Back to Cape Town: Safaris, Penguins & the Cape of Good Hope
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My 2nd annual 30-day trip around the world is well underway and after kicking things off in Peru, followed by a stop in Croatia, today brings me back to beautiful South Africa.
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After a 20-hour journey from Dubrovnik including 2 connections, I finally arrive in Cape Town around 3:00pm on a glorious summer day.
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I grab a cab and head straight for my hotel, the Westin Cape Town. Rates this time of year start at about $400 per night but thanks to my Marriott points (hooray for business travel!) I will be spending all 4 nights here free of charge.
I don’t have a solid plan in place yet for my four days back in Cape Town.
On my last visit to Cape Town on Round-the-World #1, you may recall that I hiked Table Mountain, spent some time at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, took the Robben Island tour, and checked out a few beaches over my 3-day stay.
Read More: The Best of Cape Town, South Africa: Table Mountain, Robben Island & More
It’s just such a beautiful city that I knew I had to come back again this year. And, in fact, Cape Town is the only repeat stop from last years’ trip.
So, my plan is to spend some quality time with the hotel concierge and get some local advice on what else I should see and do.
When I arrive at the hotel, I’m happy to learn that I’ve been upgraded to a lovely corner suite (thanks to my Marriott status – again, hooray for business travel). My suite has a view of both the V & A Waterfront AND Table Mountain…fantastic.
After I settle in, I head back down to meet with the Concierge, Luke.
Things to do in Cape Town
I give Luke the rundown of everything I saw on my last visit and ask for his advice on what else Cape Town has to offer.
He suggests a number of things including a day-trip safari. I didn’t think there were any safari options within a day trip of Cape Town so I’m excited for that option and book it for tomorrow.
I also decide to rent a car for one day to get out and drive around a little myself. Luke arranges that for me as well.
With my itinerary for the next two days complete, I head over to the V & A Waterfront for dinner. It’s terrific to be back along the waterfront but I make an early night of it.
Departure time for the safari tomorrow is 6:30am sharp.
Day 2 – A Safari near Cape Town
Obviously, going on a safari is pretty much the #1 thing to do here in South Africa.
But most of the game reserves are closer to Johannesburg so to get to one from Cape Town it takes a bit of a drive.
The game reserve Luke booked for me is called the Fairy Glen Game Reserve (sounds a little more like a retirement home than a game reserve but, hey, he’s the expert so I roll with it). They pick me up at the hotel at 6:30am along with a nice family from Lebanon staying at a nearby hotel.
It takes about an hour and a half to get to the game reserve but it’s a beautiful drive through the wine country.
The Fairy Glen Game Reserve
When we arrive, they serve breakfast first at the lodge and then we join up with others from another group and climb into a huge jeep (think Indiana Jones ride at Disney) with our guides for the day.
I’m a little concerned during breakfast when I notice the hood up on the jeep as they worked to repair the engine. It’s not exactly confidence-inspiring to head out into the wild in 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.
Nevertheless, the guides seem confident in the reliability of our vehicle so we all climb in and head out.
The African Big Five
I’m a total rookie when it comes to safaris. But as I understand it, the mail goal is to view the African Big Five.
The Big Five refers to the lion, the elephant, the rhino, the leopard, and the buffalo. I’m not sure what to expect from a one-day safari since I’ve heard that some two-week-long safaris never even see them all.
But by the end of the trip we’ve actually seen 3 of the 5, plus a number of others animals. Not bad for a single afternoon!
The buffalo proved elusive and apparently it’s very rare to actually see a leopard since they are nocturnal animals.
But, we do see lions, elephants, and rhinos (oh my!) and get much closer to them than at your average zoo. Ironically, it’s the elephants we have 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 is a lot of fun but after 4 hours in the African sun, we are all pretty much done for. After a great lunch back at the lodge and a little time by the pool, we load into the van for the ride back to Cape Town.
All in all, a really fun day on safari near Cape Town.
Day 3: Penguins, Baboons & other African Adventures
Day 3 in South Africa begins with an adventure of a different sort – driving on the wrong side of the road. Another first for me.
My friend Kay 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 advised booking an automatic. But I’ve driven a manual pretty much all my adult life and I was confident I could handle it.
But she was right, it wasn’t easy.
Driving on the “other” side
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.
And if you’re driving a manual, it doesn’t hurt to be left-handed either.
I rented the car through the hotel so they deliver it to me outside the lobby doors. I hop in and sit there for a bit getting acclimated to the gear shift being on the other side and figuring out where each gear is.
After all, the hotel is located right in the middle of downtown Cape Town and it's rush hour. I'm not exactly in any hurry to jump into traffic just yet. After a few minutes, I decide I'm ready. I take a deep breath and pull confidently out of the hotel...directly into the wrong lane.
Luckily, I catch my mistake in time and quickly veer back into the correct lane.
Two words: Blond Moment.
Exploring the Cape Peninsula
My plan for the day is 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 is beautiful and I'm starting to get the hang of driving on the other side. 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 have to agree.
Once I get out on the open seaside road and out of the Cape Town traffic, I settle into a comfortable groove with the driving and finally start to enjoy 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.
The penguins of Boulders Beach
My first stop is 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).
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 actually consists of two beaches, 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 learn, 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 are all over the place - along the boardwalk, on the "human" beach, out near the parking lot. Everywhere.
It's 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 want to pick one up and give it a squeeze, I resist the urge.
Penguins are really, really, cute. I'm talking Siberian-husky-puppy-cute (my current gold standard). And the penguins of Boulders Beach are not people-shy at all. They come right up to you and give you that inquisitive sideways turn of the head. Also, endearingly cute.
The Cape of Good Hope
After a while, I finally manage to tear myself away from the penguins and continue 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 National Park, the southernmost point on the African continent.
There are a number of hiking trails throughout the Cape of Good Hope. But since my time is limited, I hike only up to the lighthouse at Cape Point National Park which dates back to 1860.
The Chacma baboons
Throughout the reserve, I notice numerous signs posted warning about feeding the Chacma Baboons. I haven't seen any so I'm not sure what the fuss is about.
But as I'm driving back toward the highway, I notice traffic is stopped in both lanes up ahead. When I get closer I see that a troop of baboons has literally taken over the two-lane road.
There are at least 20 of them scattered across the road just hanging out and doing whatever it is that baboons do. Cars are forced to drive off of the road to get around them. I can't help but laugh at the fact that I'm driving off the road to go around a troop of baboons.
You can't make this stuff up.
Day 4 - Beach Time at Clifton Beach
After a full day of adventure yesterday, 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 head today.
That evening, the skies are still clear so I take the cable car up to Table Mountain hoping to catch one good sunset before I leave tomorrow.
Unfortunately, as often happens, clouds move in quickly around the top of the mountain at sunset so it isn't as great as I hoped. But it's still a nice way to end the day.
Last Day in Cape Town
Since I'll be spending the next two nights on airplanes, I slept in a little this morning.
The V & A Waterfront is again my destination for lunch and a little shopping before heading to the airport. All in all, another wonderful visit to South Africa.
Cape Town truly is one of those places that you never see enough of. I'm definitely looking forward to returning someday to see even more.
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Next up, back to Thailand!