I arrived downtown in the later afternoon using the public transporation from the airport. My Airbnb where I was to meet my friend was further than expected. I had to walk a good 45 minutes from the central bus stop to that neighborhood. The first moments walking a new country is special, you stand out with your big backpack and analyse your surrounding to capture the atmosphere and any signs of potential danger. As in most places, Cape Town was much safer than I expected. What I learned later is that this region of South Africa is vastly different from the rest of the country in term of safety and tourist safety. Cape Town is very safe during the day and feels a lot like Europe.
The brother of the owner of the airbnb walked me through the things to do in the city and some tips. The best tip I got is to ONLY go around in Uber and avoid any taxi in Cape Town – best case scenario, they will scam you, worst case … you will end up in a fake taxi and violence might ensue – the best part is that there are no ways to know a fake taxi from a real taxi.
Once my friend arrived from Berlin we went to buy a SIM card right away (extremely cheap and easy to negotiate your way in obtaining a pre-charged sim card without needing a passport proof) had some good food next to the Airbnb, a few pints and the day was done.
Free walking tour and getting to know Cape Town
It’s almost always sunny in Cape Town, clouds form in the valley as they reach Table Top mountain and the mountain is always part of the view.
We had some time before the Free walking tour and we decided to walk around the central district to discover a mix of modern architecture and colonization era buildings. The city is vivid and full of action and there are things to view at every corner.
The free walking tour took us closer to District 6. Our guide showed us the Zonnebloem college and several buildings covered in Street art as he ran us through the history of the district. Zonnebloem College was founded in 1858 and was opened so princes and princess of African chiefs from the eastern Cape Colony, among others could be educated.
After the walking tour we explored Long Street where tons of bars and restaurants are available… the prices are higher here but still affordable. Micro-breweries lovers and foodies can find what they want here.
We ended the day at the Cape Town Harbour or the Victoria and Albert Waterfront as they call it. This section is more for shopping but there are several more expensive restaurants and bars and also The Nelson Mandela Gateway Dock To Robben Island.
Driving along the coast to Gansbaai : Penguins and Cheetahs
We picked up our car near the Waterfront early in the morning. We had a big day ahead and we wanted to be in Gansbaai before it got dark.
We started the day at the Cheetah Outreach Preservation center for cheetahs & other predators, with education programs & animal encounters. We spent a good 20 minutes with a Cheetah and a guide asking several questions while petting a cheetah in the shade. They are big and intimidating and you feel quite vulnerable. The animals are well taken care of and not sedated as in many touristic places in Asia.
The road itself is stunning and is considered to be one of the best road trips in the world. The landscape keeps changing but however, you are always right next to the ocean and you can stop at several view spots along the way.
Stony Point Nature Reserve
After several stops and a quick swim in a tide pool in the ocean we arrived at the Stony Point Nature Reserve. This unique mainland seabird breeding colony is the home to three endangered seabird species and one rarity, all of whom are visible from the reserve’s elevated viewing boardwalk.
Agulhas National Park
The main reason we went at Gansbaai is that it is known for its dense population of great white sharks and as a whale-watching location. However, a group of Orcas emerged a few days before and chased all the great whites away.
We decided to improvise and go to Agulhas National Park. The trip to Agulhas is much easier with four wheel drive due to the dirt roads.
You can spend a full day in the park as there are a lot of hiking trails. This park is a must-see as it is the southernmost tip of Africa and the official meeting-point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. There are multiple shipwrecks and interesting geological formations. You can also visit Agulhas lighthouse, the second-oldest lighthouse in South Africa.
Once we got back to Gansbaai, we drank some good local wines, had a bbq and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
Quad in the valleys
We spent half the day going around in quads and exploring the multiple valleys and forests around Gansbaai with our guide. Usually, in touristic tours, the quads are speed-locked and automatic… but not this time! I have little picture of this event but you can see some moments in the video.
We drove a lot at the end of the day as our Shark activity we canceled called us to inform us the great whites had been spotted in Mossel Bay.
White Shark Cage Diving
I always wanted to swim with sharks but when it came to great whites, a cage sounded like a great idea. We got a flat on our way to Mussle Bay where the boat was waiting for us. The SIM card allowed us to call and let them know we would be late – there was a lot of stress knowing we might miss our chance.
The boat ride is about 30 minutes outside the port and takes you to a small island/rock where there are a lot of seals relaxing… but when the tides get high, the waves sweep the island push the seal in the ocean where the sharks are waiting to feast.
The water is cold and you need to suit up before getting in the cage. We got lucky enough to see 6 sharks and a massive female that made the other ones scamper away. The best moment was when I felt something touch my leg, and as I turned I could see it was one the sharks ”tasting” the cage a few centimeters away from me. My face could peak into the predator’s mouth and I got one of those adrenaline surge I love.
The evening was spent drinking wine in a state of bliss as we listened to rugby matches – not understanding the rules but not caring. Just feeling good.
Storms River Bridges –Tsitsikamma National Park and big trees
This is the day we entered the Garden Route.
The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast.
We did a small hike at The Big Tree Tsitsikamma which
boasts an eight hundred- year-old Yellowwood. ” This majestic tree towers over the rest of the canopy; standing 36+m tall and with a trunk circumference of 9m – this is a giant among giants. “
The afternoon was spent hiking the storm river suspension bridges and trails.
Sand Surfing and chillin’ and J-Bay
Jeffreys Bay is one of the five most famous surfing destinations in the world and hosts the annual World Surf League (WSL) surfing event. The place is popular for the chill vibe on the main avenue and also the calamari. Perfect place to relax after a day with the shark.
It would have made sense to surf but let’s just say that once you swam a couple of miles out with some white sharks… Sand surfing sounds like a much better idea! Renting the boards are a couple of bucks and you can spend the afternoon waxing and falling of the board.
Addo Elephant National park
This was the furthest point east of our road trip. We woke up at 4h30 am to be among the first in the park and also enjoy the freshness of the morning where most animals are out grazing.
” Addo Elephant National Park is situated 72km by road from Port Elizabeth. Established in 1931 to save 11 Elephants on the brink of extinction, and now home to more than 350 of them, 280 Cape Buffalo, black Rhino, a range of Antelope species, as well as the rare flightless dung Beetle, Addo Elephant Park is a perfect destination for the adventurous outdoor and nature lover. ”
The best moment was when our car got surrounded by a herd of elephants. Definitely a must-see!
Monkey Land and crazy roads
After seeing dozen of species the previous day it made sense to continue our streak. Monkey Land was on our road and was a perfect stop to break this 6 hours of driving (our longest) in half.
I had low expectations as usually these installations are too touristy. This one turned out to be very different. The forest surrounded by the fence is big enough for monkeys to cover a big territory and enjoy a great life. The guides only allow small groups in at the time and the paths are perfect to watch them play at different levels of the forest. There is even a hanging bridge which allows you to see the forest from high up and the monkeys who prefer this environment.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving through Prince Alfred’s Pass. A very dangerous road that made this journey very exciting. As you cross several valleys to the north the humidity drops and it slowly turns from a lush rain forest to a desert. Every valley is a a different ecosystem than the previous one only miles apart.
Oudtshoorn – The ostrich capital of the world
After waking in a ranch and feeding the horses, we did the best thing to do at the “ostrich capital of the world” … go play with some ostriches!
” Oudtshoorn is a town in the Klein Karoo area of South Africa’s Western Cape. It’s known for its ostrich farms and rests along the Route 62 wine route. The central C.P. Nel Museum traces the ostrich-feather boom era and houses a working synagogue. ”
The farm we visited allowed us to understand the animal better and the entire economy and lifestyle surrounding these magnificent ”dumb” giant birds! As you gaze in their big eyes (larger than their brain) you are surprised to realize that not much is happening… we tend to expect intelligence from big animals but this one is shockingly the opposite.
At night, I had one of the best meals of my life. Ostrich meat has no fat but is red meat. It’s like a giant fillet mignon and when it’s paired with delicious local wines, it’s a perfect meal.
Owning a regional park for a night
Airbnb has been one of the highlights of the trip. It allowed us to experience some situations which would have traditionally been impossible. On that night, we rented a luxury tent in a private region covering several valleys and mountains. I don’t know anywhere else in the world where you can get all this for less than a 100$ a night.
More wine regions!
This is the kind of morning where I was drunk at 11h am. Most wineries in South Africa are free for tasting and there is a wine I like a lot back home which comes from Robertson Winery. We arrived around 10 in the morning and I was surprised to find they had more than 60 wines! So… I HAD to taste them all!
Special thanks to my friend for being such a dedicated driver.
Most days of the roadtrip we stopped to at least one winery when driving between activities. But those two days allowed us to really focus on discovering two wine regions. We visited some modest family wineries, massive industrial ones and prestigious high end ones who poured millions in architecture.
Back to Cape Town for a few days
Having a car in Cape Town allows you to visit some beautiful view points around the valley.
Before visiting South Africa I read the a ”Long Walk to Freedom” from Nelson Mandela. It gave me a context and better understanding of the country and racial struggles it endured and is still enduring. I recommend everyone to read it as it will prepare you for the trip.
Robben island visit takes all it’s meaning once you have read the book and shared a bit of the 18 years Mandela spend imprisoned there.
On the day of our flight, we spent the day hiking around Table Top mountain. We knew there would be no cloud thanks to the weather forecast.