Journey Jotters

Bitten by the travel bug

The last leg of our trip was the busiest, simply because we were spending it in Cape Town, the capital of South Africa. The plan was to drive from Franschhoek to Cape Town and explore the area south of CapeTown while we still had the car. But once we got down to the nitty-gritty, we found out that the car had to be dropped off by noon at the downtown car rental office. It meant we had to get to the hotel, drop off the car, and hire a taxi or another vehicle from the hotel to manage the trip. We called the hotel travel desk and the prices they quoted were much higher than we anticipated. After some thought, we called Europcar assistance. We were given the option of dropping off the car at the Cape Town airport by 5 pm without any extra charges.

drive with rocky cliffs on one side and ocean on the other
Chapman’s Peak Drive

By the time we discovered this, we were closing in on Cape Town. We drove past Table Mountain heading south through the scenic M64 and M65 towards the Cape of Good Hope. This drive was spectacular as the water, the white sandy beaches, and the balmy weather created a visual feast. We stopped many times along the coast to admire the view and capture photos. We were near the turn off to the Cape when the cars ahead of us started slowing down. After waiting for several minutes and talking to other drivers, we discovered that the Cape of Good Hope was the destination for many Capetonians and other tourists that afternoon. The next 14 km (about 9 miles), which should have taken about 20 minutes to reach, was filled with an enormous snaking traffic. Apparently, with it being the holiday season and a Sunday, the locals were out in large numbers. The biggest hold-up was at the ticketing plaza. The two- lane roads also contributed to the slowdown immensely. It soon became apparent that we would have to spend another couple of hours to make it to the Cape and at least an hour back to the same area.

There was a small roadside craft market here that we took advantage of. It was amazing to see some of the art pieces in wood, metal, stone, and jewelry that the artisans had created. We bought small sculptures and figurines. Back in the car, we decided to forego the Cape visit, as we had the car rental time limit. The road to Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach lay ahead. So we got out of the line of cars, drove along the shoulder and passed the right turn to the Cape to join the procession of vehicles headed to Simon’s Town.

Boulders Beach signage

The drive was just a little longer at about 20 to 25 minutes, and soon we were in Simon’s Town looking for a parking space. As with the Cape area, the beach was crowded, and most available spots were taken. After searching for several minutes, we were fortunate to find one, and Mr. JJ maneuvered into the tight space. Luckily for us, the location wasn’t far from the entrance to Boulders Beach.

Boulders Beach in False Bay is very popular with visitors not only for its beach but for its land-based resident African Penguins. On the endangered list, these African Penguins have called this beach their home for nearly 40 years. There are estimates that about 2000 penguins live here. The beach is a part of the Table Mountain National Park, and as such, these penguins are protected. The boardwalks ensure that visitors have a great view of the penguins and the natural beauty of the beach but also protect the birds from constant human interference.

black and white African Penguins resting in warm white sand
African penguins at Boulders beach

Before we hit the beach, we stopped at the Cafe Penguino to grab coffee and pastries and refresh ourselves. Then we walked to the entrance to Boulders Beach, where a long line awaited us. The lines were split into those for residents and one for non-residents, which was longer. By the time we bought our tickets, we had spent over 45 minutes waiting. We then made our way into the afternoon sun and the boardwalk, past the dunes and the greenery to the white sandy beach where the penguins lay, some in repose, some in great excitement, calling out and waddling. The black and white of the penguins against the white sand made a stark contrast to the teal blue of the water. The boardwalk viewing areas were also crowded, and we had to patiently wait for our turn to watch these wild and beautiful birds.

penguins resting on white sand near blue ocean
Penguins sunning at Boulders Beach

According to the South African National Parks website, “African Penguins were reclassified on 26 May 2010 from a Vulnerable to now Endangered status. In 1956 when the first full census was conducted on the African Penguin, there were approximately 150,000 breeding pairs counted. In 2009, there were only 26,000 breeding pairs left in the world. These numbers indicate a loss of more than 80% of breeding pairs in just over 50 years. The Boulders Penguin Colony was established in 1983, and numbers increased from surrounding island colonies to bring breeding numbers to 3,900 birds in 2005. Since then, there has been a decrease. The 2011 figures sit at around 2,100 birds at Boulders Penguin Colony. The decline at Boulders and globally is suspected to be the result of habitat destruction, effects of oil spills and other marine pollution, impacts of global warming on fish stocks and fish movement, overfishing, irresponsible tourism activities, and domestic pets/animals.”

After enjoying the penguins, we slowly drove out of Simon’s Town. We planned to drive back to the airport via Chapman’s Peak Drive, said to be one of the world’s most scenic drives. The drive connects Noordhoek in the South with Hout’s Bay in the north. It is a toll road, and we had to stop to pay a fee to enter. A path carved into the face of the mountain, while beautiful, cannot be without its dangers. As such, this drive has been the source of unintended tragedy and has been closed several times over the last nearly 100 years for repairs, reconstruction, maintenance, and implementing more significant safety measures. Despite all that, this remained one of our most exciting and beautiful drives.

beach at Noordhoek
Noordhoek Beach
road paved by cutting into rock face
The engineering marvel of Chapman’s Peak Drive

Partway through the Drive is located the Tintswalo Atlantic, a five-star boutique lodge at the base of Chapman’s Peak with fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Hout’s Bay. I had read a lot of good reviews about their restaurant offerings, so we made a stop here to catch a quick snack or two. Although we were allowed past the gates, the staff quickly denied access due to a lack of a prior reservation. As disappointing as that was, it worked out in our favor, as the drive further towards Hout’s Bay was significantly slowed by the narrow lanes and the ever-increasing traffic congestion. We had to take several side roads in Hout’s Bay to make a quicker exit towards Cape Town. Eventually, we reached the quiet of the shade-filled, verdant Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Although we did not find time to visit these gardens on this trip, it is a considerable attraction for Cape Town visitors, and I hope to make it here one day.

View of Hout's Bay
Hout’s Bay

By 5 pm, we were at the Cape Town airport Europcar location, dropping off the rental car. We then took a taxi to our hotel for the next three nights, the Radisson Blu Le Vendome Hotel. The small lobby was filled with a large tour group that was checking in. So we waited as they finished their check-in process. As with other hotels in South Africa, we were assigned two rooms, but each on a different floor. The rooms were comfortable with a king bed in each, and a small balcony. Of course, it came with all the usual amenities like coffee maker, ironing board, hairdryer, TV, etc. I am a bit mystified about how or why I did not take any photos of either room. Perhaps, the busyness of the day had caught up with me.

That evening, we took an Uber to the V and A Waterfront, home to over 450 retailers, local and international, eateries, hotels, museums, and live entertainment. We stopped by the De Villiers kiosk to grab some chocolate boxes for later enjoyment. The mall was busy with shoppers and visitors like us. Most of the restaurants were crowded. We enjoyed the decorations for the Holiday Season that were hung. It had a very different feel from the red and green decorations so popular in the US.

Shopping mall V and A waterfront with Christmas decorations
Inside V and A waterfront mall

Our destination for the evening was the Balducci Italian restaurant. In addition to meat, poultry, and seafood, it has a wide variety of vegan dishes, probably one of the most comprehensive menus seen for such a restaurant. All ingredients are sourced from sustainable, organic agriculture. As was our theme for most of the day, the restaurant was filled to the rafters, and without reservations, we couldn’t enjoy a meal there.

christmas decorations at V and A waterfront mall
Decorations at V and A waterfront

As was evident from our first day in Cape Town, this portion of the trip was a hit-or-miss experience. We won some, we lost many more, but such is the nature of travel, especially in a very trendy city and during a hectic travel period. We settled for dinner at one of the local franchise restaurants before heading back. We had an early morning trip to the top of Table Mountain, and were all agog with excitement.

Join us tomorrow, as we explore the iconic Table Mountain and its environs.

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