At the Top and the Tip of the World in Cape Town

We were very excited to get to Cape Town, but apparently Cape Town wasn’t quite ready for us. Due to an unfortunate oversight, Beth’s plane ticket wasn’t issued with her full name. When we landed in Johannesburg and tried to check-in for our connecting flight to Cape Town, the staff at South African Airlines didn’t want to let her on the flight. Apparently her name not matching exactly was cause to completely invalidate her ticket and require us to purchase a new one. We haggled back and forth with the airport staff and our travel agents for an hour or two (luckily we had a fairly long layover) and eventually someone pressed a magic button in the system and everything was fine.

We arrived in Cape Town late in the evening and were ready to get to our hotel. The driver who met us at the airport was named Arnold and turned out to be an absolute delight. He was a long-time Cape Town resident who possessed an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the city. He was friendly, he was funny, and his personality was completely engaging. We loved every minute of the drive and immediately decided to hire him to take us on a full-day tour of Cape Town starting the next morning.

We were staying at a place called the Mariner Guesthouse (www.marinerguesthouse.co.za) based on the recommendation of our friends who went to South Africa at the end of last year. It was a delightful little bed and breakfast perched on the top of the hillside overlooking the ocean. From our room each morning we had a marvelous view of the sunrise as it came out over the ocean. The owner is a fantastic woman who was all too eager to help us organize our visit.

Our first morning the weather was very overcast so we quickly ruled out a trip up Table Mountain. Instead, Arnold took us on a nice loop drive around Cape Town with stops to take in some of its impressive views. During our circumnavigation of the city, we learned all about the city’s history and culture as well as talked about current political issues like a controversial new toll road, etc. As we made our way back towards the southern end of the Cape, the sun came out and burned off most of the cloud cover. With the weather improving dramatically, we headed straight to Cape Point. We were definitely not disappointed, though we were a bit confused about the names.

I had always heard people talk about the “Cape of Good Hope.” In Cape Town, you also hear it called “Cape Hope,” “Cape Point,” and of course, just “the Cape.” Technically, the Cape of Good Hope is not just the specific spot in Cape Town, but a larger region making up the tip of Southern Africa. In fact, the point farthest south is not even in Cape Town. It’s a few hours drive to the west. Cape Point is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.

After a tasty lunch at Cape Point’s restaurant Arnold took us on a quick visit to an Ostrich farm before we headed home. After a little rest, it was time for dinner. We tried a local place in Simon’s Town called the Seaforth Restaurant (www.seaforthrestaurant.co.za). Beth had a Cape Malay chicken curry served in a hot pot she really enjoyed; I had some of the best ribs any man has ever eaten. As the restaurant seemed almost deserted, I was shocked at the quality of the food they turned out. I’m sure in the peak tourist months they do a very good business, but we might have been their own dinner customer for the entire evening.

The next morning we went on a private walking tour of downtown Cape Town. Our tour guide was a wonderful German woman named Ursula Stevens who has actually written multiple books on Cape Town’s history. As we walked through modern shopping districts and historic neighborhoods, she wove together stories of Cape Town’s development and the many changes the city has experienced.

As we ate a quick lunch, we literally watched the clouds part above our heads and Cape Town experienced an afternoon of perfect weather. Without a cloud in sight or even the slightest breath of wind, we dashed to Table Mountain and took the cable car straight to the top. The view is nothing less than spectacular and is something that no one should miss out on in their lifetime. The rock cliffs lift almost straight up out of the group below and then give way to an amazing flat plateau on the top where you can look out in every direction. There are spectacular vistas of the ocean and surrounding mountains as well as picturesque views of the neighborhoods of Cape Town.

On our third day in Cape Town, we started out with a trip to a nearby beach which is home to a whole colony of African penguins. Now set up as a national park, they’ve built boardwalks so that you can get right up close to the penguins without really disturbing their natural habitats. The walkways are just high enough up that the penguins can walk right underneath you but still helpfully pose for pictures. Many were still sleeping in the little man-made boroughs provided for them, but plenty were walking around, preening, or going for a quick swim in the chilly water.

Unfortunately for us, the weather was not so cooperative for the rest of the day, but we wandered around Cape Town a bit more before heading home through Kalk Bay. We had heard a lot about a particular restaurant there that was supposed to be out of this world. Turns out, the world was right. If you make it to Cape Town, you must have dinner at the Harbor House www.harbourhouse.co.za/harbourhouse. There are several restaurants all in the same building, so be sure you wind up in the right place. And make a reservation.

Without a reservation, we had to sit in the smoking section, but that wound up being a fortuitous and fun detour to our night. Beth and I were hoping for a bit of a romantic dinner, but the smoking section had been taken over by a group of drunken Brits down from Johannesburg for the weekend. At first I tried to just ignore them, but when Beth briefly excused herself from the table I wound up getting drawn into their conversation by a friendly waitress. By the time Beth came back, I was fully engrossed in the conversation and Beth soon followed. Our romantic dinner was lost, but we gained a hilarious evening in its place. We probably could have stayed there with them a lot longer, but I was eager to get home, plus people had come to the smoking section from the non-smoking section just to have a couple cigarettes, which we did not appreciate. It was our last night in Cape Town and we needed to pack, and I wanted to get ready for my shark dive the next morning.

I’ll cut out any suspense right now. There were no sharks. I was not heart-broken, but I won’t sugar coat the fact that I was very disappointed. As some of you know, in an earlier stage of life, I was planning to be a marine biologist and study great whites. I’d waited “my whole life” to see them in person and thought I was going to get my chance. The dive company, to their credit, was perfectly upfront about the situation. A group of killer whales (they’re actually dolphins by the way… the “whale” part of their name is a misnomer) had swam into the bay a few weeks back and since then, they hadn’t seen a single shark. We trolled the waters around seal island for several hours and never got even a sniff of a shark. As you’ll see from my photos, seal island is basically an all you can eat buffet for sharks. There are thousands of seals just waiting to be gobbled up for dinner.

After returning empty handed, having not even gotten in the water, it was time to move on to Stellenbosch. After missing out on great whites, I was definitely ready for a great big glass of white wine (see what I did there…).

  • Sunrise in Simon's Town
  • Sunrise in Simon's Town
  • Sunrise in Simon's Town
  • Cloudy Cape Town
  • Looking Towards Robben Island
  • Hout Bay
  • Hout Bay
  • Kommetjie
  • Vic and Beth at Cape Point
  • Beach at Cape Point
  • Where the Atlantic Meets the Indian Ocean
  • Beth at Cape Point
  • Cape Point Lighthouse
  • Cliffs of Cape Point
  • Waves Crash Agains the Rocks
  • Majestic Cape Point
  • Arnold, Our Tour Guide
  • The Tip of South Africa
  • Cape Town Dutch Reform Church
  • Cape Town Dutch Reform Church
  • The Bo-Kaap (Muslim Quarter)
  • Looking Down on Cape Town
  • The View from Table Mountain
  • Beth at Table Mountain
  • Rock Dassie on Table Mountain
  • Protea Close-Up
  • At the Top of Table Mountain
  • At the Top of Table Mountain
  • Cape Town From Table Mountain
  • Cape Town From Table Mountain
  • Cape Town From Table Mountain
  • Cape Town From Table Mountain
  • Vic and Beth on Table Mountain
  • Peguins in Simon's Town
  • Peguins in Simon's Town
  • Penguin Close-Up
  • Penguin Close-Up
  • Adolescent Penguins
  • Penguins in Simon's Town
  • Penguins Go For a Swim
  • Penguins Go For a Swim
  • Fur Seal in Kalk Bay
  • Fur Seals in Kalk Bay
  • Fur Seals in Kalk Bay
  • Kalk Bay Lighthouse
  • Seals Playing in Kalk Bay
  • Seals Play While We Look for Sharks
  • Seals Play While We Look for Sharks
  • Seal Island
  • Seal Island
  • Seal Island
  • Seal Island
  • Seal Island

One Response to “At the Top and the Tip of the World in Cape Town”

  1. Texas Mom says:

    Sorry, about the Great White, but getting to see the penguins in the wild, Wow!

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