We had been to the Kalahari and had a magnificent four days in the wild. As we boarded the overnight Intercape bus from Upington to Cape Town, I was wondering if the big city would match even 10% of the fun we had in the Kgalagadi transfrontier park. Thankfully I was proven wrong by the wonderful mix of nature and urban life that Cape Town provides.
We reached the bus stand in Cape Town early in the morning and were met by our transport to the hotel that I had pre booked. I did not want to take a chance with taxis in a new city, especially in a country that doesn’t have a great crime record. The first thing that strikes you about Cape Town is how huge and imposing Table Mountain is. I had seen it on TV but you don’t realise the sheer size of it till you are standing or in this case driving in its shadow. We reached the hotel we had booked in a few minutes and what bothered me was the presence of heavily armed police surrounding the area called ” The V & A Waterfront”. Our driver informed us that this was for the safety of tourists, in what was essentially the tourist hub of the city. Very intimidating and reassuring at the same time!
The hotel we had booked was the Hotel Protea Breakwater lodge, a former prison converted into a hotel. Again, not a thing which inspires confidence! The reason for choosing this was that it was right on the waterfront and affordable at the same time. Budget travellers, remember?? I didn’t want to stay in an area where you couldn’t roam out after dark for the fear of being mugged. Overall a decent hotel and recommended just for its location.
As we had arrived early morning our rooms were not yet ready and so we freshened ourselves in the common washrooms, dropped off our luggage at the reception and went for a short walk on the waterfront. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a pedestrian only area developed specifically for tourists. So it has restaurants, bakeries,souvenir shops and even a London eye style Ferris wheel. It also houses the Two Oceans Aquarium which I had heard good things about. We were very hungry and had breakfast at a bakery on the waterfront. After silencing our rumbling bellies we contemplated our next line of action.
It was a sunny day in the South African winter and as the weather was known to be unpredictable in the region we didn’t want to waste a glorious day. We had a not booked any activities for that day and hence decided to go on a hop on hop off bus tour and explore the city. At the time ( 2013 ) there were 2 routes, a shorter red route which stayed inside the city limits and the blue route which was a mini peninsula tour. We opted for the mini peninsula tour as it covered the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens and the Camps Bay beach which are the star attractions of the region.
We bought the tickets for the bus right outside the Aquarium and returned to our hotel which was literally across the street. Another thing I noticed was cars stopping for pedestrians on a zebra crossing, a thing unheard of in India!! Our rooms were ready by now and we got ready for our sightseeing for the day.
The buses are double decker open top buses like the ones in most European cities and have audio guides installed in every seat. A nice way to get yourself acquainted with the city. We enthusiastically sat in the upper deck and started our journey round the harbour and into the peninsula.
We got down at the stop for the Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens and bought our tickets to this park which is regarded as one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. I’m no botanist, but the beautiful setting at the foot of Table Mountain, the sheer size of the gardens and the chance to get some bird photos amidst the green paradise ( Most important! ) made me visit this place at leisure even though it was a part of our itinerary for the next day.
We wandered around the gardens reading about the preservation of the indigenous plants called fynbos and just enjoying the amazing well maintained garden. Soon it was time for lunch and we had lunch at a wonderful cafe at the gates of the garden. But I still had not had my share of bird photos and we ventured back into the gardens. I was in luck as there were a pair of Egyptian Geese wandering about one of the numerous lawns. They obligingly posed for the 300mm
As we moved forward my better half who is an expert spotter pointed to a small bird perched on top of a huge cactus.It was a double collared sun bird in perfect light. I kept taking photos as we moved closer and closer and I got one my best photos of the tour. ( I have a huge print of this hanging in my living room)
We soon saw a flock of crested Guinea Fowl. It was as if the birds were waiting for us to have lunch before making an appearance. I was happy that we made this second foray into the park. The guinea fowl were so used to humans that they moved towards us almost too close for the 300mm.
Finally I was satisfied and we moved on to our next destination on the hop on/ off bus. ” The world of birds” our next stop is very grandly named and i was excited. But it has birds cooped in cages. Some of the cafes are admittedly large, but a cage nonetheless. They have an amazing range of birds from all over the world but its sad to see them caged up. They even have some monkeys and meerkats. But I would rather see 1 bird in the wild than 100 in a cage. I won’t waste any more space on this.
We quickly moved on to the next destination the Camps Bay beach, which is the most famous beach in Cape Town. It is a very affluent part of Cape Town and filled with huge mansions. The beach front itself is lined by multiple restaurants, ice cream shops etc. Camps bay in summer is packed with tourists, but this was winter and apart from a few brave kids enjoying the cold water, we were the only ones on the beach
We bought a ice cream cone each and walked along the white sand beach for a while, just enjoying the atmospheric setting of the sea in front of us and table mountain behind us. It is a wonder how time flies by in such a beautiful setting.
Soon it was dusk and time to return to our hotel. We dragged ourselves of our private beach and took the bus back. It was dark by the time we reached the waterfront and it was alive with live music and crowds. We enjoyed our take away pizza dinner on an open table enjoying the music and soon retired to our rooms for the night.
Next day we had a full day tour to the Cape of Good hope & a meeting with penguins and seals but that is topic for another post, another day.