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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Cape Town and the Cape Peninsular

SOUTH AFRICA | Tuesday, 31 March 2015 | Views [961]

The scenery was stunning on the drive down to Cape Point from Simon's Town.

The scenery was stunning on the drive down to Cape Point from Simon's Town.

I’m sure none of you will be surprised to hear that Steve and I had a fantastic holiday in South Africa with the emphasis being on holiday.  Even when we got back to Bathurst we didn’t do much in terms of jobs around the place as we just wanted to enjoy being there together.  I’ll fill you in on the progress we’re making with Morley House at a later date so for now let me tell you all about our travels.


Steve spent 2 days driving down to Cape Town to meet me at the airport.  We’d both had smooth journeys and were looking forward to exploring a new area of the country we’ve chosen to emigrate to.  With not being big fans of cities Steve had booked us into a self-catering cottage in Simons Town.  This meant we were within walking distance of shops, restaurants etc and could hop on the train to get into town.  Chine House turned out to be an excellent find as we had loads of space with our own very well equipped facilities.  Plus best of all a fabulous garden balcony over-looking the marina end of the harbour.  At only R450 per night (under 30 quid) we thought it was a steal and will definitely use the place again in the future.  We also soon discovered that the protected indigenous olive trees that dominate the cottage’s garden form a brilliant natural protection from the elements. 


By the time we’d driven across the city, found our digs and settled in afternoon was drifting in to evening.  Sunset balcony beer seemed to be just the ticket and in fact we didn’t move from the balcony that evening.  Steve had stocked up on supplies earlier in the day and we simply savoured the peace and quiet of the place not to mention enjoying each other’s company.


Cape Town has loads on offer but, as with our previous trips to South Africa, we didn’t see the point of rushing around trying to fit too much into our limited time.  Let’s face it we won’t be having expensive long haul holidays in the near future and plan to slowly but surely explore SA intensively.  So we just wanted a taster and had prioritised a couple of things – even then not everything made it onto the must do list!  Our first morning saw us driving further down the peninsula as we just had to see the Cape of Good Hope.  Fortunately the weather was glorious but it was very windy and it was easy to imagine ships coming a cropper as they battled with the elements.


There are a couple of short walks you can do at the tip of the cape with the lighthouse being by far and away the most popular.  As luck would have it we’d timed our visit to perfection and had enjoyed the lighthouse end of the peninsular before the bulk of the tour coaches arrived. Having spent most of our time here either off season or in more sparsely populated areas it was quite a surprise to see teams of tourists.  The bulk of tourists are on a set schedule so when we took in the Cape of Good Hope walk it was very quiet.  The entire area is part of Table Mountain National Park so with our Wild Cards we once again got in for free.  We hadn’t expected the morning to throw up any wildlife but South Africa can surprise you at every turn.  As we wandered down to the wild and windy point we saw ostriches, eland, a number of sea bird species and loads of little girdled lizards.  The highlight was peering down from the old battlement walls near the lighthouse watching a seal tucking into fish he’d scared into a ball – like watching a documentary.


Having enjoyed a lazy breakfast it was now time to go and find a likely late luncheon spot and Steve had read about a place in Boulders Beach. It wasn’t quite how they’d described it on the internet i.e. we over-looked their car park rather than the beach but it was nice enough none the less.  We’d always intended stopping off here anyway as it’s home to around 3000 African penguins.  Simply walking along the boardwalks we saw penguins waddling towards their nests and even caught glimpses of the eggs being incubated.  We’d decided we’d go into the centre anyway as we like donating to good causes – it turned out to also be part of Sanparks so the Wild Card came out again!


The area the penguin congregate in basically consists of two small sandy bays separated by huge boulders.  The first we didn’t like so much as people are allowed to do all the usual beach activities in amongst the penguins.  There are so many excellent expanses of recreational beaches available in South Africa that we failed to see why you would want to sunbathe and build sand castles in this particular spot and more importantly, why it should be allowed.  It was still extremely windy and in fact Steve’s cap blew off and was whipped away into the ocean.  We now have a lovely mental image of a rather nattily dressed flightless fish-eater inhabiting Boulders Bay!


Anyway the second bay sees observers being separated from the penguins via a raised walkway and we much preferred the set up here. Although it was the middle of a sunny day the cooling wind meant the penguins were very active; greeting each other at their nest site, sitting on eggs, waddling laboriously up the beach, having a bit of a spat with the neighbours, lurching into the ocean and gracefully negotiating the waves.  It was lovely to see the colony doing well even though penguins around the world are far from abundant.  The story linked to Boulders Bay is particularly encouraging as they only had a handful of breeding pairs as recently as the 1980’s.  Time, perseverance, money and dedicated staff have ensured that people should be able to enjoy watching these endearing little birds for generations to come.


A wonderful first day to our holiday.  We got back to Simons Town rather later than we’d expected as it was very difficult to drag ourselves away from the penguins.  Following a quick shower and change we went to have a potter around but most of the shops were already shut.  Not surprisingly we found a bar on the marina front and strangely enough found it impossible to walk past!  Although we were in a slightly protected area thanks to the harbour the wind saw us beating a retreat to Chine House after just one beverage.  Never you fear Steve had come armed with plenty of supplies so we decided to eat in once again. 


We were up early the next morning as we had a walk up Table Mountain pencilled in and I was keen to see what the weather was up to. Peeping out of the curtains I was delighted to see a stunning sunrise and skies even clearer than the day before.  With picnic packed and bellies full of breakfast we wandered down the road to catch the local train into town.  It’s billed as one of the most scenic urban train rides in the world but unfortunately most of the windows were frosted over making it tricky to see out.  Sure enough the tracks initially hug the coast line and it was pleasant but as soon as we entered the city we could have been anywhere.  With it being a Sunday most shops and businesses were closed so walking through the city centre to Long Street was relatively quiet.  We’d noticed that the Hop-on / Hop-off tourist bus service dropped us very near the start of our walk so decided to buy day passes.  To be honest it probably worked out just as cost effective as forking out for taxis and besides sitting atop an open double-decker bus is fun!


We were soon in the outskirts of the city and climbing up the hill towards the base of the cable car station.  Not that we intended to go the cheat’s way up; oh no, it was off to the start of the Plattenklip Gorge path for us.  We’d made good time and as hoped set off up the steep track at 10am along with a fair few other people.  All the guides told us it would take an hour for the super fit but for everyone else allow between 2 & 3 hours. So we mentally pencilled in at 12.30pm summit which would nicely coincide with our planned picnic lunch.  With this being the quickest and most direct route to the top along with an ascent of about 700m the incline of the slope was unrelenting.  To minimise corrosion the path has been well marked out and maintained but that meant it consisted mainly of steps – always tougher on the legs.


The sun was beating down and there was very little breeze in the gorge so it was a hot walk too.  Taking little breathers occasionally to sup some much needed water gave us the chance to gaze down upon the ever enfolding view.  As we plodded our way up we began over taking members of a large college group of very varying fitness levels.  The guides were giving those at the back loads of encouragement and telling them they only had 10mins to go.  We assumed this was to a half way rest point that was marked on the map we’d studied at the beginning of the path. We were astounded only minutes later to find ourselves at the top of the gorge path a mere 1 hour and 12 minutes after setting off.  Considering how long it is since we’ve done any proper exercise let alone mountain walking we were rather chuffed with ourselves.


Since it was a tad too early for lunch we decided to walk across the top of Table Mountain to get to the actual summit 70m higher at Maclear’s Point.  Obviously this was always in the plans as you know we can never resist getting to the top!  The views for 3600 were spellbinding and we couldn’t believe our luck with the weather.  The previous day there’d been pockets of clouds hugging the tops of the peaks and we assumed the mountain had worn its usual table cloth but not today.  We could see right down to the point of the peninsular as well as the sweeping bays on both sides and the extensive hill ranges within easy reach of the city.  Once we’d drunk it all in we headed back across the table top towards the cable car station.  We knew that area would be very busy so found a suitable picnic spot in a quiet area to take in the views from a different angle.


With the water bottles empty summit beer was pronounced so we went in search of refreshments.  Even though this is a very popular thing to do in the city the place didn’t feel too over crowded.  The cafe was very much school canteen fun with that annoying background noise of clattering cutlery and a frustrating one-way system so we legged it back outside.  Fortunately there was a little cafe downstairs that had beer on draft and seats on the edge had just become available.  It may be the most expensive beer we’ve ever had in South Africa but we savoured every mouthful.  Just to add to the wonderful experience a young rock hyrax scuttled along and temporarily camped out under our table.  We decided that since we had more time on our hands than we’d expected we would go back down and take in more of the city.  The queue for the cable car wasn’t too bad and we were soon making a very rapid descent.  I love cable cars and this one had an added twist with a revolving floor so you could enjoy all the wonderful views on the short ride down.  As luck would have it a Hop-on / Hop-off bus was waiting and we were soon on our way.


There are various routes you can use with your day pass and we chose the one to take us around the coast passing some of the more salubrious areas of the city.  Some people have made some serious amounts of money judging from the properties we passed!  We jumped off the bus at the V&A Waterfront which is basically a huge marina lined with shops, restaurants etc and loads of boat rides are on offer.  We had a little potter around but really weren’t in the mood for shopping so........ yes, you guessed it, we found a local hostelry!  This was situated in one of the old warehouses and had a range of beers from Western Cape micro breweries.  Who were we not to try one or two?!


By the time we jumped back on the bus the traffic was quite heavy so getting back to Long Street took longer than expected.  Then the trains were all running a little late so by the time we’d had showers etc we didn’t really feel like going out again.  I’m sure we could have forced ourselves to venture out for a meal out on our last night in Cape Town but it was hard to beat the view from our balcony.  We’d had a wonderful taster of Cape Town and still have loads that we’d like to do and see so I’m sure we’ll be back.  With any luck there’ll be space in Chine House too as we can’t think of a better place to stay in terms of location and value for money.


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