Sunday, 11 October 2015

Capetown and the Cape of Good Hope: Shipwrecks and Survival.

Capetown is a city of some 3 1/2 million, clearly a modern city but bearing all the hallmarks of a Dutch, British and even French military occupation in the 19th century. Territorial rights changed hands many times, but many buildings like the Castle, which is essentially a Fort complete with moat and Governor's residence, still exist.

We set out to explore this as it is within easy walking distance of the central city area. It has been extensively renovated and has a dedicated team of archaeologists and engineers working constantly on its restoration. We witnessed a kitchen area underground that has just been discovered, complete with fireplace, utensils and a well.

At 10 a.m. each day, there is a small but impressive key ceremony where the Governor gives the key to the fort to the Guard to open the lock on the Main Gate, a bell is rung and the Guard process around the vast courtyard area. The Governor's residence is impressive and furnished with heritage Dutch and British furniture, including portraits, maps and dining area to suit a hundred guests seated! The entry fee is modest, but it has tours available and very friendly and helpful staff.

Key ceremony at the former Governor's residence at the Fort.

Old Government House, a good example of Colonial architecture, next to the Company Gardens.

The beautiful Company Botanic Gardens with a view of Table Mountain.
You can visit the beautiful waterfront area of Capetown which is dominated by the huge Victoria and Albert Wharf complex. Here there is an immense two-story shopping area with elite shops, restaurants indoor and outdoor and a beautiful view of the yachts in the marina and shipping wharves beyond. There are taverns and a Wheel for a view of the city that seem to be in every major City these days! There is the local food to be enjoyed, some with a Portuguese flavour which I loved, but there are all types of food on offer from around the world. Topped off with the local Castle beer or a bottle of wine from the vineyards close by, just the shot for lunch or dinner break in sightseeing!

We also took a trip up the Cable Car to the top of Table Mountain, which left us with impressive views of the city and its environs. The aspect of looking up to the end of the cable way is quite unnerving, but proved to be not as much as I feared! If the wind is blowing, the cable car does not operate so it is a good idea to check daily! The inside of the car which holds 60 people also rotates slowly as you ascend, giving everyone an opportunity for good viewing and photos. The day we went, we were lucky as the fog descended after an hour or so and apparently this happens quite often. You can abseil if you have the nerve from the rocks, but we enjoyed a coffee out of the cold wind in a cafĂ© with hot coffee and delicious eats!

Looking up to the top of Table Mountain with the cable car ascending to the clouds!

We took a half day tour of the area from Capetown to the Cape of Good Hope National Park. Quite an eye-opener to see this windswept coastline with its turbulent seas that were the end of many a ship's journey from the Portuguese navigators to present day. This is a coastline of hundreds of wrecks,  ships have gone down in its treacherous seas from the early days of the 1400's to 1977, when the Antopolis sank off the Twelve Apostles range South of Capetown.

The Cape of Good Hope. This coastline is  the site of many shipwrecks from the 1400's to the present day.
Diving, whale watching and all water sports including surfing and even cage viewing of sharks, are popular in this area. We visited a protected African penguin rookery at Simon's Town, a Naval Base, on the way south. We walked down on platforms through the foreshore with so many of these small penguins with their chicks right by, so close you can touch them! At the beach, Penguins were practising swimming, and this was a sheer delight to watch!

African penguins coming in from the surf!
Continuing South, we reached the National Park itself a vast Heath area where there are no trees to be seen but many protea bushes. We were lucky enough to see some large animals, like the kudu, ostrich and springbok. There were baboons too, but their reputation precedes them and you are told not to feed them and they are considered dangerous to encounter on walks. At Cape Point, our first stop, you can climb up to the lighthouse or take the funicular for a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean and rugged sheer cliff faces! Another stop took us to the beach at the Cape of Good Hope, where the waves spread a vast mist of spray all over the area for miles. You can hike through the Park and enjoy these wilderness areas with their natural beauty further if you have more time.

Where to from here? Lighthouse signs indicate the vast distances the early navigators had to cover in those small sailing ships!

Magnificent view from the lighthouse at the most southerly point of Africa.
Our return trip was through Chapman's Chance, a drive taken at your own risk, that winds around high cliffs with many rockfalls evident on the sides of the road. We also saw many shanty town areas near very expensive suburbs, and a reminder of the poverty and high unemployment levels in young people here.

The incredible tunnels built into the cliff face at Chapman's Chance with an overhanging rock face above your vehicle!

All in all, a visit to this area of South Africa is not to be missed, it has an amazing history to unfold and areas of great beauty, including wilderness and heritage areas to explore. Its Botanic Gardens and wineries are of world class and the people very hospitable!

The Protea, the national flower in all its glory at the flower markets, Capetown.
My tip: Rethink your impressions of Africa as a dangerous destination. There are dangers, just as in every place in the world, but the beauty outweighs these and with reasonable caution, there is a vast continent and its wilderness to explore!