We took a month longer than expected to get to Cape Town so we were both ready to burst during that final journey from Hermanus. Once we drove over the last peak of the Karoo, the flatlands of the eastern districts came into view and behind them the Table Mountain Range. It was such an astonishing sight and I’ll never forget my excitement at finally reaching our destination after such an amazing journey. Faye said I'd fall in love with Cape Town. I just didn't expect it to happen quite so soon!
We were staying in the southwest side of the peninsular in a place called Noordhoek. A beautiful area with a mile long beach at its foot and stunning views over the western coastline. After battling the traffic (a part of CT life that I would definitely not cherish!) we finally made it to our home for the next 10 days. During our stay in Hermanus Faye had found a lovely apartment online which at first glance was way out of our price range; a beautiful Scandinavian-style log cabin with a spacious balcony at the back and steps down to a large grass lawn, with colourful flowerbed borders encompassing a fenced-off pool in the centre. Faye immediately fell in love with the place and like a woman possessed she emailed the owner asking for a discount. The confirmation came swiftly and the place was now ours. We couldn't believe our luck!
Dennis and his Malaysian wife Jo greeted us at the gate and after a thorough tour of the property and a detailed briefing of the area we made ourselves at home then headed to Long Beach for our first of many CT sunsets! It was clearly a local tradition because many budding photographers had flocked here with their SLR cameras and tripods, all trying to capture that perfect shot. We sat in awe as the bright golden sunlight slowly gave way to the beautiful glow of the burnt orange dusk. And once the light disappeared completely we made our way, hand-in-hand, across the vast sandy beach. The only way to end such an evening was to do what we do best; have a braai and a make a serious dent in a well earned box of wine!!
As we already had flights booked to Tanzania, time was now of the essence. Faye being the amazing organizer she is wasted no time in preparing a detailed itinerary for our entire stay. We made a list of all the things we wanted to do, coupled with a few things Dennis had suggested then set about making phone calls and booking things in. Pretty soon our diary was full and all we had to do now was live it!
Climbing Table Mountain was first on the list. I thought this would take a few hours considering all we’d heard from other travellers, so I was fairly surprised when we made it to the top in under an hour and a half – a testament to our acquired fitness I thought, but Faye disagreed, dismissing it as just an over-estimation on the behalf of the African Tourist Information Office, coupled with info provided by a bunch of unfit travellers. A bit harsh on us I thought but there you go! It was 30 degrees at the bottom but at the top it was a different story. Even though we were warned that the wind at the top may “blow a little” we obviously didn’t listen and failed to take any warmer clothing just in case. 10 minutes at the top was therefore quite enough. 40mph winds were doing their best to blow us over, so we queued for cable car to take us down. Low lying cloud had rolled in on all sides as well so there wasn’t much of a view on that day, but the journey down on the cable car with it’s rotating floor made up for it anyway.
Next was a tour on an open-topped red bus. Not our usual choice considering we're normally trying desperately to avoid other tourists. A bit pretentious really considering we are in actual fact tourist ourselves!! The route covers all the main sites, from the Alfred and Victoria dock, through District 6 and the old Fort. Pass the town hall where Mandella delivered his famous speech after becoming president. Up to Table Mountain Road then finally onto the ultra cool Camps Bay for a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. Taking our place on the upper deck with our headphone donned we listened intently to the commentary, all perfectly choreographed with the sights we passed. Luckily we remembered to pack the rain coats because the weather wasn’t kind to us that day, but like perfectly behaved tourist we battled on regardless and made it through without electrocuting ourselves. Joking aside, we could have covered all these sights in the car, but we wouldn’t have learnt nearly as much, plus it was highly amusing seeing the both of us alight the bus with slightly blue lips and soaking wet clothes. We decided to treat ourselves to a muffin and pot of tea in the nearest “Mug and Bean” but given our current state we were immediately ushered to the nearest corner to avoid drowning the other patrons. We stayed put for three pots of tea, two muffins and until our clothes were fully dry. Two hours did the trick!
You can’t come to South Africa without doing the obligatory wine tour and as Stellenbosch is its wine capital we decided to do ours there. We hoped to visit four wineries in one day, but once we’d entered the first we soon realised that it was more than our budget and definitely our hangover could cope with. We went for a wine and chocolate pairing; a selection of five wines and to accompany them were five perfectly wrapped slim bars of chocolate, all specifically engineered to go with one particular wine. I must say I’d never really bought into the idea of chocolate with wine but after that day I was completely sold. The work that went into pairing the flavours was incredible and if our budget was larger we would have bought a box of both. With our appetites stimulated we were now in search of lunch. We’d heard good things about the food at a small winery called Jordan so we made our way across Stellenbosch to try it. We entered the picturesque vineyard set on the slopes of a stunning hillside, then negotiated the uneven roads which were bordered on either side by vast rows of grape bushes. The restaurant itself was set in a tranquil forest overlooking a lake that was home to many species of wildlife. We spent an enjoyable hour there eating our lunch and chatting away, all the while taking in the beautiful scenery. Eventually we made it to the winery and were greeted by a friendly chap called George. Given the vast quantity of food we’d just consumed, we opted for wine only this time, so he suggested a taster of their finest five; to treat ourselves of course after such an arduous day! The first four were excellent, but the last; Cobbler’s Hill, was, and remains the best wine we've ever tasted. Surprisingly, a blend of three grapes it has hints of oak, dark chocolate and black cherries – not that I could tell of course, this was all read from the label on the bottle! We’d promised ourselves we wouldn't buy any wine regardless of how nice they we, but we hadn't accounted for this one. At first we fought the urge but after expressing our delight to George he duly filled both our glasses to the brim. Totally against the rules of course but after spending the next 20 minutes sipping it’s delightfulness we succumbed to the urge and agreed to purchase a bottle. A clever tactic we thought! So, with our pockets empty and our heads fuzzy me made a way home after a perfect day in Stellenbosch. A must see for your average wino!!!
I’d always wanted to to cage dive with Great White sharks. Faye was not so keen due to the unknown affects it may have on them. I could see her point but as there's no substantial proof either way I chose to give it a go! Faye dropped me off early doors at the appropriately named Simon’s Bay harbour and after a short briefing we were out on the ocean. The sun was just rising but it was very overcast; a condition which would prove to be in our favour as the day progressed. We arrived at Seal Island and began to make circuits around it; the whole time a fake seal called a decoy was towed behind the boat. The objective being to deceive the sharks and hope one would rise from below and attack it. After 30 minutes we'd had no luck, but the captain did see one shark breach in the distance so we knew they were in the area. He took us to the location only to find the birds fighting over the entrails of one very unlucky seal! A rather unpleasant sight first thing in the morning! We gave up on the decoy and offloaded the cage, then tuna skulls were mixed with sea water in the hope of attracting a whopper. After 2 hours of nothing we thought we might be the only group ever to unsuccessfully see a Great White. But no sooner had we thought it the thankful shout of SHARK was bellowed from the captain. By now the first pair were already in their wetsuits and in no time they’d slipped over the side and into the cage. Their enthusiasm disappeared swiftly as their bodies entered the water and were paralysed by the cold. The one part of the day I certainly wasn't looking forward to! Regulators in, they descended to the bottom of the cage and within minutes they resurfaced screaming at how amazing it was to see a Great White so close up! I went up to the top of the boat and saw the beast swimming by the side of the cage, truly astonished at the sheer size of it. Just then another shark of equal size leapt out of the water no more than 10 feet off the back of the boat. An incredible sight and one none of us would ever forget! My turn finally arrived, and along with it feelings of apprehension at the freezing cold water, but also excitement at the prospect of seeing the world’s most fearsome predator! When I entered the water the cold was all consuming, for a moment there was no way I could even contemplate putting the regulator in. Reassurance came from the crew as they suggested I put my head under for a few seconds to acclimatise to the cold. I obliged and was immediately face-to-face with a 15 footer coming straight towards me. Breath depleted, I came to the surface, coughing and spluttering, trying to express my joy at the sight I’d just beheld! Regulator now firmly in place I went under for a good twenty minutes and time after time more sharks would come to investigate. One got so close I was able to touch its flank as it swam past! The day continued the same; another round of dives and three more full breaches, so five in total. The most successful day the captain had enjoyed for some time. How lucky we were! When I got back to shore Faye was waiting and proceeded to get an ear-bashing as I babbled on like an excited child at how incredible my day had been. As always she listened intently but I'm sure the story became boring eventually. If it did, she never showed it!
Cape Town had become a place of bucket-list-ticking because the very next day we ventured out to the northern most tip of the city for a spot of sky diving. As you do! Faye had done it here before so her box had already been ticked, but for me it was my first time. The day started much calmer than I'd expected. Jumping out of a plane at 10,000ft should fill you with dread but after the crazy bungee jump at Storm's River nothing would seem so scary ever again! Things changed slightly when we arrived because the staff were in the middle of a team meeting, or more precisely, finger pointing and ranting regarding how the place was run. Not exactly what you want to hear before you hurtle to the ground at 120mph. After the meeting, calm was finally restored once we'd met the pros we would be connected to. My guy was called Blake and we agreed on the full package of photo and video because Go Pros were not permitted. As we boarded the tiny plane the game Twister sprang to mind because limbs seemed to be tangled in all directions. I feared we'd all be pulled out together once the first pair jumped! We climbed slowly to 10,000ft and calmness gave way to nervousness, but surprisingly nothing more. Jump altitude came and Faye was first up. Our limbs were slowly untangled then the bay door was opened, letting in a gush of ice cold air which only added to the intensity. Faye's pilot shouted a few inaudible words to her and then they were off. Full size humans reduced to a dot in a split second. My now trademark statement of "OH MY GOD" was the first words past my lips! I was next so Blake and I shuffled to the edge until I was hanging out completely. Only his hands holding the rim of the door kept us from falling. "Arms out, chin up, and enjoy the ride" were the only words spoken and away we went. Unlike the bungee jump my stomach did not do somersaults; the feeling was much more serene and within a split second all fear had given way to utter joy and amazement! I remembered my instructions well so we steadied quickly and although we were travelling at terminal velocity it felt like we were hovering, rather than falling. When you count out forty seconds it takes a while but when you're having that much fun it passes in the blink of an eye, and because Blake was also my cameraman and photographer, there was work to be done. He asked me to pose for the obligatory shots, getting me to comment on the ride - something stupid came to mind I'm sure! Before I knew it the chute had opened. Forty seconds done, and with the intensity now over it was time to take in the view; the northern districts below and to the south, Robbyn Island, then beyond that, the stunning backdrop of Table Mountain. Again I was like an overexcited child waffling to Blake about the jump like he hadn't been right there with me the whole time. We floated down slowly and the only thing which kept me from being totally absorbed was the cheese wire straps which were cutting into my crotch. I appreciate that I'm not the lightest of folk but if any parachute manufacturers ever happen to read this blog then I plead with you now - please, please, please make the straps a little wider and seriously more padded! The field next to the hanger was covered in a deep carpet of sand which softened the landing but proceeded to fill up my under crackers with soft grainy sand. That took a while to clear that's for sure! Faye and I spent the next half hour exchanging stories. The conclusion being that it was far less scary than the bungee and certainly more enjoyable. It was all I'd hoped it would be and so much more. I'm not sure if the location may have helped but I suppose we'll have to try it elsewhere in the world to know for sure!
Our time in Cape Town came to an end far too quickly. For me it was the best city we'd visited so far. Not really for the centre itself but for the surrounding areas. If you do ever visit then we would thoroughly recommend you do it by car because you can stay further afield in some of the more picturesque parts and it gives you total freedom to drive along the coastline as often as you like, visiting places such as Simon's Town and Muizenberg, plus of course the very famous drive around the atlantic coast via Chapman's Peak which is stunning. Noordhoek has it's own little hotspots too; tiny boutique wineries, unique shops and our favourite; the outstanding farmers markets. We spent a few lazy days at these, eating brunch and reading the local newspaper, a small taste of home we thought. There are downsides to it though; its certainly not the cheapest place in the world, but that's mainly because we crammed so much in. And if you do stay outside the centre then beware of the traffic because it can be brutal, so leave yourself plenty of time to get anywhere. Nevertheless, these are problems that any major city suffers from so don't let that put you off. The people are extremely friendly, the scenery is stunning and there's so much to see and do. There have been so many experiences that have effected me during this trip, but never has a place itself left such a lasting impression. 10 days was not nearly enough time so we will definitely be back at some stage in the future. But now we have a date with a very whacky camper van and the wildlife of Kruger park. See you soon Cape Town!!