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!

 

Hoerikwaggo, the original Table Mountain

Day eight and there was really nothing to w(h)ine about. It promised to be a lovely day so we decided to visit the very famous Table Mountain, which is only THE best mountain in the world *grin* and a must see. The mountain was first named Hoerikwaggo by the indigenous people of the Cape, the Khoi, which means “mountain in the sea”. Centuries later a Portuguese explorer, Mr de Saldanha, the first European and foreigner to climb the mountain, called it the “Taboa do Cabo”, Table of the Cape. Another century later a Dutch explorer thought he was the first to discover this magnificent table-looking mountain and the expansive bay at its feet, so he named the bay “Tafel Baay” which is Dutch for Table Bay. The mountain has been called “Tafelberg” since the first Dutch people settled in the Cape in the middle 1600’s. Table Mountain is the english version. Did you know that it is older than the Himalayas (six times older), Alps, Rockies (five times older) and the Andes and also one of the new seven wonders of the world?? It is also the only mountain in the whole wide world with a star constellation (Mensa) named in honour of it. The mountain is flat-topped (but only from one side) and when the top bit is covered with clouds, it really looks like a fancy tablecloth covering a huge grey table. And when the table is covered, it is not really worth it to go all the way up because you will see absolutely nothing below. Even if there is no tablecloth, cross your fingers because the weather can change faster than you buying a ticket for the cable car. Today the table was clear, the queues very long and the heat sizzling. The nice part about waiting in line is that this wonderful view of the city below (see the next four photos) is like an appetizer for what is yet to come. Believe us, your mouth will be a permanent gape and you will not stop saying !WOW! Please click on all the photos for a detailed description of what/where it is…

 

The Cableway

To get to the top of the mountain you have three choices: bike, walk (climb, crawl, wheeze) or use the cable car. The cable car is quicker, only about five minutes, but if the queues are long you could be waiting for more than an hour to board. Jumping the queue is only possible if you’ve pre-booked your ticket online, which is cheaper too. So for spontaneous visitors like us, all that’s left to do is grin and bear it … and hope that the lovely weather keeps up, as the cableway might not operate if weather conditions are unsafe. As mentioned before, this can happen in a tick. We were very very lucky! We did not have to wait too long and we reached the top (in one nervous piece) without screaming. Silly for Madame “Acrophobic” dearest to be such a scaredy cat (meow) because the cableway has not had a single accident since it started operating in 1929. Maybe the jelly legs was the result of the rotating floors (round and round and…) or the feeling that there are just too many people on board 🙀. I wonder if the current Queen of England was scared when she took the ride up way back in 1947…hmm. No matter, all is forgotten once you breathe in the crispy fresh air and catch sight of one of the most beautiful cities in the world sprawled out below, Cape Town. !Sigh! A very good and happy !sigh! By the way, going down is just as easy, but for those needing an adrenalin rush or something similar, there’s abseiling. Yes, you can tie yourself up and scrambled down the mountain. Blrrrr!

 

Fauna

There are many birds of prey and other species found on the mountain, and we managed to see two types, some red-winged starlings and an orange breasted sunbird. We also saw a few black lizards and other small creepy crawlies. What we did not see, or maybe did not look close enough, were porcupines, mongooses, tortoises and the very rare and endemic Table Mountain Ghost Frog. Oh, and we did not see any snakes either, thank goodness for that! OMG! We did not know that twenty two species of snakes lived on Table Mountain, and that at least five of them are the most poisonous in the world. Do the words Cobra or Puff Adder send shivers down your spine? I wore sandals for goodness sake *shudder*.

 

Flora

Table Mountain is part of the Cape Floral region, and has more than seven thousand plant species (more than in the Amazon jungle). Most of these are native (about 70%) and will not be found anywhere else in the world, like the Cape Fynbos (fine-leaved plants).

 

Views from the top

There are quite a few walking trails to choose from, but whichever one you take, it is not possible to see everything in the time that you are there. It can also be quite slippery and rocky in some areas, so be careful. It is also nippy up there. We walked mostly along the edges, then when we could go no further, we cut across to the other side. Then the table cloth started to come down, and we were all alone out there (we ventured a tad too far off the beaten track), so we made our way back. The “under the clouds” experience was a bit scary though, but we did not panic. They do check if anyone is in danger and they make sure that everyone has left the area before closing…

 

The Baboons and the Dassies

There used to be lions and leopards roaming on the mountain but they were shot, killed, or whatever, so do not exist anymore. The Baboon population started growing and so did the city of Cape Town. The more the city expanded up the mountain, the more the baboons moved down towards the suburbs. They were clever and quite cheeky, and found it easier to get food directly from the rubbish bins or houses in the area. One can argue about all this, but encroaching on their natural habitat was never going to be good. They have become a sort of menace to humans and animals, so much so that there are special squads armed with paint ball guns to keep them away from the suburbs. Baboons are apparently more brazen than criminals because they climb through any window, barred or not, and go on a food rampage in the kitchen! Hmmm…an empty stomach knows no bounds…

The cutest animal and the unofficial mascot of Table Mountain is the Dassie (rock hyrax). We saw quite a lot and they did not seem to be scared of humans. One very excited young man could not contain his excitement at seeing a “real live badger”. I think he even tried to make a selfie. Impossible and dangerous. We had a zoom-zoom lens so managed to take some amazing shots. Enjoy!