October, finally the Cape of Good Hope

As a tour guide in Cape Town I get to visit the Cape of Good Hope very often, sometimes several times in one week. I never get bored of it and after months of not going there I felt deprived. That is the National Park I missed most of all during lockdown. Even more frustrating is that it’s not far from where I live. I didn’t want to go there until they had opened the entire park so I waited until all sections were declared open. No one could explain why one or two roads might be less safe than others or why hiking was not permitted – we’re talking of a 7700 hectare park with very few people around – it doesn’t get any safer or more socially distant than that.

Anyway, as soon as it was fully open, Sheila and I shot off like bats out of hell to take advantage of this most wonderful and beloved place. We drove up and down all the side roads, enjoyed a picnic with barely a soul around and for once no baboons came to steal from us, and took many happy photos. We were especially grateful that there was no wind because when it blows down there, it blows – it’s the windiest place in South Africa.

The joy of having the park to ourselves was a double-edged sword : no crowds means no work and no income. It’s a horrible situation to be in – on the one hand I love the peace and quiet of having roads and places to ourselves, but at the same time it’s decimated my industry. I was quite emotional to see the empty parking lot which is usually full of coaches and smaller tourism vehicles.

Towards the end of October I ran away from home. The day started off very badly with the bank threatening to take my touring minibus because I had fallen behind on payments. They were refusing to discuss this with me – all calls and emails requesting a meeting were ignored, then one day they simply demanded it. I pointed out this was not permitted without going through a process and they temporarily backed off, but I knew I was in trouble.

I decided to run away. I grabbed Vida off we went, heading for a beautiful beach that I have been meaning to take her to. There are not many beaches here we can let dogs run free but Scarborough beach, next to the Cape of Good Hope on the opposite side of the peninsula to where I live, is one of them. We even stopped at a little restaurant in Scarborough where I shared a burger and fries with her. (She’s on diet now because someone on Facebook pointed out that lockdown had not been kind to her waistline either – she’s a bit of a Facebook sensation so I am grateful for her fans’ attention.).

It was a fabulous day and we didn’t want to come home, but we did, and I started toying with an idea of how to prevent the bank from taking my minibus, see below after photos.

Did you watch My Octopus Teacher? This is where it was filmed.

Pics above: no coaches in parking lot; no diners on restaurant terrace, no tour guides gossiping in front of snake sign. This is NOT how I know these sights!

One of my favourite views across False Bay from the restaurant terrace.

Pics above: The most south-western tip of Africa, ostriches courting dance and two locals being tourists.

Scarborough beach: Vida in her element and lots of space for running and walking safely!

Spring flowers from my garden

The tourism industry is still stuck in Covid-19 limbo and I’ve set up a fundraising campaign to try save my business from being destroyed by my bank. Here is the link and I thank you in advance for any contribution.

Prohibition in the time of Corona

Minus 2 days to country-wide lockdown in the Republic of South Africa, wherein people are confused as to the meaning of ‘midnight’ and prohibition is the new norm.

Stats: Officially, 709 positive cases of Covid-19, 12 recovered, 2 critical, and still not one single death.  We have been compared to Germany for the exceptional handling of this virus – a very high compliment indeed. Also, it’s believed that Americans want to borrow our President for a few months.  Sorry, no, we need him.

My day has been less than productive. I volunteered my services to assist with local Meals on Wheels food distribution but was talked out of it by my little household.

I had a midday nap and woke up feeling rotten. I guess I won’t be the only one experiencing psychosomatic flu symptoms.

I’ve just watched all our sSecurity cluster ministers present details of how this lockdown will work. (A rare instance of actually watching government in action when it works well, quite satisfying in a way). I hate this feeling of impending doom. It’s as if something’s about to happen, except it’s already begun.  The planned mass roll out of testing will result in a massive surge in numbers. It’ll frighten people who don’t realise that we are not testing enough and not gathering enough data on who and where the infections are.

Stockpiling continued frantically today throughout the country, or so I heard. This little peninsula can’t deal with traffic jams at the best of times and apparently today was worse than pre-Christmas. Our leading supermarket chain, Pick n Pay, arranged an online collaboration of some of our best local artists to produce this.

If not for Covid-19 I might be at the Cape of Good Hope today. It’s one of my favourite places to visit and to showcase to tourists. Oh blimey, tourists … my last tour was almost two weeks ago. My clients went straight into 14-day quarantine when they landed back home in Montreal and that’s almost over now. I will email them this weekend to get an update.

14 baboon

The most common animal to see at Cape Point – the Chacma Baboon. Naughty, greedy and completely out of hand now that they associate man with food.

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At the precise spot known as the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western spot of the African continent, there is a strip of beach covered in stones of all shapes and sizes. People can’t resist making cairns. The sea and the park rangers come along and knock them all down and the next day it starts again.

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One of the best things to do down there is a short and not strenuous hike along the cliffs. It allows the visitor to enjoy views not visible from the road.

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Pristine beaches, cliffs eroded over millions of years, views to die for!

 

 

 

 

Cape Point and Boulders – you’re doing it wrong

where are the hoards

Yeah, hoardes of people – this pic was taken in peak season. I don’t deny it can get busy down there but if you wait a few minutes you get a shot like this one.

CapePoint

If the parking lot is too busy, look for this path and step away for a good view.

Whilst faffing about on my Trip Advisor page I happened to notice that some people had rated Cape Point and Boulders as ‘terrible’ or ‘poor’.  I was intrigued enough to read further. Since I can’t comment directly on TA reviews I decided to do it here. All I can say is thank goodness the majority of reviews are not as stupid as these:

Cape Point

“My wife and I are from Durban and were on holiday in the cape. Our passion is history so we decided to go down to cape point as there is so much history there. It costs R90 per adult to get into the park. Once you are in there are various routes that you can drive. We didn’t have much time so just went to the lighthouse. At the lighthouse you can either walk or take the funicular to the top the funicular is a further R100 per person. If you have small children or a pregnant wife such as I do, you are forced to take the funicular to the top. The information about cape point was very poor and crowded by bus loads of pushy Asian tourists!!! There were no tour guides etc we could chat to or other information we could gather so overall we just had the views with no pertinent info.”

  • Dude, clearly your passion for history doesn’t extend to having any actual knowledge of it. If you’re from South Africa you should already know some of that history. Or, you could’ve  stopped at the well-signposted Visitor’s Centre to get info or even buy the very cheap but wonderful little book published by SanParks that explains everything you need to know about Cape Point and the entire Table Mountain National Park. Plus you should’ve given yourself enough time to visit all those routes you mention. Plus you’re talking absolute rubbish about the price of the funicular. Plus you could’ve hired a tour guide. Plus stop bitching about Asian tourists because they’re our bread and butter. Durban wishes it had so many tourists.

“Fairly average as a nature reserve, we had a good interaction with some baboons but didn’t see much else. To the East there were other areas around Hermanus that were far more diverse.”

  • Oh right. One of the most famous spots in the world is reduced to ‘fairly average’. Had you bothered to plan and ask someone a few questions you would’ve taken the trouble to spend more time there so you could drive up and down the side roads where you would have seen some of the most awesome views in the world as well as many other animals. The Visitor’s Centre is there for a purpose. Would love to know more about that illegal sounding ‘interaction’ with baboons.

“The flora of this area was great but as far as the Fauna (wildlife) is concerned, we just saw 3 zebras and 5 ostriches and especially coming from Kenya, we were disappointed completely.”

  • Hmmm that’s because it’s not a game reserve. It’s primarily historic and symbolic. 3 zebras? Lucky you, most don’t even see that. You probably ran into the shop instead of going to the viewpoint next to it – pity because looking towards the Cape of Good Hope there are almost always eland and bontebok lazing on the grass. A little strip of land jutting out into the ocean towards Antarctica is not an ideal location for the great migration.

“Everyone told me that this place was a “must see” in South Africa so I went there and honestly, it is not as cool as it seems! First of all, there is nothing to do. The view is nice and if you are lucky enough you will spot some animals (I saw baboons, ostriches and striped-mice) but that’s it. Most of people will just go there to take a picture in front of that huge sign saying “Cape of Good Hope”, which by the way is always full of desperate tourists that will rush you to finish your photo quickly so that they can do the same. Besides, if the weather is bad I wouldn’t recommend going there as the wind can be quite strong (even during the summer!).”

  • You probably missed the part where the wind is one of the features of that little strip of land. Most people actually enjoy the wind because they get an authentic sense of what it was like for the sailors who battled to round the Cape in sailing ships back in the days when surviving this trip was an accomplishment. Nothing to do? Best hikes in the Cape, shipwreck trail, whale watching while you eat, browsing through the information at the Visitor’s Centre, taking side roads to get away from the crowds, bird watching .. nah, nothing to do. Maybe that’s why clever people hire a tour guide and wear the right clothing.

“The landscape in the nature reserve was lovely but I was a little disappointed there were not many animals to see.”

  • Wrong park! Try Kruger.

kiln

Look at that old lime kiln, right next to a road that nobody bothers to drive down

bontebok

One of the most common sights in Cape Point – a bontebok. Invisible to the naked eye when driving at 70km per hour whilst checking your Facebook or Instagram.

Boulders

“Was so disappointed here. Please remember you have to pay to get into this place. It’s touristy, you can’t get on this beach unless you go further down the road. Expected to see so many more penguins. You basically stand on a viewing platform to watch & take photos. Things have apparently changed over the years due to tourists taking penguin eggs & sabotaging the area for others.”

  • Err no … the reason you pay is because someone has to bear the cost of looking after these endangered birds – mainly by preventing tourists from harming them and sabotaging it for others.

“A combined ticket for Boulders and Cape Point should be available for OVERSEAS visitors (the Green Card works for locals). R60 for a half hour drop in on the way to Cape Point just doesn’t fly!”

  • Another local whinge. You can spend the whole day there, no-one is limiting your time. As a local you should know that there is a much cheaper penguin colony in Betty’s Bay. Go there.

“Share the beach with 2 penguins. Boulders beach is beautiful but after 10am becomes completely overcrowded. Then you are lucky to be able to see any sea or sand.”

  • Where were you? There are 3000+ penguins, the ocean stretches out for thousands of kilometres in front of you, and it’s a beach so sand is a prerequisite. Overcrowded? …. well, you were part of it.

“There are just too many tourists to enjoy Boulders Beach. Yes, the penguins are there. Yes, you can see them very close. But there are literally hordes of tourists. If I had known it was like that, I would have skipped it. Even though the penguins are in the wild, it feels more like a zoo.”

  • Don’t you just love it when tourists come at peak tourism season and then complain about tourists?

“Paying R160 to see 20 penguins is not my idea of a great time. First we went to an empty beach because the inept staff at the second entrance chose not to inform us about the right place to go. After wandering about and taking some wrong stairs, we resorted to going back to the entrance for our money back. After refusing the refund, only then were we informed that there was another viewing point. Along the boardwalk we happened to notice nesting penguins in the bush – again you would think that this would be a great bit of info to give your guests. Once we found this out by accident, the kids had great fun spotting penguins in the undergrowth. Finally arriving at the right place, we were greeted by bus loads of tourists and not enough of a viewing deck to accommodate them. Then we found out that during the day, until around 3pm, most of the alleged 3000 penguins that supposedly live at Boulders are usually out to sea hunting. Mmmmm, all this would be really good to know before they greedily take their money. It is simply not worth the price. Foreign tourists who don’t get to see many penguins and are spending dollars and pounds probably won’t mind though. Here’s an idea…how about special prices for locals?”

  • Blah blah .. another local who exaggerates the price by more than 100%, was probably rude to the staff, didn’t follow sign-posts, and seems to think the area will just look after itself magically with no funds. Oh dear, did we forget to tell you that penguins need to go to sea to fetch fish? Maybe they should double the price and hire people to feed them in front of you.

“We visited this tiny beach January 2014. It was overcrowded and small with many people harassing the penguins. There is an entrance fee and the staff were very rude. Outside the park is a better viewing area with views.”

  • You’re lying on 2 counts – the penguins are never harassed because the walkway (paid for by your entrance fee and my taxes) keeps people at a safe distance. Outside the park? Then you’ll complain that there are only 2 of them.

“Somehow it seemed that penguins were collected and kept here – too may visitors – a crowd – to see a few penguins did not seem worth the effort- frankly seeing them in the Waterfront Aquarium was probably better.”

  • Somehow you were too cheap to hire a guide, right? Somehow you missed reading the brochure and boards explaining that the penguins arrived there all by themselves 30+ years ago after having been almost extinct due to humans damaging their environment. Yes, I agree, the 4 penguins indoors at the aquarium might be better than 3000 on the beach in their natural habitat with eggs and babies and fish in the sea.

“Unless you really, really can’t go on another day without seeing an “African” penguin, I would save your rands. We were processed and pushed through turnstiles along with a busload of Japanese tourists and probably spent less than 10 min looking at a colony of penguins that appeared to be petrified by all the commotion. Not worth the time nor money, in my opinion.”

  • It was your choice to spend only 10 minutes. Sorry about the other people wanting the same experience as you, next time we’ll close the park just for you. Oh, by the way, I’ve been there hundreds of times and have never seen the penguins look anything but bored with the crowds while they go about doing what penguins do. You can even read some more here.

no pensguins2

No penguins. No sand. No sea.

no penguins

A rare photograph of actual penguins at Boulders Penguin colony.

 

The danger of selfies

First I saw the baboons. The 2 on the left, sitting on a rock watching the humans. The way they were sitting made me think of two people watching a show or something. I could almost hear them asking for popcorn to munch on while they watched the humans stopping their cars to gawk.

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We stopped to  gawk, too, and that’s when I realised the bloke in one of the cars had a problem. Turns out he had stopped to take a selfie with the baboons in the background but instead got stuck in the sand. As I arrived and stopped so did a few other cars, as well as the rangers whose job it is to ensure the baboons behave. So the baboons took off.  Last I saw, several people were trying to lift the car out of the sand after a tow rope had broken. I heard later that he finally managed to get out with the help of rocks. It’s not called the Cape of Good Hope for nothing. I never did ask if he actually got his selfie.

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The law is here, let’s gap it and find another party.

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Walking to the Cape of Good Hope

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When I take clients to the Cape Point Nature Reserve I sometimes suggest they might want to walk from Cape Point down to the Cape of Good Hope where I will meet them in the car. They never regret doing it as it’s a fabulous walk with spectacular views. I’m always jealous because I can’t do it with them, needing to drive around to the end. Doing it both ways would take too long. So I was thrilled to be able to do it the other day with our bus driver doing the driving around and waiting. Just my luck there was no wind but it was excessively hot.

It’s a really really nice walk. Only about 40 minutes if you don’t dawdle, not difficult at all except for the last section down to the Cape of Good Hope where there’s a bit of rock scrambling but nothing major. The views are marvelous and there’s no other way to see them; there are lots of dassies on the rocks and you often see antelope.

teacher

This is the one teacher who was supposed to bring up the rear and make sure no-one strayed off the path. Note how many students are behind him and where he is standing.

steps 2

The steep steps down to Dias Beach. Students were not permitted to go down there because the swimming is dangerous. They obeyed but it was tough after they saw a woman sunbathing, all alone on the beach.

cliffs

The reserve is full of stunning cliff views like this but you have to leave the road to see any of them. Even the ones at the very end, where the lighthouse is, are often missed because people don’t know where to look. Of course, I know where to look.

close to edge

The boarded walk is very close to the edge in certain parts. It’s not a good idea to do this walk in strong winds.

now to walk down

Starting the descent and there are all the cars and buses, including ours.

walking

I want to do this walk in Spring!

stones

Lovely stones

rockface

Do you also see a face?

board becomes stones at times

The boarded walk sometimes gives way to flat-ish stones.

good shoes needed

Although much of the walk is this board, you need to wear good walking shoes because of the descent and because these planks are a bit loose in sections.

finally there

The whole point of going to the Cape of Good Hope part of the reserve is to take this iconic photo behind the sign.

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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