The Garden Route: Penguins, Whales and a fantabulous Sunset

Day eleven: Eleven is a good number. We woke up early, more due to excitement, packed our bags and sniff-sniffed our teary good-byes. We were leaving the comfort-zone of a very warm and wonderful family, where we were spoilt rotten and entertained beyond measure, to embark on a two week road-trip adventure. This was a spontaneous decision and we had no time to plan any details as to what and where. So with a “local-but-not-so-local-anymore” woman in the driving seat and a German GPS reader sitting next to her, we pointed the rental car towards the highway and drove out of the bustling city towards the coast. We were now excitedly beginning a memory-making trip along one of the most beautiful coasts in South Africa, the wonderful Garden Route. No strategy, no blueprint, just drive, stop where we find it to be interesting and find somewhere to sleep before it gets dark. Simple, methinks 😇 It was not even an hour before our first stop. Well, more like a “OMG this is so WOW, where can we…there, over there…quick…STOP!” If it was possible we would have pulled the car over every ten metres or so, that’s how impressive it was, but the verge of the road was very narrow and no stopping allowed. There were one or two nice parking spots before and after Gordons Bay though, and as you can see from the following four photos, we were rewarded with wonderful and breathtaking sceneries. Click on pics for info…

 

Stony Point Nature Reserve at Betty’s Bay

It’s only a 30-minute drive between Gordons Bay and the little coastal town Betty’s Bay, but with a few more “ooh-aah” stops in-between and getting seriously lost trying to find the Penguin Reserve (yes, it’s a village and yes, it is possible to get lost in it), it was almost mid-day when we reached Stony Beach. It was also very windy and the air a bit nippy. No matter, because there they were, welcoming us with curious eyes, the Dassies (Rock Hyrax). They were nearer to us than those on Table Mountain and so cute that one had the urge to pick one up for a little cuddle. These are wild animals and their environment should be respected, especially when their babies are around, that is why we kept our distance. Zoom-zoom!

The Nature Reserve is more known as one of the biggest breeding colonies of the African Penguin in the world. Not only the penguins, but on the outlying rocks, three species of Cormorant birds also breed here. You will not find anywhere else where you are so close to the Penguins in their natural habitat. It’s also not crowded with humans so one can enjoy the natural sounds of crashing waves, braying birds (they sound like donkeys) and oinking bird calls. Simply amazing! Oh, and believe it or not, the reserve was previously a whaling station which stopped operating in the mid-1950’s. Two African Penguins chose this site to breed, and the rest, as they say, is history. Nature happened and won. Also keep your eyes open, as there are “pooping-in-flight” seagulls (plop!), sneaky lizards and other crawling thingies too. Enjoy the photos!

 

Hermanus

Here you can have a whale of a time hee-hee. Seriously, Hermanus is a beautiful bustling coastal resort enveloped in mountains and where one can do whale watching without a boat. Yes, the Southern Right Whales come here every year (July to December) to breed and to rear their offspring. Nowhere can one sit on a rock or bench to watch whales that are often as close as only ten metres from the shore. Please don’t worry about missing a whale sighting. Go ahead, browse in a tourist shop or have coffee and cake, BUT keep your ears open. When you hear the sound of a kelp horn, stop what you’re doing and run to the shore. Hermanus has the only Whale Crier in the world! No, not the sobbing kind, but a man with a kelp horn and a good set of lungs. This whale crier “tradition” started as a publicity stunt in 1992 to alert the public when whales were sighted. It has become a tourist attraction and is part and parcel of the whale watching season. We were there in January, so did not see any whales 😞

After some lunch, freshly caught fish of course, and a long walk around the town, we set off towards the south. Driving through a few amazing nature reserves, we headed for the Danger Point Lighthouse near Gansbaai. We were too late, entry was closed, and soon it would be dark. Time to look for overnight accommodation. It was easy. A phone call later and we had a room. The only thing is, it was an hour and a half away. We agreed to drive without any stops…but…

…as you can see below, the sun was already setting. We just had to stop! Added to that we were forced to drive a major detour route because a lot of roads were washed away by heavy rains in the weeks before. Fortunately we were getting nearer to our lodgings in Struisbaai. We were also hoping to see more of the sun setting.

Sunset at the R319 close to Struis Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

AND WE DID! After motoring at full speed (legal of course…okay, just a bit faster…shh) we reached the coast. Stopping with screeching tyres and spitting gravel, and an excited GPS man almost falling out of the car, we had thankfully arrived just at the right moment for him to take these fantabulous and amazing sunset photos at the southernmost tip of Africa. Oh. What. A. Day!

ps: Without stops and all that nice stuff, the journey would only have been about three to four hours. It took us the whole day, from sunrise to sunset, and we enjoyed EVERY single minute. We were pooped and so ready for bed! Tomorrow is another day. ZzzzzzZ!

 

Kissing Jackasses and a flying Mercedes…

Day four. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man look outside to see if the weather is nice. There are a few non-truths about Cape Town. One is about the weather. No, it does NOT rain every day, just every other day, and mainly in winter. Yes, it can be windy, and no, you will not be blown over to the other side of Table Mountain. Rooftops, trees and other stuff will fly, but not you. You might have a slight lift-off experience and could be blown over to the other side of the road, but that’ll be all. So if you’re visiting during late spring or early summer, then beware of the Cape Doctor, a strong and determined south-east wind which will blow away everything polluting the city. Grab a pole and hold on tight! Another more talked-about non-truth is…the passion gap. It’s a Cape Town thing and everyone has one. No, no, no, not true! We’ll elaborate on this one later 😁, after telling you about our day. It was a bit cloudy, no rain, and we were chauffeured by the birthday boy for an excursion to the coasts and mountains in and around the city. Our first stop was at the…

Boulders Beach Penguin Colony

On the shores of the False Bay, is Simon’s Town, home of the South African Navy. Not far from here you will find the penguin colony, which is home to the African or Jackass Penguin. It is a very popular tourist attraction where many come here to see the penguins in their natural habitat. Surprisingly though is that this “natural habitat” is right in the middle of a busy residential area. You have to walk down a street, with houses on both sides, to get from the car park to the entrance of the visitors centre from the car park. The adjacent neighbours, the many cars and lots of human traffic poses a threat to these endangered penguins. The amazing bit though is that the penguins only started settling here in the early eighties, despite it being a residential area. So you see, this time the humans were there first. Once you’ve paid your entrance fee at the visitors centre and passed through the turnstiles, do not expect any of these cute little fellas to waddle or sashay towards you in greeting. You have to use the wooden walkways to see the penguins. A tourist at the time: Is this their dance floor? Hmm, no comment! The walkways meander right through the colony and it’s amazing how near they are. We’ve seen some cuddling, kissing, fighting, fishing and also sleeping. We’ve also seen some really mind-boggling people leaning over the railing just to get that one photo or selfie of themselves patting a penguin. Oh please! There are those of us who still remember the time when there were no boardwalks or restrictions. It was fascinating and not many had the guts to touch a penguin. Those who tried were promptly nipped by a razor sharp beak. So please stay on the walkway! It is for the safety of the animals…pun intended…

Chapman’s Peak

Chapman’s Peak is a mountain about fifteen kilometres south of Cape Town and has a very spectacular scenic road running between Hout Bay and Noordhoek called the Chapman’s Peak Drive, or Chappies, as it’s called locally. Chappies took seven years to build and was officially opened in 1922. The road meanders high above the coastline, with breathtaking views, very shear drops, white beaches and sometimes a stubborn baboon or two blocking your way. It is definitely a “must-do”! You should note a few things though. Chappies is now a toll road! This has advantages as there are not many cars about and you can stop to take some photos. Very few opportunities to park your car along the roadside exist, and it could be deliberate as the drive could or could not be quite treacherous. After many rockfalls, (some were fatal), the road was closed for a few years (twice up to now) and measures taken to ensure that the road is safe from falling rocks and other perils. If it is or has been raining and for the few days afterwards, the road will be closed completely. A light drizzle, like when we were there, is not (yet) considered a threat, but even if the sun is shining, and the authorities feel it necessary to do so, it will be closed. It was a bit “spooky” driving there as we were the only ones on this long and curvy stretch of road. Memories of days gone by when we cruised with our open-top cars, bumper to bumper, people everywhere, and with not a worry that anything might fall on your head…those were the days my friend…Did you know: a very famous car brand commercial was filmed on this very drive in early nineties. The car drove too fast round a bend and plunged one hundred metres down a cliff. Mr White, the driver, was not injured, as he was driving one of the safest cars in the world. The one with the star. A classic advert at the time…

Hout Bay

The Republic of Hout Bay. Hahaha, it’s not really a republic, but this is what the locals have been calling it since the eighties. A “republic” was declared to promote the town and some say also as a statement that they had nothing to do with the then apartheid regime. Others say it was because Hout Bay is sort of cut off from the rest of the Cape Peninsula as you can only reach it via three mountain passes, one of them the Chappies. Whatever the reason, this promotion worked. They even issued passports which were very sought after. A close friend even boasts a few immigration entry stamps from various countries of the world. Hout Bay has a boat and yacht marina, a craft market and some of the best fish and chips eateries in the area. You know they are fresh because firstly the air smells very fishy and stinky, and secondly you can see fishermen offloading freshly caught fish. The fish factories are nearby. Another attraction are the many seals that swim here (look between the boats) and the view of the Chapman’s Peak across the harbour. Sit down, eat and enjoy the bustling yet laid-back atmosphere.