Cape Town – A Treasure Trove of Sights and Sounds
We designated this day to represent our whirlwind tour of Cape Town and as expected, it was difficult to cram all of our activities into 24 hours! We chose the major attractions and off we went: V&A Waterfront, Two Ocean’s Aquarium, Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch Gardens.
9:00 am – Drive to Cape Town via Chapman’s Peak Drive
10:00 am – Wander through the V&A Waterfront
11:30 am – Go through the Two Ocean’s Aquarium
2:30 pm – Take cable car up Table Mountain
5:30 pm – Explore Kirstenbosch Gardens
7:15 pm – Head back to Noordhoek
It was another dreary day and the forecast was calling for rain – just our luck. We therefore decided to take our time in preparing for the day ahead. Our original plan was to do the 4-5 hour trek up to the top of Table Mountain via Skeleton Gorge, however, our guid book described the ascent as such:
“Skeleton Gorge involves broad stepped climbing on wooden steps, stone steps, wooden ladders and loose boulders. Be prepared for steep ravines and difficult rock climbs – and under no circumstances stray off the path. It requires reasonable fitness and can be an unpleasant way down, especially in the wet season when it gets slipper” (excerpt from The Rough Guide to Cape Town)
After that glowing description, we weren’t willing to chance a hike in the rain. We decided instead to just take the cable car which would slash a good 4 hours from our schedule. After filling up on breakfast, we headed for Cape Town. I had read that a beautiful drive into the city was one called Chapman’s Peak Drive (http://www.chapmanspeakdrive.co.za). The photos were all so spectacular and the drive seemed very exciting with rocky ledges on one side and a steep drop to the sea on the other, and it’s winding path along the coastline. Once more, photographic opportunities were slightly ruined by the weather:
Although we were excited to drive the long winding path, we hadn’t anticipated the traffic. It was a Sunday and apparently everyone and their Uncle were out cycling this road. WHY? Why as in Why would anyone want to do such a horrible thing? and Why, as in, why did that have to happen to us? It was already tricky enough to drive on the left side of the road, while attempting not to smash into the rock walls or other vehicles, without adding a giant stream of cyclists in all directions. We also didn’t really research it well because apparently there was a toll for driving on this road (hence why we took it there but not back) and based on how stressful the whole situation was, I would not say I felt it was money well spent. If it had been a nicer day that was cyclist free and easy enough to pull over at the rest stops, we could’ve had a marvellous time admiring the views and snapping some photos. However that was not the case. This photo gives you an idea of the drive, and there are even some cyclists in the shot for reference!
Don’t get me wrong, I have NOTHING against cyclists, in fact I am a cyclist in Canada, but the relationship between cyclists and motorist is notoriously a contentious one. If there had been a proper shoulder or even a separate bike / running path alongside, it would’ve relieved some of the clear safety issues. I digress…
We arrived at Table Mountain to find that there was a rather ominous blanket of clouds hanging on the mountain top. Apparently this is one of the reasons it is called ‘Table’ Mountain; you see the top is long and flat like a table cloth, and being right beside the ocean, it is often shrouded in a thin layer of cloud which gives the impression that it is covered by a white table cloth. As interesting as that was, it was definitely not ideal for sightseeing and photo ops. We decided we would wait it out and see if it dissipated. So we instead headed off for the V&A Waterfront. There were a ton of shops in the area, a giant ferris wheel and even some ads for Body Worlds! I don’t know why I was so excited about Body Worlds, I guess because they are traveling exhibits and I had been to one in Edmonton… We went into a large market area (although I was a bit nervous about it because the rural markets we had been to were bordering abusive). There was a woman selling some coasters that had beautiful sketches of the ‘Big 5’ (Elephant, rhino, water buffalo, leopard and lion). They looked great, but then when I came across the ‘leopard’ I immediately noticed that it was in fact a cheetah! This is actually very similar to what the sketch looked like.
I was shocked! I called Dan and Jessi over, completely dumbfounded by the fact that a local South African woman would be selling such a mislabelled product! I guess I was making a big fuss about it, because the shopkeeper came over to see what the issue was. I immediately informed her that the coaster labelled ‘leopard’ was in fact a cheetah. She waved her hands and dismissed the comment. I told her that we had literally just finished working with cheetahs for a month and we could tell a cheetah from a leopard. Her response “a leopard can’t change their spots’. What that is supposed to mean, I have no clue, but right when I was about to lose it, Dan grabbed my arm and dragged me away. I know I was probably overreacting, but there’s a reason why people just clump all of the spotted cats into one category (cheetah, leopard, jaguar, serval, ocelot, etc). I am making too big of a deal even on here, so let’s continue on, shall we?
When we returned outside we decided to have a look around the harbour and we had the incredible good fortunate to see a sea lion! Right there just off the walkway, basking in the sun!
I suppose I have really only ever had the opportunity to see these amazing animals in captivity or from the top of our Robberg Peninsula hike (see Day 4 https://atlasadrift.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/garden-route-day-4-robberg-peninsula/). So to just see this little guy hanging out behind some shops was a pleasant surprise!
Being completely obsessed with animals, one of the activities I had planned was a visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium (http://www.aquarium.co.za). We weren’t really sure what to expect since the only captive facilities we had ever visited were in Canada and approved by CAZA, an incredibly well managed accreditation system for any zoos / aquariums in the country. However, we found that the Two Oceans Aquarium was fantastic! I would definitely hold this facility to the same standards of those in Canada, even on par with the Vancouver Aquarium. Of course, my favourite part was the photo opportunities!
Sea Turtle in the giant ‘Predator’ Tank
South Coast Rock Lobster
Honeycomb Moray Eel
One of the most breathtaking exhibits was that of the I&J Predator Exhibit. It wasn’t just the fact that it was full of sharks, rays and a myriad of schooling fish. It was the ceiling high glass walls and the extent of the tank. We could’ve sat there for hours watching all of these amazing marine creatures coast by!
After thoroughly exploring the aquarium we decided to head back towards Table Mountain and see if the visibility had improved. Thankfully it was nice and clear of cloud cover, so we purchased our lift ticket and off we went! We were squeezed into the cable car quite tightly and I was disappointed at the thought of not being able to get any good photos due to the mass of human bodies that surrounded me. Thankfully, the floor of the car rotated as we ascended, so we were constantly getting a new view of the area as we went up! The bad news is, for those who needed to balance, the handrails stayed in place. Here’s some views from on the cable car:
Even though the view of Cape Town seemed to extend on endlessly, it was still surprising to find out that the population was pushing 4 million (that’s almost twice as much as Toronto, Canada’s largest city!).
It was fairly busy once we arrived at the peak and unlike the forecast, the weather was incredibly calm and pleasant! Dan and I were both feeling guilty about taking the cable car rather than hiking up. There’s something so satisfying about conquering a mountain! We have done some extensive hiking in the Rocky Mountains, but Table Mountain is pretty high – 1’085 metres and the climb up would have looked something like this:
Although based on the description of Skeleton Gorge, this would’ve been the better portion! We wandered around on top, taking a billion pictures (of course).
Dan towering above Cape Town’s coastline – I loved the stone walls on top!
Amazing lizard, hiding between the rocks on the edge of a cliff! Black Girdled Lizard
Jessi posing near the opposite side of the mountain – check out the giant bruise on her arm from surfing at J-Bay!
We were amazed by the views and decided it would be a great place to chill out and eat our lunch. We found a secluded spot off the main trail to dig in. A couple of asian tourists had followed us over and were busying themselves with taking photos of the view, no surprise there. As we continued to eat and chat however, we started to notice that they were taking photos of us eating lunch! It was very strange, and made us all a bit uncomfortable. As an indirect way of signalling that we would rather not be photographed, I started making over exaggerated gestures and ridiculous faces whilst eating. Did this send them off? Why no, in fact it just made them take more photos! They were laughing and excited by the whole thing. Again, strange. They eventually left and we had time to ourselves. Unfortunately, the paths atop the mountain are rather short (although there are some handy informational signs) and so we didn’t end up spending much time on the peak.
We headed back to the cable car and spun back down to Earth. It was starting to get late and we had one final stop for the day – Kirstenbosch Gardens. While none of us are particularly excited by the world of botany, I had read that it was a great place to spot some amazing birds, and I actually do love to photograph flowers. It’s also nice to go somewhere with much different flora than what we encounter back at home!
Thankfully Kirstenbosch Gardens lies at the foot of Table Mountain, so we didn’t actually have that far to go, however, there was a concert taking place and we had to park rather far away and walk to the gate as a result. We entered the park at 5:30 pm and the gates closed at 7:00 pm so we only had about an hour and a half to explore the area. For anyone planning a trip, I recommend at least 3 hours, just to walk through the entire area – it’s a big place!
As expected, we were able to catch sight of a bird right off the bat, and on a beautiful flower as well!
What I believe is a female orange-breasted sunbird (the males are beautiful!) on a Red Hot Poker Flower (no joke, I don’t make up these names)
The maze of paths made it difficult for us to keep track of where we had been and where we wanted to go. We felt so rushed and there was so much to see! One of my favourite areas was where they had flowers with medicinal properties and some with distinct fragrances as well (unfortunately the odours were lost on Dan who suffers from the lack of a sense of smell). We also happened to find our way to the area where the Skeleton Gorge path starts and thus the way we would have ascended up Table Mountain!
Jessi wanted to ‘check out’ skeleton gorge, and no amount of convincing otherwise would stop her. So we waited, and waited and finally she returned deciding that there was nothing good to see at this altitude. We decided to try and find our way out as 7:00 pm was fast approaching. As we were heading back, we found a beautiful spread of lawns facing the mountain. A few small groups were lounging here and there as the sweet sound of the night concert drifted across the gardens. It was very peaceful and would have been a lovely place for a picnic!
We even caught sight of some Guinea Fowl and Hammerkop scurrying about the lawns, scrounging up any leftovers from the day’s picnicking. We made our way back to the car and home again. Another fun filled day, with beautiful sights and a feeling of accomplishment, even without conquering Table Mountain by foot!