hoop Nature reserve. This little gem of a park had a deserted coastline, Massive Dunes, craggy coastlines, a fresh water lake with an abundance of birdlife, and the rare Bontebok Antelope. On the smaller scale the ground is covered wonderful plant life and is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. On the lake we saw the African Spoonbill, and interesting stork with a … you guessed it… spoon shaped bill. The coast has a 5 day hiking trail that we did an out an back on taking in more whales of shore (here we saw the trademark whale tale and some breaching activity), some cool rocky tidal zones, and much interesting plant life.
De Hoop Dunes
Walking The coast
Time to stop and appreciate the small things
From De Hoop the Whales shared the ocean with surfers and holiday beach goers on the long strip of southerly coast called the Garden route. One beautiful town after another sits upon a perfect bay, lagoon, or estuary were South Africans flock during the summer. We picked the little town of Wilderness and the Wild Farm Backpackers. This was another recommendation that paid off. The Wild Farm set high up on a hillside with perfectly manicured gardens and lawns, impressive views over both the ocean and the surrounding mountains. They had a huge garden were we were allowed to pick and cook whatever we liked. Hearty veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions were in season and we feasted upon them. We arrived mid week early in the summer season and had the entire place to ourselves. It had a really homey feeling and we enjoyed the guilty pleasure of lying on a couch all day watching television, something we have not done in a very long time.
With so much more time to spend on the coast we thought a little trip inland would be worthwhile. Just over the hills and not to far away the lush coastal landscape of the garden route quickly faded back into the arid Karoo. With the promise of stunning mountain passes and the opportunity to ride a ostrich we set off.
On the way to Oudtshoorn, the self proclaimed Ostrich Capital of the World, we did the super touristy thing and visited an Ostrich farm. It was certainly interesting and the endless supply of ostrich related tourist trinkets was engaging, but we visited strictly for the bird ride. This area of South Africa is home to thousands of Ostriches and Ostrich farms and a few will let you hop on the back of one of the huge birds and go for a spin. Even with the two guys running behind to catch you if you fell off it was a ton of fun. What they can't do in the air they make up for on the ground, these birds can run!
The scenery on the mountain passes was pretty nice but the bird ride won the day. We were back on the shore before the days end and were hoping for some better weather and more beach time.