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Published: August 27th 2013
A while ago, inspired by a forum post on here, Kris and I wrote a bucket list. Not in a morbid ‘I’m going to die soon’ Morgan Freedman and that other bloke movie-sense, but in the sense of ‘these are things we’d like to do in our hopefully long lives’
. We travel a lot and have what we believe to be interesting lives, but recently we had been traveling to places in and around Asia that were easily accessible and which people recommended to us. That’s great, but we still had a long list of places we’ve always wanted to see. Now, admittedly, we were consuming alcohol at the time of writing, and the next morning when we woke up, those items near to the bottom of the list were pretty unintelligible (although I’m sure they were amazing ideas, were we able to read them). However, that next day, we looked at the list and ranked it in order of how much we wanted to do each one.Kris’ number one was cage diving with great white sharks.Kate’s was going on safari.
Also near the top of the list was doing a road trip – you know, long open roads, stopping
in small places along the way, and seeing more whales (Kate’s master’s thesis was on short finned pilot whales in Tenerife).
A little bit of time with Google later, and we discovered that all the above could be done in one country – South Africa. Decision made. We had some time in the summer of 2013 between jobs in Vietnam and China, so we planned a three week trip which covered four of our list.
I love city bus tours
First stop – Cape Town – home of the recent football world cup.
. You know, the double deckers which drive around cities while you list to a commentary on headphones and then hop-on and hop-off again at various sights. In Cape Town The citysightseeing bus company
runs the red and the blue route and you can book a two day ticket where you can travel around both routes for 250 ZAR, with a free canal boat tour and wine route tour thrown in. On our first day in Cape Town, we headed down the to Victoria and Alfred whalf (yes, Alfred, not Albert, after the Queen’s son not husband) and hopped on a red route bus
. For the first trip, we stayed on the
bus for the whole two hour route, which took us around the city centre, up to the cable car station where you go up Table Mountain, and then around to the beaches of Camps Bay, Clifton and Sea Point and then back again. Now, some of you may have worked out that July in South Africa is actually their winter. This wasn’t accidental. Winter has the best visibility for great white sharks, and is when the Southern Right Whale migrate from their feeding grounds around Antarctica, to the coast of South Africa (among other countries in the area) to breed. It also turned out to be when the best game viewing is, but we didn’t know this at the time. So, said beaches were windy and cold, although the commentary was giving a slightly over-excited description of the ‘bronzed and bikini-clad bodies’
that you could see there in summer. On our first day, the cloud was pretty low and visibility was not great, with the Table Mountain cableway rising into a big white nothing, so we didn’t go up there either. After that, it closed for a month for servicing. So winter may not be the best time for Table
The twelve apostles
Strange name since there are about 17 of them.
Mountain visiting... by cable car anyway. But that just means we have to go back in the summer.
After our first two hour tour took us back to V & A wharf, we hopped back on again to go to the District 6 museum
. This powerful museum is a memorial to the time, only about 30 years ago, when the government under apartheid decided that District 6, in the centre of the city, should be only for whites. As there were people of all races and colours living there at the time, in a quite typical inner city area, they forcibly moved them from their homes to townships on the edge of the city (not actually into houses, by the looks of things, but to places where dwellings are constructed from corrugated iron and off-cuts of wood) and bulldozed their houses. Eventually this caused an international outcry, so now the cleared areas of District 6 lie empty; large green open spaces in the middle of the city, dotted with the occasional mosque or church that they couldn’t legally destroy. The museum is a small building, where the whole ground floor is given over to a map of the old streets
Victoria and Alfred waterfront
...everywhere has a big wheel now.
where cleared residents have written their names on the space where their home used to be. The rest is photos and anecdotes of life in the old district.
We finished in the museum as it closed, and as we walked through the city, we realized that many of the tourist attractions were closing. It’s probably so that tourists are off the streets before it gets dark. Cape Town is a lovely vibrant city, but at the end of the day, it has a large number of poor people and consequently, crime. It’s not safe to walk around areas of the city once it has got dark and you are isolated and moving in quiet areas. Having said that, it was safe to walk around the V&A wharf and pub crawling down Long Street, which we did one night. However, we always took a taxi back to the hostel, even though it was walking distance.
Victoria and Alfred wharf
is a great place for evenings. It’s been really well developed with restaurants, bars and shops all looking over the quays. Traditional singers perform in the street and there is a lovely little independent food market, selling snack food from all over the world
– Greek kebabs, Argentinean pasties, dim sum, samosas, Thai curry – as well as cheeses and meats from South Africa. Another old wharf building houses a craft market with amazing traditional crafts and you can take boat trips of the area from many little stalls along the front. There’s a Scottish-style ale house selling ‘craft beers’ (what we would call ‘real ale’) from Mitchell’s brewery where we spent some time sitting on a picnic table, watching the world go by while we sampled the brews. Oddly, or perhaps not considering the connection to the UK, there are lots of fish and chip restaurants around serving a great hake or calamari and chips.
Swirl.... sniff.... sniff
On the blue route bus tour the following day, we were taken further out of the city, to visit the Kirstenbosch botanic gardens
and to do a wine tour. The bus dropped us at the top of the wine route, where it was a quick walk to the first of four possible vineyards Beau Constantia
. As we approached the gate, it opened and we went through, but it was very much like we were walking into someone’s private property. We followed a sign that said
‘tasting room’, into a house where a girl appeared and ushered us into a stunning area with sofas and chairs, completely glass, looking over vineyards down to the see. Apologetically, she said ‘we only have one wine available today
’. Hum…..not much of a tasting... ‘but you can have a glass of wine for 30 ZAR if you want’.
Sounded fine, so she poured us a very generous glass (a sign of things to come in South Africa) of one of their wines which we drank while enjoying the view.
Next it was off to the end of the wine route, to the (apparently) world famous Groot (but the ‘G’ is more like an ‘H’ and you need to say it with some force) Constantia winery. It’s the oldest in South Africa, started in 16 hundred and something and a beautiful old estate. We decided to do a cellar tour, where they took us around and explained how wines are made and stored and then gave us a tasting of five different wines, showing us how to taste wine (look at the colour against something white, swirl it, give one big sniff and then two smaller sniffs and consider what you can
from the city gardens
smell, then take a sip and hold it in your mouth and “see if the scents follow through as flavours”). We’ve always been a bit skeptical about the sort of people who stand around discussed the ‘nose’ of wine, and talking about “getting blackberries and rose and a hint of mushroom” but when the guide said “you get an aftertaste of pineapple”
, we could actually taste that. One of the wines on their list which we didn’t taste was described as tasting of ‘cigar box’. What is a cigar box anyway, and what do they smell like? An ash tray?
It’s not selling your wine well by describing it as smelling like a dirty pub at 11.30pm before the smoking ban. Anyway, after the tasting, we went to a different room for a more informal tasting where we were able to try quite generous amounts of other wines, before it was time to stagger back to the bus.
We didn’t have time to visit the other two wineries on route, and that is what I would say about the blue route tour. Go early because there is so much to see on it.
We missed out on the two wineries,
from Robben Island
a township tour and Hout Bay because of lack of time, so if I were you, I’d get up and out early.
South Africa's most famous inhabitant
When we were on the hop-on, hop off bus tour, the guide pointed to a bar and told us that that was where we'd find South Africa's famous people. That got us thinking.....South African celebrities??? Couldn't think of any (any South Africans reading this, many apologies, I'm sure there are loads). In fact, the two famous people we could name from South Africa: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
But perhaps that's a good thing. We know of people famous for bringing peace to a country and fighting for equality, not for winning a reality TV show or being married to a footballer. That's a better advert for the country, IMO.
Anyway....by the fourth day in Cape Town my parents had arrived to join us for parts of the holiday. We had booked tickets in advance to Robben Island
, home of the prison which held Nelson Mandela
as well as many other activists against the apartheid system. There are only a couple of trips a day; ours was 1.15pm. The ferry took us over to the
island where we were all split into different coaches. The start of our tour was a bus trip around the island where an entertaining and informative guide told us the history of the island, as leper colony and place for political prisoners. Then it was onto the prison itself, where an incredibly inspiring ex-inmate told us about life in the prison, including about the racism inside the prison, with white prisoners being entitled to more and more nutritious food than their black companions. We were shown the cell where Nelson Mandela spent over twenty years of his life. It was all very moving and thought provoking. The closer you get to where events happened, the more real they become. Somehow we have become so used to seeing terrible things on TV that they don't seem completely real. Museums like the one on Robben Island bring everything home.
On our fifth day it was time to leave Cape Town. We really hadn't had time to see it properly. You need at least a week IMO and in summer, maybe longer so you can enjoy the beaches as well. But there were other areas of South Africa calling, and we hadn't seen
those sharks or whales yet so we booked a Baz bus to Hermanus, about two hours away.
The bus was due to pick us up at 10, so at 7.30 we woke up and started packing. At 8am there was a knock at the door and it was the guy from the hostel, telling us that our pick up was waiting. Hang on a minute? It's two hours early.....and still in pajamas we were definately not ready to go. Turned out the Baz bus company had made some kind of cock up, leaving us stuck in Cape Town. What to do? The people at our lovely hostel The B.I.G in Green Point
came to our rescue. The owner's mum, Lynne, offered to drive us to Hermanus in her car. What a lovely offer. So instead of travelling in a bus full of backpackers, we were driven in a private car accompanied by music and Lynne's facinating conversation. We stayed in a double room at the B.I.G backpackers for 670 ZAR. Our room was beautifully decorated with en suite bathroom and a very comfortable bed. It was away from the main hostel so quiet, but we got a lovely breakfast provided in the hostel kitchen
(juice, yoghurt, cereal, toast, eggs to cook yourself) and could use their facilities. The staff were friendly, knowledgable and helpful.
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