03.07.2017 - 13.07.2017 14 °C
After a night in the pleasant little town of Bredasdorp, we headed down to a lovely coastal village called Arniston, before continuing to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa. It is a reasonably scenic spot, with a picturesque lighthouse nearby. We then drove inland, stopping briefly at the village of Elim, a historic mission station famous for its quaint little houses. After a night in Gansbaai, we went for a great walk at Fernkloof Nature Reserve, in the hills overlooking the wealthy town of Hermanus. We have loved all the amazing walking in South Africa, with such interesting and varied scenery during the course of the trip. After exploring Hermanus, we continued along the coast to Betty’s Bay, a chilled out coastal settlement which is home to an African penguin colony. We enjoyed seeing the penguins waddling about, and certainly felt a bit less threatened by them than some of the other African wildlife!
After a night in Betty’s Bay, we headed north to Franschhoek. At one point on our journey we were confused as to why there was so much dust blowing around. It turned out the dust was coming from a big dam nearby, which had a scarily low water level; evidence of the water shortage in the Western Cape. Residents are currently advised to use less than 87 litres of water per day, which isn’t a lot when you consider the average 8-minute shower uses 62 litres! Franschhoek is a pretty little town at the eastern end of the wine country, surrounded by mountains on three sides. It is famous for becoming the home of many of the Hugenots who emigrated from France at the end of the 17th Century. They are proud of their French heritage, with almost every business being named in French and preparations well underway for Bastille Day! After a night in Franschhoek, we enjoyed some winetasting at Solms Delta and Stellenbosch Hills wineries. Given how good the wines were, our only dilemma was deciding how many bottles we could fit into our bags for the journey home!
It wasn’t far to Stellenbosch, the old university town at the western edge of the wine country. Stellenbosch is a bit bigger and livelier than Franschhoek, and we enjoyed wandering around. We took part in our second South African parkrun of the trip, which was the toughest course we have both done. It was also very popular, with over 700 participants, despite taking place at 8am! In Stellenbosch we watched the final match of the Lions vs All Blacks series, before travelling on to Cape Town, our final destination of the trip. We spent our first night in Newlands, round the corner from the famous rugby stadium, where we watched the Stormers defeat the Sunwolves fairly easily in the Super Rugby tournament.
The next morning we had planned to visit Robben Island, but unfortunately due to bad weather (our first and only day of rain in Western Cape), it was cancelled and we had to reschedule for another day. Instead, we walked around the city and took part in the free historic walking tour. Our tour guide, Ken, was a very inspirational chap and by the end we weren’t sure if it was more of a walking tour or a motivational talk! Although Ken is white, his dad was a member of the ANC and he has an adopted black sister. He was a big fan of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, both of whom he quoted on multiple occasions. He pulled no punches in describing the apartheid regime and what it meant for South African people. It is amazing to think how recently, and for how long, it all took place.
Waking up to clear skies the next day, we decided to climb Table Mountain. We headed up the Patteklip Gorge route, which looks down over the city centre and Table Bay. It is quite steep, so we were fairly warm by the time we reached the summit. This didn’t last for long, however, because it was pretty cold at the top, unsurprising given it is over 1000m in altitude. The views from up top are amazing, with a 360 degree panorama over False Bay, the Cape Peninsula, the city centre and Table Bay out to Robben Island. We had descended to the car by lunchtime, giving us time to drive down to Cape Point by mid-afternoon. It is a scenic drive all the way down the Cape Peninsula, which culminates at the dramatic, windswept rocks of Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Although it is over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, we felt it was still well worth the trip, even with the bad traffic on our way back to the city. We rewarded ourselves after the busy day with our last of many excellent steak dinners in South Africa.
On our final full day in Cape Town we finally got out to Robben Island, famous for being the prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for most of his nearly three decades behind bars. The boat trip out to the island is enjoyable in itself, with great views back to Table Mountain and the city below. Once on the island, we started with the bus tour around some of the sights, including the wardens’ village and the limestone quarry where many of the prisoners worked during the day. We then joined the walking tour through the prison itself, led by an ex-prisoner who had been there during the 1980s. He gave us a good insight into the difficult conditions faced by the prisoners. For many years, black prisoners were made to wear shorts and walk around barefoot, all year round. It would have been very cold during the winter, especially because they didn’t have any glass windows for many years. The black prisoners were also given less food allowance than the Indian or coloured prisoners. There were no white political prisoners on Robben Island, which is no surprise given the segregation practised under apartheid. All in all, it would have been a horrible place to be kept. Given its isolated location, unsurprisingly no prisoners managed to escape during the apartheid era.
When we got back to Cape Town we visited the Slavery Museum. Although the European settlers did not enslave the local indigenous population, they instead brought thousands of slaves from elsewhere in Africa and the East Indies. We learned that many slaves were given the surname of the month they arrived. This would explain the origins of people like the rugby player, Juarno Augustus, who made his debut for the Stormers in the match we watched at Newlands. The language of Afrikaans has evolved from Dutch, mixed with other languages brought to South Africa by many of these slaves. This fascinating history explains why there is such a diversity of people and cultures in this part of Africa. We sampled the Asian influence on the local cuisine by eating dinner at the Eastern Food Bazaar, not far from City Hall. We finally got to try “bunny chow,” which surprisingly doesn’t contain any rabbit. This is a South African specialty where delicious curry is stuffed inside a hollowed-out loaf of bread! It certainly won’t win any Michelin stars anytime soon, but it was still a fun thing to try.
Before heading home on our last day of the trip, we drove up to the Rhodes Memorial, which has excellent views over the city. Although Cecil Rhodes wasn’t a universally popular character, it is amazing how much he achieved in the 49 years he was alive. From there we visited the beautiful wineries of Constantia, on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. These are even more picturesque than the wineries around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, which is no mean feat! We then headed out to the airport for our flight home, going via Dubai to Dublin.
We are so pleased that we finished up our trip in South Africa. It has so much to offer, and we are already wondering when we will be able to return! We were amazed by how few other tourists we encountered for much of our time in this stunning country. People are maybe put off by the security situation, but we didn’t have any problems during our entire stay. The standard of accommodation was the best of the whole trip, and people are amazingly friendly and hospitable.
After four and a half months of travelling, we are glad to be back home. We are very lucky to have been able to visit some incredible places and enjoy so many wonderful experiences, but nowhere else is quite like home. It is great to be back among our family and friends, and we certainly have plenty of catching up to do! We would both thoroughly recommend anyone who is considering undertaking a similar trip to go ahead and do it. We would be more than happy to share our advice with anyone interested in visiting anywhere we have been.
Fernkloof Nature Reserve
Solms Delta Winery in Franschhoek
Rugby at Newlands
Bo Kaap in Cape Town
Thankfully we can sit where we want nowadays!
The views from Table Mountain
The V&A Waterfront
Limestone quarry, Robben Island
The view back toward Cape Town
Nelson Mandela's cell
The view from Rhodes Memorial
Groot Constantia Winery