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Phil's wanderings

Cape Town to The Cape

SOUTH AFRICA | Wednesday, 16 June 2010 | Views [758]

I wrote this a couple of years back, but because so many of you are in South Africa for the football, or maybe now thinking of going there, I thought I'd share this with you. Written, but never published anywhere... until now. (I've updated the prices to 2010)


To travel to one of the “four corners of the world” simply hire a car in Cape Town and hug the coastline below Table Mountain following the road to the Cape of Good Hope.

On this day in late spring the Atlantic Ocean is sapphire blue, the waves startlingly white as they crash onto the shoreline. We keep them on our right and soaring Table Mountain on the left. Think of The Great Ocean Road meeting Byron Bay and we can still see our central city hotel in the rear view mirror.

On the other side of the mountain is Camps Bay, the premiere beachside suburb of Cape Town. This is where the business elite swap their power suits for wet suits, where they live-out the “beachside living” lifestyle, but are close enough to rejoin the rat race each morning. Architect-designed homes cascade down the hillside onto a beachfront strip studded with cafes and restaurants. 

There are plenty of guest houses here and a couple of boutique hotels. We drop in on friends whose wedding we’re attending later in the week. Their room in the Primi Castle is divine. Throw back the curtains and the view is 100 per cent beach, and it’s no more expensive than our business-like hotel back in the city. You can’t beat local knowledge.

A quick coffee and some swooning over the wedding dress and we’re back onto the M6 as it twists and turns, rises and falls. We’re keeping one eye on the road and the other on the ocean for signs of migrating whales. They come into the warm shallow waters all along the Western Cape coastline. Whale-watching boats operate out of Cape Town and just about every other town with a jetty.

The word of the day becomes “wow!”, and we say it once more as we pull into Llandudno. This is where the people who think Camps Bay is too busy come to live! Another steep hill lined with beautiful homes, below a north facing white sand beach is cupped in its hands. There’s no shop here, just one road in and out (a security guard writing down the registration of every vehicle that enters), nothing to give much encouragement to day trippers, but that creates a sense this is your own private beach.

Next is Hout Bay and the Mariner’s Wharf, with a restaurant serving the catch from the local fishing boats, but it’s too early for lunch and we’re pushing on for the Chapman’s Peak Drive, a spectacular road rising nearly 600 metres with views to the east and west of the Cape. But we’re out of luck, the road is closed for repairs, a few warning signs would have been handy, but as the locals say “Africa wins again” and we’re forced to backtrack and cross to the other side of the peninsula.

This proves to be no real hardship because it takes us through the Constantia wine district. South African wines are very good quality, and relatively inexpensive even by Australian standards. It would be easy to spend a whole day visiting the vineyards alone… maybe tomorrow.

Now we’re on the other side of the Cape. False Bay stretches away to the east. It’s more densely populated here, more affordable for ordinary Cape Towners. Urban sprawl can swallow up the character that makes places like these desirable in the first place, but thankfully the old fishing towns of Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Long Beach retain much of their charm.

Now we’re ready for lunch and we stop in Simon’s Town. There’s a decent sized marina here, some slipways and guessing by the number of uniformed people, a small navy base. It also appears to be the bric-a-brac capital of South Africa. While my wife goes a-gathering I settle down in a restaurant overlooking the marina. It faces north, which is ideal because as I remark to the waiter “it’s blowing dogs off chains today”. It took him a little while to comprehend, clearly labelled me as a mad Aussie, but it did no harm to the excellent service. Calamari, a couple of salads and a glass of wine each for just $Aus30.

Clearly not everything in Simon’s Town operates so efficiently or maybe it was the gale that was blowing. The whale watching billboard advertised the next trip would leave at noon, even though it was now past 1 pm. I’m sure the foolhardy (with their dogs securely fastened) could have found the skipper easily enough.

Just two kilometres south of Simon’s Town is the Boulders penguin colony (10 Rand entry). A gentle stroll across a raised boardwalk led us to the beach and a colony of some 2000 African penguins. African penguins are bigger then our Fairy (Little) penguins, about the size of a cat  (if you can imagine a cat walking on its hind legs while wearing a tuxedo) and this is the only place on the mainland where they nest.

Ten kilometres further on is the Cape Peninsula National Park. The wind here makes sure nothing grows above head height. The ostrich were clearly visible, the baboons (which are a menace – keep your car doors closed) less so. Now our goal is in sight; Cape Point. From here the next stop is Antarctica. I’m drawn to places like this. Places with a sense of reaching the end of a journey, one of the four corners of the world. Places like Land’s End, the top of a mountain, or for the less adventurous, the end of the St Kilda pier.

The predictable tea rooms and souvenir traps are at the base of Cape Point, but this is also the starting point for serious bushwalkers and bird watchers. A group of them armed with cameras, tripods and binoculars, and suitably attired in khaki vests and zip-legged trousers, are setting off as we arrive. The steep cliffs and craggy rock monoliths are home to 250 species of bird. This is an ornithologist’s nirvana.

Scuba divers should also note that the cool Namaqua current from the west meets the warm, eastern Agulhas current at Cape Point. Maybe that should read “keen” divers, because Cape Point is also know as Cape of Storms and is home to 26 shipwrecks.

If you’re one of the energetic types you can take the 120 natural stone steps leading to the top of Cape Point, 260 metres above sea level. We opt for the funicular ride, (a new, modernised version opened in June 2010 and now costs 75 Rand per person). It is so windy up here I’m surprised the lighthouse is still standing. The girders of a transmitter tower moan and vibrate in the gale. Everyone’s hair is standing on end!

Refreshed by what is claimed to be the freshest air in the world (it does have an Antarctic tang to it), we return to the car park. An hour long walk leaves here to the very tip of the Cape of Good Hope, officially the most south-westerly point of Africa, and to swimming beaches. But we suspect the water to be as “fresh” as the air, and besides our mission is accomplished, only three more corners to find.

All the major car hire companies operate out of Cape Town. South Africans drive on the same side of the road as Australians (most of the time), petrol is under 6.5 Rand per litre.

Tags: #beaches, #ocean, #southafrica, #touring, #travel, #worldcup


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