I spent three weeks in Cape Town but ran out of time to edit my photos and post all my adventures. This is the last of those leftover stories, covering the events of Saturday, Feb. 5.
Today would be my final full day in Cape Town for this visit. Possibly forever. So naturally, I wanted to make the most of my day.
I planned to meet a friend tonight for a trip to the top of Table Mountain, where we could watch the sun set over the Atlantic. However, I wondered what we’d be able to see tonight, when I threw open my window this morning and saw the spotty cloud cover around the mountain.
Way up on the 28th floor, I could look straight across and see clouds directly between me and the mountain.
To the right, Lion’s Head seemed to have fewer clouds buzzing it.
And to my left, Devil’s Peak wore a wispy little halo.
I ate some breakfast, requested my car be brought around and then checked my window again. In less than an hour, the clouds had mostly lifted. It looked like today was going to be yet another gorgeous one.
My plan for the day was to shoot down the M4 highway to Muizenberg — which I had photographed before — and then drift down the coast to Simon’s Town, the home of the South African Navy. If I had time, I’d try to shoot pictures of the penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Once I heard from my friend, I’d high-tail it back to my hotel for a jaunt up Table Mountain.
I thought about not even stopping in Muizenberg. But it’s such a pretty little place. I figured it’d be a great place to kick off not only my drive but also my blog post.
It wasn’t nearly as windy as it had been during my last visit here. The beach was crowded with surfers, families and folks enjoying the Saturday morning sun.
Across the way were the mountains around which I’d drive shortly.
And just in case you’re wondering if South Africans are indeed a people with style and class…
They are. Obviously.
Hey, in the U.S., we sometimes go to a bowling alley to bowl. In South Africa, you can go here to play checkers.
Just kidding. In fact, that’s a grocery store.
Continuing down the coast, I ran into a long stretch where the road was under reconstruction. Needless to say, this really detracted from what is usually a gorgeous view.
Only Southbound vehicles are even allowed on this road. Northbound traffic is forced to take Boye’s Drive, which curls around the mountainside several dozen feet higher.
Driving through the town of St. James, I was struck by how one can’t stop and enjoy the little roadside shops here. Because all the parking has been chewed up by construction. They have to do this work during the summer? They can’t wait until the off-season?
By the time I got to Kalk Bay, however, I was past the construction zone. I was glad to park the Mercedes and shoot a few pictures of this pretty little town.
The street was lined with gift shops, bohemian-style clothing stores…
…antique shops and all sorts of fascinating places.
The place was alive with shoppers and vacationers, enjoying the nice weather.
This place appears to be converted, perhaps, from an old train depot.
I’m not certain how authentically French this little place is. But I wanted to eat there, just to reward them for coming up with such a clever name.
And it wasn’t just the main drag. There were all sorts of side roads and alleyways, each of which held promise of eclectic little shops, hidden away.
You really could spend an entire day, exploring just this one town.
Oh, crap. A bookstore. I need more books to ship home like I need a hole in the head.
This is the view looking south. From in front of the bookstore. Holding the camera in one hand and a bag full of books in the other.
As I climbed back into the car and continued my drive, I was struck by how gorgeous the coastline scenery should have been…
…if not for the huge commuter rail that runs down the shore from Muizenberg all the way to Simon’s Town. I’m sure the line makes life a lot easier for the folks here who work in downtown Cape Town. But man, is this thing an eyesore.
Here, I’ve driven into Fish Hoek, which is a bit more blue-collar than either Kalk Bay or Simon’s Town.
Or, at least, the north side of town is blue-collar. Once you round the bend just past the center of town, you find homes like this embedded in the mountainside.
Yeah. This was definitely the swanky side of town.
What amused me is that even the stairways had names here.
And perhaps rightfully so. That’s one hell of a staircase.
I pulled over in the middle of this section to shoot back — yes, over the railroad tracks — to the pretty beach in Fish Hoek.
This is looking South again. That’s Simon’s Town in the distance, past Mackerel Bay and, yes, more damned railroad tracks.
I just couldn’t get over these things. I guess there really isn’t anywhere else to put them. But man, just think of the additional tourist dollars this area might bring in if you could relocate this rail line.
Shall we wave at this little guy fishing? Oh, never mind. Looks like he has a wave of his own to worry about.
Hmm. Suddenly, I miss Sharon.
I pulled over at Long Beach just past Glencairn to shoot more pictures of Simon’s Town in the distance and without railroad tracks in the foreground.
I couldn’t see them, but the False Bay shark-spotting team was out and about, keeping an eye on the water.
While the beach itself was free of rail lines, I did have to cross the line — on foot — to get from the parking area to the beach.
Again, this isn’t the way to make a good impression on tourists. Know what I mean?
And just across the M4 were plenty more of those mountainside homes. The view of the railroad tracks from these places must be incredible.
Another mile or two later and I was in downtown Simon’s Town. This is truly one of the most scenic little places on the entire peninsula.
Many of the buildings here are very old and beautifully well-kept.
I mean, isn’t this gorgeous?
The sign on the third floor railing of this grand old place calls it the “British Hotel.”
My Dorling-Kindersley travel book says about these establishments:
The town’s characterful hotels and bars have been frequented by generations of seamen.
Heh. Insert your own inappropriate comment here, please.
Starting in 1814, Simon’s Town was a base for the British Royal Navy. One hundred and forty-three years later, the British handed the base over to the South African Navy. Here’s a spectacular view of the base itself.
Seriously. Here’s another view.
But back to the beautiful tourist-attractive downtown area. This was apparently, at one time, a place for fashionable clothes.
There are even public toilets here in Simon’s Town.
Wait — Open bare toilets? No, thank you!
Only in a gorgeous little place like this will you find what is essentially a convenience store…
…in a 185-year-old building.
Hell, even the renovation of that building is 98 years old!
True to its Naval town roots, Simon’s Town has a giant gun placed on the town square.
One dating from World War II.
The city is fiercely proud of its history. You can buy a book about the legacy of the area. But just to make sure you’re aware of it akk, the town posted this giant plaque where you really can’t miss it.
Just off the town square is a nice parking area and this cute little gift shop complex.
Don’t miss the toy museum, this sign says. But notice the sign doesn’t actually tell you where the toy museum might be.
I asked around. None of the folks working there seemed to know, either. So I, um, missed it.
Also in the city center is this bronze statue of a Great Dane. My first thought: Hey, it’s Scooby-Doo!
Actually, it turned out to be Just Nuisance, a dog who lived here in Simon’s Town and was adopted by the sailors who were stationed here. The dog was officially registered as an “able seaman” in the Royal Navy. He passed away in 1944.
Just behind all this is the local marina. With a couple of Naval vessels moored behind them.
Facing the harbor are an assortment of stores, restaurants and hotels.
And in the distance, still further beyond, is the ridge of mountains along which I had driven this morning.
Hey, wait. What’s that down there in the lower left?
Why, it’s a cute little harborside restaurant! And just in time for lunch, too!
Walking down to the restaurant, however, I came across this unlucky fellow.
Only in South Africa can you turn a corner to find a Zebra just hanging around.
The restaurant I spotted was a friendly little place, full of locals as well as tourists.
I was lucky enough to get a table out on the patio. A wonderful cool breeze drifted in off of the harbor.
Because I was driving today, I didn’t want to risk having a few beers. So I opted for Coke Light. As is my custom, I amused my waiter by requesting my Cokes two at a time.
Because I’m so adventurous, I ordered the fish, chips and calamari.
And because I was once again running a carbohydrate deficit already today, I ordered a small slice of cheesecake for dessert.
I really shouldn’t have eaten the scoop of ice cream that came with it. But I did anyway.
Throughout my meal, a marimba band called Bambanani played for the enjoyment of all.
During a break, a couple of band members circulated through the restaurant, selling copies of their CD. They were so much fun that I just had to shell out 120 rand — about $17 — for a copy.
It seemed the least I could do. I’m always eager to support the local economy.
Well-stocked with hake, chips, Coke Light and music, I resumed my journey south, past the suburb of Seaforth to a recreation and wildlife area called the Boulders.
For obvious reasons.
This is a beautiful little swimming area, protected by the rocks from even the possibility of rough seas.
But you’ll notice that even the water beyond the boulders in these pictures doesn’t look very rough. This is the gorgeously calm section of False Bay. Or, at least, it was today.
More than just a swimming area, though, Boulders is also the home of a colony of penguins. Two breeding pairs were brought here in 1982. Those hardworking birds have resulted in more than 3,000 descendants.
The place is now part of the Table Mountain National Park system. So my entry came at the cost of 40 rand — about $5.58, or a third of a freakin’ marimba CD — and having to read dire, scary warnings like this one.
Really? They’ll bite?
I dunno. This li’l guy looks friendly enough to me.
Careful there, pal! I understand she might bite!
There were dozens of the penguins. Hundreds of them, even.
Really, more than I could have imagined. I felt like I had been dropped smack into an animated movie. Remember a couple of years ago, when movies about penguins were suddenly common?
And just why would so many penguins turn up on the shore of Boulders Beach? To take pictures of all the Asian tourists, of course.
These particular birds are called African penguins. They use to be called Jackass penguins because of the supposedly donkey-like sound they make.
I’m guessing that once they became an endangered species, someone decided it was difficult to convince the public to feel sorry for a critter called a “Jackass penguin.”
I’m also guessing the penguins weren’t so damned happy about it, either.
Sure was fun to watch the li’l fellas run around. You have to admit it, penguins are awfully cute.
I spent a lot more time than I probably should have, trying to take the definitive picture of the penguins and their lovely little beach.
That one was probably it.
On my way out, I also noted what I presume is the nesting area for the penguins.
As I walked back to my car, I was puzzled by this sign.
Why the hell would I crawl around on hot pavement on my hands and knees to look for a penguin? It would be much easier to just go back to the beach!
The folks at the park also seemed overly concerned with dog poo.
Notice there is no mention at all of taking a bag for your poo. Just your dog’s poo.
I was also puzzled by “Poo bin.” This is possibly a reference to Pooh bin Laden, the infamous stuffed terrorist bear.
I might add that all of this — the swimming area, the penguin beach, the poo bins, the penguins lurking beneath parked cars — are just a few feet away from what is obviously a very pricey residential section.
Man, what must the view be like from those houses?
Something like this, I’d imagine.
All this time, I had been awaiting word from my friend who was out running errands all Saturday morning. I was expecting a call or text message from her, confirming that she was feeling OK and that we were doing the Table Mountain thing that evening.
But now it was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t heard anything. Should I go back to my hotel for the rest of the day, assuming she’ll call at some point?
I’d come this far, just a few miles from the tip of the Cape Peninsula. I pressed onward.
This gorgeous little spot is called Smitswinkel Bay. The peak just beyond is called Batsata Rock.
And, in the distance, you can see Trappies Cave and Plumpudding Rock, even closer to the tip of the peninsula.
I couldn’t get over how clear and calm the water was today. Or the incredible colors I was seeing just offshore.
The entire peninsula has a problem with wild baboons. But they’re particularly bad down here on the tip. Warning signs are everywhere.
This next one amuses me so much that I made it the desktop pattern on my MacBook Pro.
So I rounded the bend there at Smitswinkel Bay, turned left onto Cape Point Road and entered the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park.
Admission fee: 80 rand. Or about $11.19 USD.
I hadn’t driven very far past the front gate when I saw them.
A huge roving pack of them.
Oh, man, there were dozens of them. They were all over the place. Running and playing. Scrounging and begging for food. Checking under cars for penguins.
Stopping dead in the middle of the road and taking pictures of them seemed the right thing to do.
This one paused smack in front of me for a bit of grooming from whom I presume is his momma.
Yeah. You don’t want to mess with baboons.
And, thankfully, they didn’t want to mess with me, either.
My next stop was the famous Cape of Good Hope. Which is that little point you see jutting out there into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the most southwesternly point on the African continent.
However, it is not the Southernmost point on the continent. That would be Cape Agulhas, perhaps 100 miles or so to the west of here. I visited there the weekend before.
There were dozens of tourists here, many of them Asian. I presume at least some of them were folks I had run into at the penguin colony.
The waves raised a terrific racket, slamming into the rocks. The resulting spray flew way up in the air, making for great souvenir pictures. If you were bold enough to get close.
This is the mound from which all the rocks that form the actual Cape of Good Hope itself have broken away.
Signs mark the spot in both English and Afrikaans.
Although I had been here before, I just had to stand in line for another picture.
You can’t drive all the way down here and not get a picture, y’know. I think it’s federal law or something.
Now that I had taken the obligatory picture of the famous Cape of Good Hope, I needed to drive around to the actual tip of this peninsula; a most spectacular place called Cape Point.
So I checked under my car for Asian tourists and I drove back up the road.
Where I ran into more wild animals.
There were four in total. They appeared to be pecking around for food. It was easy to see how these giant birds — a good six feet tall, at least — get a reputation for “having their heads in the sand.”
Because that’s just what it looked like.
The gentleman here edged forward carefully, took a few pictures, and then nervously asked me over his shoulder: Do you suppose they bite?
Probably not, I replied. After all, they’re not penguins.
I jumped back into the Mercedes and got the hell out of there before the poor guy lost his arm or something.
I drove to the visitor center at Cape Point. From there, you can’t really see where the ocean at all. But you can see the lighthouse up on top of the mountain.
Only an idiot would try to walk all the way up there. So I bought a ticket to ride the funicular to the top.
It’s a steep climb. That’s a cable running down the center of the tracks, making this less like a train and more like a San Francisco-style cable car.
I resisted the urge to hum the Rice-a-Roni jingle during the ride.
Cape Point has two train cars that synchronize their trips precisely so they can pass each other here.
Even when you exit the funicular, you find you still have quite a ways to go — up steep stairs — to get to the lookout point at the base of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse itself is quite nice but is in need of painting. That’s a result of the near-constant gale-force winds that blast this place.
Like the sign says, this lighthouse was built in 1860. But all too often, fog covered the light, perched way up here. So in 1911, they built a second lighthouse closer to the water. That lighthouse still operates today.
Back to the northwest are the mountains I had just driven around. I presume that knobby little fellow in the center is Batsata Rock.
Across the way to the East — on the the other end of False Bay — is Pringle Bay and Cape Hangklip, which I explored the weekend before.
In front of me — to the Southeast — is the very tip of Cape Point. You can walk that narrow little trail. But after all I had been through the previous Sunday with narrow roads and no guardrails and whatnot — I had no intention of doing that.
Sadly, though, you can’t see the “new” lighthouse from the old one. You can, however, see the bottom of the sea floor through the clear water at the base of Cape Point.
This is supposedly where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. And, sure enough, the cold Atlantic current does meet the warm Agulhas current ferrying water from the Indian Ocean in these parts. But as I had learned the week before, the actual dotted line dividing the oceans is at Cape Agulhas, not here.
There were plenty of cute little walking trails and scenic outlooks just begging for amateur photographers like me.
This is the view due west — back to the Cape of Good Hope, not quite a mile away. The parking lot where I stopped before is just on the other side of that ridge.
I didn’t spend a lot of time here at Cape Point, however, because I discovered the afternoon had completely slipped away from me. In fact, there was only one train ride left back to the parking area and I would have to scramble in order to keep from hoofing it down the mountain.
I also discovered that while I was way down here — as far as you can be from the city center but still be on the Cape peninsula — I had in fact received a message from my friend. Who asked if I could meet her at 6 p.m. for our Table Mountain outing.
Given that it was 5:45 when I finally received her message, I figured not. Dammit.
Given the things I had seen that day, though, it was hard to be too disappointed. It had been a glorious outing and a fitting end to my three-week stay in one of the world’s most gorgeous regions.
I managed to make it back to my hotel room in time to catch the sun sinking behind Lion’s Head mountain.
Table Mountain occupied the seat of honor, zen-like in its serenity.
Devil’s Peak silently sat nearby, admiring its sisters in the fading light.
While Lion’s Head took center stage tonight, receiving a goodnight kiss from the sun.
I reflected over the day’s travels over a few beers and then called my wife and daughter.
I’ve never been able to adequately describe to them the things I see on these outings. I can only hope they see the photos and forgive me for being unequal to the task of doing justice to this beautiful place.
And that was my last full day in Cape Town, Saturday, Feb. 5. It’s finally posted here for your enjoyment.
…Just in time for me to return to Cape Town. I fly back there Sunday for another week of consulting work. And, hopefully, for a little more sightseeing. If I can get my health back, that is. I spent Friday afternoon resting in my guest house, attempting to recover from the sore throat and acute laryngitis I developed this week.
I’m in my third month of consulting for a chain of South African dailies and Sunday papers to help improve their use of visual journalism. Go here to find a directory of previous blog posts about this trip.