What a hectic past week it’s been! I’ve just returned from my trip to South Africa and it feels a little bit sad to be back actually. For all it’s crime and poverty, South Africa is still such a beautiful and amazing country that everyone should try to visit at least once in their lives.
I lost count of the number of photos I took of all the sights I visited. Fortunately the weather gods were smiling the week I was there so I was able to visit almost everywhere I wanted and soak in some sun along the way. I even ended up with a bit of a suntan which must seem strange to the Japanese people here since Japan is in the middle of some of the worst snows it has had in ages.
Briefly these were the places I visited:
- Table Mountain
- Waterford Wine Estate
- Cape Point
- Boulders Beach
- V&A Waterfront
- The Springbok Experience
- Drakenstein Lion Park
- Chimp Haven
A visit to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without visiting its most famous landmark, Table Mountain. It’s one of the most iconic sights as you fly into Cape Town International Airport and it seems to almost cradle the city in its arms with Devil’s Peak and Signal Hill enveloping the city.
Usually most of my visits to the top of Table Mountain have been with hikes that wind their way to the top by means of the hundreds of wonderful hiking trails that are dotted all over hte mountainside. This time thought I went up with the Cable Car and it was a pretty fantastic experience. The car itself has a rotating floor so that as you go up you’re treated to an amazing view of the mountain and city along the sea. It’s a bit pricey for locals but it’s worth experiencing at least once.
The top of the mountain has some amazing views, especially if there’s a bank of clouds descending down the mountain and moving across the city. It really does feel like you’re standing on the top of the world.
Other than that there are the usual array of tourist shops and a small restaurant if you find yourself in need of a bite to eat. You also have to option of not going back with the Cable Car but hiking back down. There are plenty of routes down the mountain that cater for everyone from experienced hikers to those of us who have never hiked a day in our lives.
Waterford Wine Estate
Waterford Wine Estate is situated in the scenic area of Stellenbosch that is home to hundreds of wine farms that stretch back over the past century or two. South African wines are highly regarded amongst wine lovers and I’ve even been able to pick up a bottle or two of SA wine in my local convenience stores here in small town Japan!
Waterford itself doesn’t have the heritage of some of the more famous farms or the Cape Dutch style of architecture that is found throughout the region but it does have a wonderful atmosphere and some darn good wines. I’m no wine expert by any stretch of the imagination but even to my layman’s palate their selection of wines have an amazing taste.
The highlight of the experience is their chocolate wine tasting course. For a cheap R45 you get a selection of three wines which are paired with three different flavors of chocolates. Each leaves you with a wonderful after taste and it’s certainly a great way to spend a day out when you visit Stellenbosch.
The trip to Cape Point is a good way to see the many small coastal towns that dot the coast as you travel along the Cape Peninsula. Places like Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town all have their own unique styles and there are so many amazing places to lose yourself in that you may find yourself never even reaching Cape Point!
Simon’s Town is certainly a city to visit if you want to learn more about the history of the South African navy as it has served as the main base of operations for the country’s fleet for a long time. There’s an interesting naval museum that has some interesting exhibits and gives a nice rundown of the navy and how it operates.
Cape Point is famous for being the most southern tip of the African continent but technically that honor actually belongs to Cape Agulhas. That hasn’t stopped Cape Point becoming a mecca for tourists and sightseers who flock there to have their picture taken where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. It’s certainly an amazing sight to behold with the Cape of Good Hope also being the site of the first European ship to round the African continent on its way to find a route to India.
Just after Simon’s Town there is Boulders Beach which is the perfect spot to see penguins up close. You can also buy a ticket to get access to the beach where you can walk right next to the penguins. It’s a great way to see penguins in their natural habitat.
V & A Waterfront
The V & A Waterfront is a large shopping complex situated right at Cape Town harbor that’s a hub of activity for both the natives and visitors to the city. Most of the shops cater for tourists so if you’re looking for something to take back as a present for friends then you’ll almost certainly find it here.
It’s also a great place to visit if you’re looking to walk through the harbor and just soak in the sights and sounds. There are a ton of great places to eat along the waterfront and you could wile away most of your day just drinking coffee and people watching if that’s your thing. There’s also the Cape Town Aquarium that’s got some good exhibits and even features some giant Japanese crabs!
The Springbok Experience
One of the places that you should check out in the Waterfront is the Springbok Experience. It’s a recently built museum that catalogs the history of the South African rugby team from its inception right through to its modern day triumphs. We South Africans are extremely proud of our rugby team and the fact that they are one of the strongest teams in the world. It’s not surprising that our national cub competition, the Currie Cup, is also the oldest rugby competition in the world. The status of baseball and its rich history as the quintessential American pastime is the same way rugby is revered in South Africa.
That said, the museum itself is wonderfully designed and the exhibits are wonderful to explore. One wall contains all the national team uniforms and at the press of a button it will highlight a certain uniform and play videos of the matches using that uniform as well as showing interesting facts regarding it.
There are all several trophies on display and well as interactive exhibits that let you try your hand at Springbok drills and tryouts. Of course there’s also the obligatory souvenir store filled to the brim with Springbok branded goodies for you to buy on your way out for your friends and family.
Drakenstein Lion Park
Drakenstein Lion Park is a particularly amazing place to visit if you’re in the Stellenbosch area. It’s a park that takes in abused and mistreated lions and tigers from all around the world and gives them a home where they’ll get the care and treatment they’ll need in order to be rehabilitated.
One of the park’s core principles is that they don’t breed their lions and they don’t partake in the barbaric practice of allowing tourists to ‘hunt’ their lions like many other ‘parks’ do. In actual fact many of the so called lion parks in Africa tend to cater for tourists who are looking for a hunting experience and they merely breed their lions to be hunted and killed by tourists.
Each of the lion areas is large and wide open and unlike zoos they keep everything in the cage as natural as possible. So you won’t see a speck of concrete or anything else like that inside the cages. It gets the lions used to living in a natural environment and also lets you see the lions in their proper African surroundings.
At the entrance of each area there is a poster of the lions staying there and the background of how they came to arrive at the park. Some of the stories make for sad reading with many of the lions coming from parts of Eastern Europe where they were beaten, caged and sold on the black market as pets after having their claws ripped out from their paws. One lion was part of a French circus and was so beaten that his jaw was broken and permanently disfigured.
Luckily the staff and the park itself are a beacon of hope for animals like that and hopefully the more visitors they get and the more donations they receive, the more good work they can do to rescue animals in predicaments just such as that.
Chimp Haven is right next to Drakenstein Lion Park and is run by the same group of people. It was started only two years ago after the nearby Tygerberg Zoo shutdown and most of the animals were relocated to Chimp Haven.
As the name might indicate, many of the animals here are from the chimp family with two groups of precocious chimpanzees being the main attraction. There are also some smaller groups of South American monkeys and a few birds from parts of South America as well.
As with the lion park the animals are given large open areas to roam in and plenty of great treatment from the staff. A great touch is that due to the small size of the park you are given a personal tour from the staff who give you the background of the animals as well as interesting facts about their behavior and what sort of foods they eat etc.
Chimp Haven is another animal sanctuary that really serves a visit and donations from people who want to see animals be treated in a humane way and not stuffed in a small cage like many zoos tend to do.
So all in all my trip home to South Africa was chock full of amazing sites, foods, times and laughs. All that in the space of less than a week!
It’s hard to believe that I’m back in Japan now and having to deal with the cold of winter while all my friends in SA are enjoying braais in the warm weather.
Hopefully over the course of the next few days I’ll be able to upload all the photos I took so that I can post a couple of them here. Stay tuned!