The bus was late picking me up. Not that it mattered; one of the joys of travelling has to be not watching the clock. With all 11 people safely picked up, we headed off over Kloof Neck. The advantage of a Baz Bus tour is that they pick up from backpackers. I’m not sure other tours would do that or, more specifically, that they’d be able to find the backpackers. The other advantage – apart from being, just generally, a great tour.
Through Camps Bay and around past the 12 Apostles Hotel, enjoying the beautiful Cape Town morning. We were lucky to get such good weather. Cape Town weather, while it is stunning when it is clear, can be unpredictable this time of year.
As we passed Llandudno, the tour guide was quick to name a few of the celebrities who are supposed to have houses there, from Tom Cruise to Elton John – the Beverley Hills of Cape Town, he called it.
Into the “small fishing village” of Hout Bay. I’m always amused when people call this affluent suburb a small fishing village. It does have a fishing harbour, however, which was the first stop. This tour has the option of taking a boat-trip to Seal Island at an extra cost of R60. I was seriously considering it but when no-one else showed any interest, decided just to wander around Hout Bay harbour instead.
Next was a quiet drive up towards the look-out point on Chapman’s Peak where we stopped for biscuits and juice, looking down on Hout Bay. This is a beautiful sight, especially on a calm, sunny day, and one that most people don’t often take the time to enjoy. Boats move lazily across the water. The mountain peak appears to be cut in half, with the huge jutting rock-face waiting eternally to tumble into the sea so far below. The strange and ridiculously expensive houses nestle in the fynbos. Everything is calm.
Chapman’s Peak Drive is spectacular on any given day, but is particularly breathtaking when it is crystal clear and when enjoyed in the company of those who are seeing it for the first time. A bit out shark-spotters and then across Kommetjie and Fish Hoek to the next stop, Boulders Beach.
Penguins make me happy. This has long and varied roots but is mostly because penguins are associated in my brain with people who make me happy. Until now, however, I had never seen the Cape Town penguins. When I lived in Cape Town as a child, the colony didn’t exist yet and later there was so much going going on that it somehow never happened. Today’s trip was partly an attempt to remedy that and I was in no way disappointed.
The penguins that live at Boulders Beach are African or Jackass Penguins – so called because they bray like donkeys. They also smell a lot like rotting fish and are a terrible nuisance to residents in the area because they have a particular fondness for dog-food and swimming pools. All this is tolerated, however, because they are both endangered and so darn cute. It was a little chilly on that side of the mountain, so some of the penguins were huddled in sandy hollows under dry dune-bushes. Others were waddling, two-by-two across the sand-dunes to their houses or towards the sea. We saw one abandoned egg in the undergrowth.
Further along the purpose-built wooden walkways, the beach opens out and penguins huddle together making a terrible racket. Some sit and sun themselves on rocks. Others nest with babies. Fluffy, brown, comical baby penguins. The guide tells me they are terribly grumpy at this stage of their development – because they are as yet unable to swim and so fish – but they are definitely particularly delightful to watch. African penguins are quite small and some of these young penguins were almost as big as their mothers but, still brown and fluffy, they huddled together in the sand.
Having dragged ourselves away from the penguins, we headed back to the bus and onward towards Cape Point nature reserve. This reserve is one I have visited but not for many years. It also differs significantly from many other South African reserves. Most nature areas in South Africa are grassland areas that focus on large mammals, up to and including the big 5. There are a few, however, that have a different flavour, from mangrove swamps to wild coastal areas. This is one of the ‘different’ ones. Although there are some large mammals here, the real joy and beauty of the reserve is the wide-open rolling hills of fynbos edged on all sides by the crashing Atlantic ocean.
This particular tour has a special option over most others – a 6km cycle through the Cape Point nature reserve. I must say, for the record, that I am rather unfit and the last time I cycled may actually have been in Gyeongju that Autumn day. It was still delightful. You cycle along the road, so the traffic can be a bit annoying, but the air is clear and crisp and the world stretches out in all directions with the grey of the Cape foliage. As we cycled, a couple of Bontebok gallopped up beside us and across the road. A little further along, two large male and one female ostriches stood about 10m away, peck-pecking at the ground. In between hill-tops the plains spread out. The joy of cycling, and why it is worth the tiredness, is that you are able to travel more slowly and be right there, close up to nature. There is no distance and no glass and metal and plastic between you and the world you are seeing.
Cold meat, salads and rolls for lunch, along with a good, long rest, followed the cycling, at a tourist and information centre looking out towards Da Gama’s cross. I wandered off to look around and found an ancient pine tree bent almost to the ground, as if constantly blown and buckled by the prevailing wind, even though this day was still and calm.
The guide informed us that he would normally head to Cape Point after lunch but the mist had come in, so we were going to try the Cape of Good Hope first. This Cape lay clear of mist, with the sunlight playing dazzling, dancing games across the kelp forests just below the water. There is a latitude and longitude sign here where all the tourists gather to take turns for a photograph – a picture to prove we were there. A busload (quite literally) of Chinese tourists scrambled for their turns. Even the group of backpackers I was with, far more the type to claim higher moral ground over ‘tourists’, indulged their desire for proof of existence. I wandered along the beach and drank in the smell of the sea and wondered how many days of flying it would take to reach the end (or bottom) of the world.
From the Cape of Good Hope we climbed up a ridiculously treacherous, steep and far-too-tough-for-unfit-people staircase path. From there we began the (much gentler) 40 minute uphill walk to Cape Point. Some part of me would have preferred to do the downhill walk, but there is something special, either way, about that walk between the two end-points of the Cape Peninsula. Looking down cliffs, looking out across false bay, looking out, south, towards the endless sea. We reached Cape Point parking area with much tiredness. I didn’t even go up the final path (another 20 minute walk) to stand on the actual South Western-most tip of Africa. I didn’t need to. Being there was enough. Instead, I spent some time not moving, enjoying the views and watching the strangely unexpected sight of an ostrich foraging on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic ocean.
And then it was done. The trip back to Cape Town was still beautiful – via Ou Kaapse, which is one of my favourite drives in the Western Cape, and then M3 past UCT and back to town. I was exhausted – it took me several days of stiffness to recover properly – but I’m glad I took the opportunity to visit Hout Bay and to see the penguins and to spend some time at the points that end the place that is my home.