I enjoyed a warm welcome to Michael and Jen’s house in a suburb of the city where we caught up and they prepared food. Friends of theirs joined us for a pizza buffet, cooked on a hot plate in the barbecue.
My Cape Town list has been growing as I travelled through Africa with people sharing stories and photos of what a beautiful city it is. The sun was shining so we headed out on the coastal route to explore the peninsula. We left the city to Muizenburg, a surf spot, watching out for whales in the water. As we reached Kalk bay we thought we saw a whale, which turned out to be a rock, although there were some frolicking in the distance. We parked the car and followed the coast down to the beautiful coloured beach huts, along the line of the steam train. The feel of the town is relaxed but fashionable and we stopped in a boutiquey coffee shop before exploring the clothes and curio shops that lined the streets. At one end of Kalk bay is a dock where fishermen had brought their catch and the fishy smell meant a few seals were around, in the water or lazing nearby. As Jen moved closer to take a picture, one got up quite fast and we all jumped back, not sure what a seal bite would feel like and not wanting to find out.
From Kalk bay we drove through Fishhoek and Simons town to reach boulders beach, home to the Jackass penguins of South Africa. The tide was in but their was a few penguins in the water as we ate lunch. One waddled past us busily. We waded through icy cold water to stand on the boulders looking out to the sea, an impressive twinkling colour blue. The boardwalk which runs along the back of the beach is also a great way to see them, their little homes and sheltered environment. Many penguins were sleeping or waddling around and we saw a few babies harassing mum for the food from her mouth. There was a few dussies in the bush also, a sort or giant hamster, quokka looking thing which climbed in the trees.
After checking under the car for penguins we drove on the coastal road past cape point where two Oceans meet.
The coastal road wound along the coast carved out of the steep rock. We passed Cape point and returned up the other side where the road often had dramatic winding edges. Chapmans peak overlooked the sheltered town of Hout Bay.
As the sun lowered we joined the Capetonians at Seapoint as they enjoyed the Sunday afternoon walking with children, jogging and people watching. The rocks at Seapoint are rough and jagged, unlike anywhere else along the coast and make for a dramatic outlook.
Back in the city we stopped at Mike and Jen’s favourite ice cream spot then back to their home where they prepared a delicious vegetable curry.
Cape Town is often referred to as the mother city and when we were discussing why, Google came up with a few interesting suggestions; it was the first city in South Africa to be settled, it’s described as metropolis which translates to mean mother city, it is derived from Afrikaans popular slang, and a personal favourite, it’s so relaxed it takes 9 months for anything to get done.
Michael was to drive me in to town to meet mum from the plane. As he put the bins out, straight away he had a visitor come to see if there was anything inside he could make use of. We turned the corner and sure enough people were out in force collecting bits by the trolley load.
The Hilton in Woodstock would be our home for the next 5 nights. As I pulled up with my two rucksacks, sleeping bag and roll mat, I didn’t feel like I fitted in with their usual clientele.
I got a taxi back to Ashanti lodge to meet the few remaining members of the tour. Gita and Gio were hastily planning a self drive tour of the Garden route, Sven and Barbara awaiting the time to say goodbye and fly home. As always, goodbyes turned into see you laters, hope to bump into you on the road, and I rushed to the waterfront to catch the shuttle to the Hilton.
By the time I arrived mum had arrived and we caught up speaking fast to fit everything from the last 7 months in.
We shuttled to the waterfront and walked along the sunny harbour, up long street to stop in Green Market for a coffee. Sitting out in the sun overlooking the stalls was a beautiful way to while away the afternoon but we soon realised we needed to book our activity for tomorrow and marched up long street looking for someone to take us cage diving.
We had dinner overlooking the waterfront and table mountain, a perfect setting, then back home to relax ahead of a busy day.
The jam packed Cape Town schedule required a 4am wake up for a 4:30 pick up to go shark cage diving in Gaansbaai, two hours down the coast from Cape Town. We arrived for a quick breakfast and the view over the ocean from the window look cold and not appealing. There is said to be 8 types of shark here, great white the only type which dwell near the surface. They also travel close to shore. There is a few debates as to the ethics surrounding shark diving, something you can only do in two places in the world. The sharks are not resident in this area and pass along the coast so can not get used to this sport, nor are they being fed. Each boat that goes out has a limit of how much fish they can use, for our boat it was 11 tuna heads. The baiters of course try to prevent the sharks from grabbing the bait but if the sharks do take hold, they will soon drop it realising it is not worth consuming. The other argument is people trying to prove a correlation between attacks and this activity however sharks do not perceive humans in the cage as living. The metal in the water gives off a slight magnetic field and the shark perceives the boat, cage and humans as one. Chum, a bloody watery mix is thrown into the water to attract the sharks, however 50% of passing sharks will pay no notice. Gaansbaai’s shark alley is chosen as the closest place this activity can be conducted to Cape Town whilst being this close to shore.
As we left the shore the water was choppy and it was cold. At one point the driver turned around shouting panicked in Afrikaans, and then alarmingly decided ‘oh well’ and moved on!
As we anchored they through chum out and about 15 mins later the first shark appeared. It was smallish, 2 metres. We got into our wetsuits, hoods, boots and the first group went into the cage, anchored on the side of the boat.
Sharks were emerging one by one. One kicked and turned, his tail and spray hitting the deck. I went down in the third group and wow that water was cold! A few incredible sightings as they swam gracefully below the water, inches from the cage. As time went on, more and more started breaching the water. Sharks would know the object is dead and swam gracefully up, mouth open, however some leaped from the water with speed, a few took the bait. The second time I went into the water was the real adrenaline, one bashed the cage somewhat grumpily and then minutes later swam past bearing it’s teeth and looking in, sharp teeth only cms from our gripping hands. He was about 3.5 metres long and rounder looking than the rest. This one came to be known as ‘the fat one who tried to bite me.’
The rest of the time was spent on top of the boat where you could see deeper into the water with less glare. By the time we finished two sharks were circling together, a total of seven having visited us, ranging from 1.5-3.5
Back on land we had lunch, a glass of wine and went back to Cape Town, sleeping most of the way. A quick shower and we turned back out into town to make the most of the afternoon. As a late birthday present to mum I had decided we would go for a posh high tea and we selected the 5* Table Bay hotel, a window seat in a grand lounge which overlooked the mountain. Tea was to be three courses served with an accompanying tea. Course one was finger sandwiches, egg, biltong, springbok, three mini quiches, mushroom, chicken curry and salmon, and tea,
Mum chose Darjeeling and I chose jasmine.
For the second course, butter and fruit scones with a range of jam and compote, for me Vanilla roibos, for mum, Cape of good hope tea.
Already approaching stuffed, the final course was a huge cake buffet with over 30 types of cake. I chose the chocolate and Amarula cake, a brûlée and a mousse, mum, coffee cake, a chocolate pud and a mousse. As we sat down the waitress invited us to stock our plates more as it was 5pm and they were closing the buffet. Another 3 cakes each and we sat not knowing where to start.
Emerging gorged on sugar a few hours later we looked around the Victoria wharf shopping centre, before catching the shuttle back to our hotel.
Mike picked us up and we planned to climb table mountain which unfortunately had its ‘table cloth’ on, so we parked up and went to the District 6 museum. District 6 is an area which was very multicultural in old town Cape Town, a lot of poorer families lived there but there was a mix of races and communities. Under the Group Areas Act of 1966 district six was declared a whites only area and new plans for the city were drawn up and this area which was deemed desirable was cleared to make way for white living. In 15 years, 60,000 people were forcibly removed and rehomed in townships on the Cape flats. Removal was complete by 1984, however by 1985 the policies and power of apartheid were in disarray and the land was never used. In recent years the land has been set aside to hand back to the victims and plans devised as to the best way to make use of the area. The land redistribution claims are going on at the moment to try and allocate this as best they can.
Failing to be able to climb table mountain we opted for slightly smaller lions head at 750 metres. The path spiralled around the side, lined with beautiful vegetation such as silver fir trees. Near the top the peak is a steeper climb. They have stuck pegs and chains to help you clamber up. The view is beautiful, signal hill, the lions rump and out over the bay. To the side, table mountain and 12 apostles. We sat for a photo on a jutting rock overlooking the city with toes tingling.
After climbing back down we went for a late lunch in camps bay at a bistro bakery. The white sand beach of camps bay covered in waves of spray intermittently.
In the evening we planned to eat in a hotel in Woodstock, described to us as an up and coming, arty suburb however past dark we were advised not to walk anywhere and opted for the hotels restaurant instead.
We had a leisurely breakfast and made use of the on site facilities in the morning. I had a manicure and pedicure, my dry feet having taken a beating in Namibia. Mum had a massage. At lunchtime Michael took us into the kitchen in Woodstock for a tasty lunch and then dropped us at the St George’s Cathedral for us to pick up the city’s walking tour.
St George’s cathedral was where Desmond tutu was archbishop. Even during apartheid times this church welcomed all races and was the starting points for many marches and protests including 1989’s peace march for the end of apartheid.
We walked into Company gardens, so called because this is where the Dutch East India company planted fresh fruit and veg to stock the ships passing through on the spice route. The “tool shed” was a huge palace marked with the Dutch East India company logo. This is also where the parliamentary buildings are. South Africa technically has three capitals as the buildings are spread between Cape Town, Pretoria and Bloomfontein. The recognised capital is Pretoria.
The guide talked us through South Africas history, from first settlement in 1652 by van Roebick. The English arrived and seized the Cape in 1795, relinquishing it back to the Dutch in 1803. The Anglo boer wars came later in the century.
We walked past the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, from whom the name Rhodesia was born and who established a diamond mining company here, De Beers in 1888. Rhodes’ influence in South Africa is controversial as he brought money to the Cape, but mostly for personal gain.
We walked to the town hall where the laws of apartheid were drawn up. Outside stood two benches, a whites only and a non whites only being the two options. The guide explained the classification system, that whites were followed by coloured, then Indians, Chinese and Malay, then black. The classification system were subject to external factors however. As trade boomed with China, the Chinese were reclassified as white. He talked us through life in South Africa, shut off from the realities of the rest of the world through filtering of TV and print media. As countries applied pressure to South Africa and refused to trade, South Africa became increasingly isolated.
As we walked on we passed the beautifully vibrant flower market full of native flowers of different shapes and sizes, including the national flower of South Africa, the king protea.
On the grand parade he started describing a different period of history, the slavery. Slaves were brought here to supply the Dutch colonisation of the Cape and later the British. The native San bushmen were largely deemed unsuitable for slavery being smaller in build and also because their language comprised of a lot of clicks making it very difficult to communicate. A “slave wish list” was given to passing boats and traders would bring people from east Africa and Indonesia to this area. 60% of the slaves were indonesian, now making up the Cape Malay community occupying the colourful section of the city known as the Bo Kaap. Slaves were often renamed at point of sale and he showed us a monument to slavery depicting names such as the date they were sold, ‘September’ or ‘November.’ They could also be named based on origin such as James van Mozambique. The slave lodge nearby was where slaves were kept until sale, and a lot of the buildings around the area were constructed by slave labour. On the corner of Grand Parade was the castle of good hope, constructed by granite from Robben Island harvested by convict labour, however this area was more reccently significant due to Nelson Mandela’s release speech…
“Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans.
I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.
I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
After a great tour we hunted for a taxi and were helped into a ramshackle homemade cab with no seatbelts. Due to the time of day he avoided the highway instead driving us through the rather small area which is district 6, an eerily empty space in a bustling city whilst it’s fate is being decided.
Michael and Jen picked us up to go into long street for dinner. We parked up and headed for a rather chilly roof top bar aptly named the waiting room. The fairy lights sparkled and we looked down over rows of restaurants. The day was significant for South African news with it being day 1 of Oscar Pistorious being found not guilty of premeditated murder, still waiting to hear on the count of culpable homicide, the talking point amongst a lot of South Africans.
Dinner and drinks at the restaurant was a lovely end to another great Cape Town day.
In the morning I took a short walk into the suburb we stayed in Woodstock to see what real life is like. A lot of development is going on in this area, construction all around but it certainly isn’t beautiful yet, a diverse environment. In areas where there aren’t a lot of tourists around you do attract more attention and at times I felt uncomfortable. With obvious discrepancies in lifestyle occurring.
We took a taxi to meet at signal hill for Paragliding. Arriving 5 minutes late we were immediately signing our lives away, climbing into a seat like harness and readying for take off with little messing. Standing on the “runway” my tandem flyer attached us too the parachute and we started running, taking off instantly. Once in the air you can sit, not with complete comfort. The heat thermals take you up and you can control the direction. The clear blue sky stretched out to see and behind us to table mountain. We went up to about 550 metres, the device beeping as we rose.
After a relaxing flight we performed some tricks, corkscrewing and playing. Although you don’t feel yourself falling far, watching mum do the same move you realise you hurtle towards the ground at some speed. After a 20 minute flight we landed back where we took off, amongst picnic benches. You land abruptly and almost vertically, mum following shortly after.
We got a lift to Platerklip gorge, the start of the hike up table mountain. The mountain road passes the cable car and then from the signpost two hour hike begins, a steep climb. The gorge is a sheltered path to the top and the heat hit us as we climbed, stopping on the way to catch our breath. The final descent is steeper still, falling into the shadow of the mountain until we emerged at the top to stunning views and beautiful wild flowers. The walk along the top was flat, although it’s “table straight edge” is less apparent. We spent a while appreciating the view, spotting the landmarks of the city and Robben island and marvelling at the twinkling blue of the ocean.
When it was time to descend we took the cable car. We stood facing outwards but as it left the upper station the announcement asked us to let go of the handrail and the floor began a slow 360 to give a full view of the descent and the mountain.
We headed to the waterfront for a well deserved dinner, final shop and then returned to the hotel.
Next stop Port Elizabeth for a tour of the garden route, and a much anticipated return to truck life.