Views and Penguins around the Cape

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
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Trip End Mar 15, 2007


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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Today we took a drive around Cape Town, Table Bay and the Cape Peninsula area. Durbanville or Tygerberg (where my cousin lives) is just northwest of the city and is known as the Hub of Greater Cape Town. It contains some of the last remnants of the threatened West Coast Renosterveld, of which less than 3% remains today.

Near her home is a lovely road we take quite often which has a row of plane trees arching over the road and in another, huge old oak trees. It is also known as rose country, is apparently a bird lover's paradise and is generally a very agricultural area with wine growing and some cattle farming. A tourist brochure tells me that it is a region rich in cultural and historical diversity and is near the area established in 1923 as the oldest settlement in the Cape Town area.

Leaving this pleasant village setting we went along the National Road 1 catching lovely glimpses of Table Mountain and its' neighbours as we got closer into the City. The N1 has a speed limit about 120 but there is terrible speeding of up to 230 K. There is very scary driving and many terrible accidents.

Taxis (known as Black taxis - there are no white ones) do not seem to care how fast they go, nor, seemingly if anyone is in their way. They are badly overloaded, as are many trucks which carry people crammed into the back of them without seats or seatbelts, and others weave in and out of traffic, up on the sides of roads, stopping in the middle of the roads, etc, etc. I have never felt so unsafe. Reminded me of a real life Mel Gibson movie.

In any event, one of the shopping highlights of Cape Town is called Century City. It was built only about 6 years ago and is a huge success I gather. Looked something like the West Edmonton Mall. On one side of the car I was getting glimpses of this shopping Mecca and on the other, I could see Table Mountain and its neighbours getting larger and larger. A strange juxtaposition particularly as there were squadrons of show planes (like the Canadian Snowbirds) and fighter bombers (Stealth Bombers) getting ready for the Air show on Saturday.

We drove around the Cape Town waterfront, where I caught glimpses of Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill through the buildings. I wanted to go up the Mountains but Sheila pointed out the traffic up there, which was a silver line from bottom to top. She indicated that there is a tram to go up there but it takes about a 2 hour wait in line and if we do that, we won't do anything else today. I agreed we'd not do that today. As we drove around the "V & A Waterfront" (historic working harbour) the noon gun went off at, I think, Signal Hill.

We were now driving around the open Atlantic and the waves were racing in with the incredible mountains as a backdrop behind. We passed by Lion's Head and one of her son's homes at Camps Bay. Along that part of the coast, one looks at first Signal Hill, then Lions Head, then along the Table Mountain Range past a series of peaks known as the 12 Apostles. These mountains seem to be made of the same material as the mountains I saw yesterday and I again wondered if this part of the world had been pushed up out of the ocean's depth as they seemed to be folded and twisted with the same type of crumbly rock; however, these were interspersed with huge granite blocks and browny red granite bits.

The mountains of the Cape Peninsula just carried on down the Atlantic coast past places like Luibaai and a rather nice little town called Llandudno Bay (also known as a surfing beach if you don't mind sharks). We then cut through a pass and came out at Hout Bay, nestled in a bowl of the mountains. This is another world renown big wave surfing area and there is apparently a by invitation only surf contest called the "Red Bull Big Wave Competition".

This is a popular holiday destination surrounded by picturesque mountains and crashing seas. This was also a place where wild animals roamed free; however, the last leopard was seen in the 1930s (a statue of one was placed on a rock at the base of Chapman's Peak in 1960). Off to the west is the imposing Sentinel looking for all the world like a huge seal looming above the town. We were going to stop at a restaurant there "Oven's Kitchen", I think; however, it was not there any more.

My cousin noted that the area seems to have gone downhill a bit with township housing where there was none before. It certainly had an air of unhappiness and despair, I thought. Despite an apparent upswing in building of new buildings and restaurants, she feels people who used to live there have probably moved out taking their businesses with them. We decided to move along.

We carried on up Chapmans' Peak about 5 K but did not go the whole way as she wanted to take me another way. From the road we got fantastic views looking ahead to Cape Peninsula Park and the Southern extension of the Table Mountain Range. We wound our way through little villages through the Tokai Forest (established 1885 - has California redwoods and ancient oak trees), bypassing Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where I hope to spend some time later in my trip, and reached the area of Constantia, another wine growing area.

The tourist brochures say South Africa's wine industry was born in this Valley and that it is still the home of some of the country's finest vintages. It is a strikingly beautiful place of ancient vineyards (1692) , luxuriant homes and leafy forests. It is all of that and more. In addition to nature reserves (Silvermine, Cecelia and Constantia Greenbelt, it boasts Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture. There are places in this region which have been there since 1657 (Constantia Nek Restaurant www.constantianek.co.za)

We then wound our way back to the sea and followed beautiful warm bathing beaches, tidal pools, a Pavilion and colourful Victorian bathing boxes (St. James, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg) along the area known as Cape Town South. There is some question apparently whether this is the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean; however, in my opinion, the sea does look completely different on this side of the Peninsula.

Continuing further around the Bay we passed Fish Hoek and Clovelly which are surrounded by rugged mountains, safe beaches, white sand and an interesting array of health and wellness facilities. We were aiming for Simon's Town (named after the Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel), which we passed after going through a lot of holiday traffic and shopping (famous for gems and minerals).

It stretches for quite a way along the bay and is primarily a naval community. As my cousin points out, South Africa does not have much of a navy, but what there is, is here. We saw one submarine, one destroyer and one something else. Lots of folks in military dress looking very sharp. We had our meal at the Quarter Deck which looked out over both the fishing village and the naval yards.

At the restaurant I had a South African dish called "Boboties". It was quite delicious with spiced and minced beef baked in egg. Something like a quiche but a lot moister and less solid. I had it with both Mrs. Ball's original recipe Chutney (which I absolutely love) and also a spiced sauce. Apparently it is often a bit spicier than the one we had. Nonetheless, I loved it.

Outside the restaurant was a craft display; however, I was not in the market for buying though some of the beaded things looked very intricate. A number of tourists were about taking photos and the craft folk did not want their photos taken. I was more interested in taking a photo of a dog statue of "Just Nuisance", a dog which apparently used to meet the train and guide sailors who were somewhat the worse for wear back to their residences. An interesting story.

After lunch, Sheila took me to another wonderfully surprising place called The Boulders where there is a thriving colony of African Penguins which has basically taken over the area. I always thought penguins lived only in the sea; however, these seem to live on land in the underbrush. They also seem to dig tunnels to get from place to place. Must be thousands of them just sitting by the side or the (fenced) path which we walked from the colony back to Simon's Town. Some looking at the humans, some just going about their business. So amazing to see this right in front of you. The moms and babes are particularly cute, especially where there are twins. A bit smelly though. Getting back into the car we noted a sign which wais "Warning, please check under your vehicles for penguins".

We then set out to return to Cape Town; however, it was an afternoon of traffic. First of all the traffic was backed up due to a large wide truck parked at the side of the road at Muizenberg. Took us about half an hour to get by as the two way traffic could only go in one lane and had to wait for oncoming traffic. Then there was an awful traffic jam as we reached a bridge at Somerset West. It was literally an hour. We were blocked up in the right lane intending to go onto one road and thousands of cars on the left kept passing us and cutting in further up the line. Apparently this was illegal as being on a solid line but people ignored it. This was especially annoying as some were also haring off to a road which said "Cape Town" but they were not going there: they were going under a bridge and cutting into the line on the other side. So it was a huge mess up of about 5 lanes trying to go into one. We could have joined that insanity but were probably safer, though a bit hot under the collar, to just simply wait.

A friend of my cousin's does travel tourism and I have planned to do a winelands tour with him on Sunday. It will be about 980 Rand plus I pay for his lunch and mine.
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