Our African Adventure – Final Destination – Cape Town

After nearly two weeks on the road, our once-in-a-lifetime adventure was coming to an end as we approached the trip’s final destination, Cape Town.  At breakfast, our tour guides polled the group and laid out the options for that day’s activities.  The original interary called for several miles of bike riding through through the wine country of Stellenbosch, an activity that most of the group simple wasn’t prepared to accomplished.  After a quick vote, we decided on seeing the sights around Cape Town.  We drove along the famous False Bay coast, a beautiful area bounded on the east by Cape Hangklip and the Cape of Good Hope on the west.

False Bay was featured during recent TV episodes of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, because of the large populations of Great White Sharks which over-winter here and feed on the local seal population.

The views as we traveled around False Bay were breaktaking.  We stopped here and there, snapping photos and marveling at the scenery while our guides explained that the Bay contained several wrecks of early sailing ships which had mistaken it for the deeper and safer Table Bay.  After several stops, we arrived at our first destination, Boulders Beach, and its colony of African Penguins.

As an avid birder, I had been looking forward to this sight the entire trip.  Also known as “Jackass” Penguins, due to their donkey-like bray, these remain the only species of penguin that I have seen in the wild.  The penguin colony enjoys protection as a national park, though the area is becoming more developed as home builders take advantage of the incredible views around Boulders Beach.

Here is a photograph of the small group of penguins shown above that shows just how close human habitation has approached their home.  The penguins seem undisturbed by all the activity, though, as hundreds of visitors also walk along a boardwalk built through their colony every day.

Our next stop was the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.  We started with lunch in Two Oceans Restaurant, followed by a ride on the Funicular up to Cape Point Lighthouse.  The day was clear, breezing, and beautiful as we drank in the stunning panoramic views offered by the Point.  The sights and sounds of two great oceans lay before us as we talked with other members of our group about the experience.  Here I was, a kid who grew up in the last house on a dirt road in a small West Virginia coal camp, standing in a place that I had read about in grade school but had never dreamed that I would actually visit.

After a couple hours of exploring, we left Cape Point for our hotel.  On the way, we passed near replicas of the Cross of Vasco de Gama and the Cross of Diaz, two navigational beacons erected by the Portuguese government to commemorate Vasco da Gama and Bartholomeu Dias as explorers. When lined up, the crosses point to Whittle Rock,  a large, permanently submerged shipping hazard in False Bay.

After a long, adventure-filled day we arrive at our final hotel destination – the Tudor Hotel in Cape Town.  We spent the following day shopping, exploring Cape Town, and making final preparations for our long flight home.

Several months have passed since our trip, but the sights and sounds of South Africa and Lesotho are as real for me today as when I was there.   Any mention of my trip brings numerous questions from friends and colleagues, all intrigued by the thought of visiting places Americans rarely venture to.  Certain, my wife and I were extraordinarily lucky to have this opportunity and to experience a culture so different, and at times so familiar, to our own.   I can only hope that good fortune allows us to return some day.

Our African Adventure – Tsitsikamma National Park

I took a few days away from blogging to compete in the New Jersey Audubon’s World Series of Birding.  My team finished a respectable 25th in a field of almost 60 birding teams and, most importantly, had a great time.    Now, though, I would like to return you to our African Adventure. 

Our next stop was Tsitsikamma National Park, a stunning coastal park found on South Africa’s Garden Route .  We arrived in the early afternoon and, lottery style, picked our room keys out of a brown paper bag.  This was the view we enjoyed from our cabin!

The coast at Tsitsikamma was very rugged and consisted primarilyof large rock outcrops.  This created some spectacular waves, as the Indian Ocean battered against the coast.  If you look closely, you can see two people exploring on the rocks – gives you a sense of how large the waves are that came crashing against the shore.

This was the view as we relaxed and enjoyed a few drinks at an outdoor bar.  We hoped to take a boat ride up the river, but rides were canceled due to troubles with the boat’s engine.  So, we sat and enjoyed the view.

The next morning we were surprised to find baboons walking around our cabin.  They were exploring garbage cans, trying to break into cars, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  A group of rangers came along in a truck and attempted to run the baboon back into the woods, with only limited success.  This young fellow watched the fun from a safe perch.

Later than morning we took a hike to the river’s mouth.  We had heard that there were suspension bridges that gave amazing views of the river and ocean.  This was our first view as the trail emerged from the bush.

There were three bridges all together, suspended across the river and along the rocky shore.  We spent an hour or so exploring and hiking along the shore before heading back to our cabin.

We encountered this fellow on our way back through the bush.  This is a Rock Hydrax, a close cousin to the elephant.  These little fellows were usually found in large packs, appeared to be very social with each other, and would stare (unblinking) at us as we walked by.

After our morning hike, a group of us headed out for some lunch and shopping.  We picked a small outdoor cafe and enjoyed our first taste of ginger beer.  This homemade drink was cold and refreshing – really hit the spot.  We wandered from shop to shop and eventually ended up back at our cabin, tired and happy from our wonderful day at Tsitsikamma.

Our African Adventure – Getting Started

JFK

Our adventure started several weeks ago with a phone call.  Incredibly, my wife had won an amazing trip – to South Africa.  And so we planned, and planned, and shopped, and planned some more.  Not really knowing what to expect, we read travel guides and reached out to anyone and everyone who might know something about our destinations.  Finally, the big day arrived.  We found ourselves standing at the South African Airways’ terminal in JFK Airport, New York. 

Waiting at the Gate

We worked through the seemingly endless layers of airport security, finally arriving at our flight’s gate.  The plane was there and we watched as ground crews hurried about with their carts, tractors, and trucks.  We chatted with other passengers and then, three hours after arriving at the terminal, boarded the plane.  The flight crew welcomed us as the plane was slowly pushed back from the gate and busily moved up and down the aisles preparing the plane for take-off.  And then we stopped.  And waited.  Soon, the pilot informed us that the tug used to push our plane from the gate was unable to disconnect – a pin was stuck – and we would be delayed.  It took nearly an hour of hammering, shaking, pushing, and pulling before the pilot announced that the pin had come free and we would be on our way.

Long Flight
Our first stop would be Johannesburg, nearly 15 hours away.  I snapped a few quick photos of clouds and settled in for the flight.  This was by far the longest flight I have ever taken, and the South African Airways flight crew did a masterful job making it as comfortable as could be achieved.   We arrived in Joburg tired but happy that the first leg of our journey was completed.  After re-checking our luggage, we settled in for a beer and some lunch before a flight to Durban.
Blue Water Hotel

And then we were there!  After nearly 24 hours of traveling across 7 time zones, we arrived at our hotel.  After working through a mix-up in our reservations (the only real glitch in the whole trip), we dropped our bags in the room and headed out onto the beach.

Indian Ocean 
We walked along the beach, admiring our first views of the Indian Ocean.  It was late in the evening and most folks had gone for the day.  We wandered about until nearly dark, returning to our room exhausted and happy to finally be in South Africa. 
Next – Durban

A South Africa Adventure

Entertainment System Flight Tracking
I’ve just returned from an amazing adventure to South Africa and Lesotho.   During these past 2 1/2 weeks, my wife and I visited several incredible locations throughout South Africa and Lesotho.  I had hoped to blog about our experiences in real-time, but limited computer capabilities and internet access convinced me to wait until I returned home.  Over the next several days I plan to post, in chronological order, photos and observations about our South Africa adventure.