Cape Town’s Biodiversity

The combination of southern proximity to Antarctica, the meeting point of two oceans, and the meeting of the sea with the landscape of Africa, had to come together to provide the Cape Town area with an amazing biodiversity of flora and fauna that is a pleasure for the senses.  The promise was met from Day One, when only hours after arriving and while driving along the coast of False Bay, we spotted whales casually swimming only ~60 meters from shore.  Not once, but numerous times we would stop to watch these gentle giants make their way down the coast.  Farther on down the coast past Simonstown, we stopped at The Boulders, where a resident African Penguin colony can be observed in its natural habitat up close and personal.  Later that day in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, one could see herds of Eland and Waterbucks grazing nearby.

SA2359 Whale 4

Whale under the surface at False Bay 

SA2367 Penguin Colony 1

Penguins at The Boulders

SA2382 Nesting Penguin 1

Nesting penguin

If fact, Penguins, Seals and Antelope are fairly common all around the area as they could be seen at many places while driving along the coast or hiking in the parks.  Also, since it was just the beginning of “Spring” while we were there in September, numerous flora were in bloom.  Amazing bushes 6 meters across with hundreds of full yellow blooms, and delicate red buds springing up between rocks welcoming the direct sun were everywhere we went.  We do not know what their names were, but we know that they were beautiful, and we very much enjoyed them.

 SA2432 Yellow Flowers SA2627 Red Flowers

One morning, we drove to a Wildlife Outreach Program hosted by Spier Winery and Resort located south of Stellenbosch, to the west of Cape Town.  Here, there is a privately funded program aimed at protection and reintroduction of both birds of prey, and of African Cheetahs.  It turns out Cheetahs are very much endangered in Africa, since their habitat is shrinking, and they are increasingly in conflict with the growing South African Cattle and Sheep industry.  Until recently, Cattlemen would deal with any Cheetah problem by killing them. But, this Outreach Group provides rehabilitation to injured Cheetahs, and provides free herd dogs to ranchers as an alternative means of control.  It turns out Cheetahs prefer flight to fight, and a protective guard dog is all that is needed to keep the Cheetahs at bay.  In order to be able to afford the dogs and their training and to provide this service to local ranchers, the Outreach Program uses some of their locally raised cats, which are not suitable for being returned to the wild, as part of their human education and fundraising program.  We watched as three 4-month-old cubs were fed, played with and socialized to humans, as future ambassadors.  Then, Julie and I were allowed to enter a Cheetah enclosure and pet and meet close up a full grown, non-tethered, 14-month-old male Cheetah named “Peter”.  He was an energetic, but beautiful animal, clearly enjoying the human touching, as he “purred” a low rumble, and playfully rolled on his back.  Likely, a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience for both of us.

SA2682 Cheetah Best 1

Peter, cheetah ambassidor, Cheetah Outreach Program, Spier Vineyards

SA2685 Cheetah Cubs Best

4 month old cheetah cub at play

SA2688 Rocky & Julie with Cheetah

Peter purring away while Julie and Rocky pet him

In Search of a Great Wine

No trip to Cape Town would be complete without at least some sampling of the local wine country.  Just west of town are the prolific wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek.  We did not have a lot of time on this initial trip, so we tried to give preference to wineries that were recommended, but unfamiliar to us, and that were off “the beaten path”. Initially, we went to Spier Winery and Resort just south of Stellenbosch, not for their wine, but for their Animal Outreach program.  Then we went on to Rustenberg winery north of Stellenbosch, where we explored a beautiful tasting room, antiques buildings and lawns, as we sampled 6 wines of our choosing.  Their wines span an excellent range from simple table fare to classic cellar wines.  From there, we traveled to Franschhoek where we had lunch at a fine restaurant named La Petite Ferme.  While waiting for our table to be readied on the veranda, we sat on benches on the garden lawn overlooking the valley and distant mountains beyond while enjoying a delicate house wine.  Here we sampled some local fare, including Springbok Bobotie, a ground meat and spice mixture baked in a soufflé – simply delicious!  From here, we journeyed just north of Franschhoek to Dieu Donne Winery where we were greeted by a tasting room that opened to a great view of the valley and vineyards below.  Before leaving Franschhoek, we stopped at Morrison’s Vineyard, where we sampled their wide selection of excellent sparkling white wines.  Finally, as the sun was waning, we traveled north to Paarl where we went to Fairview Winery, famous for its homemade goat cheese.  Here, we tasted wines and sampled cheeses until closing, when we collected our purchases and headed back to Cape Town.  So many wineries to visit – and so little time!  But, we think we made the best of it, and we would recommend any of these locations to our friends.

SA2695 Rustenberg Vineyards

Rustenberg Vineyards, Stellenbosch, over 300 years old

SA2698 Julie Tasting at Rustenberg

Rustenberg tasting room, formerly a stable house

SA2704 Julie waits for Lunch

Julie sitting on the lawn at La Petite Ferme, Franschhoek, awaiting lunch and loooking down on Franschhoek Valley.

SA2706 Springbok Bobati

Springbok Bobotie, a favorite South African dish of a delicious mixture of lightly curried meat and fruit topped with an egg custard.

SA2709 Dieu Donne Vineyards

Dieu Donne Vineyards and Microbrewery in the foothills of the Wemmershoek Mountains, Franschhoek.

SA2713 Moreson Tasting Area

Moreson Vineyards tasting room, Franschhoek

SA2718 Fairview Vineyards

Fairview Vineyards and Cheese, Paarl

Cape Town – Nature’s Portrait

We had often heard from our traveling friends that Cape Town, South Africa was on of the most beautiful places that they had been, but we have traveled to many beautiful places from the coast of Brazil, to the plains of East Africa, from the valleys of Yellowstone to the shore of the Caribbean, from the roof of Hawaii to the islands of the Eastern Mediterranean, so we were a bit skeptical.  However, after our first visit there, we are convinced that the juxtaposition of the area’s natural beauty with quality lifestyle and entertainment is clearly world-class!

 SA2334 Lily

When one talks of the natural beauty of Cape Town, it falls into two regions – the meandering coastline with its beautiful beaches, quaint villages and historic points; and the soaring mountains which rise from the sea and provide a crown of weather, views and adventure for those who reside below them.  We started our journey along the western coast of the peninsula which forms the east side of False Bay.  This area is ringed with quaint, sleepy villages, (Fish Hoek, Glen Cairn & Simonstown), home to sailing, art and antiques. 

SA2346 Fish Hoek Town Fish Hoek town center

As one travels south to Cape Point, there are an abundance of isolated coves, offshore rocks and scenic overlook restaurants where one can sample local seafood.  The coastal road eventually gives way to an ascent to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, and eventually Cape Point.  This is the southern-most point in Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, and an area of numerous sailor’s tales and lost ships. 

SA2418 Two Oceans 1

Two oceans (Indian & Atlantic) meet at Cape Point South Africa

A hike to the lighthouse provides a spectacular view of the area and a chronology of ships that continue to be lost in this area, as they choose to hug the African coastline to avoid waves and weather, but risk the submerged rocks lurking below.

SA2420 Atlantic at Point

 Cliffs at Cape Point & Atalantic Ocean

We turn our travel north on the western-side of the peninsula, finding many of the beaches where surfers build their skills.  On this coast, the sleepy villages are replaced with the tuna boats and shrimp trawlers of fishing towns, such as Hout Bay, and finally we arrive at the city outskirts at the picturesque Camps Bay.  Passing this point and coming into view of Cape Town, the shadow of Table Mountain towering over the city dominates every landscape view.

 SA2440 Whitsand Bay







Whitsand Bay

SA2450 Camps Bay from Room

Camps Bay from our room at Primi Sea Castle

Table Mountain is a spectacularly “flat” mountain at ~1050 meters high, which rises nearly straight up from the coast.  To go up to the top, we took the Cable Car to the summit of the Western Table, from which numerous hiking trails emanate.  A 2 ½ hour hike took us across Platteklip’s Gorge to the Eastern Table and the mountain’s highest point, MacLears Beacon, at 1088 meters.  We were lucky with the clarity of the day, as the mountain creates it’s own weather, and can often by restricted by dense fog and high winds.  The trail is a combination of rock steppers, alpine meadow boardwalks, and cliff-edge trails with spectacular views of the coast and city below. From our residence at Camps Bay, we could daily see clouds roll in from over the mountain, drop down over us, and promptly lower our coastal temperature 10 degrees Centigrade. To the north of Table Mountain are Lions Head Mountain, and Signal Hill, both popular and challenging outdoor adventures to hike up.  One can drive up to the top of Signal Hill where there are unparalleled views of Table Mountain and the local Coast.  Every day at noon, they still fire a single cannon from the mount, a signal and tribute to the city’s colorful past.  At the northern base of these mountains is Cape Bay, with its bustling and renovated Victoria & Albert Waterfront shopping, Green’s Point Soccer Stadium and gateway to the Atlantic Seaboard.

SA2659 Cable Car and Town

Cable car to Table Mountain high above Cape Town

SA2806 Julie & Table Mountain Best

Table Mountain from Signal Hill

SA2649 West Table from East Table

Table Mountain – West Table as viewed from the East Table

SA2445 Signal Hill from Camps Bay

Signal Hill from Camps Bay

SA2452 Waterfront in Morning

V & A Waterfront, Cape Town

The Voice of Freedom in Cape Town, South Africa

On our brief but first visit to South Africa, we were impressed with the passion of its residents.  Everywhere, there was a huge pride that bound the country together in their commitment to bring the World to their shores for Africa’s first World Cup in 2010.  It was especially impressive to see a country where apartheid ruled only 20 years ago, lift itself to new levels of cooperation, trust and respect.  The spectacular Green’s Point Soccer Stadium rises on the shores of Cape Town as a local symbol of this commitment to demonstrate to the world that their country is ready to take a respected seat among the leaders of the world.

SA2811 Green Point Stadium from Signal Hill

 Green Point Stadium

Although Progress has been made, the country preserves its painful history, so elegantly reminded through the World Heritage Site at Robben Island.  Robben Island is a low limestone island in the bay off Cape Town that was originally named for the seals that inhabited the island, and is a half-hour’s boat ride from Cape Town waterfront.  In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, it was used to isolate international lepers in a colony and later as a criminal prison, and political holding area for enemies of the state.  Today, the only marked graves remaining on the island are a small plot from groups of these diseased souls who not only lived out their lives in the small space, but married and had children who were taken from then since they did not have the disease.


SA2460 Robbin Island from Ferry

Robben Island from the ferry

Also remaining on the island are the prisons and supporting structures for what grew to be a political prisoner holding area during the latter 20th century.  Housed on the island was the State internment area for Robert Sobukwe.  Mr. Sobukwe was a black leader during the apartheid years who was arrested and had served his full prison term sentence.  However, instead of being released, the government wrote a specific constitutional phase in that allowed them to hold him here in an isolated room-building among only dog kennels for the rest of his life to prevent him from influencing others in the country or any of those also imprisoned on the island.  For years, he was never allowed to talk with another person.

SA2466 Robert Sobukwe House & Don Kennels

Robert Sobukwe House (single concrete room on the left) and dog kennels (middle and right).

During the growing anti-apartheid movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s, many political activists were jailed here, although the cell blocks were limited to only male persons of color only. 

SA2463 Robbin Island Prison

Most famous of these was Nelson Mandella, who was interned here for 17 years in the highest security area – Cell Block “B”.  He later was held on the mainland for another 7 years for refusing to renounce violence as a means for ending apartheid, until his release and pardon in the 1990’s.  Our tour through the prison was especially poignant given that it was led and described by Mr. Itumeleng Makwela, himself a prisoner in cell blocks “A” and “F” for 10 years, and one of the prison’s cooks. 

SA2478 Ifumeleug Makwela guide

In 1980 he was arrested for distributing weapons to the dissidents and served his sentence while Mr. Mandella was there.  He talked of sleeping on a floor mat in the early days before beds were finally allowed. 

SA2482 Cell with Mats before 1985

And he talked of long evenings as the inmates would hide near the only light in the bathrooms, teaching and educated each other to read and write, and to learn of the value and of the price of freedom for which they struggled.  Their days were spend at the island’s limestone quarry, where they broke rocks by hand, initially to provide road material for the country,

SA2468 Quarry, Teaching Cave and Rock Memorial

but later to simply provide a hard toil for them  At the time Makwela was released in 1990, was being paid 5 rand per month for being a cook.  He is one of the dwindling survivors of this place who still have a personal story to tell, and we felt honored to have had the chance to listen to him.  No one ever escaped from Robbin Island, and it was closed in the early 1990’s, and eventually turned into a memorial and Heritage Site.  Today, approximately 127 people still live on the island, many of them families of both the guards and the inmates who spent much of their life in this place.


Back on shore, one marvels at how far the country and its people have come in such a short time.  South Africans of all races freely demonstrate their native cultures and peacefully discuss their differences and their joint aspirations.  We met a number of visitors from Australia, England and New Zealand who were former residents of South Africa, and who left the country during its violent period 20-plus years ago.  They were coming back to revisit and reassess their country, as will the world next year.  The wounds of the past are healing, and the country is an exciting place to visit as the voice of recent freedom still echoes clearly in the air here.

SA2598 Capetown from Bay

Capetown and Table Mountain from the bay