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Cape Town, South Africa

The view of Cape Town and Lion's Head form Table MountainAfter all my overlanding adventures. I headed to Cape Town for a few weeks of a slightly more luxurious form of travel ie. hostels as opposed to tents. Cape Town is a city on the western coast of South Africa and is one of the most popular tourist destination in the country, upon arrival I could understand why.

The city of Cape Town is absolutely gorgeous, it is on the coast and has beautiful beaches. It is also overlooked by a huge mountain range called Table Mountain, which to a degree, seems to shelter the city from bad weather. I found the city to be stunning, I also found it to be very welcoming. The city has a very positive vibe to it and wandering around I always felt happy, comfortable and safe (except when I walked through the gardens, where I was terrified of being attacked by squirrels – but that’s just me). Despite my feeling of safety, as a precautionary measure I wouldn’t walk around in poorly lit areas after dark.

During my time in Cape Town I did quite a few different activities, but would definitely like more time there. When I go back the two highest priorities I have are to hike Lion’s Head and do a Street Art walking tour (I say when, because I loved the city so much, I plan to return some day, hopefully soon)

Free Walking Tour

As I like to do with most cities, I started my time in Cape Town with a Free Walking Tour. There are three tours to pick from: Historic Tour, Bo Kaap District and District Six. I did the Historic Tour with Ferne and the Bo Kaap District with Charlie. If I had had more time, I probably would have also liked to do the District Six tour.

High Court in Cape TownThrough the historic tour we got to see the old buildings around the city and learn about their historical significance, such as the High Court where Apartheid laws were established officially in the 1940s and officially abolished in 1990. The court has replica benches out the front that are an indication of the separation enforced on whites and people of colour, and led to a discussion on the sorting and classification processes that all people had to go through to determine their ‘colour’ and appropriate classification they fit into as a result.

You will frequently hear South Africa referred to as the Rainbow Nation. Without getting the explanation for anyone, I assumed that it was due to the ‘colourful’ population of South Africa. By colourful I mean the myriad of cultures that for a variety of reasons ended up in the country, native african people from a variety of regions, British, Dutch, Indian, Sri Lankan, Malay and so on. When I looked it up, this is indeed the reason for the name and the term was coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe post-apartheid South Africa. The country has so many facets, and in addition to the many cultures that originally made up this rainbow nation, it also has 11 national languages and strangely three capital cities. Cape Town is the parliamentary capital; Pretoria is where the Government can be found and Bloemfontein is where the Supreme Courts are.

Bo Kaap DistrictIn the Bo Kaap tour we ventured up the hill to Upper Cape Town (Bo Kaap translates to Upper Cape), which was originally established as a ‘storage’ area for people. In the time of slavery, with the growing population of the city, slaves needed to be housed somewhere. The Bo Kaap district was established with tiny houses for the slaves and it was here that they were relocated. The area is predominantly muslim and was where the first mosque in Cape Town was built.

The people living here are typically Cape Malay, people with Malaysian and slave heritage. The houses were originally bland colours, but some time after the slaves were freed the houses were painted a variety of colours. Since that time the houses have been painted even more brightly and are absolutely spectacular to see, particularly under the South African sun. There are many theories about why the houses have been painted such bright colours, some include being a sign of freedom from slavery, some think it’s to attract the tourists and others say “why not?” Whatever the reason, it’s worth seeing!

Up in this region, at the top of Waal/Wale Street is the oldest Malay restaurant in Cape Town, Biesmiellah where they sell the national dish of South Africa, Bobotie. It isn’t a pleasant looking dish, but it is definitely tasty!

The tours operate at 11am, 2pm and at the peak season 4:15pm from Green Market Square, which is the second oldest public space in South Africa. The site was the original market place for the Dutch East India Company and remains a market place until today where it hosts a daily souvenir market, 7 days per week.

The tours are free but operate on tip basis, 100 Rand or more is a fair amount to pay. The guides do an absolutely fantastic job!!!

City Sightseeing Bus

While a free walking tour is typically my favourite way to orient myself in a new city, the city sightseeing bus in Cape Town is also a brilliant idea. Cape Town is a very big city and to really see it properly, it does require some transport.

Table Mountain viewed from the top of the City BusThe greatest benefit I found in the bus was the ability to get to Table Mountain and Camps Bay. If you were to access these places by taxi it would certainly start adding up very quickly.

I did the Red City Tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. It gave a greater perspective to the layout of the city, as well as showing me more than just the center.

I think with a two day pass it would be awesome to do the Red and Yellow tours on one day, and the Blue mini peninsula tour on the second day.

Lions Head from Camps BayHonestly I ran out of time to make the most of my ticket, but the ticket can be used on any of the coloured routes; you can buy a one day or two day pass. At an additional cost are a few optional additions, such as a sunset bus or harbour cruise (I think you get the cruise for free if you buy a two day pass).

A one day pass is 180 Rand and two days is 280 Rand, both are discounted if you purchase online.

Robben Island

Robben Island is a smallish (574 hecture)  island off the coast of Cape Town that has had a fairly negative history. The island was used as a leper colony for many years, then it was used as a military base during World War II, after which time it was converted to a prison island.

Nelson Mandela's Cell on Robben IslandRobben Island is known to most because it was here that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for eighteen years. After which time he was moved to two other prisons before being released in 1990, after serving 27 years of imprisonment. Robben Island was used as a prison for political prisoners from 1961 to 1996.

The tour of the island has two parts to it, the first part is a bus trip around the island, showing where the prison is, the limestone quarry, the town center and other  historical sights. The bus tour is guided by a local from Robben Island, I was surprised to know that there is an inhabited  township on the island. I didn’t overly enjoy the bus tour as you don’t really get to get out of the bus and experience any of the places, you just whizz by and take photographs out of the windows.

After the bus tour, you are dropped off at the maximum security prison where you are led on a walking tour of the facility led by a former inmate. This gives the tour a very real and very honest perspective of how things really were on the island. This was by far the most fascinating part of the tour.

Tours are 3 hours in duration, they cost 300 Rand and  depart from the Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront. Ideally you should book tickets online in advance, I would suggest well in advance during high season, but a day or two in advance during low season.

View of Cape Town from Robben Island

Cape Peninsula Half Day Tour

Hout BayOne of the things I really wanted to do around the Cape Town area, was to visit the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of Africa. Unfortunately for me, it got down to my last day in South Africa, the weather was appalling and I slept in.

Lucky for me I managed to book myself a seat on the Cape Peninsula Half Day tour.  I have two things to say about my half day tour: 1) It was great; but 2) don’t book a half day tour unless you don’t have any other options, full day tours are much better value and more enjoyable.

Cape of Good HopeI was picked up around 1pm by my guide and off we drove via the beautiful coast line through to Hout Bay, where we stopped at a scenic viewpoint for some pictures. We continued through to Boulders Beach to visit the African Penguin colony. Then we continued a little further south to the Cape of Good Hope Nature reserve where we made two beautiful, scenic stops. Firstly we visited thte Cape Point lighthouse and then we actually stopped at the Cape of Good Hope.

After this quick whip around the peninsula we headed back to Cape Town and arrived around 6pm.

The cost for the half day tour is 680 Rand. With a different company, you can book a full day tour including lunch costs for around 700 Rand.

Eating

Food has never and will never be something that rates highly on my to do list. That being said I did come across a few awesome places.

Asoka

Asoka is on Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof and has absolutely phenomenal tapas style food. The beef teriyaki is to die for! The atmosphere and decor is almost like a hidden fairy garden, and is so super chilled. I went there with friends and absolutely loved everything about my evening!

Arnold’s

Game PlatterArnold’s is also on Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof. A friend recommended heading to Arnold’s for breakfast, which I did. Other friends also advised me that they served delicious dinner, so I did that too. While I didn’t think the decor or service were that great, the highlight was the game platter, where I had the opportunity to try Ostrich, Crocodile, Gemsbok and Warthog Ribs.

Truth

Truth is a cafe on Buitenkant Street in District Six. On a rainy day when I planned to go exploring, someone at my hostel recommended grabbing a coffee at Truth, and I was so glad I followed the recommendation!

Truth is a fully themed Steampunk cafe, the staff ‘uniforms’ and the cafe decor all follow theme and it looks fabulous.

I headed to Truth for a coffee, but on seeing the menu I stayed for breakfast and had some of the most amazing french toast I have ever come across. It was delicious! The staff are really friendly and helpful, and it was just so relaxing to sit for a couple of hours enjoying the good coffee food and atmosphere.

I spent a bit of time wandering around the District Six area after my amazing breakfast, as the area has loads of really cool street art!

Accommodation

I stayed in two different hostels during my time in Cape Town, both were in Tamboerskloof, which despite having nothing to compare to, is an area of Cape Town I really like.

From either hostel it was roughly 15minutes walk to the city center.

Amber Tree Lodge

Amber Tree Lodge is a very homely hostel, it is comfortable and clean. Linen is provided, as well as breakfast and wifi. The staff were absolutely brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.

A bed in a 6-bed dorm room cost AUD$17 per night

Ashanti Lodge Gardens

Ashanti Lodge Gardens was certainly a larger and busier hostel than Amber Tree. I think I was also quite unlucky to be there at the same time as a particularly large and loud tour group. I did find Ahsanti to be a fairly noisy hostel and I certainly had less sleep here. However, I still found it to be a lovely hostel, slightly less cosy, but with equally friendly and helpful staff.

A bed in a 6-bed dorm room cost AUD$17 per night


Getting Around

I mostly walked from place to place, but when distances were too far or it was dark, then I found the best option was to catch an Uber. The ride costs were incredibly affordable, and with so many registered drivers in the city I never waited more than a few minutes for my ride.

Cape Town

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The Garden Route, South Africa

The Garden Route is a very popular tourist route that follows the coast of South Africa from Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay. I booked a seven day Garden Route and Winelands tour through TourRadar, operated by HotSpots2C. The tour guide for the five day Garden Route was Isaac, and the two day Winelands component was guided by Andrew; both of whom were absolutely fantastic guides.

HotSpots2C Tour Bus

I was picked up from my hostel at 7am on a Monday morning and after a few other pickups we headed along the coast passing first through the scenic coastal town of Mossel Bay and through to our first stop in the seaside town of Wilderness.

Within the Wilderness National Park we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon canoe paddle up and down the river, which was a great way for me start forging friendships with a new tour group.

After our little river splash we continued on to the coastal town of Sedgefield, where we spent a night in a hostel by the Myoli Beach. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy a stunning ocean sunset, something I had been missing!

Our morning involved a visit to the beautiful Knysna Heads before continuing to the Tsitsikamma National Park. The aboriginals of the area named the region Tsitsikamma, meaning ‘Abundance of clear water’ based on their impressions of the rivers and oceans in this area compared to their original inland home.

Ziplining in the Tsitsikamma National ParkIn the National Park we made three stops, the first was where a number of people in our group challenged themselves to a bridge dive from Bloukrans Bridge. At 216 metres, this is currently the Worlds Highest Bungy jump. Having done a bungy two weeks earlier, I just sat back and watched on this occasion.

The second stop was by the ocean where we went on a short hike through the forest out to a suspension bridge and back along the waterfront. It was a beautiful scenic walk which we finished up with a delicious lunch at a beach-side restaurant.

Our third, and for me most exciting stop, was to go ziplining. Over eight lines we zipped back and forth between the trees, passing over the river and small waterfalls. It was loads of fun. If you haven’t been ziplining previously, this would be a good introduction to the activity. If you have been previously, then this is quite tame, but still fun.

We spent two nights in the surfer town of Jeffrey’s Bay, in order to make a day trip to the furthest east point in our Garden Route tour, to Addo National Park for a sunrise game drive.

Lion in Addo National ParkWhile Addo National Park is by no means in my top five national parks (I felt it was a bit too controlled fences keeping the animals contained) we still had a great deal of luck in seeing some amazing animals. We saw a pair of Lion brothers, one even roaring to ensure we were aware that it was his territory we were in. We saw Eland, Kudu, Red Hartebeest, Zebra, Warthog and of course a random assortment of birds.

Our next place of interest was the old town of Oudthoorn, whose history is built on the Ostrich industry. In the 1900s Ostriches migrated to southern Africa from the Sahara. In those days Ostrich products were a clear sign of wealth, and interestingly ostrich feathers used to have a value equivalent to gold. In Oudthoorn we visited an ostrich farm to learn about the role Ostriches played in the towns history, as well as learning facts about the Ostrich.

We finished our day with a visit to the Cango Caves for a short, but fun-packed caving adventure. The Cango Caves are a reasonably sized cave system, with some beautiful stalactite, stalagmite and flowstone formations. There are two tours on offer in the caves, the Heritage Tour and the Adventure Tour. My preference of course was for the adventure tour and we got to spend some time climbing, crawling and squirming through cave formations.

Cango Caves

Before the Garden Route part of the tour finished we made a visit to the Cango Wildlife Ranch. This gave us an opportunity to see many of the native animals at closer range.

Hanging with the kids in KayamandiAt this point the five day Garden Route was finished, and the two day Winelands tour began. We kicked off the winelands tour with a visit to a local community, Kayamandi. Which was a town established for migrant workers with 117 houses built; over time it has expanded to be quite a large community. There are now numerous houses, some appear to be government developed, solid housing, but man others are haphazardly constructed tin sheds. Around the streets you come across so many children who are all super excited to see you. They come running from all directions to say hi, give you a hug, hold your hand or get their photo taken. It was nice to hear that there are five NGOs working in the community to support the children with after school programs.

From Kayamandi we continued on visit the sites that the Stellenbosch region is known for, the wineries. Stellenbosch is home to over 200 wine farms. We started our visit with a visit to Muratie, which was establish in the late 1600s and is one of the oldest wine farms in the region.

Port and Chocolate paring at Muratie WineryAt Muratie we enjoyed a port and chocolate pairing. We had three ports, each paired with chocolates. Starting with a white port and white chocolate pairing, followed by two red ports paired with dark chocolate, one of which was infused with cherry, the other with cinnamon and orange.

The owner of the wine farm was a German soldier who came to the region and was given some land. In his visits around the country, he fell in love with a slave girl in Cape Town. After years of regularly walking days to visit her and days back home, she was eventually freed and moved to the farm where they lived happily ever after.

The white port we drank was named after her, Amber, and the label on the bottle told her story. The two red ports were Cape Ruby and Ben Prins, though I cannot recall the stories behind the people. All of the wines are named after people who have worked on the wine farm.

After Muratie, we continued through to Fairview for a wine and cheese. Fairview lays on the southwestern slopes of the Paarl mountain. The farm was establish in 1693 and produced their first wine in 1699.

I liked the way the Fairview winery was run, we got a list of all the wines and were allowed to pick the six we wanted to try, and as someone who doesn’t drink red wine, this was a great relief. So I selected my six white wines and thoroughly enjoyed tasting them all. We tasted three wines, then headed to the cheese counter to try three cheeses, we returned for three more wines and then finish with three cheeses. Aside from a few of the goats cheeses, which I found a bit too strong, everything was absolutely delicious.

Cape Agulhas - Africa's southern most tipAfter so much alcohol, we made a lunch stop in Franschhoek to fill our stomachs with some food. Franschhoek translates to French Corner. Its origins stem from a time when a group of French fled France and settled in this region to farm and develop wines. The Dutch who had colonised South Africa already prevented the French from colonising the region by putting Dutch families between each of the French families and requiring them to learn Dutch.

We finished off our wine and food oriented day with a non-consumable, a visit to Cape Agulhas. Cape Agulhas is the southern most tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans converge. Agulhas is a derivation of a Portuguese word meaning needles. It was at this point where the Portuguese sailors found that their magnetic north would coincide with true North. The Cape Agulhas lighthouse, built in 1849, stands 27 metres tall and provides a warning for ships  of the rugged coastline.

Pre-shark cage dive scared faceAt this point I experienced the highlight of this road trip, Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai with Marine Dynamics. About 30 minutes by boat from the coast of Gansbaai we dropped anchor, dropped a shark dive cage, squeezed into wetsuits and jumped in to the chilly waters of the South Atlantic Ocean. It wasn’t long before we had sharks stopping by to visit. All up we were visited by thirteen different Great White Sharks, the largest of which was 4.5 metres. The marine biologist on board busily took notes and recorded information about the different sharks as the rest of the boat gasped and ooh’d and aah’d at the majestic creatures!

About two minutes before I got in the cage I was absolutely pooping myself “Why the F*** did I sign up for this?!?!” But within moments of being in the cage I realised the only thing worth my being scared of was the cold water. The sharks enjoyed playing with the bait and the decoy seal, but were honestly not in the slightest bit threatening towards us. It was an absolutely amazing experience that I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone! The only disappointment of the whole experience was that the visibility and clarity of the water was quite poor, but that is nature, you get what you get.

We finished off the Garden Route and Winelands tour with some really quiet time, a visit to the African Penguin colony at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay.

The African Penguins used to be called jackass penguins because they bray like donkeys. I didn’t believe this until I heard it for myself, and it’s really quite entertaining. After they were named Jackass Penguins, many other breeds of penguins were discovered to make exactly the same noise, and they since changed the name.

Mini Disclaimer regarding Animals

In any activities involving animals I am quite hesitant in joining in. I am very conscious of the natural habitat of animals and what effect it can have on an animal when removed from that environment, some centres do fantastic things in rehabilitating animals, yet others are more about the profit to be gained from putting animals on show.

While I believe the Cango Wildlife Ranch feel they are behaving ethically in regards to animal treatment and rehabilitation, there is some doubt in my mind. For this reason I didn’t love this wildlife experience and I wouldn’t be quick to recommend it to others. For the same reason, I opted out of the optional Elephant Walk activity.

With the shark cage diving, I had discussions with people of a similar mind to me and did some reading about the company we were going to book the dive with. I felt that Marine Dynamics were treating the animals with respect, they operate their business in an ethical manner and their research during the tours is beneficial to the shark population.

The Garden Route

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South Africa, the Eastern side…

Leaving Botswana we descended into South Africa, passing through Polokwane. Making scenic stops at the Blyde River Canyon, heading down to Kruger National Park and ending in Johannesburg.

Blyde River Canyon

Bourke's Luck PotholesEntering into South Africa we stopped at three sights in the By;de River Canyon Region. The first stop was the The Rondavels, which are circular mountain and rock formations that look like the traditional circular huts made of dung and thatch, which are called Rondavels. Due to the mist the view wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been but it was still beautiful to see these mountains with a view over the valley and river.

The second stop was to view Bourke’s Luck Potholes. They are at a point in the river where the water flows down a small waterfall into the river below. At various points in the rock path, are some beautifully smooth, round potholes caused by the wind and water swirling through them. In addition to be ing fascinated by the shapes created, the colours and layers of sediment in the stone were beautiful to see.

God’s Window was the last sight we visited in the region, at the higher altitude we were in the clouds and unable to see the view. We did however enjoy a short rainforest walk and thoroughly appreciated the lush green vegetation and fresh mountain air.

Kruger National Park

The main highlight of our visit to Eastern South Africa was a visit to what I think is probably the most well known national park in Africa, Kruger National Park. We did a sunset game drive and a sunrise game drive.

White Rhinoceros

Sunset Game Drive

Late in the afternoon we met our driver Rick, climbed into his jeep and headed into the park. Rick was a really fun guide, who was very knowledgeable. He made the drive and information we learned fascinating and entertaining.

We saw loads of Impala, but that is to be expected since they are everywhere. We also saw Waterbuck, Hippopotamus, Buffalo, Zebra, Waterhog and my personal favourite in Kruger: White Rhinoceros.

BushbuckThe white rhinoceros earned its name, not from its colour, but from a mistranslation of wide mouth. The white rhinoceros is larger than the black rhino and it grazes grasses hence the wide mouth, rather than browse trees for leaves like the black rhino, who has a more narrow, hooked mouth.

We were ridiculously lucky to see a crash of white rhinos, at a distance we believe there to have been five of them: two bulls, two cows and a calf.

As the sun dropped in the sky we found a nice place to stop. Rick set up a little picnic table with nuts and popcorn to nibble or, as well as pouring us each a glass of Amarula liqueur to enjoy as the sun went down.

The Amarula liqueur is made from the fruit of the Marula tree. It is a sweet creamy liqueur which I would say is kind of comparable to Baileys Irish Cream. The Marula trees grow in various places around Africa, when the fruit is ripe it falls to the ground and ferments, at which time many drunk animals can be found stumbling around the national parks.

While we didn’t get drunk on our Amarula sundowners, we were in high spirits as we took off to see a few more animals before retiring for the evening. We managed to spot a Scrub Hare, Blue Duiker (the smallest antelope breed, which is unfortunately almost extinct), Nightjars (which are birds, part of the owl family) and some Kudu.

Sunset in Kruger National Park

Sunrise Game Drive

Hyena and pupWe woke up early, bundled ourselves up in layers of clothing and jumped into our jeep, with the first female driver we had, Nicky. I would love to claim that the female driver was the best game driver of all time, but unfortunately she was actually the worst driver we ever experienced. She took her own photos at each of the animal sightings and then gave us only a few brief moments to take ours before rushing off to the next thing. Also despite having paid extra for the game drive, we were returned to the camp earlier than the scheduled end time.

Despite having a terrible guide we did get to see loads of animals. We saw a number of Elephants, Hyenas with pups, a collution of Cheetahs, Buffalos, Klipspringers, more White Rhino’s, Lions, a Leopard, Hippos, Giraffes, Water Terrapins hanging out on a hippos back, Woolley Neck Storks, Bushbucks, Kudus and a Water Monitor.

Random animal facts…

ZebraMale elephants eat roughly 280kilograms of food per day, females 180Kg. The drink approximately 100 litres of water per day and their trunk contains 100,000 independent muscles.

Lions sleep for approximately 20 hours per day.

Cheetahs can accelerate from 0-96km/h in three seconds, but they need to catch their prey within 500 metres or they will overheat.
Also, a cheetah is the only big cat that doesn’t typically climb trees, due to the fact that it’s claws are not retractable.

A pack of hyenas is led by a female whose clitoris grows so big it looks like a penis. When she gives birth it tears out and then has to re-grow.

Rock Hyrax - known as a Dassie in South AfricaMale vervet monkeys have bright blue balls, the brightness of blue is an indicator of their virility.

Every zebra has its own set of stripes that identify it, like fingerprints.

The Rock Hyrax (or Dassie as it is known in South Africa) looks a bit like a rodent, but surprisingly it’s closest relative is the elephant.

Johannesburg

Soweto TowersWe arrived in Johannesburg in the late afternoon and said goodbye to our fabulous group of new friends, which is always sad.

The following day I met some friends to have a bit of a look around Soweto, visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum and Mandela House. I went out for lunch and a beer and checked out the street art, before heading to the airport for my flight to Cape Town.

Eastern South Africa: Blyde River Canyon, Kruger National Park & Johannesburg

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