Monday, June 9, 2008

South Africa: Cape Town, Cape Point

On the way back to our hotel we stopped again at Oudtshoorn. The town has an interesting museum with a good display of local history and the ostrich trade. There are some wonderful hats with huge ostrich feather in them. One could well imagine Mrs Shilling at Ascot in a hat like that many years ago. There were also lots of memorabilia of the Boers.

We arrived at Karos Wilderness Hotel which was our base for the next two nights. The next day we rode the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe. This train is South Africa's last scheduled mixed steam train service. We puffed our way to George. I was leaning out of the window all the way and got smothered with soot. We had three quarters of an hour here, quite long enough to photograph the engine and have a cold drink.

On our way back to Wilderness we had some super views of the coastline. The whole journey took about two hours; two hours well very spent, we reckoned.

We left Wilderness, wishing we could have stayed longer, but we have a long drive to Cape Town today. Gerrie told us what the word Inkatha meant. The word originated in Zulu tribal lore. Inkatha meant ring of grass. The witch doctor made a ring of grass and over the weeks he added herbs, potions, snake skins etc., in fact he put all sorts of things into the ring of grass which over the weeks dried out. On a particular day the tribe would gather and the witch doctor would set the ring of grass on fire. It was only after the burning of the Inkatha that the people could start to use that year's crops. The Inkatha Freedom Party was founded in 1975 by Chief Buthelezi, leader of the country's Zulu population, to promote Zulu autonomy. Many of the non-Zulu blacks accused it of collaboration with the white authorities. Gerrie felt it would have been better if the party had left out the name inkatha as it was a Zulu ceremony and many of the other blacks felt disinclined to vote for the party with such close Zulu connections.

Our first stop this morning is at Mossel Bay. It was here that we saw the large milkwood tree where early seafarers left messages for passing ships, reputedly the same tree that stands today. The messages were put inside a boot and tied to the tree. A small stream which supplied the sailors with fresh water still flows past the tree.

There is a very good museum here with the centre piece being a caravel which is an old Portuguese sailing ship. There are three superb stained glass windows which remind us of Portugal's early claim to the area. There were no lights in the museum that day (this is Africa!). When we used the loo we were met by three candles and to see the loo we had to take in a candle, sometimes there are advantages in being men!

We stopped at Swellendam for lunch at Zandrift Restaurant. This was a delightful English restaurant. We had a wonderful lunch, everything home made. There was a good sign on the restaurant wall; "Today's Menu - 2 choices - Take it or Leave it". After lunch we wandered round the garden which was full of roses.

Soon after we left the restaurant we passed through a town where there are two clocks on the church wall. One is just painted on the wall, so the hands never move, but they are set at church-going time. The primitive blacks couldn't read or tell the time, so they kept an eye on the clocks. When both the clocks read the same time, it was time to go to church.

Gerrie told us that there are very few roundabouts on South African roads. At a cross roads, the first one there goes first. I somehow couldn't see that working at home. At 5pm we stopped at the top of Sir Lowrie's Pass, to get our first view of Table Mountain and Cape Town. The baboons are apparently a real menace here. On one of Gerrie's trips they got into the coach and caused havoc. The driver is prepared; he is armed with a stick and is standing at the coach door doing sentry duty. The long vista to Cape Town was looking fine, but Table Mountain had heavy cloud on its top.

We arrived at the Courtyard Hotel where we are staying in Cape Town and were offered a bucks fizz which went down well.

The next morning was a lovely clear day and Table Mountain was completely clear of cloud. So our first stop was to catch the cable car that takes you to the top of the mountain. This cable car revolves as it ascends so you get a great all round view as you rise to the top.

The views over Cape Town were quite something. The great flat-topped mountain dominates the Peninsula's skyline. It is 3,566ft above the city and measures nearly two miles from end to end. On a clear day its distinctive shape can be seen from 124 miles out to sea.

About 7 miles out to sea is Robben Island which until recently served as the infamous maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for most of his 27 year prison stretch.

It was quite windy today, the locals call this wind The Cape Doctor as they say it blows all the germs and pollution away from Cape Town. If it is too windy or the Mountain is in cloud which more often than not it is, the cable car doesn't take visitors up. So we were lucky today.

There are a lot of rock hyraxes, or as they are know here, dassies or rock rabbits, quite delightful little things. They are so tame that they just sit and pose for the camera. I was able to get within a foot on one and he wasn't worried at all.

After leaving Table Mountain we stopped at a botanical garden called Kirstenbosch. Being autumn here, there was not a lot of colour and we only stayed a short time.

We did a City tour, with Gerrie pointing out places of interest. We saw the hospital where the first heart transplant was done. The Parliament Buildings. The most interesting part was when we left the coach and walked through Greenmarket Square and saw Cecil Rhode's statue. Rhodes introduced the grey squirrel here and we saw lots of them. We also saw a flame tree which was in full bloom and had glorious coloured flowers.

Last stop of the day was at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront. Alfred was one of Queen Victoria's sons and he visited Cape Town in 1860. There is a huge shopping complex here. Most of the shops were very up-market, but there was a good Craft Market.

Early start the next morning. which is our last full day. Our first stop is Maiden Cove, nothing special here except it was a good view. On to Hout Bay where we went for a boat trip to see the seals. This was a great trip. The boat was very fast and all of us at the back got soaked. The boat was going so fast that it was impossible to stand up. There were hundreds of seals, I have never seen so many all together; the little ones were leaping high in the air.

When we returned to the quay there was a great range of craftwork laid out on the ground, and the goods were very reasonable. As everywhere in Africa, you bargain which I really enjoy doing, it is such fun.

We then stopped at Chapman's Peak which overlooked Hout Bay. Hout is the Afrikaans word for 'wood', the name derived from the area's value as a source of timber in the early colonial days.

We then drove on to Cape Point. Cape Point has its place in seafaring myth. It is off this headland that the Flying Dutchman, a phantom sailing ship, has periodically been sighted. Best known of the many sightings was that recorded in 1880 by a Royal Navy officer, a young midshipman who, in 1910 became Britain's King George V.

Before having our lunch we took the funicular car to the top, where we could photograph the Cape of Good Hope. At the tip of the peninsula the cliffs fall sheer for about 985ft to the ocean, and this is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Here at the Southern Tip of Africa is what Sir Francis Drake, rounding the world in the 16th century, described as "A most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth". And I can believe it.

After lunch we stopped off at Boulders Coastal Park. Boulders Park lies on the western shores of False Bay. This beach, set beside the waters of False Bay was a beautiful setting to see the resident colony of Jackass penguins. The first penguins found here were two pairs in 1983. There are now 726 pairs and an overall total of some 2350 adult penguins. Apparently the residents living near the beach complain about the noise, especially at night when the penguins are at their most vocal.

The Jackass penguin has a donkey-like call - hence its popular name. We saw baby penguins, penguins sitting on eggs. We were so close to the penguins that you could have touched them. Mind you they were well able to look after themselves, if anyone got too close they got pecked; they were quite safe from the children, it was the children that had to look out!

We had our final dinner at On The Rocks Restaurant. A very nice restaurant right on the beach and overlooking the Atlantic. At the end of the meal Gerrie gave each of the ladies a South African recipe book. Our last visit after dinner was to the top of Signal Hill where there is a spectacular night-time view of Cape Town and the harbour. We enjoyed South Africa and we loved Cape Town. Ralph says his best bit was the Wilderness steam train ride. My favourite bit was going up Table Mountain and walking amongst the Jackass penguins. The holiday was helped by having a superb guide in Gerrie.

I would love to go back to Cape Town. It is a beautiful city, and there is so much to do and see there.

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