So the third and last leg of our 2015 African adventure took us from Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) to Cape Town (South Africa) where we would stay for four nights (Click here for Part 1 Botswana and Part 2 Zimbabwe). This blog covers the sites we saw – from the top of Table Mountain to the tip of the Cape of Good Hope, from the opulence of Clifton to the colour of Bo-Kaap, from the penguins of Boulder Beach to the stunning shrubs of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, from the Noon Gun on Signal Hill to The Springbok (Rugby) Experience. Enjoy!
From the moment we arrived at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel (the V&A) on the evening of 28 Sept 2015, we had a really great 4 night stay. Framed by the ocean and Table Mountain the V&A had a relaxed atmosphere and warm personal service. I know tourists often have concerns about South Africa but we felt very safe and relaxed at all times. Built in 1904 as the North Quay Warehouse, the building was converted in 1990 to a beautiful hotel. It is named in honour of Queen Victoria of England and her son Alfred who visited the Cape in 1870 when Prince Alfred officially opened the Breakwater basin, today’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
Service in the hotel was impeccable and the food was great....so much so that we had dinner in the hotel on three nights. The OYO restaurant and cocktail bar allowed for alfresco dining while enjoying spectacular views of Table Mountain.
There were 94 bedrooms spread over 3 floors. We had a loft room which was spacious and clean and we could see Table Mountain and the harbour quite clearly. We loved being in the centre of the V&A area.....lots of lovely shops to browse.
Cape Point Tour – 29 Sept 2015
On Tuesday 29 Sept 2015, we did the Cape Point Tour with Rhino Tripping. This is a really impressive 9 hour tour to the towering headland known as Cape Point. We were picked up at the hotel at 8:30 am and set off to see the magnificent beaches, breath-taking views, and historic, picturesque coastal villages along the way. The Cape Peninsula is one of the world’s most scenic areas and stretches from the City centre to Cape Point, which is perceived to be the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Our first stop was at stunning Clifton Beach with the Twelve Apostles Mountains forming a formidable backdrop:
Jutting out into the ocean, this rugged and rocky peninsula has become synonymous with the Cape of Storms since the explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, first set his sights on it in 1488. In those days, sailors saw Cape Point as both a useful landmark and a terrifying hazard depending on the time of day and the weather. No longer feared, Cape Point has become a popular attraction. Home to sweeping vistas, spectacular landscapes, and rich fauna and flora, there's no denying the beauty of this historic land formation.
We travelled along the Atlantic Seaboard down from Clifton and Camps Bay, stopping at a Llandudno (not the one in Wales!) look-out point before continuing to Hout Bay, a quaint village and fishing harbour with magnificent mountain views and beach.
Cape of Good Hope
Looking east, we marvelled at False Bay and the long, swooping curve that it forms on the southern Cape coastline which is dotted with crags and cliffs, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters. At certain times of the year, the icy Atlantic Ocean, carrying the Benguela current, collides with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Magnificent beaches, breathtaking views, hiking trails, and a collection of historic and picturesque coastal villages visited en-route are all part of the Cape Point Tour package.
We then travelled on through Chapman’s Peak, one of the world’s most breath-taking coastal drives, to Cape Point and the Good Hope Nature Reserve, which has magnificent fynbos vegetation, birdlife, endemic antelope species and zebra, historic lighthouses and shipwrecks. Unfortunately this part of the Cape gets 4 seasons in one day and when we got to the Cape of Good Hope it was windy and rainy so we just about got to grab a photo without getting blown away!!
Boulders Beach Penguins
After a stop for lunch we went on to historic Simon’s Town, a village with charming Victorian architecture, a naval base and a large penguin colony at the beautiful Boulders Beach. Boulders Penguin Colony is home to a growing colony of the vulnerable African Penguin. Thankfully, Boulders and its surrounding beaches now form part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, thus ensuring the beaches are safe and clean, and the penguins protected.
A few years ago three wheelchair-friendly boardwalks were constructed to accommodate the nearly 60,000 visitors that visit the beach each year. These boardwalks wind their way through the dunes and vegetation and not only provides great viewing spots, but also protects nesting penguins and their chicks. However, we still got to spot one or two of the little fellas waddling through the parking lot! We even got to see some baby penguins! It was the highlight of the tour for me!
Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens
We ended the day at the gorgeous Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens. Kirstenbosch is an important botanical garden nestled at the eastern foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town. The garden is one of 10 National Botanical Gardens covering five of South Africa's six different biomes and administered by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).
Kirstenbosch places a strong emphasis on the cultivation of indigenous plants. When Kirstenbosch was founded in 1913 to preserve the flora native to the South Africa’s territory, it was the first botanical garden in the world with this ethos, at a time when invasive species were not considered an ecological and environmental problem.
The garden includes a large conservatory (The Botanical Society Conservatory) exhibiting plants from a number of different regions, including savanna, fynbos, karoo and others. Outdoors, the focus is on plants native to the Cape region, highlighted by the spectacular collections of proteas. It has an amazing tree-level walkway that snakes its way through the trees at canopy-level which we enjoyed walking along:
Table Mountain & Cape Town City Tour - 30 Sept 2015
The following day, 30 Sept we took the half day Table Mountain and City Tour. We took a cable car up Table Mountain and were blessed with a sunny clear day and so could see for miles. We really enjoyed the views on top of Table Mountain. It was truly gorgeous:
Below us lay the city of Cape Town and the wonderful views.
Cape Town City Tour
In the city tour we packed in all the best highlights in Cape Town. We saw a lot of its famous places as we checked out the Castle of Good Hope, City Hall and the colourful Bo-Kaap area.
(Above) The colourful Bo-Kapp area - 30 Sept 2015
The Noon Gun: The Big Bang Story
The 12pm boom from Signal Hill
Arriving at Lion’s Battery, situated on the lower slopes of Signal Hill, the first thing we noticed was the incredible view. 350m in height, Signal Hill separates Sea Point from the City Bowl and although it is named after its original use of flying signal flags to communicate with nearby ships, the renowned hill is also home to the Noon Gun.
We got there before 12 on purpose. As the quarter-to mark draws near, a small crowd gathers around the cannons excited to witness Cape Town’s oldest tradition. Having managed to survive a Dutch and British colony, a Dutch renaissance, the British occupation, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise and fall of apartheid and later a new democratic society – it is a very deserving title. Whether you are a long-term Capetonian or a visitor to the Mother City, the tradition of firing the Noon Gun never ceases to amaze or surprise people.
A Cannoneer, a member of the SA Navy stepped forward in front of the excited crowd. With some time still to spare he began to raise the red flag BRAVO, which is a warning signal for the gunfire. The flag will subsequently be lowered after the firing. With BRAVO flying high, he began to tell us the history behind the 12pm boom.
The Blasting Apparatus:
The green cannons (there are two of them, just in case one fails) are 219 years old and have been fired since February 1806. Originally designed by Captain Thomas Blomefield and cast in 1794 by London’s Walker and Company, the guns were brought to the Cape in 1795 during the British occupation. The crest of George Rex (founder of Knysna) as well as the British crown is still visible on the machinery as well as the markings of W & Co (Walker and Company). The serial numbers 330 and 249 can also be seen, thus making is relatively easy to trace the old weaponry back to 1794.
Although both ship weapons are loaded six days a week (not on a Sunday or Public Holidays), only one is fired where the second is used as a backup. Should there be a misfire, the cannoneer’s colleague is on standby and will quickly change over and fire the second gun. The original 1794 18-pounder smoothbore muzzleloaders are still used today and are reportedly the oldest daily used guns in the world. Each cannon weighs more than a whopping two tons and are loaded with 1.5kg of gunpowder.
The History Behind the Boom:
Owing to the Cape of Storms’s bad weather – the high sea and big winds – many vessels travelling around Cape Town took refuge in the sheltered Table Bay. However, after staying for a couple days, the ships would experience a loss of time owing to their inaccurate time keeping methods. Thus, the British decided to fire a cannon at (more or less) noon everyday to act as a time signal for sailors enabling them to check that their marine chronometers were correct. A marine chronometer is a precision instrument used aboard ships to help calculate longitude – a rather vital component for ships navigating by sextant on the high seas.
In addition, the firing of the guns was also used as a mark of respect for the lives lost during the wars. Sir Harry Hands, the Mayor of Cape Town at the time introduced the daily Pause of Remembrance (a two-minutes of silence) to follow the 12pm gunshot on 14 May 1918. It was said that the first minute is a time of thanksgiving for those who have survived whereas the second minute is to remember the fallen. In 2008, a plaque was unveiled at the Battery to commemorate the two-minute pause.
After loading the cannons and as the clock nears noon, we were moved a couple metres away from the blast-area. The Cannoneer began the count down as he checked his own wristwatch:
“5 seconds.” (I tell myself not to get a fright.)
12pm (sharp): “BOOM!”
The man standing beside Charlie and me was so startled he fell on his backside!! He jumped up as quick as he hit the ground but was so mortified I decided not to take his photo to spare his blushes but Charlie captured the gun in the clip below!
Springbok Experience Rugby Museum - 1 Oct 2015
On the 1st October we had the day to ourselves. As we both love the game of Rugby we decided to walk to the Rugby Museum nearby. The Springbok Experience Rugby Museum was really interesting. (It is currently closed and I’m not sure if this is permanent or because of Covid-19). It was really great so I hope it re-opens.
We saw rugby memorabilia, garments worn in world cup games by some of the key players, enjoyed the interactive touch screens and over 20 audio visual exhibits showing the history of rugby in South Africa and the Springboks.
Not only did we learn so much but we were able to take part in a trial test with a virtual coach where we could test our reactions, passing, fitness levels and kicks. It not only takes visitors on an interactive journey through the fascinating story of South African rugby from the 1860s right up to modern times; it also tells the ‘hidden’ story of black rugby history for the first time and pulls no punches in placing rugby in South Africa’s social history as a sometimes divisive and ultimately unifying force.
Our last morning in Cape Town - 2 Oct 2015
On our last morning (2 Oct 2005) we did a bit more strolling and shopping down by the harbour. We also had lunch down there...very cosmopolitan and great music from the buskers. And had our last al fresco cocktails!!
We then checked out of the V&A before transferring to the airport for the journey home via London with British Airways. En-route, we drove a 20km stretch of highway, the N2, to get to the the airport. While you drive away from the city with world-class shopping, resorts, and unparalleled natural beauty, you’ll begin to notice shacks flanking the highway along the outer edge of the city.
Informal settlements — those shacks you see from the highway — sprung up alongside the townships, with inadequate housing made from plywood and corrugated metal and lacking in even the most basic public services such as running water, sewage, or electricity. Nearly every town and city in South Africa has a place like this, sometimes disparagingly referred to as shanty towns or slums.
Located on the outskirts of towns and cities, in undesirable areas often divided along highways, these communities were underdeveloped and rife with social problems. Post-apartheid, these shacks are being replaced with government-subsidised housing, dirt roads are being paved, and public services are slowly being installed. But there’s still a way to go……
(Above) - my SA passport stamps from 2015
Our 2015 African trip had been memorable and amazing and we still often draw down about people we met and things we saw and did. Each of the three countries, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa had been individual and wonderful. I would return to Africa in a heartbeat. Hopefully I will get the chance again some day!!
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 72
Number 57 - Travel - 7 Continents
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever been to South Africa? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!