It was completely unintentional, but this year I had a “pole to pole” theme for my summer vacation. I had a bit of extra time off, and South Africa had been at the top of my travel list for a long time. After returning from Iceland, I spent a week in Canada working, then flew Montreal-Amsterdam-Cape Town.
My trip got off to an intense start. I arrived in Cape Town in the middle of the night, collapsed into my bed at the hostel, then got up a few hours later to climb Table Mountain. Don’t worry, I’ll always be young enough for this!
I went on a guided hike, since I was alone and some of the routes up the mountain can be quite dangerous. My guide from Hike Table Mountain was a chipper and funny Cape Towner who kept us energized in the early morning and made the experience so enjoyable. I picked the India Venster route, since it was considered adventurous, but didn’t require any technical skills. Right up my alley!
During some parts of climb, we had to scramble up the rocks, with the assistance of our guide. I was so glad that she was telling us where to place our legs and arms! It wasn’t always obvious. Our guide also did mountain rescues, and she told us about all the trouble people get into on the mountain either by themselves or with unlicensed guides. Some routes seem fairly innocent, but if the weather takes a sudden turn, it’s easy to get stuck.
At one point, the guide stopped talking and said to me “by the way, there’s a dassie behind you.” I whirled around and saw a little rodent staring at me. I yelped a little, but only because it startled me. In my defence, I had just been hiking in Iceland, where there’s virtually no wildlife. And now, all of a sudden, I was face to face with a mammal I had never seen before in my life. Once I had gotten over my shock, I whipped out my camera to document the moment.
We encountered very few people on our way up the mountain, but as soon as we reached the top, we were surrounded by hordes of other tourists who had come up via the cable car. The peaceful interlude was over. Our guide joked that Cape Town is known as a “drinking town with a tourism problem.” Teehee.
I spent the rest of that first day in South Africa relaxing at my hostel. Okay, maybe I won’t always be young enough for this kind of travel! But in all fairness, I was still battling a terrible cold that I’d picked up during my week at home. The worst of it was over, but the virus was still lingering (more on that in the next blog post).
I spent the following day exploring the snazzy area of Cape Town, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. I happily wandered through the giant pedestrian zone, where I was entertained by street performers. I also grabbed a delicious dinner, a lamb fold over, at the Food Market.
For my last day in Cape Town, I took an organized Cape Pensinsula tour. The day started with a stop at Hout Bay, where we had the option going by boat to see a seal colony. The waves looked pretty choppy, and our guide said that those of us with seasickness tendencies might have a problem. I heeded his advice, and stayed behind to sip a hot chocolate at a café instead. I had had an excellent breakfast, which I wasn’t overly keen on seeing in reverse.
From Hout Bay we drove to Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the most stunningly beautiful roads in the world. I’m sure it’s beyond magnificent on a clear day, because even on a cloudy morning the views were incredible.
The clouds finally parted just as we arrived at a quiet road along the coast. We climbed out of the bus and hopped on some bikes, then pedaled about three kilometres to our lunch stop. There were hardly any cars, and even the ones that did drive by were going reasonably slowly. Usually I’m a nervous nellie when it comes to cycling on roads, but I felt perfectly safe on this stretch.
After lunch, we headed to Cape Point. Our guide gave us the traditional “Beware the Baboons” speech before we hiked up to the lighthouse. We were told not to carry any food in our bags. If a baboon did try to snatch something, we weren’t supposed to fight back under any circumstances. As we left the bus, we heard a story from another group coming down the hill. Apparently, someone had forgotten to take food out of their bag. A baboon yanked away the bag, grabbed the food, then tossed everything else (including passports, wallets and cameras) down the cliff. Ouchhhhh. I made sure to give the baboons as wide a berth as possible as I made my way up and down the path.
Once we were safely out of baboon land, we walked along the trail leading to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern point of Africa. The only mammals I saw hanging around the path were cute and timid dassies. It was much less stressful!
The tour wrapped up at Boulders Beach, one of the only places in the world where you can see a penguin colony at close range. Our guide gave us another speech as we arrived at the viewing area. This one was called “For Pete’s Sake Don’t Stop at the First Penguin!” Sure enough, the first thing we saw when we entered the protected area was a crowd of other tourists clumped near a single penguin taking photos. All they had to do was walk a few more metres and they could take their pick of thousands of other photogenic birdies. The penguins were ridiculously adorable, and it was so much fun watching them swim, waddle along and shake their feathers out. However, I wasn’t expecting them to have such a pungent odour. It made me somewhat less inclined to want to cuddle them.
The next morning, I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg to join my Topdeck tour. I had been blown away by my Serengeti experience in 2013, and I was eager to try a safari in a different part of Africa. I met up with my tour group at a lodge near the Johannesburg airport. We spent the night in comfy dorm beds, then drove to Kruger National Park in the northeastern corner of South Africa.
On our way to Kruger, we stopped at a rest stop called Alzu Petroport, where rhinos and buffalo were wandering around outside the gates. The rhino was the only one of the big five that I didn’t spot in the Serengeti, so I was very excited to see the animals. As far as I was concerned, my safari was already a success!
I was very particular about my choice of accommodation. By particular, I mean I had one stipulation: no bush camps! I don’t mind sleeping in a tent, but I do mind sleeping in a tent surrounded by lions. Perhaps that makes me something of a princess, but so be it. On this tour, all the campsites were located in enclosed and secure properties with lovely washroom facilities. I was as happy as a clam.
We arose before sunrise for our full-day tour of Kruger National Park. We were lucky enough to spot a leopard early in the day. All it did was lounge on a rock, but a leopard doing nothing in the wild was still one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. I was totally thrilled with the safari already.
We did see one lion from a distance, but it wasn’t even worth taking a photograph. My zoom didn’t reach that far! Apparently it’s hit and miss when it comes to spotting lions at Kruger. I wasn’t disappointed for myself (I’ve seen enough of those beasts!), but I was sad for some of my tourmates who weren’t going on any other safaris on their trip.
Most of us opted to also take a sunset tour of the park. Many of the species are more active after sundown, so we had a better chance of spotting animals hunting or prowling around. Well, I’m sure the Kruger inhabitants were doing outrageously awesome things that night … but not anywhere near us. The only notable things we saw were a herd of buffalo surrounding our jeep and a giant python slithering across the road. Ah well.
We finished the South African portion of our tour with a stay at the fabulous Tshipise Forever Resort, a stone’s throw from the Zimbawean border. The resort had a huge cold pool and a hot spring pool, where we spent the evening relaxing.
After dinner, we told stories by the campfire and used phone apps to identify all the constellations, including the famous Southern Cross. It was one of the most peaceful nights of my trip, and a wonderful end to my time in South Africa.