A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa

Cape Town and Great White Sharks...

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After viewing the Big Five and seeing some sights in Jo’burg, we set out for Cape Town. We had our hearts set on taking what we heard was supposedly a beautiful train ride from Jo'burg to Cape Town, but it was sold out for weeks- so we decided to fly instead. Our first view of Cape Town from the plane was pretty awesome - Cape Town is squeezed between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, it makes for a unique and impressive setting. We landed in Cape Town and made our way to our hostel, Atlantic Backpackers. We needed a day to just relax, so we decided to head out to the V&A Waterfront. After a short walk from our hostel, we found ourselves in a huge mall- I was in heaven! Jeff got himself a haircut (much needed after several months), we saw Transformers 3 in 3D at the movies, and ate some Thai food :). It was a splendid day!
IMG_2643.jpg Jeff getting a proper haircut
IMG_3155.jpg V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background
The next day we got ourselves passes for the City Sightseeing Tour of Cape Town. We’d taken similar tours in Europe and always found them to be a great way to get around see the sights. The big red bus took us to the Castle of Good Hope, the District 6 museum, and to Table Mountain. Again, I found myself uncomfortably being transported up a mountain by cable car, but the views were totally worth it. From the top of Table Mountain, we had spectacular views of the city, ocean and surrounding mountains. Table Mountain is so impressive in fact, it is under consideration to be one of the new seven wonders of the natural world. We were fortunate that the “tablecloth” was nowhere in sight - it’s a local expression for the cloud layer that frequently covers the top of Table Mountain. Lastly, we ended our day on the big red bus with a sundowner, which is their expression for sunset, at Camps Bay. South Africa has wonderful sunsets!IMG_2745.jpg Jeff from the top of Table Mountain
IMG_2764.jpg Another view from the top
IMG_2779.jpg Sunset at Camp's Bay
The next day we hopped aboard the big red bus again, but this time we followed a different route. First, we visited the Slave Lodge museum. The building in which the museum is now located use to house slaves, but they’ve turned it into a very well done and informative museum. We also stopped at the Groot Constantia Winery, the oldest vineyard in South Africa. During our wine tasting, the staff was very generous with their pours, so I left in a good mood :) Finally, we finished off the day at Hout Bay (a marina) and checked out the resident sea lions. I have to say, I love Cape Town! Of all the places we’ve been so far, it’s the one place I could live.
IMG_2848.jpg Groot Constantia Vineyard and Winery
IMG_2856.jpg Tasting the local flavors
After our love fest with Cape Town, we rented a car and headed out to the famous Garden Route for some scenery and whale watching. We started in Hermanus, the “whale capital of the world”. During June and July, Right Whales come into the bay to mate and calf. Apparently, if you are there at the right moment, you can see dozens of whales close to shore. Despite our pretty good timing, we only saw two or three whales from afar, cool nonetheless.
The next morning we set out for Gansbaii where we signed up for a Great White Shark dive. It’s been high on Jeff’s list to see one of the world’s biggest predators up close, so it was a must do for us. We set out with White Shark Projects for the afternoon in hopes of seeing some sharks. It was an awesome experience! The tour operator chummed the water to attract the sharks to the boat and then led the sharks over to the viewing cage with a huge fish head. Sometimes, the sharks would hit the cage chasing the fish head (an adrenaline rush for the divers in the cage}. I almost peed my pants, not from fear, but rather the ice cold water temperatures! Even with a 7-mm wet suit on, it was freezing. To check out the sharks in action click here and here.
Having all our fingers and toes intact, we drove to Cape Aghulus, the most southern point of Africa and the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Next, we stop in Wilderness for two nights, a quaint beach town set right between the mountains and ocean. Our hostel was located just one block from the beach, so it was so nice waking up to the sound of the waves. The owner of the hostel told us about a walk along an abandoned, elevated train track. She also told us about a “hippie” who lives along the track in a small cave and takes immense pride in his seashell creations: “He’s got some problems, but he’s harmless.” So, we of course walked along the track to take in the view and see the hippie’s “house” - he did a nice job decorating by the way. We also stopped at the “Map of Africa”, a small island/land mass near Wilderness that looks like the continent of Africa.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, so we drove back to Cape Town via Route 62, a scenic road that passes through the mountains and semi-arid desert. We stopped along the road for a night in Montagu, a town known for its hot springs. This was our third hot spring in less than two months, you might see a pattern emerging. Our hostel in Montagu was a working farm with a converted barn for backpackers - we slept in “horse stall 4”. I am still amused by this and like to remind Jeff that we slept in a barn.
IMG_2908.jpg Coastal Town of Hermanus
IMG_2947.jpg She was the biggest one we saw that day
IMG_2963.jpg Bait
IMG_2996.jpg The Southern most point of Africa in Cape Agulhus- where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans Meet
IMG_3022.jpg The view from our balcony in Wilderness...not a bad way to start the morning
IMG_3070.jpg The Hippie Man's shell house in Wilderness
We returned to Cape Town for one last night. This time, we stayed in a different part of town, closer to the downtown. Near our hostel was the restaurant “Mama Africa”, a Cape Town institution and we were told it was a “must do”. The restaurant specializes in game meats, so we snacked on ostrich kabobs, Kudu steak, crocodile bites, and more. The restaurant also had a traditional African band that played throughout dinner and really set the atmosphere.
It was great to see several different parts of South Africa over the last two weeks. We had an amazing experience here. We are now headed to Namibia for giant sand dunes and our second safari. We’ll keep you posted!!!

Posted by geldere 07:55 Archived in South Africa Tagged mountain whales vineyard wine sharks waterfront table Comments (0)

South Africa!

Jo'burg and the Big 5

View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

This blog posting got a bit delayed as we haven't had the best internet connections here...
We departed South America excited to see a new continent and one that we’ve been dreaming about for some time – Africa! We flew South African Airways for a surprisingly short eight hours from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Johannesburg, South Africa (or Jo’burg, as the locals call it). We landed early in the morning and after transferring to our hostel, slept most of the day trying to nurse our jet lag.
On day two, we headed out to explore Jo’burg via a city tour. There isn’t really a good public transportation system in the city and being there are several bad areas of town travelling without a local guide is discouraged. As a result, we opted for a city tour run by our hostel. The tour included a trip to the “Top of Africa”, the highest man-made point in Africa (the fiftieth floor of a skyscraper). We also stopped by the football stadium, recently renovated for the 2010 World Cup, and Soweto, a township in Jo’burg where Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived for a time; both Nobel Peace Prize winners. Lastly, we visited the Apartheid Museum, which was fantastic, probably the best museum we have been to on our trip. It was very well done and provided tremendous insight into a recent and dark era in South African history.
IMG_2314.jpg A township in Jo'burg
IMG_0213.jpg Picture at the Apartheid Museum
IMG_2316.jpg At what was Mandela's house in Soweto
South Africans, like Americans, share a history of racial discrimination and segregation, commonly known here as the Apartheid. While I generally knew of the Apartheid and Nelson Mandela prior to arriving in South Africa, travelling here has given me a much better understanding of what happened here in the last sixty-years and Nelson Mandela’s role. I found the Nelson Mandela exhibits particularly moving…incarcerated for 27 years as a political prisoner, released in 1990, and then elected president in 1994 on a platform of peace and forgiveness- his life story I felt was inspiring.

After visiting the sights of Jo’burg, we headed northeast to Kruger National Park for some wildlife viewing. Due to the highly inflated prices of Kruger safaris, we decided to see the park on our own. Fortunately, we met up with a medical student from UCLA (Zach) who had the same sentiment and the three of us set out on the wrong side of the road…and the wrong side of the car to Kruger.
We spent two full days driving around Kruger National Park (it is huge, supposedly the same size as Wales, however big that is) viewing the Big Five and so much more . . . impalas, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, baboons, wildebeests, kudus, monkeys, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, lions…you name it. It was National Geographic up close and personal. It is amazing how big the animals are and how many of them there are in one place. We came upon two pairs of lions, both oddly close to the road, and they were huge! Like could-have-had-you-for- a-snack-in-a-second huge. I was most impressed by the giraffes, though I don’t think the boys shared my opinion. They look pre-historic with their enormous frames, almost like an awkward teenager, but they move around so gracefully. We managed to see four of the Big 5 (buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant), but we missed a rhino somehow, even though they are supposedly much more common than lions and leopards. We even slept in the park one night and went on a night drive with a ranger where we watched for “eyes” with a spotlight and stopped periodically to view hyenas, leopards and other nocturnal animals. Pretty awesome! On our last morning in the park, we went on a ranger guided walking tour. Getting out of the car in Kruger is generally not allowed as the wildlife may think you are either a threat or food, so either you go with a guide or in the “designated walking areas”. The walking tour was a nice stroll out in the bush with three rangers each carrying a semi automatic rifle. I never thought you could learn so much about the behavior and habits of animals by analyzing their poop (which is everywhere in the bush). Learned a lot that day.
IMG_2507.jpg Our morning Bush Walk
IMG_2562.jpg The Impala stare down
We made our way back from Kruger to Jo’burg via the Drakensberg Escarpment which is supposed to have some of the most spectacular scenery in South Africa. We snaked our way up the mountain for a view from God’s Window, but apparently God was not in the mood to show off the scenery, as the fog was so think we could hardly see the road in front of us. So, unfortunately, we missed out on that experience.
The drive back from Kruger was long and we were getting very tired, but the radio kept us entertained. In honor of the 4th of July, a local radio station was having an American accent contest where callers had to do their best impression of an American accent. The impressions had us in hysterics as most of them were pretty bad. The girl who won the contest was actually an American tourist…I think that was cheating).
The next morning we parted ways with Zach and hopped on a flight to Cape Town! We’ll write again soon :)

Posted by geldere 05:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged animals scenery kruger apartheid Comments (0)

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