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Africa: South Africa

Cape Town Journeys

by Alan Thomas

We flew via Johannesburg, but in hindsight it’s simpler, and less stressful to fly direct.

Arrival in Johannesburg was mid-morning , and we had a three hour wait for a B.A two hour flight to Cape Town .

We arrived in Cape Town, mid-afternoon feeling very tired. The drive into the City Centre was extremely slow. Traffic both ways on the 6 lane motorway was at a virtual standstill. We subsequently learnt that this was the situation most working days, morning and afternoon.

The difference between this and other traffic jams was the condition of the majority of the cars. Most were painted white, and nearly all were shiny clean.  It seems that Cape Towners take a pride in the cleanliness of their cars.

Our hotel, the modern Aha Harbour Bridge was close to the V&A Waterfront regarded as the focal point of Cape Town life. 

Early drink and dinner, off to bed before the first of our many planned trips,

Table Mountain 

Our driver from the hotel took us on a half hour upward drive towards the Lower Cable Car platform.

Along with about 20 others we rode the 6 minute cable car journey, revolving while we ascended. You can see both the glorious view over Cape Town and the steep cliff face that you have avoided walking up.

At the top, a mile high, was a clear blue sky. You can walk for about 2 miles along the top, using a rugged rock path with plenty of vegetation of differing varieties. It is a surreal feeling, walking around an enormous rock garden, and Table Mountain deserves to be rated as a Wonder of The World.  

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There were many visitors on our day, but there is so much space at the top of the Table this is not a problem. After a snack lunch in a very well organised cafe we set about writing postcards, and use the Table Top pillar box to send them off to England. By the afternoon, cloud had started to form lower down in Cape Town. Having seen all we wanted, we journeyed back. 

At the top we met two ladies who had walked up, only to be bitten by pugnacious ants (their description).  That made our minds up, use the cable car.

The next days outing was to Robben Island.

The Nelson Mandela Gateway and Museum is the starting point for an unforgettable days experience. On the boat going out and returning, videos are shown of the conditions and treatment on the Island meted out to Political and Criminal prisoners. Our guide was a former inmate who had been committed to the Island from the age of 15, and during his time had undergone psychiatric treatment.  The inmates were subjected to no end of humiliation and deprivation. It is hard to understand why so many return.

The wonder of Nelson Mandela is his lack of animosity following his release. How he was able to adjust, and show such compassion is remarkable.

Following a tour through the prison, we are taken on a coach trip around the Island.

On the ferry back to Cape Town a film is played of some of the political prisoners who returned to the Island following Mandelas release to tell of their experiences . 

A most sobering day.

Day 4 was a trip to the Cape of Good Hope, southern tip of S.A.

We were at last getting away from Cape Town’s heavy traffic by land, and seeing the beauty of the many bays and mountains that are on offer.

Close by our hotel was an Immigration Centre. On our first trip out we must have seen about 100 immigrants, the majority from Zimbabwe. By the end of our holiday this number must have grown to over 200. 

The roads in South Africa are excellent, and a pleasure to drive on.  

Michael was our driver. Whether it was by design or just luck, for all our next four trips, it was just Roz and me and a driver. This was great, as we could stop where we liked, and be given personal treatment by people, who were not just drivers, but  in two cases guides, and one wannabe guide.

Michael was a well-spoken lucid man. He was most informative, pointing out the history of places of interest.  

Passing through Hoults Bay, driving up Chapmans Peak, arriving at Cape Point we visited the light house, which is approached by way of a funicular railway.

This is where the two oceans, Atlantic and Indian meet. Not the most southerly point, but a wonderful view over the blue seas.

On our way to and from Cape Point we came across baboons by the roadside, who are a law unto themselves, and command a good deal of respect from drivers.

Next stop Boulders Beach. This is the place to view African penguins, and for us Lunch .

After eating we returned to Cape Town , but not before a look in on Kirstenbosch , an enormous botanical garden  on the edge of Table Mountain. The variety of trees, plants and flowers, and the sheer size of the place are impressive.. We were there about 2 hours, but really you should spend a day wandering around. 

Arriving back at our hotel, we were given the news that the next day’s trip to Dyer Island was cancelled, as strong winds were forecast along the coast.

Nothing else for it but to have a good tour around V&A Waterfront.

Our hotel was about a mile from Waterfront Central, and the best means of transport was by Waterbus on the Canal adjacent to our hotel.

We bought tickets for a return, plus a tour around the harbour, where seals played in the water, and rested at the harbours edge, some of them in rubber tyres that act as buffers on the harbour wall.

Following the boat tour and the compulsory coffee and cake, we visited the Two Oceans Aquarium

This was splendid. Many forms of sea life swimming around in a vast underwater man-made environment.

For me the white sharks were the big treat, but small creatures such as the silver fish were a fascination.

The V&A Waterfront is the focal point of Cape Town, and attracts large crowds of locals and tourists. An African group singing and playing added to the atmosphere.  The large shopping mall exterior design has a Victorian influence. Everything imaginable is on offer. From Burgers to Hugo Boss.

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We splashed out on two china mugs, as the cups in our hotel room were not of a sufficient size to satisfy morning thirst.(Big spenders). Forgetting lunch, we had afternoon tea and cake.  

A casual walk back to the Canal and following an early evening drink we caught the waterbus back to our hotel.

Saturday, and the 2 hour and a half journey along the Garden route to Kennmai , a small pretty village ,from where we launched into the ocean to view the sharks and whales, or so we thought.

We were given a fairly lengthy introduction, into what to expect, instructed to don lifebelts and kitted out with yellow waterproof jackets. The boat took about 20 passengers, and zipped along the ocean hoping to find at least a shark or two. (we knew it was the wrong time of year for whales).

The beaches we saw here and elsewhere were of pure white sand. 

A young man, acting as a guide confidently informed us sharks had been seen on the previous four days.

There were a few boats around, whose purpose was for the occupants to dive and swim with the sharks, but they, like us, had no luck. Never mind, we saw cormorants and penguins, thoroughly enjoying the exhilaration of the speed boat.

The journey to and from Dyer Island was probably the most memorable, as it took us through the most dramatic scenery. Our driver said he did this journey every day.

The next morning, Sunday was the earliest of starts, 5.30 a.m. Our driver, a big white man with a ferocious ginger beard was to take us on the three hour journey to Aquila Park , a game reserve.

I was not to expect too much from Aquila. For my part, I did not fancy the seven hour road journey or two hour flight to Kruger. Expectations were therefore low, so I was positively surprised to find we were booked in to a place with a Country Club feel.

We arrived about 8.30 a.m. after a buffet breakfast we set off on our first “safari”. This was about 10 a.m. and the day was hotting up. 

Our talkative escort was obviously a frustrated rally driver, and kept looking for the bumpiest parts of the track (not road) to drive across at pace. 

We saw elephants, giraffes, rhinos, zebras , plus a few other indigenous animals.

The lions are kept in a separate compound, and were rather coy in the heat of the day. Somebody said they saw one, but it could have been a rock.

Early evening drink, a game of giant noughts and crosses, dinner , followed by going outside lying on a sunbed and gazing at the stars. That ones the Southern Cross, Roz confidently stated. I thought it was an airliner, until I noticed it wasn’t moving.  Both wrong, it was Venus, the local astronomy expert told us.

The next day was one of the highlights of the holiday. 

Starting out about 6.30 a.m. with the sun coming up from behind the mountains, we set off, chauffeured by a quiet, but sensible driver , who looked for all the quickest and speediest tracks he could find to be as close as possible to the animals.

This was terrific. We were no more than thirty yards from the rhinos. Halted by a Zebra Crossing, and to top it all were again close up to a pride of lions, one of which I am sure was giving the evil eye, on the lookout for breakfast no doubt.

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The animals are more sociable in the early morning which gave us the opportunity to take more interesting photos. The landscape of the reserve does not reflect the environment that is home. All animals are imported, and some have had a bad time in their natural homes.

This does not detract from seeing them in the wild. The morning safari lasted about 90 minutes, and after breakfast our driver turned up early to return us to Cape Town.

A great overnight experience.

Final day out was to the Winelands, on the hottest day of the holiday.

It might sound wonderful, but wine tasting at 10a.m. can be hard to stomach, but Roz who is becoming a red wine expert enjoyed the Anura Vineyard and cellars so much she bought a bottle of their Merlot. Personally I had reservations about us lasting the day. As it turned out, our first visit was the best. The Anura Wine Lodge was a charming place, just outside Stellenbosch. Our idea of what a Winery should be like.

We then drove to Franshoeck . A lovely spot, full of old fashioned buildings and people, the impression was that reasonably well off Brits choose Franschoeck as their retirement home. 

We had another wine taste close by, but this and the third venue at Stellenbosch, did not live up to the grandeur of Anura. Close by was a statue of Mandela at the entrance of another prison.

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The driver took us on a tour of Stellenbosch, which is larger, busier and less attractive than Franschoek. We returned to Cape Town, our touring complete.

Our driver on this our last venture was a young lad, who tried very hard to please. He was categorised as a driver, but wanted to be a guide. He talked about everything, and admitted to us that his father had advised him not to overdo the visits and the chat.

Apart from the bus ride around Robben Island , and the “safari “ tours at Aquila, or booking agent (Flight Centre) had so arranged it that we had personalised drivers on our trips. This was a big plus.  The most interesting was Michael the Cape Point driver. He told us of the time during Apartheid when his family, along with 60,000 others were forced to move from the beautiful Coastal Resort of Simons Town, so that luxury houses could be built there for a white only population.

We saw the township the black population was moved to and it was bleak. The plan caused such an international uproar that nobody moved in to the new resort.

There is evidence everywhere of the poverty experienced by many of the black population. The living conditions in many of the townships tarnish what is an otherwise a beautiful country. 

Cape Town is a lovely city. The people are very friendly, helpful and have a great sense of humour. 

Being told to be home before dark was evidence that not all was not ideal. There are problems involving criminal gangs and political corruption in S.A.  

A great holiday, but with mixed memories. The beauty of the mountainous scenery,  the corrugated boxes that were homes to families in the townships , South Africa is indeed a place of contrasts.