It was my 41st day in the beautiful continent of Africa, which meant that the 40-day tour, where I had the chance to travel through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa had sadly come to an end; but what a trip it had been!
It was now time to embrace the sites of South Africa’s Cape Town, before leaving for my next exploration.
I began by climbing Lion’s Head. Though not as well known as Table Mountain, it does form part of Table Mountain National Park and is described as Cape Town’s “must do” hike, for its incredible, panoramic views and its two hour completion time.
Two of us decided to ascend the mountain together and we started at around 5:30am to beat the heat of the day. I believe that this was a wise choice, because it wasn’t too overcrowded and I certainly got hot enough, even at that ungodly hour! Climbing up the 669 metres took us around an hour and though I’m sure I slowed my companion down, we enjoyed corkscrewing around the mountain, with unbeatable views at every angle. We could see the ocean, the Twelve Apostles, Table Mountain and the City Bowl far below (also described as a natural amphitheatre because of its shape when viewing it from the mountains above).
After huffing and puffing from the final section, where we hoisted ourselves up a few ladders, clung on to chains for dear life and used our hands to push ourselves up when the dirt path gave way to rocks, we made it to the top successfully and were greeted by sheer beauty.
At the top of the mountain we relished our deserved break from climbing and admired the scenery which stretched out in every direction, before beginning our trip back down.Our descent was slightly precarious to start with because we had to lower ourselves down the rocks, but it became easier once we reached the dirt path. I think I preferred the upwards journey though, as walking downhill can prove challenging on the body in other ways and I felt as though I was constantly trying to stop myself from careering down the path at full speed!
Nonetheless, this was a great way to start the day and after returning to our hostel for breakfast and checkout, we met some other tour friends and took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain.
Table Mountain’s cable cars have been operating since the 1920s and are not only used to take tourists up and down the mountain, but also to rescue stranded hikers, bring clean water up and transport wastewater back down.Table Mountain is also committed to water conservation; it has chemical toilets, encourages the use of their water fountains instead of plastic bottles and was the first South African tourist attraction to earn Platinum status from the Heritage Environmental Rating Programme. This is especially prominent considering the water shortage in South Africa.
Supposedly we were extremely lucky with the weather as it was astonishingly clear and one can only see an unobstructed view of the city below 20% of the time, with fog often shrouding the sight lines.
We took advantage of a free guided walking tour and were informed that Table Mountain is roughly 420 million years old, making it older than the Himalayas. It has also been the cause of more deaths and so one should exercise great caution when hiking up or down it.
We came across some rock hyraxes, or “dassies” in Afrikaans. These are medium-sized mammals native to Africa and the Middle East, who are very fast and can escape prey deftly by hiding in crevices. Their eyes allow them to look directly into the sun and they are also the closest living relatives to African elephants. We were told not to feed them as the ones inhabiting Table Mountain are quickly growing fat!
We wandered around the three-kilometre plateau and the flat summit clarifies why Table Mountain has this name.
We took the cable car back down the mountain and treated ourselves to a South African Nando’s as we had certainly worked up an appetite, and naturally it was crucial that we compare it to our own.
Later that evening, after moving into the hostel I would be staying in for my final few days in Cape Town, we reconvened for dinner. We decided to eat at a local Ethiopian restaurant and the food was exquisite.
The following day, a few of us took a tour of Cape Town with a friendly and informative guide named Selimani.We began by boarding a boat to Seal Island, home to 64,000 cape fur seals.
We then visited Boulders Beach, known for its abundance of African Penguins. These penguins can only be found on the south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and South Africa. They are the only species of penguin found on the continent and they used to be known as Jackass Penguins due to their distinctive braying sound.
In 1910, it was estimated that there were approximately one-and-a-half million African Penguins on Boulders Beach. However, due to over-fishing and environmental change, the African Penguin is now classified as an endangered species. Encouragingly though, there have been incredible conservation efforts at Boulders Beach and the colony has grown to over 3,000 birds. We were therefore very fortunate to see so many of these majestic, yet flightless birds in their natural habitat.
We then went for a cycle ride and stopped off for a delicious picnic lunch before driving towards Cape Point, an area of high land that juts out into the sea and made us feel as though we were standing at the edge of the world.
We walked up to Cape Point and viewed the old lighthouse, built in 1859. It has not been used as a lighthouse since 1919 as its high location meant it was often obscured by mist and fog. However it now operates as the centralised monitoring point for all of the lighthouses on the coast of South Africa.
The sweeping views from the top were breathtaking. I took the Flying Dutchman Funicular (a cable operated railway) back down to see Cape Point from a new angle (and also because climbing down Lion’s Head the previous day had caused my legs to ache when walking downhill!)
Our final stop of the day was to The Cape of Good Hope, pictured on the right in the photograph above, as one can see it from the top of Cape Point.
The Cape of Good Hope is the most south-western point of the African continent and it also marks the point where a ship sailing around the headland of southern Africa begins to travel more eastward than southward.
The subsequent day began with a ferry ride to Robben Island, as four of us decided to take a tour and learn more about its harrowing history.
Robben Island was used by Dutch settlers for the isolation of political prisoners from the end of the 17th century.
From 1961 until 1996, Robben Island was controlled by the South African government and was likewise used as a prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals. There were around 3,000 prisoners during this time, including political leaders such as Nelson Mandela. They were interrogated, starved, beaten, their letters from family were heavily censored and they lived in unimaginable conditions. But we were told that they never complained and continued to fight for their rights.
Though many fought and died, justice finally prevailed in 1997 when the last of the prisoners were released. The island thereafter became a museum and then a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I believe that it’s important to learn about the atrocities that took place here during the era of Apartheid, with the island serving as a reminder of its sad history, but also highlighting the power of human spirit, freedom and the victory of democracy over oppression.
After taking the ferry back to the mainland, we visited Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, situated at the foot of Table Mountain and with fantastic views. It focuses on preserving and cultivating South Africa’s indigenous plants and is said to be one of the great botanic gardens of the world. It was lovely to walk around and observe its interesting flora and fauna.
I then reunited with my South African friend for dinner on the waterfront, near Nobel Square, where there are sculptures of the country’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners, Albert Lutuli, Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela.
The next couple of days went by in a whir as I said goodbye to my remaining tour friends and mostly took the time to recover from my fast-paced 45 days in eight countries. Before I knew it, it was time to make the journey to Cape Town airport (by a maniac taxi driver who got pulled over by the police for driving erratically and did make me slightly fear for my life!) and leave this wonderful experience behind; though I knew it was one I would never forget.
My voyage to Australia wasn’t a straightforward one, as it comprised of a nine hour flight to Dubai, then a seven hour flight to Bangkok and finally a 10 hour trip to Sydney. But it went by in a daze and before I knew it I was in an entirely different continent, ready to start my next adventure. Watch this space!