Four Days in Cape Town

Ahhh Cape Town. Where to start? We only spent about five days there, including our first night in South Africa before heading to Rocklands, and the final three and a half days before we came back to France. I’m sure you could fill at least a week easily, especially if you went less hard core than we did. But we actually had trouble sleeping in and ended up getting up early (7:30 or 8:30) most days, and since it got dark around 6:30, we tried to be back by then.

I think we managed to hit all the high points.

Bo-Kaap and City Bowl

We arrived in Cape Town at around noon having left France the day before. Though I managed to sleep more on the plane this time than other times, we were still totally wiped upon arrival, not to mention that it was winter and the sun set at 6:15, so we took a walk around the cloudy, cold V&A Waterfront and went to bed at like 9:30.

The following morning we packed our things, somehow hid them all in the trunk (there were three of us at this point including three crashpads), and headed to Bo-Kaap, known as the prettiest neighborhood in Cape Town and also historically Muslim. Despite the clouds and the gray, it was still something special to look at.

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Looking down from Signal Hill

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Toward Signal Hill

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Bo-Kaap traffic with City Bowl behind it

We parked at the edge of Signal Hill and walked our way through Bo-Kaap, into the tiny Bo-Kaap Museum, and toward downtown. We came randomly across a wholesale African art market, which it turned out are a real thing in Cape Town and a really good deal. J cracked for a couple of items, but this visit helped give us a reference for good prices for the rest of the trip, and we returned to a similar spot the day before leaving Cape Town to complete our purchases (we bought a lot of stuff, ok?).

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

After Rocklands and the Garden Route we returned to Cape Town with much better weather which we took advantage of immediately at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It was particularly motivating to come here after having spent two weeks in the fynbos of Rocklands.

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Entering the gardens (Table Mountain National Park in the background)

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Birds of paradise

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The new tree canopy walkway (very cool)

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Protea

The gardens were tiring for me: they were almost completely hill. At one point our decisions about what parts to visit became entirely based on which parts involved going uphill, but since we weren’t very good with the map we ended seeing almost everything anyway. We spent the whole afternoon there, eating lunch at the restaurant and ending in the greenhouses. There were lots of families having picnics.

Going out on Long Street

I have no pictures of this part, but it was definitely worth doing and led to our one day of sleeping in in Cape Town. Our friends wanted a night out in the city and the place to go was Long Street, in the middle of downtown. I have never seen a city street so packed with night life in my life, including Paris and 6th Street in Austin. I don’t know why they don’t close this street to through traffic on Saturday nights. We arrived around 8 and had burgers, drinks and milkshakes at a local restaurant. When J took me back to the apartment at 12 things seemed to just be getting started, and he returned with our friends to stay out till 2. They on the other hand were out till 5—needless to say they didn’t do much the following day. But this did really feel like a cultural experience worth having, even at the potential loss of the following day’s sightseeing. And the street was so packed with police, taxis, and bar-goers that it felt safe, though I can’t speak for the side streets. I told one of our friends that I wanted him to physically put J back in the rental car at the end of the night to make sure he got home, but he had no trouble at all (and it was only a ten-minute drive from where we were staying).

The V&A Waterfront

With the now sunny, warm weather we went back to the V&A Waterfront and it was a different place from the first night we’d arrived. We were there primarily to catch our ferry for Robben Island (separate post on that coming), but we had about an hour to visit the art shops and look at the different boats anchored in the harbor. We also managed to find Nobel Square this time, which is a series of four larger than life statues of the four South Africans who have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Me and Nelson Mandela (the statues are in the shade in the morning), with the waterfront and Table Mountain behind

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Art for sale outside a massive shop on the waterfront

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Inside on the second of three floors: We amazingly did not buy anything here.

The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve

The Cape of Good Hope is not actually the southernmost point in Africa, but it is traditionally where people considered that the Atlantic and Indian Oceans were divided. It is also not the only cape in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, the most visited actually being Cape Point, which is where we went.

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In the zoomed in section you can see the Cape of Good Hope in the west and Cape Point in the east

The reserve itself is huge and I’m sure you could spend a day there, plus there is actually some accommodation in the reserve if you want to spend two days. We paid our entry of 130 rand each (less than 10 euros) and drove down to the Cape Point stop, where there are toilets (as always, South Africa for the win), a small souvenir shop where we bought two sets of salad spoons, and a funicular up to the start of the hikes. The funicular is unnecessary if you’re in reasonably good shape, but I was breathing for two, so we didn’t hesitate to take it. Since we were there at 9 am, we were the only ones on the trip up (we walked down).

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Going up the funicular

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The Cape of Good Hope from Cape Point

Once at the top of the funicular, there are yet more staircases up to a lighthouse. I was very clearly incapable of walking these stairs and so let J run up. While I was sitting waiting for him and enjoying the view, and entire busload of South African schoolchildren arrived at full sprint running up the stairs, and they almost all collapsed right about where I was sitting. It was hilarious.

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Cape Point J saw this viewpoint, I was watching South African kids collapse on the stairs

From this spot there is actually a 90-minute hike out to the actual tip of Cape Point, but that was sort of physically of the question and we also didn’t have time.

After that we got back in the car and explored a couple of other places on the east coast of the peninsula before heading up to Simon’s Town.

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Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach

We headed up to Simon’s Town on the east coast of the cape peninsula for lunch and for a boat ride. Simon’s Town is a small town not far from Boulders Beach where the African penguin colony is located. We had booked a “boat ride” to Seal Island out of Simon’s Town since it was way cheaper than whale watching and promised possible dolphin sightings.

Little did I know that this boat ride was actually on an 8-person zodiac boat. Before departure the company told us that the winds had lifted and the bay crossing promised to be a bit bumpy, and did anyone want to drop out? I figured “a bit bumpy” was fine as long as I had one last pee, and we headed out. As soon as we sped up to cross the bay I felt like I had made a truly insane decision to stay on that boat. But with some quadricep work and heavy concentration, I managed to keep it together through the gigantic bumps across the waves and we even saw dolphins. Like, lots of dolphins, swimming with and around the boat. One of them even splashed J. Pictures were impossible to take during the crossing but he did manage to get a video that we can remember them by.

I enjoyed the way back more than the way out mainly because I was on the dry side of the boat and J got drenched.

After this insane boat ride we headed to Boulders Beach, one of our main goals for the entire trip to South Africa. The penguins are small and have free roam over the beach and the woods surrounding it, but people, after paying about 4 euros to the park, go through a wooden walkway that keeps them from disturbing the penguins too much. Still, some of them get pretty close.

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Penguin on the sand

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Penguin saying hello (I mean not really)

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Adult with two babies

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Penguins coming out of the water

They were pretty cool. There was some good information around so you could recognize some of their behavior and the age differences (baby, adolescent, adult) and also informing visitors that they do indeed bite, so don’t be dumb.

Our final day in Cape Town we finally managed to get up Table Mountain, but I feel like that’s a whole thing of its own, so I’ll be back to write about that and Robben Island.

 

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5 thoughts on “Four Days in Cape Town

  1. Penguins!!! I absolutely adore penguins! They would pretty much be enough to get me on a plane to South Africa.

    And I love those pretty houses! So bright and colorful!

    Did you feel like Cape Town was a fairly “young” city then? Or was the night life sort of a surprise? Or maybe it was an older crowd out and about even then? Just curious how it felt.

    • Hey Shannon, that’s a good question and I didn’t get a feel for the “age” of the city’s population so I checked out this website (http://www.statssa.gov.za/?page_id=1021&id=city-of-cape-town-municipality) which appears to suggest that yes, the median age is around 30. The city is so freaking big (almost 4 million people) that it felt a lot like other big cities, except with the obvious mark of apartheid and the crazy mountain in the middle. I guess I expected the nightlife to be more like Paris, but it was definitely busier than any evenings I’ve spent in Paris. The going out parts of the city might be more condensed though than in Paris, so maybe everyone is just in the same place.
      Also, yeah, penguins, BIG motivator (and I clearly had some hesitations about this trip!).

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