Touring the Cape

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August 27th 2009
Published: January 17th 2010
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1: Penguins! 20 secs
I got on another boat today...
My sea sickness from yesterday seems to have abated although I have been falling off my feet at random times throughout the day! I was booked to do the Cape Peninsula Tour which fortunately ran from the front desk of the hostel so was easy to get to and didn't require me to be up at some inhuman hour of the day. I found myself accompanied by two girls from New Zealand and the three of us were met by a rather funky mini-bus, the lurid pink 'Explore Paradise Tours' logo plastered across the side. The three of us spread out and our guide set off. We drove along the coastal roads and stopped by the 'twelve apostles' where we had a great view over camps bay. The Twelve Apostles is the name given to the part of the mountain range along the Atlantic coats, a puzzling name since the mountains form more than twelve points, but perhaps the first sailors saw only twelve as they first arrived from the sea.
Piling back into the bus our driver told us we would be heading towards Hout Bay Harbour for our boat trip. My stomach lurched. I'd forgotten a boat trip was part of today's tour. I groped for my travel sickness tablets relaising that again I was taking them too late to have any effect. We reached Hout Bay, which in Afrikaans is called Houtbaai (from the Dutch for "Wood Bay"). As we parked I casually asked what size the boat we were getting on atually was. Apparently I didn't sound casual at all, since the driver looked at me with concern and pointed out I didn't have to go unless I wanted to. I looked at the boat and was relieved it was considerably bigger than the one I was on yesterday. I took my ticket and made myself follow the others, determined not to let yesterday's disaster put me off boats for life and refusing to believe I'd actually managed to develop a phobia of boats overnight! I screwed up my courage and stepped on board, hurrying to the back of the boat where the motion should be less severe. My travel companions seemed a bit worried about me, and the Japanese tourists already crowding the back of the boat all moved up without my even having to ask. I must have looked terrified or something! The boat began to move out of the harbour slowly. The guide pointed out a large castle on the hill, built a mere 15 years ago as a luxury home and now turned into a hotel. The owner even claims it's haunted, presumably because he felt his castle wasn't the real thing until it had its own ghost or two! We began to reach the edge of the harbour and were given the warning 'it's pretty rough out there today'. My heart sank. I zipped my camera under my fleece, turned towards the railing and closed my eyes. The waves hit us and the boat rocked upwards. A second wave hit. I opened my eyes. The boat was moving, my internal organs were not! A few minutes later I hesitantly pulled my camera back out and started to look at the impressive waves crashing up against the mountain. Huge blue swells rolled towards us and the boat was tossed around. I started to grin as I remembered that I like boats. The sea was a beautiful clear blue and formed moving mounatins topped with foam that looked like they would engulf the boat but instead pushed beneath the boat lifting us high. I had to cover my camera for a while as the waves were impressively huge and I was worried I'd knock the camera on the railing, or get it wet. When the waves lessened I pulled the camera out again but was disappointed I couldn't get a shot of the really huge waves. We drew closer to Duiker Island where we would be able to view the seal colony. Although a far smaller colony than the one off the coast by Hermanus I was understandably more excited about seeing the seals this time around. Duiker Island is a tiny rocky island of about 77 by 95 meters in size, with an area of about 0.4 hectares. As we drew close we spotted the seals froliking in the water. They dived and splashed and writhed about and while they generally ignored us the odd one would glance our way as if to say 'come on guys, the water's great!'. The Cape Fur Seal (or brown Fur Seal) is found all along the west coast of South Africa. A large animal with a large broad head and a pointed snout, the females can grow up to 1.7m and weigh on average 120kg, while the males are an impressive 2.2m and weigh around 200-360 kg! Cape Fur Seals can dive to a depth of 600 metres and have often been known to accompany scuba divers underwater. The seals breed in mid-October. Unlike many eared seal species, females are free to choose their mate and do so based on his territory. Both males and females fight for territories with individuals of the same sex. Females have smaller territories and a male's territory may overlap that of several females. A harem may consist of 50 females for one male. Pups are usually born between late November and early December. Pups are black at birth but turn gray with a pale throat after molting. As adults females are grey to light brown with a dark underside and light throat and males are brown to dark gray with a darker mane and a light underside. The pups begin swimming at an early age and by seven months can swim for two to three days at a time.
The boat drew impressively close to the island and I was able to get photos by bracing myself against the railing, holding on tightly and trying to keep my camera more or less steady as the waves continued to toss us around. We turned the boat around and tried to go back along the island for a second look but the waves were too rough and soon we all had to give up and put our cameras away as no-one could keep their balance any longer. I took a final look at the seals dancing in the waves and silently agreed with them 'yes the sea is great!' I enjoyed the trip back to the harbour, exhilarated to be riding over the waves and not feeling ill, although pitying the people around me who were looking rather green at the gills.
Back on dry land we met our driver who suggested we might want to look around for some souvenirs. I wasn't in the mood for shopping but was happy to wandered around for a while before curling up back in the bus. We set off along the coastal roads, winding along beside the mountains. We caught sight of a whale at one point and stopped to get photos. Balancing on a wall high above the beaches we scanned the waters for the large dark shapes. I did get a couple of whale sightings but not once did they raise a tail or appear as anything more than dark shadows breaking the surface of the sea.
We drove onto Boulder's Beach to meet the famous colony of African Penguins. There are only 16 penguin species worldwide. African Penguins are endemic to mainly offshore islands and only three mainland sites on South Africa’s coast, and are also known as Jackass Penguins due to their donkey'like braying. Jackass Penguins are birds that are almost totally adapted to life at sea. They feed on oil-rich pilchards, but have to feed on other fish and squid due to competition from commercial fisheries and increased seal populations. At sea they 'fly' through the water with specially modified wings, and can attain speeds of 2.5-7 kilometres per hour. Unlike whales and seals, penguins do not have blubber to insulate them against the cold, but they have a layer of air trapped beneath their feathers which gets severely damaged when coming into contact with an oil spill. Their nests are shallow hollows in soil or stones where usually two eggs are laid. Males and females share breeding and feeding duties by regurgitating fish for their chicks.
We left the bus in a car park and walked to the visitor's centre by Foxy Beach which is supposedly the best place for viewing the penguin colony. Board walks have been built so tourists can walk along the beach to view the penguins while not getting in the birds way or disturbing their nest sites or feeding areas. We got our tickets and moved through the turnstyle, wandering along the walkway until we spied our first penguin. There weren't huge numbers of penguins around the beach but it was amazing to get so close to them. I quickly got used to hanging over the wooden fence and peering underneath the boards as most of the penguins seemed to be sheltering there... or maybe they just thought we were there for a game of hide-and-seek! I spied a small group of them down the right hand side of the walkway and got my best pictures as they were so close. We continued to the end of the walkway and admired the views across the bay before walking back to the visitors centre. I stopped to spy on a few more penguins and lost my travel companions. I noticed a second route to walk and was about to go in search of more of the cute little guys when I saw the others waiting for me beyond the turnstyle and grudgingly left the colony to move onto our next stop.
We drove on through Simon's Town and continued our drive along the mounain roads. We paused once to look down on what our driver informed us was a retirement village. Bizarrely the village was beside the sea at the bottom of the mountain cliff and inaccessible except from down the cliff face. Now that's where to go when you don't want the kids disturbing you!
We reached Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and drove to a cafe. The cafe was full to bursting so our driver pulled out the picnic and rather optimistically started setting it up on a little plastic table beside the bus. The wind was incredible! We all made a grab for sandwiches and packets of crisps before they were blown away and stood chatting. The girls are keen to do a shark diving trip in the next couple of days so I gave them information on companies and prices and kept my prejudiced comments about bl**dy little boats to a minimum.
The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is located at the south western end of the Cape Floral kingdom and it has more plant species than any other area of comparable size in the world. 141 of the 2285 plant species are endangered and 90 of the plant species are endemic to this area, although nothing was in flower and all I saw was grass and shrubs in varying shades of green. There are also 112 bird and animal species in the park endemic to the area.
We drove to the foot of the lighthouse walk and our driver happily waved us towards the steps telling us we had a little uphill walk. The three of us set off, conversation soon abandoned as we ran out of breath. I comforted myself with the fact I am ill and not just completely unfit, but I have never found walking so hard. To say we walked at a leisurely pace would be an understatement! We finally mounted the last steps, buffeted by the wind the whole way. We finally reached the lighthouse but soon found it is kept locked up and there is nothing to see apart from the view. The lighthouse sits at the very top of Cape Point and was used from 1860-1911. The working lighthouse was moved down to Cape Diaz after the sinking of the Portuguese ship the Lusitania in 1911. Cape Point is higher at 249 metres above the sea compared to the 87 metre height of Cape Diaz, but is frequently shrouded in fog and mist. After getting over my disapointment that my exhausting climb hadn't led to a visit to the lighthouse I began to enjoy the view, and read the signpost, amusingly giving directions to cities around the world despite the fact only the gulls are able to take such direct routes!
We slowly returned to the car park and found our driver. Deciding none of us could face a second, longer walk, we opted to drive down to the Point of Good Hope. I was glad we drove as along the roadside we saw lots of baboons, including a mother nursing her baby. The baboons of the Cape of Good Hope Nature reserve have adapted to a marine diet and live along the shorline. The baboon sat quite contentedly, ignoring the nosy humans, and the others continued to feed and groom themselves or just sit and watch us watching them. A little further on we spotted ostriches walking beside the sea which for some reason stuck me as particularly odd. I just never pictured ostriches amongst grass with an ocean back drop!
We reached the point and hung around the all-important sign that stated where we were (the most south western point of the African continent!) until we could get photos. After asserting our place in the 'queue' and getting our pictures we finally turned to admire the views and the stunning beach scenery before heading homeward (or hostelward I suppose).

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


17th January 2010

Love the photos ... but are you sure that's a whale?? :P
18th January 2010

Oh yes, quite sure, can't you tell? :D

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