August 11, 2018 – August 24, 2018
For our summer holiday this year, Tyler and I decided to head to the southern hemisphere where it is actually winter. The itinerary for the trip was as follows:
Cape Town, South Africa (4 night) -> Kruger National Park, South Africa (3 nights) -> Johannesburg, South Africa (1 night) -> Chobe National Park, Botswana (2 nights) -> Victoria Falls, Zambia (2 nights)
Because a post with all of these places seems like a daunting task, I’ve broken the posts of our trip into 4 parts. Enjoy 🙂
Our first stop of the Amazing African Adventure was 4 nights in South Africa’s famous Cape Town. Although there is a direct flight from Amsterdam, it still takes a long ass time to get there, and the 11 hour flight topped my longest flight ever record. The one good thing is that there is no time difference between the two cities, so at least we weren’t jet lagged when we arrived. We were, however, ready for bed since it was about 11pm. We stayed at the lovely Portswood Hotel right along the Victoria & Albert Waterfront.
We started off the holiday with, of course, a lot of wine. We signed up for a tour with Ilias through South African wine country, and had the pleasure of having a rowdy group of 60 year old Aussies as our companions. We were a little late, and the last ones on the bus, but when we stepped on board everyone immediately started cheering and asking where we were from.
Our guide was a friendly and charismatic South African who made sure to give us a history lesson in addition to our wine education. The first winery was about 45 minutes away and we passed through many diverse areas along the way. It was crazy to see all of the townships with hundreds of little tin structures practically right on top of each other. The shanties are hot in the summer and cold in the winter with no insulation, but they mostly all had a satellite dish for footie viewing.
The first winery we visited was called Anura and it was right in front of Frog Head Mountain, which apparently looks like an amphibious cranium.
As we drove in, I was amazed by how beautiful the grounds were with ponds, trees, and mountains. Someone on the bus mentioned that you can tell a lot about a winery by how the entryway looks. I had high expectations for this one.
As with most day long wine tours, at the first stop we had a tour of the cellar and learned about the wine making process. I tuned most of this out having heard this spiel before, but I do remember learning that rose comes from red grapes that are put into a vat with the skin on for less than 24 hours, then the skin is removed and the grapes are moved to a new vat. If the skin stays on for more than 24 hours then it’s no longer a rose but a red. Another interesting bit of wisdom the sommelier imparted on us was that if a wine is “off” it smells like water, “corked” smells like mushrooms, and “oxidized” doesn’t have a tongue feel. So next time you get a bottle and want to send it back you can say “No thanks, this wine has no tongue feel and therefore must be oxidized!”
Then we got to the fun stuff. We tasted 5 different wines with 5 different cheeses. My favorites were the Chardonnay and Malbec.
Before lunch, we headed to the town of Franschhoek or “French Hook”, a very picturesque and sophisticated town with several art galleries and a cute white church, to take a stroll.
The next tour location was probably my favorite. It was a short drive to the Dieu Donne Vineyards high up on a mountain overlooking the valley. The views were incredible and we did a quick tasting here soaking up the sunshine before heading to have lunch next door.
Lunch was amazing. We had an appetizer, two entrees, and a few glasses of wine all for EUR 40! The South African Rand is not very strong compared to the Euro, so we found most things on the trip to be relatively inexpensive.
This was the first meal where we tried something exotic: Tyler – Ostrich, Kaitlyn – Springbock.
Spier winery rounded out the last stop on our wine tour and we sampled some delicious wines paired with decadent chocolate. White chocolate with white wine and dark chocolate with red, had me wondering why this was the first time I had ever tried these combinations before. We enjoyed the company of our tour guide as well as the Aussies while relaxing with our wine. The grounds of the winery were also pretty interesting with some chickens and a sound garden with sculptures that vibrated when you put your hands close to them.
I was sad for the tour to end, but as I think back upon the day now, I realized how lucky we were to meet such a fun group of people to share our tour with. Upon returning back to our hotel, we wanted to check out the V&A Waterfront and grab a bite to eat. The concierge recommended a Belgian place called de Anker, and in hindsight we probably should have tried something a little more authentic, but we enjoyed the food nonetheless. After an exhausting day we retired early.
The only unfortunate part of having a trip where everything was preplanned was that we never had a chance to sleep in. I think Tyler got up earlier every day than he normally does for work. It did make it a bit easier since we were so excited for everything that we were doing.
John, the same jolly ole South African who picked us up from the airport was also our Peninsula tour guide. I’m pretty sure he didn’t stop talking the whole time we were with him, but it was nice to learn so much history of the city, as well as his own personal anecdotes. He was definitely made for this job. From our hotel, we headed along the Atlantic Ocean where we saw very forceful waves, and no one in the ocean to brave them. Surfing is supposedly pretty popular in this area once the water is a bit warmer. Nearby, through the Clifton and Victoria nicer areas of town, we saw several huge houses with intense looking fences and security systems.
There are mountain ranges all along Cape Town, and we stopped to view the Twelve Apostles rock formation from the shoreline. Somehow I counted an extra peak and came up with the 13 Apostles, but it was pretty foggy, so maybe I was mistaken.
From here we continued along, planning to stop in Hout Harbour, but due to violent protests in recent days, we bypassed this and just drove through Hout Bay. Passing alongside the township in the bay, I understood why the residents were protesting. It’s amazing how many people are crammed into such a small area of land to live on. Unemployment is really high at 27%, and men would line the streets in the morning looking for someone to pick them up and do odd jobs for the day. Education in the townships is mediocre, so it’s really hard to change your circumstances and progress further in life. The government is slowly starting to clear out the township sheds and make more permanent structure for the people to live in so that it is easier for them to survive the harsh seasons, a step in the right direction.
Passing through Hout Bay, we crossed onto the pay-per-view road called Chapman’s Peak with views and roads that rivaled the Amalfi Coast’s twisting paths. John was a safe driver and I appreciated that. We stopped at a vantage point for some snapshots. I was surprised that the road wasn’t very crowded, but I guess most people living nearby couldn’t afford to drive on the road.
Post Peak we made a pit stop at an Ostrich Farm where John forced us to feed the ostriches. Tyler had just eaten one the previous day, so I’m sure he felt a little weird having to feed them the next day. In order to avoid losing a finger, you’re supposed to hold your hand out flat with the little food pellets and the ostrich kind of pops their beak down onto your hand and the food jumps up and into their mouth. It is very aggressive looking, but it doesn’t hurt because their beaks aren’t sharp. We only fed the females (the gray ones) because the males (the black ones) are not as nice. At the travel clinic in Amsterdam where we got our vaccines before our trip, the nice lady told me to not pet any animals because of the risk of rabies. I felt like this was against her instructions.
It turns out that ostriches were not the only wild animals we would see this day. We kept seeing signs that baboons were in the area and you shouldn’t feed them, but I didn’t believe the signs. While we were heading to the national park, we saw about 15 baboons crossing the road. There were mamas and babies and sisters and brothers. They walked right past the car looking into the windows as we stared right back. It was a little unnerving, especially after the story John told us that a baboon took his friend’s backpack off her back and ran away with it. It had her keys in it so she ran after the baboon and grabbed it back.
The next stop on our tour was Cape Point, where there is a lighthouse and amazing views of the ocean. The funicular was out of order, so we had to hike about 20 minutes to the top of it. I wasn’t sure if John was going to make it, but he did and the views were worth it. It was also pretty crowded, so we didn’t stay long.
Last stop before lunch was the Cape of Good Hope, the South Western most point of Africa. Boats used to stop here on the way to the Dutch East Indies to load up on supplies like fruit and water in the 1600s. When the townspeople heard a cannon firing, they would take their goods down to the harbor to make a sale. We stopped here long enough just for this picture and the story.
After an unremarkable lunch, we made our way to what was the most memorable part of the trip thus far, a visit with the penguins. These penguins decided to settle in Simon Town, no one knows why, but they have such good internal homing devices that they keep coming back year after year. There were hundreds of them waddling along the beach and swimming in the sea. To help the penguins reproduce, the community has built egg shelters so that it’s not as easy for the seagulls to make off with a chick.
I did not want to leave the penguins, but eventually it was time and we ended our tour at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. I love a good garden about as much as the next bloke, but this was seriously impressive, even though it was winter and not very many things were in bloom.
I could only imagine how great it would be in the summer. We strolled through the gardens and across this tree top canopy walkway through the branches. The wooden structure swayed a little as we strolled across, but the views of Table Mountain distracted me from the sheer panic I felt.
My favorite flower was the Bird of Paradise, maybe because this also happens to be one of my favorite yoga poses. So naturally I had to do a BOP in front of a BOP.
We made our way through the useful plants section which was basically a lot of herbs that could cure anything from an earache to flatulence. It was fascinating to read about what each plant claims to do!
Smelling our way through the fragrance garden was a real tasty treat, especially the gardenia and blue sage.
The other memorable section was the extinct / endangered plants. There were several signs reminding the we have the power to stop extinction and that there are things we can do to cut down on global warming.
Before going to dinner, we took a quick stroll through the V&A waterfront.
After spending most of our time in Cape Town with John or at the V&A, we decided to venture out for dinner. We were skeptical about getting a taxi, even though the restaurant was less than 1km away, because we’d heard horror stories about leaving the hotel at night. Car jackings and muggings are very common. It ended up being perfectly fine and we had a great driver to and from dinner.
The place we went to was called Gold and it was definitely a touristy place, but the food and show were great. Upon sitting down at the table, I got my face painted.
A few minutes later a show started with a group of performers dressed up in fancy traditional African wear singing, dancing, and beating the drums, with such intensity. They were right by our table so we got a front row show!
The appetizers and main courses were traditional African dishes from many different countries. We had fishcakes from South Africa, yogurt sauce from Ethiopia, lamb from Namibia and various other dishes. We were so stuffed from all of the lekker food and got to enjoy a few more shows throughout the course of dinner.
Even though it was touristy, I really enjoyed the dinner and ambiance.
On day 4, we were finally going to the most well known attraction in Cape Town, Table Mountain. After seeing the mountain from afar every day, we were excited to finally mount the table. As a bonus, this day was the only day that the skies were clear and there was no fog on the mountain. We got to the mountain right after a few big tour buses pulled up and had to wait in a long line to purchase tickets and get into the cable car. Luckily the cable cars had been redone in the last 7-8 years and now hold about 75 people instead of 12. Even so, it took us an hour of waiting until it was our turn.
The floor of the cars rotates so that you can get a 360 degree view of the mountain on your way up. As soon as we started our ascent, the clouds started to roll in. What bad timing! We did get to see a little bit of the Cape when we got to the top, but soon we were engulfed in cold, wet, clouds. It was a shame because we waited for so long to get up the mountain, but since we couldn’t see much and it was so cold we only stayed about 30 minutes. Maybe the most disappointing part of the whole trip.
After we descended the mountain, we headed to Bo-Kapp, a Muslim neighborhood in the city. The government pays for the upkeep of the houses which are all painted vibrant and vivacious hues. We strolled around the block for a while snapping a few pictures of the houses. We even saw one house being painted a bright pink while we were there. Although it was kind of a seedy part of town, everyone was very nice.
The next stop on our tour was a Dutch castle built in the 1600s. It has never been attacked and that is its claim to fame. It sits right behind strand straat, which used to be where the water in the city came to (aka beach), but the Dutch, as they always seem to do, reclaimed some land to make more space. We could see a lot of Dutch influence in Cape Town, and even saw a street called Herengracht. We recognized several of the Afrikaans words that were similar to Dutch and were proud of ourselves. The castle itself was really not all that interesting, especially the presentation we watched of people dressed up in period clothes doing an exchange of the keys.
Maybe we’re just not really museum people, because the next stop was also kind of meh, the African National Museum. It was probably more suitable for kids. There were so many replicas of animals, but the dinosaur and whale exhibits were my favorites. I also enjoyed the exhibit discussing global warming and extinction because anything that draws attention to these issues is a step in the right direction, IMO.
Lastly, we saw an exhibit about Nelson Mandela, Mr. South Africa. He had so many different college degrees and was very well educated. He was part of the party who was trying to stop the Apartheid and was thrown in jail on Robben Island for over 20 years. Once he got out of jail he was democratically elected as the first president after the dissolution of the Apartheid. This was in the 90s. It’s incredible to me that there was still such segregation and discrimination such a short time ago. We really wanted to do the tour of Robben Island to learn even more about the history, but all tours were full for the day.
The last item on our agenda with John was to casually walk through the center of the city. He pointed out a few buildings such as the slave museum and some of the office buildings he had previously worked at. There were a lot of street vendors selling things like beadwork and artwork. Wish we would have stopped to buy something.
John also took us past a row of benches that were still standing from the Apartheid time. There were certain benches that only whites could sit on and ones for non-whites. They were left in tact as a reminder to not go back to those times, but these days everyone can sit everywhere.
We had the afternoon free to relax and explore the V&A waterfront some more. First stop was to get Tyler some biltong, basically jerky made of various animals. His coworker had brought some back from a previous trip to South Africa and Tyler fell in love. We went to a food hall type place and decided on some kudu, the wet kind and a sausage roll.
We found this awesome souvenir shop that had so many trinkets to choose from. Very important stuff.
We capped off our time in Cape Town with dinner at a nice place by our hotel, it was more upscale than the other places we had been, but still relatively cheap compared to Europe prices. We enjoyed a really nice bottle of Kanonkop wine made out of the South African pinotage grape, which is now one of my favorite wine varietals. Pretty much having the whole restaurant to ourselves, it was a very romantic and relaxing evening.
As I reflect on our time spent in Cape Town, I realize how great of a city it is, with so much to offer in terms of beauty, culture, and history. There’s also many landscapes, from the mountains to the beaches to the wine country. It’s a shame that the crime statistics scare off a lot of the more cautious travelers, because all of the people we met were helpful and went out of their way for us. One of our drivers repeatedly told us how glad he was that we were visiting his city and contributing to the tourism. A must add city for your bucket list.
List of animals that we saw in Cape Town and along the peninsula: