The next morning was an early start for us as we had an itinerary that barely fit the hours of day (as was to be a running theme of the entire trip). We hungrily ate breakfast at the hotel and, with Jeff and George waiting, piled into our minibus and made our way through Cape Town, southbound towards Cape Point, the south-westernmost tip of South Africa, where the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the South Atlantic Ocean meet.
The cosmopolitan Cape Town eventually gave way to the rising peaks of the Twelve Apostles, the range of mountains that spreads down the Atlantic Coast culminating in Cape Point. We stopped for a few photos just outside Cliff Town, watching several much-braver-than-I swimmers doing lengths near the beach in the distance. The thought of merely putting a toe into that icy water again sent shivers down my spine, let alone submerging myself. We leapt back into the minibus and continued southward, along the foot (feet?) of the Twelve Apostles, passing several small fishing communities as we wound along the coastal path.
The length of the coast, Jeff pointed out, is rife with shipwrecks. The waters off the Cape are notoriously dangerous with large rocks lurking just beneath the surface. We passed the remnants of masts jutting from the water, and the eeriest of all – the boilers of a ship’s engine, stranded alone on the beach with no sign of the ship that had once encased them. The rest of the ship, Jeff explained, would have been stripped down and carried away as scrap metal, but the boilers would have been too heavy to move along the sand. On our journey to the Cape of Good Hope, we saw numerous skeletons of ships in the water, like animal carcasses bleaching in the hot sun.
As we entered the Cape of Good Hope National Park, the scenery suddenly changed. Most of the trees along the Cape were introduced by the Dutch and English settlers, where they spread prolifically across the barren rock. The Park itself, however, as a protected area, is quite devoid of trees, the lush copses suddenly giving way to bracken-choked open rocky ground. It reminded me of climbing the waterfalls of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, and was not unlike what one may expect in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.
We pulled up the coach at the foot of Cape Point and spent a few moments wandering the gift shop before joining up with Jeff to ride the Flying Scotsman funicular up to the lighthouse. The creaky ride took us up to a beautiful garden, vibrant with blood red aloes, where steps led up to the lighthouse proper, a squat white building that gazed out across the oceans.
Stood there on the viewing platform, surrounded by hundreds of love locks linked to the railings, you could see for miles. There in the distance, clouds had gathered on the edge of the southern horizon as, apparently, is a common feature; the cold weather front looming threateningly for days at a time. It was hard to believe that the nearest land beyond that horizon was Antarctica. A signpost there pointed in different directions, announcing how far we were from many of the world’s major cities. A group photo or two later and we made our way back down to the car park on foot to get food at the local cafe.
That was where I made friends with the local wildlife. Whilst eating some corn chips, I noticed that I was being watched very closely by a flock of beautiful Red Winged Starlings, and a thought occurred to me. Thus I broke up some of the corn chips into my hands and, well, you can see the results above.
From Cape Point, we drove northeast, stopping in Simon’s Town (named after Simon van der Stel, the last Commander and first Governor of the Cape Colony) for lunch in the Seaforth restaurant overlooking False Bay – so named because it often confused sailors who were looking for Table Bay. Simon’s Town is still home to the South African navy, and many of the World War 2 gun emplacements still dot the coastline.
After lunch we took a short stroll up the coastline, passing a local curio market (where some of the group haggled for gifts) to Boulders Beach (“Home of the African Penguin”). There, down a short boardwalk to the beach, was a colony of hundreds of African Penguins; some drifting languidly in the sea, some frantically kicking up sand digging, some standing watch over fluffy chicks, many just lazily basking in the afternoon sun. We didn’t get long to stay, however, as Jeff had just received a very exciting phone call: Table Mountain had just reopened for visitors after a few days of adverse weather.
We made our way back to the minibus in haste and sped northward to Table Mountain, taking the cable car up to the summit. It’s a very short ride up and the car rotates to ensure everyone gets to see the views on the way up. But nothing prepared us for the views at the top.
From the summit, all of Cape Town is visible, sprawling from the shadowy foot of the mountain to the coast. The sun was low in the sky so the mountain was casting a shadow for miles. It’s also amazing to see the topography of the area – these mountains rise so suddenly from such flat lowlands, the contrast is truly astonishing, and I wish every traveller to Cape Town the best of luck in getting up the mountain to view it.
The summit is also home to a curious animal called a rock hyrax (sometimes also called a dassie or rock rabbit). They superficially resemble guinea pigs, and feel as soft to the touch as rabbits (yes, I just had to touch one), but their closest relative in the animal kingdom is, believe it or not, the elephant – it’s beyond the scope and reach of this blog to explain exactly how but it’s apparently due to things like bone structure and physical characteristics, including their testicles.
Much like Cape Point, the summit of Table Mountain resembles a barren, rocky scrubland, home to a handful of hardy, coarse plants, but with the endless horizon afforded by it’s elevation. Sadly, we didn’t have too much time to explore as, within the hour, klaxons sounded across the summit and a voice warned us that, due to inbound adverse weather conditions, we needed to immediately head back to the Cable Car.
The day was not yet over, however, and Jeff had one last surprise in store for us. After a brief stop back at the Lagoon Beach Hotel to freshen up, we drove back into Cape Town, to an old warehouse on the outskirts of the docklands; to a restaurant called Gold. There, we ate a set menu of traditional meals from all across Africa, sipped wine, and were treated to a theatrical display of traditional African tribal dancing, before, fat and full, we rolled back into our beds at the Lagoon Beach.