Out and About in Cape Town

Until last week I never would have described 36 hours of airplane/airport travel as “worth it.” After visiting Cape Town, South Africa, now I can.

Cape Town is a spectacularly beautiful city in an even better location. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, it is nearly impossible to walk more than a block or two without seeing some stunning view or another. As if the city didn’t have enough going for it, the people there are both friendly and vocally proud of their city, something that is always pleasant to hear.

Although we were only there for 5 days, we managed to stomp around the downtown/waterfront area, explore our hostel’s neighborhood (Observatory or “Obs” for short), hike all over Table Mountain, enjoy a beautiful sunset from the summit of Lion’s Head, and take a day trip to the southwestern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope.

The Cape Town Waterfront

Our first order of business, per usual, was to hoof it around the city to see what it had to offer. After a short trip on the local bus from Obs to the downtown bus terminal, we (along with a friend we made at our hostel) wandered all over downtown Cape Town. Our first stop was an unplanned visit to a statue with an odd Bart Simpson fungus all over it:

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The more traditional sights included the yellow clock tower, a harbor containing some incredibly fancy-looking ships, and a lovely frame for taking photos (or playing on).

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And we got to see just how far from Chicago we were (Hint: far):

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We also got to see a moat surrounding a castle right near downtown as well as a nice sign welcoming African homosexuals to a Methodist Church:

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Hiking Table Mountain

Our Table Mountain excursion started inauspiciously. We wanted to hike up one side of the mountain, cross the top, and then hike down the other side so we could see the whole thing. Our chosen route (there are several) began in the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens and we needed a taxi to get there. Although we found one reasonably quickly, we got in to find out that the driver had to make two stops: one for us and one for his friend whose car was being worked on. Since he assured us our stop was on the way, we didn’t argue and the four of us headed off. Unfortunately yet somewhat expectedly, there was a small miscommunication and he thought we were actually going to a neighborhood called “Gardens” and not the botanical gardens. The neighborhood just happened to also be where his friend lived! The saving grace of this mini-debacle was that both of these guys were as nice as could be and were two of the many Capetonians whose hospitality impressed us.

We finally made it to the garden only about an hour after we expected to, which would have been a problem but the guidelines for this hikes savagely overestimated how long they would take. The rest of this little adventure was basically gawking at the scenery while we walked around, so photos will probably be more instructive than descriptions:

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Lion’s Head Sunset Hike

This was our favorite activity in Cape Town. The hike itself wasn’t particularly difficult although the last 10 minutes of clambering over rocks and using chains and hand-holds stapled into the rock did get the heart pumping a bit. The reward for our effort was a remarkable sunset which we toasted with a bottle of wine one of our friends (a group of 4 of us hiked up together) was gracious enough to share with us. The manageable hike and spectacular 360 degree view of Cape Town, the ocean, and Table Mountain made this an activity we are definitely going to repeat when we go back to Cape Town later in May.

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Cape of Good Hope Day Trip

We celebrated South Africa’s Freedom Day holiday with a tour all around the Cape Peninsula. It began with a guided driving tour of the various bays and neighborhoods spread throughout Cape Town and its suburbs. Our first real stop was in Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town so we could check out the 3,000 penguins there. Thanks to some good timing, we got to see adult and baby penguins!

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After Boulders Beach we drove to Cape Point where we engaged in a pretty pointless 15-minute bicycle ride from a stopping point to the information center where we had lunch before continuing to a light house high above the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape is the southwestern most point in Africa and arguably the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. We learned there is some debate about the actual meeting point but chose to believe that they met here because it makes our story better.

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After a 45 minute hike, we got to the base of Cape Point we managed to befriend a group of Americans who were toasting their visit with champagne and offered us some. A short photo shoot at the commemorative Cape of Good Hope sign ensued.

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On our way home, we got a nice send-off from some baboons grooming each other and otherwise just hanging out by the side of the road.

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The tour was a great way to conclude our Cape Town visit and left us with some great memories to enjoy during our 22-hour bus ride to Durban the following day.

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