By Bill Warelis
As I was raking leaves a few days ago and bracing myself for winter, I felt a rush of warmth. Well, mentally anyway.
I had just heard that the preliminary winners of New Seven Wonders of Nature competition had been announced, and one of them was Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. My wife and I had visited Cape Town not long ago and Table Mountain is certainly beautiful. It has more than 1,470 species of flowers and is among the most recognized sites in the entire country, if not all of Africa.
But Cape Town, unfortunately, although also lovely and with many interesting sites, has a crime problem. Walking within the city often made me nervous, one of the few times in my life I felt as much a target as a tourist.
The real highlight of our days in Cape Town though, was a private daylong-guided tour of the region, spent with Pieter Geldenhuys, owner of the tour company PG Tops, which we found through the recommendation of a friend. During our time with him he not only shared information on what we were seeing, but also gave us quite an education on South Africa’s history, as well. Better yet, the entire day was only about $170 for the two of us (which included dropping us off at the airport that evening for our departing flight).
After picking us up at our hotel at 8:00am in a Mercedes-Benz van, he took us along a coast-hugging road out to Hout Bay Harbor. From there we took a boat to get a close-up view of thousands of Cape Seals lounging on the rocks just off shore. Before boarding, however, we came across a local entrepreneur who had trained one of the wild seals to take fish from him and pose with tourists for photos.
All too soon we were back in the van and on our way on a mountainside road that winds along Chapman’s Peak heading to Cape Point, all along the way seeing incredible plant life unlike anything we had seen before. We also started seeing many warnings to avoid contact with the baboon population. The signs seemed a bit odd but at Cape Point we found out that you have to worry about them since they’re not wary of humans and can be quite aggressive.
At the Point we stood atop a hill and looked out at the Cape of Good Hope (or Cape of Storms, as it’s also known), where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. I couldn’t help but wonder just how many hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of ships lay on the ocean’s floor there, one of the most treacherous nautical spots in the world. It was an eerily beautiful moment.
Our last stop, before ending the day in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden with a late afternoon picnic of local meat and pastry pies, bread, cheese and wine which Pieter bought at a country store along the way (PG Tops advertises “tour, travel, taste”) was at the colony of African Penguins that live at Boulder Beach. The beach lies within Boulder Bay in what is essentially a residential area, and although the colony is protected you can see them up close from wooden walkways and special viewing areas. Incredibly, from a couple of breeding pairs in the early 80s the population has grown to about 3,000 today.
I often think of our day touring the region. When I do I think of the one thing I wish we’d done differently. That was to have allowed ourselves more time in the region so we could have explored at least one of the magnificent beaches that we could only gawk at as we drove by.
And possibly have had some more wine and cheese on the lawn at Kirstenbosch.
If you go:
Cape Town Tourism http://www.capetown.travel/country/us/