October 2015 was our third visit to South Africa, having visited in 2009 and 2012. In all, we have spent around 21 days in total around Cape Town itself and for me, it is a highlight and deserves as much time as you can make. We’ve got very attached to staying in a beautiful beach estate at Klein Slangkop in Kommetjie, about 45 mins drive from the city. Great value and a quiet, stunningly beautiful retreat after a day’s sightseeing.I’m not a huge city person and always prefer to be based somewhere quieter, preferably with a view of the sea and a beach to stroll.That ocean and mountain combination always does it for me.
I’ve listed thoughts on our visits to some of the area’s many delights and attractions.This area alone I would re-visit again and again as it is SO spectacular and offers so much to see and do.I usually like to move on on holiday, see the sights. Next trip, we’ll stay much more than a week and explore old favourites and new options with less of a rushed feeling.
Our first 2 week family trip in 2009 to Cape Town and Kruger/Sabi Sand I announced as once-in -a – lifetime. I’d got my early retirement package, was feeling flush and the country had always been a draw. But a one-off? Wrong! We’ve been back twice since 2009 and will no doubt return again, having fallen in love with many aspects (though not all) of South Africa and have ventured also into Namibia and Botswana. I certainly hope, like Arnie, we will be back!
It was views of Table Mountain that had drawn me to Cape Town initially. I love great landscapes and the outline of this famed National Park as a backdrop to the city, I found mesmerising.It didn’t disappoint.In fact, every time I pass the mountain I just can’t take my eyes off it.Despite there being many higher mountains in the world, the combination of it’s shape and colour and the fact that it rears 1085 metres (or 3,500 feet) straight up out of the ocean just knocks the spots off many other famed mountain landscapes.It’s an exciting mountain too – rugged and primeval looking, perhaps with more in common with some of our Scottish mountains , especially in terms of being oceanic and rising STRAIGHT up.
It was a sunny late August day on 2009, our first ever Africa trip, when we ( Chris and my two boys , 18 and 21) first made our way to the Table Mountain Cable Car . Morning cloud had lifted, the wind was light so the trip was ON. Something that’s not always possible due to wind or fog , so we were lucky on our choice of day.
It’s a jaw-drop of a ride to the top, a straight pull up so close to the precipitous rocks you feel you could touch them.The last few seconds, the car halted, preparing for the last yank up, suspending us in mid-air.Scary. Then seconds later we were safely housed in the top station.I looked at Gregor, my youngest son who has inherited, I think the same condition I have – mild vertigo when faced with a big drop.His face said it all; it was a heart-stopping ride.
You could walk a long time up here; there are well made trails going everywhere.But wow- those views over the city and surrounds.Camps Bay, the Twelve Apostles, the Waterfront, the ocean. Amazing. Rock Dassies scurried about and blue starlings hopped on the beautifully built stone walls protecting the viewing platforms.Nice little shop with memorabilia for sale. It’s a difficult spot to pull yourself away from.At home, we hike up mountains quite regularly but time and trying to squeeze in all that we could, had ruled that out this time.The whole place reminded me in shape and size of one of our Alpha mountains – Liathach, in Torridon – though the latter overlooks a wilderness edged by some tiny coastal villages and the sea, not a thriving city.
AFTERNOON TEA @ THE MOUNT NELSON HOTEL
Another iconic image which had caught my imagination and which more than lived up to expectations.This pastel pink old colonial hotel in Cape Town is ringed with palm lined gardens, an oasis amidst the hustle and bustle.Inside, it’s all Old World elegance, soft colours and utter classiness. Afternoon tea is an institution and worth booking ahead for.The boys were dubious about spending an afternoon here but rated it as one of the best things we did in a week full of great experiences.
A very formal , yet welcoming Indian gentleman in white livery served us our chosen teas, as we sat in the lap of luxury in the main lounge. Then we were shown to the buffet-style dining tables which were crammed with savouries, breads, cakes, gateaux, sandwiches, sweets.I have never, anywhere, seen such a spread.For cake lovers with a sweet tooth(me) it was heaven on earth. And all for the outrageous sum of £12 each (I believe it’s gone up to around £15).
And things were ‘home-made’ in taste, the concoctions of great pastry and patisserie chefs. It was outstandingly good.
We’ve been there twice now in 3 trips and I’m only sorry this last trip in 2015 we ran out of time for another visit and had to cancel the booking we made.Ultra expensive and gorgeous Penhaligon products in the washrooms. A couple of hours spent enjoying life as it once used to be for the VERY privileged.
My great-grandmother was brought up on the Monach Isles, a remote outpost of the remote Outer Hebrides of Scotland.It was a hard life, lived on the edge of the world, subsistence living, crofting, most food made at home.Now just over 100 years later and I am sitting in colonial excellence for a relative pittance, enjoying a holiday in luxury accommodation, spending more money on these 2 weeks than my ancestors made in many, many years, if at all. I often find myself thinking about how much our lives have changed, those of us who live in First World countries, in such a relatively short time. It seems almost unreal.
GREAT WHITE SHARK CAGE DIVING TRIP (2009) with Chris Fallows
This was THE trip that had helped swing my younger son’s decision to come on holiday here as for a while it was touch and go. Neither of the boys are huge travel fans; they like home and their lives there – or maybe it’s just their age. I hope that attitude changes because it’s such a big, beautiful world out there.The shark trip, getting some golf in (they are great Ernie Els fans)and doing the safari in Sabi Sands were the really key elements; for us, it was simply exploring a country that had long called out to me.We both love great landscapes, the ocean, wildlife viewing and I have OCD when it comes to taking photos (I have three men who believe it’s all stored in your head, no need for a camera. Well, my head must be like a sieve because I need the visual evidence.)
We checked out where the Apex Predators boat left from Simon’s Town on the afternoon of our first day, as our shark trip was planned for Day 2.We knew we had to await a call from them that night around 7pm to confirm it was on as the weather hadn’t been great.Tenterhooks. I had briefly texted Dad from the airport that morning when we’d arrived, to let him know the plane hadn’t plummeted into the Sahara or the South Atlantic and we were ok.He’s a big worrier (I’ve inherited that) and I know he would have been tracking our British Airways flight from the minute it left Heathrow so hearing from us wouldn’t have been a huge surprise.Given how obsessive he gets about us all, I knew he would have woken every hour or so just to check our progress on the TV screen.Still, hearing a voice is always the thing. It was far too expensive to make and receive calls between SA and the UK so we’d agreed on texting only, unless there was a problem.
Next day dawned cold and drizzly but the wind had dropped a little as we parked up at the small jetty and got our gear together for the 4 hour trip.
I’ll admit upfront now that no-one on our boat finally made it into the water 3 hours later, when a 15 foot female began to cruise round us. It was bitterly cold, the water was murky, the place smelt overpoweringly of fish guts and the shark didn’t hang around too long. It wasn’t quite the clear blue water in sunshine scene of the photographs.But no matter; this was a trip I would do again, perhaps earlier in the season.In August, the hunting of fur seals is on the wane a bit.
We went out with Chris Fallows, famed as the man who caught those fabulous photos of Great Whites torpedoing out of the water to catch the seals.We were all shark buffs; loved the nature programmes covering them and had seen some of Chris’s footage.So he was THE choice for us out of Simon’s Town.Not cheap – in fact, eye wateringly expensive though I think the costs seem to have gone down recently (or the exchange rate is twice what it was, more like it).In 2009 we were getting around 12 rand to the pound; in 2015, nearer 20.
The trip left early before dawn, around 7am.It was freezing cold in August, really gloomy. There was something very menacing about slipping out into the bay in the pitch dark and heading for the centre of False Bay where the sharks feed. It took us about 45 minutes to get there , the boat pitching a little and our excitement built as the pungent smell of fishy things invaded our nostrils.We could see fur seals making that strange hopping motion out of the water , like mini dolphins, as they headed for the safety of Seal Island, just back from their feeding grounds.They looked so small and vulnerable – how could they possibly evade one of the ocean’s most efficient predators? They didn’t stand a chance.
Oh yes they did!
In fact, the majority of shark predations on the seals end in failure. Poonish ( or Hoonish, we all heard his name differently) Chris’s assistant and Chris Fallows himself (already lined up with his mega lens camera to catch any action) explained that the seals tuck in against the shark’s body when under attack .They don’t swim away from it but stick close around it until the shark tires and gives up. It makes perfect sense.They are much smaller and more agile than the sharks and can turn and tip themselves this way and that in a second; relatively speaking, the shark turns like a tanker, taking much longer to manoeuvre.
The ocean was fairly calm as dawn broke, lighting up the oily surface.The noise from the island itself, every rock and ledge filled with seals and cormorants, was deafening.It was a wild, superb scene.And then a big splash drew our gaze to the right and we caught sight of something big and solid swirling around the surface of the sea.A great white was after a seal, it momentarily flipped into the air – had it been caught? – but it was neatly outmanoeuvring the great predator and the ocean went quiet again as it silently jumped and hopped its way to safety. Then another splash and this time it looked like the seal didn’t surface again. It had been ‘got.’ by the time we got closer, there were entrails like abandoned fishing line scattered on the water.
In all we saw around 6 attacks though they happened so suddenly and were over so quickly and often quite a bit away from us, that we didn’t get a real glimpse of the sharks themselves.Just a churning in the water, a glimpse of a solid body, thrashing water and it was over.
In the last hour or so, it was time to chum the water and put a big fish head out plus pull a decoy seal behind us.But no shark jumped to take any of the bait.We stayed put for a while as the two men kept the bait going and then suddenly, there she was. A relaxed, 15 foot female that we looked down on from the upper deck.We had all expected to be terrified, appalled but she was beautiful….a creature in her element…elegant.Almost greenish in the murky depths as she patrolled the surface.Smaller than we imagined.
There were around 15 of us but no-one felt much like going in the water. She didn’t look like she was going to hang around. The view from here was wonderful and it would take time for the cage to be assembled.It was pretty cold too and I think Chris Fallows was relieved.
Sure enough, she stayed for a few minutes, played with the bait in her mouth, then took off.Clearly she had fed and wasn’t that interested.But they ARE curious and will check things out before moving on.
We headed back, having been out for nearly 4 hours by now. An enormous school of around 100 dolphins, with young protected in the middle, broke the surface of the water , heading for the coast at top speed.What a sight. Then a Bryde’s Whale breached and blew before disappearing into the depths.
What a place – what a bay – what an experience! It hadn’t quite provided the images we’d seen on the marketing blurb but it was a superbly interesting and exciting trip.
Chris Fallows assistant, a young black South African guy, Poonish (or Hoonish, we all heard his name differently) was a mine of information with a lovely, enthusiastic manner.His cousin had been on shark-watching duty 4 years ago when an elderly lady who swam everyday off Fish Hoek, was taken by a Great White. She had been warned several times that a big predator was in the area, close to shore but poo-pooed the warnings.Nothing was going to stop her enjoying her morning swim. Only her swim cap was recovered and they witnessed the splash as she was taken. I’d read about this in the UK papers and it was astonishing to talk to someone with an almost first hand account.The coast around False Bay is regularly patrolled by these sharks who come in to shallower waters during the summer to feed, just when people start to go into the water! It can be a fatal combination, though generally, we are not their favoured food.But all ports in a storm I guess.(In fact, we read a couple of months later that a man was taken by a great white off Muizenberg beach, around December time barely doing more than paddling in the shallows.)
Stopped for lunch in Simon’s Town but chose a very disappointing place – the cured meats platter with all sorts of game meat was unpleasant to say the least. All food ordered was below average.Briefly watched some penguins around Boulders Beach but didn’t take to the town at all.It was ghostly quiet in August and the shops all looked closed.Better in peak season perhaps.
LONG BEACH/NOORDHOEK BEACH
This is the beach David Lean filmed as a stand in for a west coast of Ireland beach in ‘Ryan’s Daughter.’ Years ago, I travelled all the way to Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula to see it 9and dragged the family there for a 2 week holiday) as I’d fallen in love with it so much. Didn’t find it there of course because it had been filmed thousands of miles south. Reading a book on Lean years later, I found out that because it was during the Apartheid era in the 1960s, Lean wasn’t able to admit he’d filmed part of the scenery in South Africa as it was a no-go country given the embargo etc by UK and others.
I couldn’t stay anywhere else around Cape Town now but the Klein Slangkop Estate which overlooks that David Lean view.It is one of the most stunning locations I have ever seen and matches many of the jaw-drop places we have along Scotland’s north and west coast and islands.Biased as it may seem, these places at home are difficult to beat for that mountain/ocean combination. Similarly, Long Beach is also sublime and it’s a view I just can’t get enough of.I dabble in landscape painting so visually stunning places and great light do grab my interest – at times obsessively.
Yet I’m sure most visitors to Cape Town never see this magnificent view.Or only see it from the less impressive Noordhoek end, missing the vista of Chapman’s Peak itself dropping sheer and rugged into the ocean. That’s the view we’ve had from the two different beach houses we have stayed in on the Estate. Sunsets from here are outstanding too as the beach faces due west.
Our first walk along the beach, we were laden with a telescope, two cameras, phones and Chris , as ever, had all our cash in his shirt pocket( we travel with ALL the cash we need for any trip abroad this way and didn’t make an exception for SA. Dicing with disaster perhaps but old habits die hard). Overwhelmed with the location, we wandered along the pale sand , admiring the Black Oystercatchers and the huge kelp being washed back and forward in the waves.It’s a wild coast overlooked by pristine and very beautiful beach houses, surrounded by fynbos. A classic Western Cape landscape. And then we saw the two local guys from the neighbouring township, one standing with a knife in his hand, the other looking furtively around.They spied us and we sensed a tension.Christ, here we were, not another soul about, the holiday homes mostly empty in off-season, laden with ‘stuff’ of very high value.This despite warnings from our the house’s owner, Jo, that we should never walk about with valuables! And warnings in the guide books! Why do we all seem to leave our brains behind when we go on holiday? A quick about turn and we beat a hasty retreat back to Misty Mornings, the stunning beach villa which was our home that week .(In 2012 and 2015 we stayed in less expensive, older yet even more stunningly situated Blue Whale Lodge).
The boys were relaxing on the balcony with tea and coffee, surprised we were back so soon. Got divested of most of the gear and headed back out again.
We eventually wandered as far as the wreck of the Kakapo, a spot Lean filmed for the final scenes of that evocative, windswept film of grand passion. By that stage in the day, there were already more people about; dog walkers, women out for a stroll. All white. All were ‘unadorned’ with cameras, or jewellery or bags. I had one camera shoved up my jumper, out of sight.Leaving it behind would have been like leaving my right arm.
In fact, we later found out that the two guys, no doubt from Masiphumelele township a little inland, were most likely picking bait from the shore, hence the knife.It was something they should have a permit for but most likely didn’t.That’s why they were nervous, on the look-out. But given the whole area’s reputation and the warnings we had been given, it was difficult not to assume they were potential muggers or worse.I’d read in the Lonely Planet guide of muggings on Noordhoek beach so we had to be cautious, now that we’d come to our senses.Just off the plane and faced with a stunning location, we’d forgotten you can’t behave here as other places in the world, more’s the pity.
Misty Mornings (what a name) was straight out of a Homes Magazine, just superb. A joy to have as a base. Security boom for entry, friendly guards. It fronted the beach , nestled in amongst other top notch, classy beach houses. Fynbos everywhere.Not cheap but superb value for a family.In a country where houses are plastered with big signs saying “Armed Response’ , it was good to know the place was patrolled at night too.Sad to have to think that way but that’s reality here.
We sat out most evenings on the upper balcony, sunbirds and widow birds and all sorts of multi coloured and exotic birds flitting to and fro.It was truly dyllic with Chapman’s Peak rearing up in the distance and the sound of the heavy surf ever present.We were told that whales could sometimes be heard singing offshore but we weren’t lucky enough to hear them.In the above photo of our balcony, the house with the green roof in the distance is Blue Whale Lodge, an older property which we stayed in during our next two trips in 2012 and 2015.
We ate in mostly, that first trip, wanting to make the most of our fabulous accommodation.The local supermarket and Mall had fantastic options, great steaks and meats, salads and fruit. A third cheaper at least than at home too. Just to prove how ultra boring we really are, no matter how far from home, we also watched the first few episodes of our first-ever Box Set later on each night, the excellent ‘House.’ (Seven years later and we’re hooked on Box Sets : The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, True Detective (Series 1 only, 2 was rubbish), Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, Homeland.
Simple pleasures, happy days.The boys often say how that 2 week holiday – including the week we spent in Kruger and Sabi Sand – was the best of their lives.
CHAPMAN’S PEAK DRIVE
It was shut during our first trip in 2009 but we’ve driven it several times since and if you get it in good weather, it is a 10/10 trip. Dull, overcast weather marked our first shot at it and I was impressed but not hugely so. But in 2015 we had it in sparkling sunshine and blue sky, the landscape lit up. It’s short but takes you high above the sparkling ocean, cutting into the mountainside spectacularly and with several great viewpoints to get out and snap away happily.And what a coastline it is. Sheer mountains covered in wildflowers, plunging into the ocean, precipitous cliffs and the spire of Mount Sentinel across Hout Bay. One of the world’s top coastal drives , it does indeed live up to that accolade.
At one end of Chapman’s Peak , nestled below the mountain, is this attractive settlement of upmarket homes amidst old oak trees and close to the beach.The craft village is well worth a visit with its excellent Deli and Cafe and some nice shops.Great homemade fruit and savoury pies and good bread.Hard to get a seat at peak times in the cafe and no bookings taken.Nice art shop with good prints and antiques.
High quality of life, staying round here, very beautiful and relaxed.
TWELVE APOSTLES DRIVE
Just when you think it can’t get any better after Chapman’s Peak, it pretty much does as the road to Cape Town sweeps alongside the Twelve Apostles mountain range, a long section of unspoiled coast and offering jaw-dropping views of mountain and ocean.There are several pull in spaces off this fast highway to get some iconic shots.The huge pink granite slabs, deep blue ocean, pounding surf and rocky mountain backdrop is a winner every time.
Llandudno is a small upmarket residential area worth a stop to access the beautiful wave-lashed beach with its shark warning sign and brave/mental surfers.There is a walking route to a more secluded beach too.Wonderful spot below impressive Klein Leeukoppie (Little Lion’s Head) and Judas Peak.
CLIFDEN AND CAMP’S BAY
Upmarket, going like a fair, full of low-rise restaurants and bars, palm-lined and with stunning white beaches. Beautiful beach apartments and houses in the background.These are lovely beach resorts – particularly Camps Bay.Pity there weren’t more in mountainous southern Spain so tastefully developed! That water stays bitterly cold all year round however and those sharks are still offshore, though slightly warmer False Bay has had most of the headline fatalities.Presumably people don’t stay in the water for long round here so there is less chance of an attack.
VICTORIA AND ALBERT WATERFRONT
Beautifully developed harbour area , crammed with shops, bars and restaurants of all standards but all with a similar ‘Victorian’ look. Goes like a fair. Very safe.Some street artists – traditional African dancers etc. And always – THAT amazing mountain backdrop.Cape Town must be one of the most beautifully sited cities on earth.We should have researched a good restaurant or cafe better because what we had was fairly mediocre. Went for a good view over the harbour than good food.Nice serving staff though – all big smiles and enthusiasm and politeness; there always seem to be lovely young black Africans serving in the cafes and restaurants.They could teach some of our ‘I don’t really want to be here’ young waiters and waitresses a thing or two back home, though I think that’s getting less and less frequent these days than it used to be.Safe, public car parking outside the harbour itself, a two minute walk away.
THE IZIKO SOUTH AFRICAN MUSEUM
An excellent Museum in Company’s Garden.The Museum has a great natural history section with whale skeletons, great white jaws etc.But the highlight for me was the Linton Panel, one of the truly outstanding pieces of San Rock Art, with its animal and human figures. So beautiful and fine, it literally brought tears to my eyes.
Outside is Company’s Garden itself, a very pleasant and historic area in central Cape Town on Queen Victoria Street. We wandered around here taking in the statues and the Victorian architecture including the Houses of Parliament and the National Library.The garden was started in the late 17th century by the Dutch East india company.Still haven’t done central Cape Town anywhere near full justice however – next trip.
THE CONSTANTIA WINE ESTATES
These ticked the boxes for me much more than the Stellenbosch area. More beautiful I thought, despite being so much closer to the city. Constantia itself is a very upmarket , leafy residential neighbourhood of stunning homes with the foothills of the Constantiaberg rising behind them.I’m conscious how often I talk of places here being ‘upmarket.’It’s only because that also tends to mean beautiful urban spaces, lovely architecture re the houses, gardens, a fine location.it certainly isn’t the kind of place I was brought up in (a Council house in deepest Govanhill in Glasgow). I’ve long wanted to do a Township tour but haven’t persuaded Chris yet, though part of me worries it has a ‘poverty tourism’ ring to it.
I’ll say now that it is my husband who is the wine buff, not me but I know what I like and I have to admit that neither of us have been much impressed with the vast majority of the wines on the Taster Menus on any Estate. Very average, yet well above average in price! The best white we ever bought was for £5 in the local supermarket – a ‘Fat Bastard’ Chardonnay (the name had caught our attention). What a cracker it was, tasting at least twice that price, woody, deeply golden , full bodied, buttery. A wow. We still talk about it. They must have hit on a great vintage so of course, there’s no guarantee it will be the same now as it was 4 years ago.My favourite tipple is champagne – or rather, who am I kidding? We can’t afford that of an evening – so I really mean a good Cava or other decent sparkling Brut.Not so keen on Prosecco. Or a good dessert wine with blue cheese – heaven.
Talking of dessert wines, this is the place. A beautiful, quiet and small Estate in a gorgeous position.Lovely gardens. This was THE outstanding Wine Tasting where included at the end of the 5 or 6 samples (of very average whites and I think one average rose) was one of the world’s most famous Dessert Wines – Vin de Constance.Nectar in a glass.One of Napoleon’s favourite tipples (incredibly they have the original order of 30 bottles per month!) , now retailing at £30 a half-bottle.I couldn’t believe it was there for tasting.It blew us away – a superb dessert wine, heavy and deeply golden.Their marketing worked because we forked out the money for a half bottle (well, why not ; when we would we next be on the Estate and able to purchase directly? We only live once and all that…….)
We ordered some for Christmas later that year although I do admit, it IS heavy.But it is an experience and you know you are drinking the real McCoy, top notch.Since then we have ‘progressed’ onto a Montbazillac from our local Co-operative supermarket which costs £7 a half bottle and stands up pretty well against the South African world famous one at 4 – 5 times the price.
Founded 1685 by Simon van der Stel, this Estate is so beautiful, with its wonderful classic, Cape Dutch buildings overlooked by the mountains and surrounded by golden vineyards. It’s a BIG operation and gets ultra busy. Our 3 visits have always been during the winter or spring months so it’s not too crowded.Plenty tour buses though.
But nice even just to visit the coffee shop/ restaurant for tea or a latte and a cream scone; or some of their excellent gateaux.Old world colonial homeliness inside.If this was my ‘local’ tearoom, I’d never be out of it.
We bought some of their Sparkling Chardonnay and it was very good.There is something really special about enjoying good wine from the Estate you just visited, it’s like an extension of the experience, part of the whole charm of the thing (unless the wine is a bit rubbish or simply nondescript with the usual well – above average price tag in which case it feels like a bit of a rip-off)
Steenberg Wine and Golf Estate
Lower down in the main valley below the mountains and surrounded by a very attractive and decent golf course(which the boys played), we sampled half a dozen of their white wines and a couple of reds. Again, very average but still a nice experience.The Estate also includes a very beautiful 5 star hotel, converted from the original Cape Dutch building.Wandered round part of the lovely course with the boys, in perfect weather, not too hot and sunny and just thought – wow, what a country.
EAGLE’S NEST ESTATE
Set below Table Mountain, quite high up, this is a tiny place with an attractive tasting set up though again – wines were nothing to write home about.Quite dark inside as it’s situated in woodland.
Beautiful estate, very old – 1700. I’ve written about it in more detail in https://wordpress.com/page/scotlandexpert.wordpress.com/1759
Stunning, no other word for this place. Expanding over a huge area beneath Table Mountain, the setting alone is a delight but the quality of layout, the variety, the vistas – world class.
Hadada Ibis wander the lawns, cawing evocatively.We spotted the Garden’s famed Eagle Owl roosting on a tree by the main path.Enormous and quite a sight.The flowers mostly look so exotic, given this is the Southern Hemisphere and the climate, though my favourites are still the brilliantly coloured African Daisies.
Did this visit our own while the boys were playing golf (again.Golf nuts) Despite the rain initially, it was still a joy to wander.
This vast bay is ringed with beach resorts and towns/villages though none particularly appealed to me.
Mostly 1950/60s in look, quite scruffy I thought but the beaches themselves are pretty good.
The place looked a bit miserable (it was raining too) and a bit rundown somehow, like some past-their-heyday UK seaside towns. A lot of surf schools practice off the coast here (the crazies!) How do they cope with the stress of the sharks off shore? Our hostess had suggested enthusiastically ‘Ya! Learn to Surf here!’ We looked at her, the four of us, shocked into momentary silence, given the Great White trip next day. All of us thinking – ‘Na! We’ll no be doin’ THAT, thank you.’ Much laughter at our faces from Jo, who declared that the sharks aren’t a problem. South Africans are truly nuts; as crazy as Scots but in a different way. The more I travel, the more I think people are crazy wherever you go; it’s the human default position. It just takes a different form, depending on the country and culture and what there is for folk to get crazy about.
However, this area IS known as one of the world’s top 20 surfing beaches and it surfers go out on the basis that it’s unlikely they will be attacked.Jo mumbled something about one ‘incident’ every four or five years.Three days later, we read of a well-known young surfer who was partially eaten off Mossel Bay by a Great White.
On our last trip we drove high above Muizenberg and parked on Boyes Drive , a fantastic viewpoint over the bay. Shark spotters operate up here but it is a superb spot for watching Souther Right whales and calves frolicking just offshore in the relative shallows.Water is crystal clear.I did ask a scary-looking gentleman in dark shades with Shark Spotter written on the back of his jacket, if he’d seen any sharks and he nodded silently.There were plenty people playing about in the shallows as it was a cracking day.
It’s a fine road, Baden Powell drive, hugging the bay and taking you towards Somerset West. Past superb beaches which I don’t think (I may be wrong) are necessarily that safe unless you are a fisherman or it’s peak season. Khayelitsha Township with around 1 million residents abutts the area though you don’t go through it. We did once , make a wrong turning however and came off the beach highway too early, finding ourselves in one of the ‘better’ parts of this enormous area. There were decent Council houses, much better than the tin shacks hammered together that make up so much of the housing and no doubt very decent people just walking about. There is a very high child accident rate on the roads so there were plenty of warnings about children playing etc.As we headed through the area a car was partly blocking the road ahead and two big angry looking guys were waving us to slow down.Panic.Was this real or a scam? Other cars ahead of us ignored them and swept quickly past but then we saw that a little girl had been knocked down and they were trying to clear the road for the ambulance, whose siren suddenly screamed from some way behind us.It was, tragically, real alright. At home, you would automatically think to stop and pull over, see how you could help.Here, fear and suspicion rules and most likely, the accelerator pedal is pushed to the floor.There was nothing we could have done as help was close behind, but it was a reminder of how fractured this beautiful country is and the undercurrent of fear which exists.
Famous for its multi coloured beach huts, this also looked a bit rundown though it WAS a wettish day when we drove through. Railway line and train paraphernalia creates an ugly barrier between the cafes and houses and the beach, which doesn’t add to the appeal.
Plenty smart houses up on the hillside but we had an uncomfortable experience with two grim looking African guys, almost like beggars, who expected a small fee (a few pennies) for ‘watching’ the car whilst we checked out the harbour.It just lent the place an uncomfortable air. All the shops seemed to be shut at around 5pm, though it was August. Maybe a lot nicer and more relaxed in peak season and worth another trip. Shark and whale – watching boats leave from here. And Boulder’s Beach is just along the road for penguin-watching.It’s a historic naval village and this had attracted us also but as everything was closed we didn’t get to see that much.
CAPE POINT/CAPE OF GOOD HOPE
Don’t miss the trip out here. Stunning area , what a spot! Fantastically unspoiled and wild with fabulous views of False Bay, mountains, cliffs plunging into the ocean and ringed with beautiful, deserted white beaches. Wildlife abounds; we saw several ostriches grazing on the dunes, briefly saw an Eland but missed the Mountain Zebra. Fynbos everywhere.This isn’t the southern most point of the continent (it’s at far less interesting Cape Aghulas) but there is a Cape of Good Hope signboard which everyone gets their photo taken behind.
The Flying Dutchman funicular takes you up to below the Lighthouse where there is the Two Oceans restaurant and cafe.We had a light lunch while watching a Southern Right whale and calf meander their way just offshore, a long way below in the clear ocean waters.Beautiful sight but we seemed to be the only ones who saw it.Because we do so much wildlife watching at home we tend to be on the look-out for things, ever vigilant.( she says in all seriousness, forgetting the number of sightings we’ve missed over the years).
Cape Point is far more impressive scenery-wise than anything we saw at remote and far more difficult to get to, Koppie Alleen.
Popular family place with several attractive cafes and restaurants, even camels! It was our ‘local’ craft/cafe centre so we popped in a couple of times.Not sure if it’s worth a longer trip in itself though younger kids will like it. The Blue Water Cafe was first class, serving excellent food beside a roaring fire.Their Peach Melba was superb.Great prices too.Just off the main road, easily accessed.
Had a coffee in this pleasant town with it’s fine Cape Dutch architecture and old oak trees.But it was much busier and more built up than I’d imagined; the outskirts were quite industrial.Wandered the streets a bit, admiring the fine mountain range beyond the built up area (there’s always a fine mountain backdrop in the Cape).The boys had a peek at ‘The Big Easy’ Wine Bar, owned at the time by Ernie Els.Then dropped them off at the local golf club where they had a tee-off time early afternoon.Fine looking course ahead of them.Chatted briefly to the Club Pro behind the counter and he asked about our accents.Scottish. Not much response. He’d been to Aberdeen.( I groaned inwardly, not our finest city by a long shot).
We left them to it and took off for our first drive out to Betty’s Bay. Fabulous trip, there and back. Incredibly impressive.I’ve written it up on other pages.
Nice clubhouse which we managed a bit of time in when we returned from the driving tour, grabbing a coffee. Surrounded by well-to-do looking Afrikaners, laughing and drinking. I love their accent! All those ‘yaahs’ and making Africa sound like ‘Ifrika’ – don’t know why it has such appeal to me.Whenever we talk about Africa now we always revert to saying ‘Ifrika’ – powerful memories in that sound.
The boys had enjoyed the course a lot and teamed up with a young guy who was trying to make a living as an actor in Hollywood and had come home for a few weeks.
Nevertheless, the town and surrounds hadn’t really appealed that much as a couple of years later, we shot past Stellenbosch en route to Franschhoek, hoping to find a smaller, nicer place.
FRANSCHHOEK and the Mountain Passes
We enjoyed the drive out here, very mountainous and attractive scenery.Not wow though.This little town was a bit of a pastiche, all pastel colours and pretty with a lovely old Cape Dutch church and nice restaurants and cafes.Had a great lunch in Essence, a lovely cafe which was going like a fair.
I don’t think we did this little town justice at all and we should have fitted in some Wine Estates but we both wished we’d just stayed at the coast that day so I think mood had something to do with being underwhelmed. It has such a reputation for fine dining we need to re-visit for that alone.
Drove back via the Franschhoek Pass and at the very top for a short time, in amongst the rocky mountains, it was worth a stop. But most of it was quite ordinary I thought and the section along the valley back to the main route to the Sir James Lowry Pass was a bit dull. We have too many fabulous roads for mountain scenery back home that have raised the bar too high. It’s a fine sweep down this latter Pass however, towards Somerset West with great views of the bay but it IS built up and urbanised.Good views of the Kogelberg to the left and the Hottentots.
Not our best day out.