A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Whales, Ostriches and Penguins..Oh My!

Exploring South Africa's Western Cape

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.

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Alone 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.

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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.

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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.
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Chapman’s Peak Drive
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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?

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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.

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Steps leading up to the main lighthouse with the Cape of Good Hope in the background
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Feeling the wind
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The main lighthouse at Cape Point

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Heading out to the Old lighthouse
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The ridge I was standing on in the last picture
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The Old Lighthouse

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.

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Watching Whales from the rocky soreline
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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.

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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.

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Two oceans spill together
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A lighthouse at the bottom of Africa

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.
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De Hoop Dunes
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Walking The coast
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Time to stop and appreciate the small things

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Loving the Coast
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Bontebuk
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Unfortunately we got stuck in the car on the 2nd afternoon with Crazy winds and cold weather.

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.

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Totally wild
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The surf mobile and view of the bay
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Who would mind tending to this garden

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.

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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!

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Meghan… Mounted up and ready to ride. Ask for the video when we get back to the states!
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Hello Ostrich
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Ostrich eggs… they make a hell of an omelet and are strong enough to stand on.

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.

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Africactus

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Scenic Swarthberg pass

Posted by pmunson 23:16 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Tsitsikamma to Bulungula

Being a few weeks behind on the blog did not seem like so big a deal while we were still on the road, but now that we are back in the states it does feel a little bit weird writing the last few blog posts… oh well, here we go.

Ah the rain. The closer we got back to the coast the worse the weather became. We had to cross one more pass and it was in a complete white-out. This, mixed with the windy road and drop offs disappearing into the mist, made for a slow and sketchy drive. We made it alive back down to the coastal road and to the small seaside hamlet of Natures Valley.

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Natures Valley

South Africans are as passionate about their Braai as we Americans are about our BBQ, and they are one and the same. Over a wood fire I Braai’ed up some chicken kebabs and felt good about partaking in a real South African tradition! The rain started late that night. It rained. And, it rained. It rained hard. In the morning our tent was in two inches of standing water, and miraculously the inside was only damp. Later we heard on the radio that there had been massive flooding up the coast in Port Elizabeth and we felt lucky to not have been worse off as many people had lost their homes.

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Flooded Campsite

We skipped on down the coast to the main camp in the Tsitsikamma National Park. This is SA’s second most popular national park behind Kruger, and was amazing. Like Big Sur in California the waves thundered on a rocky coast with a nice state park campsite right on the water. We finally got some decent weather and set out for a day hike on the Otter Trail. This is a five day walk between huts on the coastline that gets booked out almost a year in advance. We walked the first section to a waterfall that fell almost directly into the sea. We found a rock to sit on with the fresh river water crashing down into a large pool in front of us while the big surf pummeled the rocks behind us. It was a magical spot and I could only imagine how much fun the entire hike must be.

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Campsite at Tsitsikamma
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Waterfall on the Otter Trail

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View from the Trail
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View from Camp
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View of Camp from a lookout

Here we go again. The lure of the wide open desert country just over the mountains is irresistible. The coast is amazing but there is something about the Karoo that is drawing us back again for the third time. Over the hills and not that far away the vegetation disappeared and we were in red rock country again.

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On the road to Graaff Reinet

Graff Reinet is one of the oldest settlements in South Africa and has the historic buildings to prove it. However, we did not come for the old architecture but for the natural beauty of the landscape. A small game reserve provided a fun little drive that evening. We got to see our first gemsbok (cool antelope… Google it) and had a front row seat to see a Goshawk (big beautiful hawk) devouring a field mouse. This was a real incredible look into the life of a bird of prey. We pressed on to visit a rocky mountaintop looking over the Valley of Desolation. Rising early at a really weird little caravan park, we were up on the mountaintop just after sunrise when the sun paints the desert landscape with it soft morning glow.

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Dutch Church in Graaff Reinet
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Valley of Desolation

After letting Roxy (our trusty GPS) lead us down a road to nowhere we decided to lock her up in the glove box and navigate our own way to the Addo Elephant National Park. We had some successful game drives here, and got a better feel for what it is like to be on a self-drive safari. A male lion slept peacefully a few feet from the passenger side door. We got up close and a little nervous with a big male Kudu (complete with spiral antlers), and had to drive the elephant gauntlet past a large watering hole. This was just scary. Over 100 "ellies" were in the area, and the road snaked through the bushes they were feeding on. So, for what felt like forever, we were surrounded by animals that could crush our little Kia like a spent beer can.

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Sculls at the entrance to Addo Elephant Park
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Huh?
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Meghan checks out the rare flightless dung beetle
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Kudu
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Party at the watering hole!
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Running the gauntlet… to close for comfort.

We drove through the park all the way back to the coast and found the little fishing village of Kenton on Sea. We camped here for two nights at a pretty caravan park and had a nice walk on the beach. The owner gave me a large package of frozen Kudu sausages, they were absolutely delicious and kept me fed for a few days. After seeing the lion sleeping next to his Kudu carcass the day before in Addo, I felt like the king of the jungle with my sausages.

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The beach at Kenton on Sea
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Tent time

The next day would be an all day drive-athon with Meghan at the wheal negotiating tricky back roads and kia swallowing potholes. The garden route ended and the wild coast had begun. Technically I think there is a sunshine coast in there somewhere but it is all so hard to keep track of in this final stage of our travels. Anyway, the wild coast marks a change from the upscale and first-world feeling towns we had been passing through on the tourist friendly coastline from the cape to the garden route. We have entered the “Transkei”. I am not sure if this term is exactly PC because it is an apartheid era term for the area. Regardless, it is home to the native Zhosa people who still cling to the traditions. It felt like we were beamed back to some of the rural areas we had been through earlier in our trip. This was really nice. The towns felt distinctively more African and the landscape was dotted with brightly colored traditional rondavels (homes). We sought out one of the beaches on the rough and rugged wild coast to spend a few days. This area does not have a coastal road and you need to drive somewhat questionable roads to get down to the coast. To get to Bulungula backpackers you must make an epic 3 hour tour from the main road. . The Bulungula Backpackers Lodge was truly in the middle of nowhere and enjoyed a stunning location just above a large estuary where it met the sea. We were able to set up camp right on the dunes looking right over the sea.

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Rondavels
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Country Soccer Pitch, yes… they call it soccer here

The Backpackers lodge is 40% owned by local Xhosa people and you felt at times like you were more at a community lodge than just a backpackers lodge. They had many activities that were all run by locals and when they were not working they were hanging around the lodge socializing by day and playing drums around the fire by night. All the accommodations as well as bathroom and shower blocks were in Rondavels. Surrounding the lodge were local homes and villages spread out on the green hillsides. This mixed with the estuary and ocean view was incredible. We stayed for three days and completely loved it. Looking back we should have stayed longer. We tried to do a day of canoeing up the river but got blown out by the wind. I got in a morning of fishing but I did not catch anything. The local guy I went with cooked up his catch and I had the freshest fish available for an early lunch. I got in an afternoon walk to a “sacred” hill where in the old times tribesmen would go to pray for rain. I went with John and another girl we had met and on the way back we stopped by John's home and walked through his village. This was a nice look into the life of the Xhosa people. We had to walk on foot trails in the dark for about 45 minutes before we got back to camp. That last morning we unzipped our tent to look out on the ocean, and while still in our sleeping bags watched dolphins play in the surf. Incredible!

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Bulungula Backpakers
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Bulungula Backpakers
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Campsite by the sea
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View from my hike
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Johns House

Posted by pmunson 14:57 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

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