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Back to Africa – Cape Town Part Deux

Posted by on Jan 14, 2007 | 0 comments

Back to Africa – Cape Town Part Deux

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After a lengthy journey from Dubrovnik including 2 connections, I finally made it into Cape Town around 3pm on a glorious summer day. I grabbed a cab and headed straight for my hotel, the Westin Cape Town. This is the same hotel I stayed at last year and really loved, so I was looking forward to returning. Rates this time of year start at about $400 per night but thanks to my Starwood points (hooray for business travel!) I will be spending all 4 nights here free of charge.

I haven’t really planned out what I want to do with my four days back in Cape Town. On my last visit to Cape Town on RTW #1, as you may remember, I climbed Table Mountain, spent some time at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, took the Robben Island tour and checked out a few beaches in the 3 days that I was here.

It was just such a beautiful city that I knew I had to come back again this year and, in fact, this is the only repeat stop from last years’ trip. So, my plan was to spend some quality time with the hotel concierge and get some advice on what else to see.

Westin Cape Town South Africa
The view of Table Mountain from my suite!

When I arrived at the hotel, I was happy to learn that they had upgraded me to a really nice suite (thanks to my Platinum status with Starwood – again, hooray for business travel). I had a great room here last year but this one was even better. It was a corner suite with a view of both the V & A Waterfront AND Table Mountain…fantastic. After I got settled in, I went down to meet with the Concierge, Luke.

I gave him the run down on what I had done last time and asked for his advice on what else Cape Town had to offer. He suggested a number of things including a day-trip safari which I arranged for the next day. I also wanted to rent a car for one day to get out and drive around a little myself, Luke was able to arrange that for me as well. My itinerary complete, I headed over to the V & A Waterfront for dinner and then went to bed early. Departure time was 6:30am the next day.

Day 2 – On Safari

So, obviously, going on a safari is pretty much the #1 thing to do here in South Africa. Most of the game reserves are closer to Johannesburg so to get to one from Cape Town it’s a bit of a drive. The game reserve that Luke booked for me was called the Fairy Glen Game Reserve (sounded a little more like a retirement home than a game reserve but he’s the expert so I’ll go with it). They picked me up at the hotel at 6:30am along with a nice family from Lebanon staying at a nearby hotel.

It took about an hour and a half to get to the reserve and it was a beautiful drive through the wine country. When we arrived, they served breakfast first at the lodge and then we joined up with others from another group and climbed into a huge jeep (think Indiana Jones ride at Disney) with our guides for the day.

I was a little concerned while we were having breakfast because I noticed that they had the hood up on the jeep and were working on repairing the engine. It’s not exactly confidence-inspiring when you’re headed out into the wild to be loaded into a jeep that wasn’t running a few minutes ago. The last thing you want is a break-down at a time when you may, or may not, be surrounded by lions.

South African safari
On safari in South Africa

Nevertheless, the guides seemed confident in the reliability of our vehicle so we all climbed in and headed out. Now, when you’re on safari, the main goal as I understood it is to view the African Big Five. The Big Five refers to the lion, the elephant, the rhino, the leopard and the buffalo. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a one-day safari since I had heard that some two-week long safaris never even see them all. But by the end of the trip we had actually seen 3 of the 5, plus a number of others.

The buffalo proved elusive and apparently it’s very rare to actually see a leopard since they are nocturnal animals. But, we did see lions, elephants and rhinos (oh my!) and got much closer to them than at your average zoo. Ironically, it was the elephants that we had to stay the farthest away from in the jeep because they have actually been known to charge the jeeps. I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of that altercation.

The whole experience was a lot of fun but after 4 hours in the African sun, we were all pretty much done for. After a great lunch back at the lodge and a little time by the pool, we loaded into the van for the ride back to Cape Town. All in all, a really fun day.

Day 3:  Penguins, Baboons & other African Adventures

Day 3 in South Africa began with an adventure of a different sort – driving on the wrong side of the road. My friend Kay had warned me that the hardest part of driving on the other side of the road is shifting with your other hand if the car is a manual, so she recommended getting an automatic. Now, considering the fact that my current car, as well as my last few, have all been of the stick shift variety (I just happen to prefer them) I was confident I could handle it. But she was right, it wasn’t easy.

It turns out, the key to driving on the other side of the road is to forget everything you currently know about driving and start over from scratch. Every instinct you have while driving on the other side will almost certainly be wrong. If you realize this sooner rather than later, you have a fighting chance of making it through the day without major incident. It doesn’t hurt to be left-handed either (Dad, you would be great at this).

I had rented the car through the hotel so when they brought it around to the lobby doors I sat in it for a bit getting acclimated to the gear shift being on the other side and figuring out where each gear was. After all, the hotel is located right in the middle of downtown Cape Town and it was rush hour, I wasn’t exactly in any hurry to jump into traffic just yet. After a few minutes, I thought I was ready so I took a deep breath and pulled confidently out of the hotel…directly into the wrong lane.

Well, almost. I was so caught up in dealing with the shifting and the feel of the new clutch that I was only half paying attention when I pulled out into the road. Luckily, I caught my mistake in time and quickly veered back into the correct lane. Two words:  Blond Moment.

After a few miles driving down the coast, I was starting to get the hang of it but still not entirely comfortable. It really does take some getting used to. My plan for the day was to explore the southern Cape Peninsula including the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and Boulders Beach – one of only a few land-based penguin colonies in the world. The drive along the coast was beautiful and I had to stop several times to take pictures.

The Cape Town visitors guide calls this drive along Chapman’s Peak the world’s most scenic drive and from what I have seen, I would have to agree. Once I got out on the open seaside road and out of the Cape Town traffic, I settled into a comfortable groove with the driving and was really enjoying it.

I love driving in other countries, there are few better ways to really see a country than to get a car and a map and just go explore. Though the drive to the Cape of Good Hope was only slightly over an hour from the city, there were lots of stops I wanted to make along the way so I had planned to spend the whole day.

The penguins of Boulders Beach

My first stop was Boulders Beach, home to the unfortunately-named African Jackass Penguins. And yes, that is their actual species name (apparently they have a donkey-like call, it’s no reflection on their general attitude). 

penguins Boulders Beach South Africa
The penguins of Boulders Beach, South Africa

Located in a sheltered cove between Simon’s Town and Cape Point, Boulders has become world-famous for its thriving colony of African penguins. Although it sits in the middle of a residential area, it is one of the few sites where penguins can be observed at close range, wandering freely in a protected natural environment.

From just two breeding pairs in 1982, the penguin colony here has grown to almost 3,000 in recent years. Boulders Beach consists of two beaches really, one is a public beach where anyone can swim and on the other side of the boulders, is a beach just for the penguins. Visitors can’t walk onto that part of the beach but there is a viewing boardwalk that takes you pretty close. 

Of course, as I quickly learned, the penguins are under no obligation to observe the helpfully posted signs and they don’t stick to their side of the beach. In fact, they were all over the place – along the boardwalk, on the “human” beach, out near the parking lot, everywhere.

It was very easy to walk right up to one but the park asks that you keep a 2 meter distance from any penguins that you encounter. So, as much as I wanted to pick one up and give it a squeeze, I resisted the urge. Penguins are really, really, cute. I’m talking Siberian-husky-puppy-cute (my current gold standard). And they were not people-shy at all; they would come right up to you and give you that inquisitive sideways turn of the head look. Also, endearingly cute.

The Cape of Good Hope

After a while I finally managed to tear myself away from the penguins and continued my drive south to the Cape. The Cape of Good Hope is the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and has been a nature reserve since 1938. The reserve spans about 25 miles of dramatic cliffs and beautiful unspoiled beaches.  At its southern tip is Cape Point, the southernmost point on the African continent.

Cape of Good Hope South Africa
Exploring the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

There are a number of hiking trails throughout the Cape and it would have been great to spend a whole day hiking through them, but alas, time was limited. So, I limited my hiking to the hike up to the lighthouse at Cape Point which dates back to 1860. The clifftop views within the Cape reserve were stunning. 

Throughout the reserve, there were numerous signs posted warning about feeding the Chacma Baboons but I never saw any until after I left. As I was driving on the road to get back to the highway, I noticed that traffic was stopped in both lanes up ahead.  When I got up closer I saw that it was a troop of baboons who had literally taken over the two-lane road.

Chacma baboons South Africa
Chacma baboons hanging out on the highway

There were at least 20 of them and they had scattered themselves across the road and appeared to just be hanging out – doing whatever it is that baboons do. Cars were forced to drive off of the road to get around them. I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that I was driving off the road to go around a troop of baboons. You can’t make this stuff up.

Day 4 – Beach Time

After getting back to the hotel pretty late the night before, I decided to spend most of my last full day in Cape Town relaxing on lovely Clifton Beach. Cape Town has some remarkable beaches right in the city. Clifton and Camp’s Bay are walking distance apart but I just can’t get enough of the giant boulders on Clifton Beach so that’s where I spent most of my day.

Clifton Beach Cape Town South Africa
Clifton Beach, Cape Town

That evening, since it was still a clear day, I took the cable car up to Table Mountain hoping to catch one good sunset before I left the next day. Unfortunately, as often happens, clouds moved in quickly around the top of the mountain at sunset so it wasn’t as great as the sunset I watched up there on my last trip. Of course, having done the 3-hour hike up the last time, maybe I just appreciated it more.

One casualty to report today – my camera. Apparently you are NOT supposed to get beach sand in a camera lens. Who knew? I don’t recall reading anything about that in the manual. I am going to try to take it into a camera shop at the waterfront tomorrow and see if it can be fixed but I suspect I will soon be in the market for a new one.

Last Day!

I started my last day by sleeping in a little. It occurred to me that I’d be spending the next two nights on airplanes so I figured a little extra sleep this morning was in order. The V & A Waterfront  was again my destination for lunch and a little shopping before heading to the airport. I took my camera into a camera shop and it turns out I was correct in assuming it could not easily be fixed. The guy would have had to send it out for repair which would have taken about 3 weeks…not really an option. 

So, I shopped around at cameras for a little while and was dismayed to discover that they were extremely expensive there. I found my same camera in one store for more than $400!!  Since I only payed $300 for mine over a year ago I decided I would try my luck camera shopping in Paris or Bangkok.

There was a little excitement while I was having lunch as one of the mountains that makes up the Table Mountain range caught on fire. It was amazing how quickly it spread down the mountain and everyone at the waterfront watched as helicopters filled large tarps with water from the nearby bay and used it to fight the fire. The helicopters kept swooping over those of us sitting at the restaurant to re-fill in the bay, then they’d go dump it on the mountain and come back again. 

It was really exciting to watch. I later learned that they’d had to evacuate a number of hikers from the mountain and I was really glad I hadn’t picked that day to go hiking up there again. All in all, another wonderful trip to Cape Town, but there is still so much more I want to do here. I still didn’t manage to make it out to the wine country other than driving through it on the way to the safari.

Cape Town is one of those places that you never see enough of and I am definitely looking forward to returning someday to see more.

Next up, back to Thailand!

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