Part 2: Cape Peninsula

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Saturday, October 25, 2014: We woke up very early on our own. In fact, even though we eventually recovered from jet lag, we continued to wake up very early. We went down to breakfast. Nice buffet. We joined a couple of women in our group and chatted with them for a while. After breakfast, our group met in the lobby to depart for our all day Cape Peninsula Tour. There were 35 of us.
It was a beautiful sunny morning, still cool. Arthur had warned us to dress in layers because it does warm up later in the day. We drove west and headed south along the scenic coast passing steep mountains, secluded coves, and beautiful wide sandy beaches. While still in the city we passed the Seapoint Beach promenade. We saw people walking and jogging and enjoying the beauty of it all. It was within walking distance of our hotel and thought we might visit it later, but we never did. Just not enough time to do it all. In the city’s suburbs, we saw luxurious looking resort areas. Going south, the lower part of the mountain range is known as the Twelve Apostles, interesting and huge rock formations lining the shore. They reminded us of the Twelve Apostles we saw while driving across the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide to Melbourne in Australia with our friends Sheena and Sandy.
We made a pit stop at a “place in the middle of nowhere” as described by Arthur. The bathroom was okay, but the grounds were covered with sculptures and other interesting creations for sale. There was also a store filled with souvenirs and snacks. After this brief stop, we continued on our way.
We made a stop at Sandy Bay Beach to walk around a little and feel the wind. The area is more often windy than not. Arthur said “Cape Town is like a baby. When it’s not crying, it’s windy.” The winds are known as the Cape Doctor because they keep the region relatively cool and help to blow any polluted air out to the sea.
We passed Hout Bay (Hout means good), a quaint looking fishing village and the beginning of the scary 6.2 mile Chapman’s Peak Drive. This drive is compared to the Amalfi Drive. It was built between 1915 and 1922. Table Mountain and range are all made of sandstone and granite. The construction of the Drive was all hand done. Nothing was blasted. In 2000-2003, the road was refurbished. Hundreds of international car commercials have been made there. Even though the ride was so scary, I did get some good looks at the views and the beautiful flowers everywhere, especially the purple geraniums. Since they drive on the left side, we were mostly hugging the mountain. We were happy that we were going all around the peninsula and wouldn’t be returning to Cape Town on the same road. Further down the peninsula, we passed Long Beach, a gorgeous white beach where we saw surfers.
We finally got to the Cape of Good Hope and got off the bus to get a look. It is the point that is popularly believed to be the most southern point in Africa and where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Geographically, they actually meet at Cape Agulhus, southeast of the Cape of Good Hope. There is a sign at Cape Agulhus noting the true facts, but not many people go there. Most tourists go to the Cape of Good Hope, and the sign was changed to read the “Most South-Western Point of the African Continent.”
In 1488, Bartholomieu Dias, a Portuguese explorer was the first white person to go around the Cape. Actually he got blown around the Cape and didn’t realize it until he saw the sun in a different orbit in the sky than expected. He named it the Cape of Storms. It was renamed Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese King Juan II because its discovery was a good omen that India could be reached by sea from Europe.
It was the windiest place I’ve ever experienced. Sandy Bay Beach was nothing compared to it. We went around Cape Horn in 2005, and even though it was impossible to walk around without holding on to something, we were on a ship and somewhat protected. This was just incredible. One woman from our group was actually knocked over, and she wasn’t a small person. I managed to walk around a little. I was trying to get a picture of the Cape of Good Hope sign, and so was everyone else. Although I was nearly blown over, Tony managed to get a picture of me behind the sign. His camera was apparently affected by exposure to the winds since only the pictures taken there came out with a bluish tinge. Except for the sign and the spectacular views, if you could keep standing long enough to look at them, there was nothing else to do at this spot.
We drove a little further east to Cape Point where there are gift shops, a restaurant, rest rooms, and a funicular that goes up to a Lighthouse. There is also a walking path that can be taken to get there. We were allotted enough time to take advantage of some of what was offered. It was windy there but not like the Cape of Good Hope.
An interesting fact: the air at Cape Point is believed to be particularly pure, and so the World Meteorological Organization put one of their 20 Global Atmosphere Watch stations there to monitor the long-term changes in the chemistry of the earth’s atmosphere.
I walked around and looked at the spectacular views of the sea and mountains. Tony went his own way. By the time we got back together, it was too late to take the funicular up to the lighthouse. So we walked to a lookout, and took more pictures of the spectacular scenery.
We had been told to ignore the baboons who roam around the area looking for goodies to eat. There was a crowd gathered around one of them watching the baboon unwrap a sub/hoagie that he had grabbed from a woman.
Ostrich farming is a big business in West Cape. They’re farmed for their feathers, skin, and lean meat and sold all over the world. Their eggs are used for decorative purposes. We saw one who had gotten away and was roaming up in a field off the road. They could be dangerous. In spite of that, we saw a man not too far from the runaway ostrich taking pictures.
We continued around the Cape and started heading north on the eastern side of the peninsula. Our next destination was the Boulders Penguin Colony with lunch at a nearby restaurant.
All along the ride, I was following our progress on a map of the Cape. It was dotted with the names of some of the 100’s of shipwrecks that have occurred through the years around the very dangerous waters of the Cape. Some of the wrecks remain uncovered while others are found on shallow reefs. Diving into these wrecks is a major recreational activity along the coast.
When we got off our bus at Boulders, we were greeted by a group of children in costume dancing for us or whoever was walking by. It was still windy but of course nothing like at Good Hope.
There were several tables reserved for us at the restaurant. The food was nothing special, but it was a good opportunity to get to socialize with some of the members of our group. The sea views were great too.
After lunch, we walked to the area where the penguins live. Boulders is located in a sheltered cove and has become world famous for its colony of African penguins and wind sheltered, safe beaches. Although set in the midst of a residential neighborhood, it is one of the few sites where penguins can be observed at close range and wander freely in a protected environment.
Some penguin facts: In 1982, there were only 2 breeding pairs. The colony has grown to about 2,200. Of the 1.5 million African Penguin population in 1910, only about 10% remained at the end of the 20th century. They can swim at an average of 4 miles per hour and can stay submerged in the water for up to 2 minutes. Their coloring is a form of camouflage, the white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the water.
We learned that some of the residents of Boulders, not the penguins, aren’t too thrilled about the busloads of people visiting their neighborhood everyday to see the penguins. But that’s the way it is. I think the penguins were there first.
We walked along the raised boardwalks overlooking the beach where the penguins hang out. It was wonderful watching them. At first, I only saw one or a few of them at a time, and then many. The town got its name from the very large granite boulders along the shore which have created the small sheltered bays providing protection for the penguins. It is also safe for people to swim in the water with the penguins. That wasn’t in our itinerary, and it was too cool anyway. But it would have been fun to do that.
After our visit, we had a good walk back to the bus. We continued on our scenic drive over Muizenberg Mounain on our way back to Cape Town. Our next stop was a visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens located at the foot of Table Mountain.
Cecil Rhodes bequeathed the land for the gardens upon his death in 1902.
Rhodes made his fortune in the diamond mining industry and became prime minister of the Cape Colony in 1890. He was a major figure in the development of southern Africa, and a strong believer in British expansion. He kept pushing the blacks out of their lands making way for more industrial development. He owned the land south of the Zambezi River and called it Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. The land he owned north of the river was called Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. The kings of the land that is now Botswana went to London to petition the British Colony Office to stop Rhodes from taking their land. The Office sided with the kings angering Rhodes, but he had to adhere to their decision.
At his request, he was buried in a national park in Zimbabwe. There is controversy over his gravesite being there, and there are calls from time to time for his remains to be moved to England. It is grudgingly accepted that he is part of the history of Zimbabwe, and it’s also a popular tourist stop attracting thousands of visitors each year.
Rhodes instituted the world’s first international studies program, the Rhodes Scholarships, to enable students from territories under or formerly under British rule and from Germany, (he admired the Kaiser at the time), to study at Oxford. He believed that eventually the United Kingdom,
including the USA and Germany would dominate the world and ensure peace. He wanted to breed an American elite of philosopher kings who would have the US rejoin the British Empire. Wouldn’t he be surprised to learn that since 1962, blacks have been receiving the prized Rhodes Scholarships.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at the Gardens. We had about an hour and a half to walk around. Arthur told us where to meet after our allotted time, and Tony and I went on our way to see as much as we could. It is all beautiful. Overwhelming. So much to see. The flowers and plants are all labeled. For the most part, only indigenous plants are cultivated. We saw guinea hens and ducks. Signs make it easy to not get lost. And of course, the setting with the mountains in the background. Spectacular. There are many themed walks, but we were limited by our time schedule. We went on the Treetop Canopy Walk Bridge which just opened in May 2014. The bridge snakes its way up from the forest floor, narrow in some places and wide in others. It also moves back and forth as you walk on it. It felt really weird. It’s supposedly safe and is engineered for heavy loads and high winds. Heading back to our meeting place, we saw families having picnics on some of the open fields. The Gardens was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2004.
Back to the hotel, we had a short time to refresh ourselves before going down to our Welcome Dinner. There was a delicious buffet and musical entertainment. All in all, a most wonderful day.

 

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