December 16, 2016
Natural beauty surrounds Cape Town, and even a short drive can make me feel like I am a thousand miles from civilization. Navigating down to the Cape of Good Hope (originally named the Cape of Storms by Bartolomeu Dias in 1488) takes a fair bit of driving. Two friends and I made the drive south on Friday for my first look at this stunning National Park. We started by driving south through the tony Constantia area on the M3 expressway, but traffic bogged down quite a lot by the time we hit the M4 coastal highway at Muizenberg. We passed through Fish Hoek and bypassed the penguins at Simon’s Town, suddenly turning sharply uphill on the switchbacks of Red Hill Road. Perched atop the peninsula, we saw our first real view of False Bay, the body of water defined by the sweep of Cape Point. I later learned that Red Hill Road marked the point where many long gun batteries were established to protect the naval base at Simon’s Town.
In some respects, we had climbed away from civilization when we mounted that slope. We encountered just a few businesses and homes in the remaining miles until we reached the entryway for the Cape of Good Hope portion of Table Mountain National Park. At first we were in line behind a car where a gentleman was arguing that he could pay a fee once for the entire car rather than per person (coincidentally, his car was full of people). We joined the other line. When we reached the gate, the ranger asked us if we had the paperwork with our Wild Card rather than the card itself. They struggled to prove it was valid (it has an embedded chip, but I think they lacked a reader), but eventually they waved us through.
Our drive through the park to the Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre was uneventful, though we were a bit jittery about encountering baboons. We acquired a trail map and decided on a gentle stroll through the fynbos. We saw evidence of the fierce winds for which the Cape is renowned, with some trees growing at a peculiar slant to the ground. Some protea bushes had started to put flowers forward. I saw one of my favorite succulent plants spreading across a wide area, as well!
The sun was quite unforgiving, so I was grateful for my hat. We visited the sites of two navigational aids that had been named for Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco de Gama. The two are on a line pointing to Whittle Rock in False Bay, a hazard to ships. Many ship wrecks, after all, surround the southern coast of Africa. The original padrãos are gone, but pillars topped by crosses were constructed by the Portuguese government at a later date. Their height allows them to be seen at considerable distance. When viewed from the correct direction, the deep black of one side makes them stand out very well from the sky. In this photo, the scientist may give a distorted sense of scale; the history teacher in the background, however, is standing right next to the monument.
I was reminded of the “boot” formed by southern Italy when I saw the map of the Cape. Cape Point is the “toe,” pointing east toward False Bay. Diaz Beach forms the instep, and the Cape of Good Hope itself is the heel of the boot. We parked near Cape Point and rode the cable car up to the lighthouse.
The photo opportunities at the lighthouse are spectacular. The lighthouse itself is 238 meters above sea level. The view of the Cape of Good Hope, lying off to the west, is quite lovely, and it seemed to be begging for a photo!
Cape Point is no slouch for beauty, either. The lighthouse stands on a knife’s edge of rock, with sheer edges plunging into the ocean.
After our visit to the lighthouse, we drove down to the Cape (even our short hike in the sun had reminded us that a more strenuous hike might be a problem). We had a delightful time there. The tide pools featured little fish and sea anemones. I felt one of the anemones pulling my finger! A group of terns or cormorants watched us from a nearby rock, and seals considered whether the birds might be a good option for dinner.
After playing in the surf for a while, we enjoyed people watching as various groups posed for the photo opportunity of a large sign. Rather than jostling elbows in the queue, we opted for a smaller sign nearby with fewer people near it.
I thought that our visit was complete, but the Cape of Good Hope had one more surprise for us. As we drove back to the park entrance, we encountered a troop of baboons marching rapidly down the side of the road. Their leader was massive, but he also seemed to be nursing an injured paw. We kept the windows rolled up, and we slowly drove past the group. I was delighted to get one proper photo as we moved by. I was grateful that we could see these powerful animals safely.