Cape Town & Environs – Introduction
While it was on the bucket list by virtue of having never been, I can’t ever recall having a desire to go to South Africa. If I had I’d have probably visited by now. Being honest, the country, the world’s 24th-largest, has something of an image problem, one not helped by stories of crime & worries over personal safety, by the poverty & the obvious haves & have-not societal inequality, and the scars that linger from the divisive Apartheid era when the vast majority of the country’s black population – some 80% of the population – were disenfranchised. Oh, and there’s the hum of those annoying buzzing vuvuzelas during the FIFA 2010 World Cup (the things that stick in one’s memory). But I’ve been wooed. By Cape Town, and a Capetonian (and the accent, too), so now I find myself en route to the Mother City.
– Patricia de Lille, Executive Mayor, City of Cape Town, from the 2017 Official Visitors’ Guide Cape Town
Cape Town – The Mother City
Cape Town, a.k.a. the Mother City, so-called because it seemingly takes 9 months to get anything done down here, or so I’ve been told, is the capital of Western Cape, both the most southerly & the most popular of South Africa’s 9 provinces with tourists (and the one with a character & look most shaped by the country’s European colonial past). This is by some way both South Africa’s most un-African and its most visited city, and upon investigation it’s not hard to see why. Cape Town’s spectacular geographical setting and all the outdoorsy adventure options that presents might by itself be enough to lure some, but the region’s vineyards, agreeable climate, beaches, European colonial-era architecture (& history) and epic coastal drives, among other attractions, would, I’d imagine, deter very few. I’d always envisioned visiting the city, and South Africa itself, as part of an epic African overland odyssey, a Cape Town to Cairo or vice versa sort of jaunt. That might very well still happen one day, but for now I’m happy to give myself over to 9 days of Cape Town & its environs to see for myself if it really is as idyllic and as photogenic as it reads.
Cape Town & Environs Highlights Gallery
Cape Town & Environs Day-by-Day Overview
DAY 01 || BLOUBERGSTRAND || Cape Town International Airport to Bloubergstrand.
DAY 02 || THE CITY (a #CTBig7 attraction) || The Castle of Good Hope, Parliament Buildings & Company’s Gardens, St George’s Cathedral, the Bo-Kaap, Truth Coffee, Woodstock, & the open-air Galileo Cinema at the V&A Waterfront.
DAY 03 || THE CAPE PENINSULA || The Atlantic Seaboard (Sea Point, Clifton, Camps Bay, Llandudno, Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak Drive, & Noordhoek Beach), The Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point (a #CTBig7 attraction), & The False Bay Seaboard (Boulders Beach & Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, St James, & Muizenberg).
DAY 04 || THE WINELANDS & STELLENBOSCH || Root 4 Market at the Audacia Wine Estate, Blaauwklippen Vineyards, & Stellenbosch.
DAY 05 || KIRSTENBOSCH || Summer Sunset Concert in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. (a #CTBig7 attraction)
DAY 06 || THE WINELANDS & CLARENCE DRIVE || Franschhoek, Babylonstoren, Clarence Drive, Betty’s Bay, & The Coastal R44 & R43 to Hermanus.
DAY 07 || CAPE OVERBERG || Hermanus, De Kelders, Gansbaai, Kleinbaai, Pearly Beach, Elim, L’Agulhas & Cape Agulhas, Bredasdorp, Swellendam, Ashton, Robertson, Worcester, & Du Toits Kloof Pass.
DAY 08 || HISTORY & HIKING HIGHS || The V&A Waterfront (a #CTBig7 attraction), Robben Island (a #CTBig7 attraction), & Lion’s Head.
DAY 09 || WELLINGTON WIND DOWN || Wellington, road to Bain’s Kloof Pass, & the Napier Winery.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 1 || February 15, 2017
Image || The distant city of Cape Town & Table Mountain as seen from across Table Bay in Bloubergstrand.
“The waters off Blouberg’s long, rocky coastline are a haven for kite surfers; as idyllic as the beaches are, with their white sand encroaching on the sea-facing settlements, seemingly there are better swimming options elsewhere. Out here is both relaxed & scenic, the perfect place to ease into Cape Town after the 22-hour transit from the (much) chillier climes of the Northern Hemisphere.”
Day 1 || February 15, 2017
Posted From || Wellington, Western Cape
Day 1 Overview || BLOUBERGSTRAND – Cape Town International Airport to Bloubergstrand
I didn’t even take the real camera out today, day one in Cape Town & its environs, leaving the photographic duties to my trusty iPod instead; there’s plenty of time for proper photography. After picking up the hire car – a brandy-new, no-frills, white Volkswagen Polo with 25 kilometres on the clock – it was an hour drive from Cape Town International Airport to the windswept white-sand shoreline of Bloubergstrand from where there were nice views, if a bit hazy, back towards the regional centerpiece of iconic Table Mountain (& the city of Cape Town) from across Table Bay. It was a nice introduction to the city and its picture-postcard setting.
Plenty more to come from down here. Eight days of it. I just gotta get some rest first, and adjust to this heat.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 2 || February 16, 2017
Image || In the colourful Bo-Kaap district of central Cape Town.
“It’s the same the world over. Get a string of adjoining structures, paint them in bright colours and bam, you’ve immediately got yourself a tourist attraction. It’s simple, it’s tried, it’s tested, and it works.”
Day 2 || February 16, 2017
Day 2 Overview || THE CITY – The Castle of Good Hope, Parliament Buildings & Company’s Gardens, St George’s Cathedral, the Bo-Kaap, Truth Coffee, Woodstock, & the open-air Galileo Cinema at the V&A Waterfront.
Between observing the Grand Parade from atop the yellow walls of the Castle of Good Hope, to walking the European-esque streets of the CBD, to sampling the Muslim Cape Malay charm of the Bo-Kaap, to trying to figure out exactly what kind of vibe the hypsterie Woodstock neighbourhood is trying to peddle, I found myself commenting on more than one occasion today how I’d never experienced anything quite like the City of Cape Town. Of course this is all new to me; as travelled as I am, I’ve never been to such a place in Africa, the chaos of energetic Egypt & the mystic of Morocco, both very much on the northern fringes of the continent, not registering at all down here at it’s southern extremity. With a whole continent separating my past from my present African exploits, the resemblances so far are few. Very few. It’s all very different down here, all very new.
CapeTownBig7.co.za – City Walk, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
Historic Central City
While Cape Town and its surrounding suburbs sprawl, its business-centred City Centre is compact, not to mention lively & very colourful. There’s plenty to see – handsome buildings, historic fortifications, inviting gardens, & world-class museums – in what is the oldest developed suburb in the Western Cape, and thus South Africa; earmarked as a supply station for the maritime trade route to the East by the Dutch East India Company as early as the mid-1600s, Cape Town was to become the region’s first European outpost, remnants of which still stand to this day.
– Reproduced from the official Castle of Good Hope Collector’s Edition 2016 pamphlet
The rest of day two was spent driving through the Woodstock neighbourhood, a hub for creative & bohemian types and a visually curious mix of old and new. A working & living social/design experiment in action and the the region of the city to benefit most from Cape Town being awarded World Design Capital in 2014, this once run-down suburb has been given a new lease of life through the Neighbourgoods Market selling artisan goods in the old neighbourhood landmark biscuit factory: The Old Biscuit Mill. Woodstock is also home to the Doubletree by Hilton, our overnight location for this night, but not before an evening spent at the Galileo open-air cinema at the V&A Waterfront, the city’s restored, tourist-friendly, harbourside residential, shopping & dining district. More to come from there in due course; I’m far from done with the Waterfront (see Day 8 for more).
Day 3 || February 17, 2017
Day 3 Overview || THE CAPE PENINSULA – The Atlantic Seaboard (Sea Point, Clifton, Camps Bay, Llandudno, Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak Drive, & Noordhoek Beach), The Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point, & The False Bay Seaboard (Boulders Beach & Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, St James, & Muizenberg).
And now for some scenery, some epic coastal scenery via some epic coastal drives of the region’s Cape Peninsula, that rocky finger of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean at the southwestern extremity of the African continent, the same appendix-shaped landmass that was described by Sir Francis Drake more than four centuries ago as the most beautiful Cape in the world. We drove over 100 kilometers today in going from the city to The End, to Cape Point at The Cape of Good Hope at the very southern tip of the peninsula, and back again – down one side, the western-facing Atlantic Seaboard, and up the other, the eastern-facing False Bay Seaboard. Terra firma narrows as you go and the coast is rarely far away so there were some expected highlights en route: cliff-hugging drives; wild, windswept coastline; salty air; plush seaside settlements; bays, coves & white-sand beaches; working fishing villages; barren & rocky scrubland; epic vistas & end-of-the-world vibes; and emm, penguins. Penguins? In Africa? Well I never.
Day 3 Road Trip Part I – Southbound – The Atlantic Seaboard
It was a leisurely drive south along the portion of the Cape Peninsula’s two-lane M6, a.k.a. Victoria Road, that separates Sea Point & Chapman’s Peak on the western side of the peninsula. This stretch of windy, coastal-hugging road only measures some 30 kilometres, but there are plenty of reasons to pull over en route.
Pretty, Pushed & Plush
Victoria Road winds through some pretty settlements pushed up against the steep western-facing slopes of Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles of the Table Mountain Chain. Plush settlements – the Atlantic Seaboard beaches are overlooked by some of Cape Town’s, and Africa’s, priciest real estate. They are a combination of residential social hubs & popular tourist attractions lined with sundowner bars & restaurants, as at Clifton & Camps Bay, and secluded & sheltered sunbathing options, such as at Llandudno.
As inviting as the sands along this stretch of coast may seem from afar (or on high), the frigid waters of the Atlantic deter all but surfers and the most hardy from entering these waters. But fear not, if you reside in these quarters your million-dollar pad with wall-to-ceiling windows and sweeping sea views will invariably come with a swimming pool.
The Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point
Leaving the Atlantic Seaboard at Noordhoek but continuing in a roundabout way south, it’s a 40+ kilometre drive via the M65 through the middle of the finger-shaped Cape Peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope & neighbouring Cape Point. Needless to say, things get a little more rugged down here & there’s a lot less development than there is up north, but that’s because it’s a lot more protected.
Table Mountain National Park & The UNESCO-listed Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
The majority of the rocky 70-kilometre-long Cape Peninsula, from Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town in the north to Cape Point at the extreme south of the peninsula, is given over to Table Mountain National Park, one of South Africa’s 19 National Parks. Cloaking the natural areas of what is essentially Cape Town’s back yard, the park was proclaimed in May 1998 for the purpose of protecting the unique natural environment of the peninsula and its Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation that’s abundant here – the 500 km², 123,500-acre Cape Peninsula alone boasts over 2,200 species of fynbos plants, nearly twice as many as all of Britain, which is some 5,000 times bigger. Oh, and the region is also home to a whopping 20% of Africa’s flora. UNESCO took note of this and jumped on board in 2004 by lobbing World Heritage status on the region.
– UNESCO commenting on the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
CapeTownBig7.co.za – Cape Point, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
Cape Point – The End
You can tell that you’re coming to the end. Things narrow and eventually all you can see is rock & water in three directions – left, right & straight ahead. You eventually reach a point which prevents you driving any further (it’s called the car park at Cape Point) and then you feel it, that end-of-the-world vibe that’s inescapable down here. Of course it’s not quite the end of the world, but when standing at the base of Cape Point’s Old Lighthouse looking out to nothing over the vast expanse of ocean it sure feels that way.
The Cape of Good Hope - 'Discovery' & Today
The 15th century blockage by the Turkish Empire of the overland route East was the catalyst for a European search for a sea route to India. The first European to see the Cape was Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias. On a mission to find a stop off point en route to East Africa and the East Indies, he first rounded the Cape in 1488, although he didn’t actually see it; he only ‘discovered’ it upon his return, something of a consolation having failed to reach India. Not enamored with the place or its nasty southeast-orientated breezes, Dias named it Cape of Storms – it was later renamed Cabo de Boa Esperanza, Cape of Good Hope, by Portugal’s King John II who had initially sent Dias on his way & who foresaw the realisation of the long sought-after passage to India (Vasco de Gama would eventually ‘find’ India & thus a profitable trade route for Portugal that bypassed the Middle East, passing the Cape of Good Hope on his return journey in 1499). For centuries, Cape Point, easily one of the most dramatic coastal locations on earth, has been a navigational landmark for mariners, one that was a menace beset by violet storms, mountainous waves and treacherous underwater reefs – to date 26 shipwrecks have been recorded in the Cape’s vicinity. Today 30% of the Middle East’s oil exports, mostly en route to the America’s & Europe, pass the Cape of Good Hope, a hazard to both shipping and the region’s ecosystem – most recently, shipping disasters off Cape Town in 1994 & 20002 caused oil spills that took months to clear & killed thousands of seabirds.
– Text reproduced from display on Cape Point
– W Porter, financial secretary of the Cape Colony, July 11, 1840, to the critics who doubted lighthouses served a useful purpose.
What Goes Down Must Come Up
Nearly 1 million people visit Cape Point each year and even down here there’s infrastructure to meet the demand, everything from walking trails to gift shops to restaurants – there’s even a 585-metre-long funicular providing access to the lofty heights of the Old Lighthouse for those needing it (who mentioned the Chinese?). But regardless of how you spend your time down here, eventually you’ll have to retrace your steps and head back whence you came. Me? I headed north via the False Bay Seaboard on the east of the peninsula. I may have reached the end down here at Cape Point but this day wasn’t done yet. It wasn’t even close.
Day 3 Road Trip Part II – Northbound – The False Bay Seaboard
The waters of False Bay on Cape Peninsula’s eastern shore, so named as it fooled sailors of yesteryear into believing the large bay was Table Bay on the Atlantic Seaboard, are warmer than those of the peninsula’s Atlantic-facing western coast. Thus some of Cape Town’s oldest and most popular seaside suburbs are found here in a 17-kilometre-long arc of developments stretching from Simon’s Town in the south to Muizenberg in the north. First up when heading north from Cape Point is historic Simon’s Town. The country’s third-oldest European settlement & home of the South African Navy it may be, but the main attraction in these parts is undoubtedly the African penguins that reside at the penguin reserve on the town’s outskirts.
Boulders (& Foxy) Beach
I’d read about Boulders Beach prior to arrival. The sheltered setting, the boardwalks, the 540-million-year-old granite rocks/boulders and yes, of course, the penguins. But having been to Antarctica, I wasn’t too pushed about seeing penguins on a warm beach fronting a residential area of Cape Town. But the uniqueness, and absurdity, of that scenario – penguins on a warm beach in a residential area of Cape Town – is reason enough to appreciate the sight. And appreciate it I did. Yes, and whether I intended it to or not, my visit to Boulders Beach and neighbouring Foxy Beach, both part of Table Mountain National Park’s Marine Protected Area, was all about the little penguins. In hindsight, I guess that was always going to be the case.
We continued north from Simon’s Town for 17 kilometres passing through Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, and St James to arrive at Muizenberg. A surfers hangout that was once the country’s most fashionable seaside resort, today Muizenberg is well past its prime and feels a little seedy, notwithstanding its status as the peninsula’s biggest & best beach and as the location for the much-photographed brightly coloured Victorian-style bathing boxes, also found in neighbouring St James. We didn’t even get out of the car in Muizenberg, returning instead to quaint, charming, eclectic, picturesque, whimsical (insert adjective here) Kalk Bay before bringing a close to this busy day with dinner in Cape To Cuba, food fused with ‘Caribbean undertones’ while ‘adding a little Spanish and African flavor’. It’s flavour guys, flavour.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 4 || February 18, 2017
Image || Among the vines of the Blaauwklippen Vineyards, Stellenbosch.
“Needless to say, wine & wine tourism is big business down here; each of the region’s wine hubs, of which Stellenbosch is the largest, has their own established Wine Route where wineries – sprawling, picturesque estates in glorious surrounds that are heavy on European colonial-era architecture and family-friendly attractions & amenities – can be visited for tastings, cellar tours and any manner of wine-related activities.”
Day 4 || February 18, 2017
Day 4 Overview || THE WINELANDS & STELLENBOSCH – Root 4 Market at the Audacia Wine Estate, Blaauwklippen Vineyards, & Stellenbosch.
It’s the weekend and after the last two days of being a full-on tourist, today it was time to slip down a gear or two. Cue Stellenbosch, with its gorgeous leafy streetscapes, whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture, nearby wine estates, & nightlife, coming to the rescue in a way that I doubt many other good-time-vibe-inducing South African towns could.
Yes, Stellenbosch, or Stellies as it’s affectionately known, is indeed stunning, and it has been for a long time; founded in 1679, this is South Africa’s second-oldest settlement. Known for its beauty, everything from its centuries-old oak-lined avenues to its immaculate Cape Dutch architecture, this university town, some 50 kilometres east of Cape Town, might just be South Africa’s prettiest.
– Ernie Els, 4-time Major-winning professional golfer & Stellenbosch winery owner
The Western Cape Winelands & Wineries
As if Stellenbosch hasn’t alrealy got enough going for it, the town also sits in the heart of the famed Western Cape Winelands; grapes were first planted in the mineral-rich soil of the fertile valleys surrounding the town in the 1680s and today the Stellenbosch region is home to over 200 wine and grape producers, the most of any region in South Africa, one of the world’s Top 10 wine producers by volume (the country also produces the world’s largest volume of Brandy, made by distilling wine or fermented fruit juice).
The Wine Routes
Needless to say, wine & wine tourism is big business down here; each of the region’s wine hubs, of which Stellenbosch is the largest, has their own established Wine Route where wineries – sprawling, picturesque estates in glorious surrounds that are heavy on European colonial-era architecture and family-friendly attractions & amenities – can be visited for tastings, cellar tours and any manner of wine-related activities. We have Day 6 set aside for some wine tasting but today started with some wine-free wining & dining at the Root 44 Market in the grounds of the 32-hectare, red-wine-only Audacia Wine Estate by the R44 on the fringes of Stellenbosch, one of the wineries firmly established on the Stellenbosch Wine Route.
As a university town, Stellenbosch is a good place to spend a night on the town, especially a summer Saturday night. And that’s how we brought an end to this particular day – out on the town. I just wish I knew what everyone was saying. That Afrikaans again. As if things weren’t blurry enough.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 5 || February 19, 2017
Image || Cape Dutch cottage on Herte Road, Stellenbosch.
“Stunning Stellies… Stellenbosch… is indeed stunning, and it has been for a long time; founded in 1679, this is South Africa’s second-oldest settlement. Known for its beauty, everything from its centuries-old oak-lined avenues to its immaculate Cape Dutch architecture, this university town, some 50 kilometres east of Cape Town, might just be South Africa’s prettiest.”
Day 5 || February 19, 2017
Day 5 Overview || KIRSTENBOSCH – Summer Sunset Concert in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
I can think of worse places to wake if one must wake to the adverse effects of a late night. Stellenbosch looked even better this morning than it did the previous evening. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – what a beautiful place this is.
Goldfish In The Garden
Sunday was always going to be a go-slow day of rest (Amen), but revelling last night like the university student I haven’t been for many a year ensured that to be the case. About all that was on the itinerary for today was a concert in Cape Town’s UNESCO-listed Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
CapeTownBig7.co.za – Kirstenbosch, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 6 || February 20, 2017
Image || Wine tasting at the Franschhoek Cellar, Franschhoek.
“At Franschhoek’s Franschhoek Cellar, dating to 1945, is where we did some wine tasting, when even wine novices turn into wine snob wannabes by sampling wines in a bid to discern the advertised expressions, aromas, undertones, balance, and finish of various vintages.”
Day 6 || February 20, 2017
Day 6 Overview || THE WINELANDS & CLARENCE DRIVE – Franschhoek, Babylonstoren, Clarence Drive, Betty’s Bay, & The Coastal R44 & R43 to Hermanus.
Certain desirable elements of the last few days, namely the wildlife & epic coastal scenery of Day 3 and the architecture & wonderful wine estates of Day 4, combined to concoct today, Day 6. Today was the first day of a mini 2-day road trip, a day on which there was no escaping beauty; it was everywhere, both on the road and off it, but especially by the side of it.
The day 6 beauty started in earnest in Franschhoek, the smallest of the region’s established wine centres. Small it may be but Franschhoek’s setting, at the head of a valley and with mountains on three sides, is one of the region’s prettiest, and that, Ladies & gentlemen, is making a statement.
A 20-kilometre drive from Franschhoek brought us to Babylonstoren on the outskirts of Paarl, another regional wine centre with its very own Wine Route. While primarily a winery like all the others – it has 178 acres of vines producing 13 different grape varieties – there’s a lot more strings to the Babylonstoren bow than initially meets the eye, which I assume is why it’s as popular as it is.
Dating to 1692, Babylonstoren is one of the region’s oldest Cape Dutch estates. Way more than just a vineyard, the estate boasts a contemporary 5-star Farm Hotel & Spa, 2 restaurants, & a Farmhouse cum Farm Shop. In fact, Babylonstoren seems more farm less vineyard, especially when exploring the estate’s extensive gardens where you won’t find a grape, be it white or red, for love nor money.
Return To The Coast – Gordon’s Bay & Beyond
Bidding adieu to the Western Cape Winelands, it was a 50-kilometre drive through Stellenbosch, Somerset West, and Strand to get to Gordon’s Bay, a naval town on the northeastern crook of False Bay. Having last left it late on Day 3, we were back on the Western Cape coast, and back to some more awe-inspiring coastal scenery.
I sensed that by the time we got back to the False Bay coast at Gordon’s Bay on this day that it – late evening – would be a good time to be driving the west-facing R44 coastal road hugging the bay. And so it proved. OK, so it was dark by the time we reached Hermanus, our overnight destination for this day 84 kilometres away via Betty’s Bay, but by that stage we had been treated to the best of the region’s scenery bathed in the best of the day 6 light. Yet more beauty to end this most beautiful of days.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 7 || February 21, 2017
Image || Cape Agulhas, the southern-most tip of the African continent.
“It’s unspectacular, nothing more than a nondescript rocky headland accessed via an unpaved road & boardwalk; it takes time & effort to get here; it doesn’t have the towering sea cliffs nor the dramatic coastal setting and thus that end-of-the-world vibe that’s unmistakable at its much better-known relative, Cape Point; and it doesn’t attract anywhere near as many visitors as Cape Point… but none of the detracts from the awesomeness of being here, the southern-most tip of the African continent and the official meeting point of two of the world’s three largest oceans…”
Day 7 || February 21, 2017
Day 7 Overview || CAPE OVERBERG – Hermanus, De Kelders, Gansbaai, Kleinbaai, Pearly Beach, Elim, L’Agulhas & Cape Agulhas, Bredasdorp, Swellendam, Ashton, Robertson, Worcester, & Du Toits Kloof Pass.
While not as dramatic a coastal location as the much busier Cape Point of the Cape Peninsula, Cape Agulhas is actually the southern-most point of the vast African continent. I’ve a thing for such locations so this particular enticing geographical landmark was always going to be on the itinerary, was always going to be top of the Cape Town & Environs bucket list. Someone – Ralph Waldo Emerson, actually – once famously said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” True that as getting to Cape Agulhas today via the region’s Whale Coast Route was as much a highlight of day 7 as was the southern-most point itself.
It’s all about the coastline down here in the Overberg, but there’s still some nice Cape Dutch architecture to feast your eyes on.
We woke to day 7 in Hermanus, the jewel of the Overberg, the capital of the Whale Coast Route, & one of South Africa’s most popular holiday destinations; a water sports haven, having fun above or below the waterline is the town’s big draw. That includes ogling at whales, visitors to the waters off Hermanus from July through December (to calve & raise their young), a period which sees the waters declared a marine reserve and designated off-limits to holidaymakers.
From Whales to Sharks
From the whale capital, it’s a 40-kilometre drive via the Whale Coast Route to Gansbaai, known as the ‘The Great White Shark Capital of the World’ because of, you’ve guessed it, the sheer number of these dangerous predators found lurking in the warm waters off the coast.
There wasn’t a whole lot happening when we swung by the pier in Kleinbaai mid-afternoon on a summer’s day; prime cage diving season is June, July & August, the southern hemisphere winter. However, the pier was hosting the vessels of various tour operators offering cage diving trips. Out of the water, orderly lined, and clearly not going anywhere for a while, and certainly not going anywhere on this day, they proved rather photogenic.
(Inland To) Elim
I had read about Elim. Forty-three kilometres from Kleinbaai, it’s located someway inland on the Agulhas Plain so I never expected to visit the settlement in getting from Kleinbaai to Cape Agulhas, both very much on the coast. But as it turned out we did drive through, such was the route we took in getting to the end of the African continent. And I’m sure glad we did. (Only when here did it become apparent that the coast’s rocky terrain makes it impossible to have any kind of coastal route linking Kleinbaai to Cape Agulhas.)
And so finally to the main event on day 7 and the ultimate destination for our mini 2-day road trip, Cape Agulhas, a 47-kilometre drive southeast of Elim and as far south as you can go on the African continent.
It was a long drive from L’Agulhas back to base, a 300-kilometre drive through Bredasdorp, Swellendam, Ashton, Robertson, Worcester, & over Du Toits Kloof Pass into Welington. I didn’t take the camera out at any point of the drive, although I probably should have; the stretches of agriculture and farmland seen from the R319 between Bredasdrop & Swellendam in particular were photogenic, not to mention a huge contrast to the coastal scenery we’d gorged on over the last two days. Next time.
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 8 || February 22, 2017
Image || Late afternoon atop Lion’s Head, Cape Town.
“You can attempt to anticipate it by researching it ad nauseam. I did. You can get a better feel for it by exploring the region itself from ground level. I did that, too. But it’s only when you drag yourself up to the summit of the city’s Lion’s Head that you can fully appreciate Cape Town’s awe-inspiring setting.”
Day 8 || February 22, 2017
Day 8 Overview || HISTORY & HIKING HIGHS – The V&A Waterfront, Robben Island, & Lion’s Head.
The aim today, the last full day ‘down here’, was to visit three of the Cape Town Big 7, seven of the best of what the city has to offer as determined by Cape Town itself. A questionable meteorological call scuppered that plan, preventing me from peering over the Mother City from atop its most famous feature. But not to worry, the views from elsewhere were just as good, if not better. Day 8. History, hiking & heart-stopping highs.
The day, & the history lessons, started down by the water’s edge in Cape Town’s historic V&A Waterfront. We got there with sufficient time to spare to allow me capture a few pictures ahead of our departure for Robben Island offshore, where the history lessons continued.
CapeTownBig7.co.za – V&A Waterfront, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
The Nelson Mandela Gateway To Robben Island
You pass over the V&A Waterfront’s Swing Bridge, and past the Clock Tower, en route to the hugely symbolic Nelson Mandela Gateway To Robben Island, the somewhat convoluted name given to the building from which the booked-out-days-in-advance tours to Robben Island depart. Built in 2001 and occupying a prime V&A Waterfront site, this was the original embarkation spot for Robben Island prisoners. There are no prisoners these days – just plenty of fellow tourists – and while you’ll also find here a museum detailing the history of Robben Island and those who fought against Apartheid, there is, of course, a lot more information detailing those dark Apartheid days to be found on Robben Island itself, 9 kilometres across Table Bay from the V&A Waterfront.
Flat, parched, bleak, uninviting and measuring only 6 km², Robben Island was a place of incarceration stretching back to the days of the Dutch in the mid-17th century, but also something of a dumping ground for undesirables – lepers, prostitutes, lunatics and the like – prior to being taken over by the Prisons Department in the early 1960s. Turned into a maximum security prison, it housed common-law felons and, most famously, Nelson Mandela and other subjugated political and anti-Apartheid campaigners. It ceased being a prison in 1996, became a museum in 1997 (yes, the whole island is classed as a museum), gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999, and today is one of the must-see Cape Town attractions, one offering a somber look at the dark days of a dark period in the history of South Africa.
– UNESCO commenting on Robben Island
Apartheid & A Democratic South Africa
1. A social policy or racial segregation involving political and economic and legal discrimination against people who are not Whites; the former official policy in South Africa (from 1948 to 1991).
While a wholly simplistic generalisation, Apartheid stemmed from the days of Dutch colonial rule, when slaves formed a large portion of the population. Hence societal division was well entrenched in the country prior to the first piece of official Apartheid legislation being adopted into law by the South African government in 1949, it prohibiting marriage or sexual relationships across racial lines. (The Nationalist Government, elected to power by the white electorate in 1948, defined their doctrine of Apartheid, an Afrikaans word, as one of ‘Good Neighbourliness’.) Thereafter widespread racial segregation officially took root based on societal classification; South Africans were classed as belonging to 1 of 4 racial groups – white, coloured, Indian, & black, rights afforded to the latter in particular almost non-existent. Spearheaded by the ANC, the African National Congress, the oldest black political organisation in South Africa and the country’s leading anti-Apartheid political movement, years of domestic unrest followed as a consequence of the push for equality. Not surprisingly, both the antediluvian policies of the Apartheid era and the domestic turmoil born out of the anti-Apartheid movement were not well received by the wider international community – widespread and universal condemnation saw South Africa, embargoed to the hilt, largely ostracised on the global scene. Change was inevitable and it came when, in 1990, Nelson Mandela and other prominent leaders of the ANC were released from prison. Apartheid officially ended in 1991 and the country’s first free, multi-racial elections were held three years later in 1994. With the over 62% of the vote, the ANC won a sweeping victory and Mandela became South Africa’s very first black President, ushering in a new era for the country.
– Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his inauguration ceremony. Pretoria, South Africa. May 10, 1994.
– Nelson Mandela
CapeTownBig7.co.za – Robben Island, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
Back on the mainland and done with history for this day, it was time to get sweaty (& high).
You can attempt to anticipate it by researching it ad nauseam. I did. You can get a better feel for it by exploring the region itself from ground level. I did that, too. But it’s only when you drag yourself up to the summit of the city’s Lion’s Head that you can fully appreciate Cape Town’s awe-inspiring setting.
The Table Mountain Low
The plan was to leave (possibly) the best until last, sunset from the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town’s unmistakable 1,087-metre-high New7Wonder of Nature landmark that is supposedly the most climbed massif on earth. With enough climbing done for today, tickets for the cable car, the much lauded Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, were well since booked. Wind on the summit was the excu… sorry, the reason given for the early suspension of cable car services on this particular day, a somewhat dubious claim given the gloriously still nature of the evening; as far as we could discern there was more air – hot air – emanating from the staff as there was blowing on the summit of Table Mountain itself. Maybe someone wanted to go home early on this day, or they just weren’t bothered. Either way, I’ll need to return to Cape Town to tick this particular #CTBig7 attraction off the list, as good a reason as any to return I guess.
CapeTownBig7.co.za – Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, one of Cape Town’s Big 7, the best of what the city has to offer (#CTBig7)
Cape Town & EnvironsPICTURE OF THE DAY || DAY 9 || February 23, 2017
Image || Vineyards of the Napier Winery on the outskirts of Wellington.
“I might just have left the best for last. While I wasn’t hung up on getting it, I have been on the lookout for a nice vineyard picture since arriving 8 days ago now.”
Day 9 || February 23, 2017
Day 9 Overview || WELLINGTON WIND DOWN – Wellington, the road to Bain’s Kloof Pass, & the Napier Winery.
The wind down. The day that, and as sure as night follows day, had to come. D-day. Departure day. There was nothing planned for today, no itinerary, no good reason to leave base. But we did anyway, if only for a brief period. And of course it was photogenic.
Western Cape Passes
This region of the Western Cape is rather topographically diverse; everything from lush valleys (producing the wine) to highland farmland rests between the rugged coast and seemingly impenetrable mauvish hunks of towering sandstone or shale that are always in view. The hills around here, which are some 350-500 million years old and which once were continuous with mountains in present-day Argentina, Australia & Antarctica (before things started to move, and well before I arrived), are part of the Cape Fold Mountains, a series of parallel ranges running for almost 1,000 kilometres through this southwestern corner of South Africa. Hardly the Himalayas (the region’s highest peak, Seweweekspoortpiek, tops out at only 2,325 metres/7,628 feet), the peaks here don’t throw up much of a challenge for mountaineers, but it was a totally different story when it came to road building.