We walked up to the top of Table Mountain today. Well, to be absolutely accurate, Greg walked all the way to the top of Table Mountain and caught the cable car down, I walked part of the way up, then turned around and walked back down. We were both happy with what we did. Gorgeous weather, hardly any wind, unlike yesterday and overnight when the wind just didn’t stop, but it settled early this morning. No cloud or ‘tablecloth’ around either, just beautiful blue sky.
We were surprised at the crowd waiting to get the cable car up to the top. I thought there wouldn’t be many people as it was Monday, but there were hundreds! Some people walked up, but only a very small fraction of those who took the cable car.
The view of the city on the way up (and down!) was magnificent. Cape Town really is a lovely city. Although we didn’t think so this afternoon when we got caught in peak hour traffic. We went to the Avis office in the city this morning to ask them to replace the heap-of-rubbish VW Polo we got in Joburg, and they asked us to go back this afternoon. In addition to the car being much smaller and less sturdy than the Corolla, it had started doing strange things like not start properly in the mornings, and one parking light would somehow be on and the car would alarm, even though no lights were on. We didn’t feel confident that it will actually get us back to JHB. Pretty sad for a 6-week old car that only has 2,400kms on the clock.
So we went back this afternoon and they gave us another Corolla. Wow, so much extra space! So robust! Such a relief! Oh Happy Day!
We’ve spent the last couple of days exploring the Cape Peninsula. Yesterday (Saturday, Valentines Day), we drove up to Signal Hill, which is another high point that overlooks the city and out over the Atlantic Ocean. Lots of people doing the walk up to the cable car to take them up to Table Mountain. We planned on walking up Table Mountain today, but it was too cloudy and very windy, and the cable car was closed.
After we’d been to Signal Point, we went looking for lunch at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. Lots of shops, fast food chains, restaurants and people! We had lunch at a little Italian cafe, and dessert at another Italian cafe, then walked to Nobel Square, which has statues of the 4 South African Nobel Prize winners – Albert Luthuli, Bishop Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
We drove to the northern beaches of Cape Town, to Milnerton, parked the car and walked on the sandy beach to stand in the Atlantic Ocean. We have a tradition of dipping our feet in the ocean, whenever we are somewhere interesting. It was FREEZING, so cold that we didn’t stop long enough to take a photo. During our 2011 road trip across the US, we stood in the Atlantic Ocean in Florida, and the Pacific Ocean in California. There were hardly any swimmers, but lots of kite-surfers and wind-surfers out on the water, all wearing full wetsuits (in summer!), and the back-drop of Table Mountain behind the city was stunning – it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen.
We had plans to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were incarcerated, but have read a few not-so-complimentary reviews of it, and decided not to go. Neither of us is particularly good on a boat or ferry, and the tours of the prison seem to be a bit random, with very large groups, over-booked ferries and general dissatisfaction about the whole process, so we decided against it.
Today, our plans for visiting Table Mountain were nixed by the weather, so we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope instead. We drove down the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula, then drove back on the western side. Lots of little seaside towns along the way – we stopped at a couple to look at the beaches and to have something to eat. The Cape of Good Hope is in the Table Mountains National Park. Long queue to get through the park gates, then a drive of about 10kms to get to the Cape, the south-westernmost point of Africa. Next stop: Antarctica.
The western side of the peninsula is absolutely spectacular. There’s a section of the road called Chapman’s Peak Drive which goes for about 10kms along the coast between Noordhoek and Hout Bay, winding around the cliffs and looking over the beaches, towns and out to sea. Before we did the drive, we hadn’t realised how scenic it would be. Only cars can go along this road, because part of it is carved into rock and it’s only high enough for cars, no buses or minibuses allowed. Well worth the toll of around $4.00
Back to CT via the coast, which was a bit like Malibu in California – amazing apartments, shops, people, cars – with Table Mtn still covered in cloud, and the wind still howling. We had pan-fried free range ostrich steaks for dinner and they tasted good. Like very lean, light beef.
Driving down the cape Penisular towards Cape of Good Hope on the eastern side and back up on the western side via the fantastic Chapmans Peak Drive
Rainy morning yesterday, and Table Mountain was completely covered in cloud. There’s an interesting cloud that forms around the mountain that the locals call ‘The Tablecloth’, although yesterday it was really just thick rain clouds and quite a bit of rain. Not good for seeing Cape Town’s most famous landmark, so we postponed it for another day.
It fined up in the afternoon and we went out and did stuff. I walked up to the local shops and got my hair cut. Cost me a third of what I pay at home, it’s very short and I’m very happy with it. Then we drove into the city to have a look at ‘downtown’. Parked in a parking station near the main railway station and walked a couple of streets to a mall. I took more care to be aware of my surroundings and my bag when we were walking around near the station … but then, city train stations around the world are like that – busy, full of people, some of whom are out to try their luck. There is an open air market nearby and as we were walking back to the car, a young boy spoke to Greg and stuck his hand out … a second before he spotted us 2 white people, he had been playing with a balloon near his parents’ market stall. Nice try, kid, but just sticking your hand out for money doesn’t work on us.
We walked up the Mall and stumbled upon a piece of the Berlin Wall. Very exciting as it’s the only piece in Africa. I knew it was somewhere in South Africa, but kept forgetting to find out where it was, so just coming aross it was very serendipitous. A couple of women walked past while we were looking at it and photographing it, and they doubled back when they realised what we were looking at.
We walked down Long Street, which is pretty touristy, full of souvenir and clothes shops. Stopped at a bakery for afternoon tea and to have a read of the map to see what we should see. It’s always interesting to see how a city utilises public spaces.
There’s a park called the Company’s Garden, named for the Dutch East India Company – a tree-lined green space that has museums, the library, a beautiful rose garden and potager and Parliament House. It has the country’s oldest cultivated tree in it – a pear that was planted around 1652 which still bears fruit. The Garden was originally a fruit, vegetable and medicinal herb garden that gradually expanded to 18ha, then became the city’s botanical garden. It finally became a public recreational space in 1913, when the Botanic Gardens were moved to Kirstenbosch, to an estate bequeathed by Cecil Rhodes. There is a statue of Rhodes in the Company’s Garden, and 2 statues of Jan Smuts, a military man, politician and supporter of segregation. There was also a statue of George Grey, who was a soldier, explorer, Governor of South Australia, twice Governor of New Zealand, Governor of Cape Colony (South Africa), the 11th Premier of New Zealand and a writer. So our home town and Cape Town have some shared history. Greg spotted the George Gray statue and remembered that ‘our’ SA had a governor by that name. Wikipedia told us the rest.
The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa, and it located just a couple of blocks away from the Company Gardens and also from the railway station. We walked through a large open car park where stallholders were packing up for the day, and just looked at the castle walls. It was built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, originally on the coast of Table Bay, but is now located inland because of land reclamation that was undertaken in the 1930s & 1940s.
Crossing the Karoo a semi-desert area in southern South Africa on the way to Cape Town
We got to Cape Town / Kaapstad / or just CT yesterday evening. 2 days, 1400 kms from Joburg, with an overnight stop at Colesburg on the way. A lot of it was driving through the Karoo, a semi-desert region that covers much of the lower third of the country. Greg’s dad Ron commented on how green everything looked when we were traveling north … as we headed south, it looked more like home in summer. At times it felt like we were driving through the Outback, or through Utah, and at one point the mountains to the east looked exactly like the lower Flinders Rangers.
We spent the night at the only caravan park in Colesburg, but stayed in a ‘bungalow’ rather than put our tent up. The bungalow was only about $15 more than a tent site on gravel with no shade, so it took about a split second to make that decision. Colesburg is obviously THE halfway point between JHB and CT. It’s about 680kms from JHB, and has heaps of accommodation – pubs, B&Bs, guesthouses, cabins. Bit surprising that there was only one caravan park, but then, it only had a couple of caravans in it, and we didn’t see any on the road. Most of the traffic on the N1 freeway was trucks. Loads of trucks.
About 200kms from CT, we drove down into a valley into vineyards – what a spectacular view! Mountains on both sides, with a green valley full of vines. It looked absolutely beautiful until we got a bit closer and saw the ugly side – shanty towns full of tiny corrugated iron huts where the workers live, with a new section of more substantial dwellings that were the size of a double garage. We passed a sign on the freeway warning motorists to ‘beware of robbers selling stolen grapes’. About 500 metres along the road, we spotted our first ‘robber selling stolen grapes’! Beautiful looking grapes, but I can’t imagine anyone actually managing to stop on the freeway anyway, it was a very busy stretch of road.
Driving into Cape Town was pretty easy, even in afternoon peak hour traffic. Freeway for all but about the last 10kms, and we found the apartment with no trouble. We’re staying in Observatory, affectionately known as Obz, which seems to be a pretty trendy part of town, and has been described as the city’s most bohemian suburb. The apartment is a studio on the top floor of a large building that has a catering company on the ground floor and a climbing gym/camping store opposite. You can see a couple of photos here, including a glimpse of Table Mountain in a photo that was taken from the kitchen window. It was quite a thrill, seeing Table Mountain as we drove into CT. I’ve gotten used to the idea that we’re actually in Africa, but I’m really looking forward to visiting the Cape of Good Hope – it’s one of those places that I learnt about at school, but never thought I’d get to see.
We went out to find some dinner last night, just up to the local shops in Observatory. There were at least a dozen cafes and restaurants offering all kinds of cuisines, but on our host’s recommendation we went to Cafe Ganesh, which offers ‘Cape Malay’ food and African music. It started in the 1970s and attracts locals, students, artists, musicians and the occasional tourist. I had Umngqusho with Mutton Stew, Greg had an Ostrich and Lamb burger with chips. Umngqusho is a Xhosa dish made with sugar beans, samp (cracked white corn), onions & butter. Apparently it was Nelson Mandela’s favourite food, and to pronounce it properly the ‘gqu’ sound is actually a click of the tongue. I’ll have to practice a lot before I can get it right. The food was delicious, cheap and my plate was so full, I couldn’t finish it all.
We’re hearing a lot more Africaans here than we heard further north, and a lot of the street signs are in Africaans. Lots more Africaans-language newspapers and magazines.
From the northern-most point of this trip, Kasane, to Cape Town is around 2,500kms, which is about a quarter of the length of Africa. Greg is sitting here researching 4WD hire for our next visit here. As other friends have said, this place gets under your skin.
And now, a whinge about the second rental car we’ve got. You really only need to read it if you’re keen, or if you’re thinking of purchasing or renting a VW Polo.
In a word, don’t!
Greg ordered a Corolla sedan or equivalent from Avis, and they gave him this Polo instead. Surprising as usually rental car companies do an automatic upgrade rather than a downgrade, but maybe the Avis rep thought she was being nice by giving him an almost-new car. 760kms on the odometer. But what a pile of plastic rubbish! It’s much smaller than the Corolla we had when we started the trip, heaps less space in the boot and on the back seat.
Is there a law of physics that states that the amount of stuff you have expands or contracts to fit the available space? If it hasn’t already been claimed, let’s name it “Judy & Greg’s law”.
We had everything fitted into the Corolla very nicely, but in this rubbishy Polo, it’s all just crammed in wherever we can squeeze it. There are 3 narrow slots around the front passenger seat – one in the door, one under the glovebox and one at the side of the seat, and I have no idea why they are there – too thin to put anything in, they’re really just a waste of plastic. Whenever we lock or unlock the car, it beeps. To unlock the passenger doors, you have to press the unlock button 3 times, so that’s 6 annoying beeps. The only way to unlock the boot is via the clicker-thingy, no button to open the boot in the car, and it beeps too! Greg had trouble starting it this morning, so we’re not even all that confident that we’re going to get it all the way back to JHB. It really is a cheap heap of crap.