Cape Town, Africa’s Finest City

Cape Town, Africa’s Finest City

South Africa has been a bucket list country for a while now. With the recent 2010 World Cup, the country not only built new stadiums, but also improved transportation within and between the major cities. Additionally, the first Planet Earth series captured amazing videos of great white sharks breaching through the water to catch seals south of Cape Town. More personally, a few friends have taken their respective honeymoons in South Africa and have come back with raving reviews. We spent four days in Cape Town before our 26 day Safari and it was not nearly enough time.

We had heard that Cape Town draws a lot of similarities to our hometown of San Diego. It’s right on the beach, it has better weather than other parts of South Africa, it’s got a lot of surfers, and a relaxed attitude. Our flight got into Cape Town in the afternoon and we picked up our rental car for getting around the area. Driving was a little weird because I hadn’t driven since Ireland and had to remember to drive on the left. The airport is pretty far from the downtown area but as we approached the city we got our first glimpse at the magnificent Table Mountain. This famous mountain complex features a level plateau approximately 3 kilometres (2 mi) from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and by Lion's Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town. There are a number of trails and hikes to reach the summit and even a Table Mountain Cableway that takes you to the top. When I first saw Table Mountain I immediately started looking forward to hiking to the top and enjoying the view.

Clouds pouring over Table Mountain (View from Vietnamese Restaurant)

Our Airbnb was pretty close to the cableway and Diem was happy it was also next to a Vietnamese and a Thai restaurant. We wanted to go to the Vietnamese place but it was 5:40 PM and it didn’t open till 6. We decided to wait down the street at a bar that was having happy hour for a drink. We decided to get some snacks with our drinks. Both the drinks and the food were delicious so we wound up having dinner and a few more drinks there before heading back to our room. We didn't want to stay out too late because we had a full day the next day.

Delicious Bistro Lunch

Wine Country. On our first full day we decided to explore the nearby wine region of Stellenbach. Cape Town has a number of local wine regions within about an hour of Cape Town including Constantia Valley, Stellenbach, Helderberg, Durbanville, and Franschhoek. Stellenbach is probably the most famous and we ended up going to 3 wineries: Boschendal, Allée Bleue, and Delaire Graff. Our first stop was Boschendal. Our close friends recommended it and after pulling into the entrance, we could quickly see why.  The grounds have a classy farmhouse feel to it with a nice picnic area equipped with bean bag chairs and hammocks. Further inside the estate are a couple of small restaurants surrounded by some gorgeous trees and a garden. We had lunch at the bistro in the main building area. I had a burger and Diem had mushroom gnocchi, both were delicious. We shared a tasting of five wines which were all really smooth and delicious. We could have stayed there all day but we wanted to see more of what the wine region had to offer. Our friends recommended a second winery and we were excited to see how the second one measured up to Boschendal. However, we stopped at the winery but they told us the tastings were at their other location about an hour away. We decided not to make the drive since the day was slipping away.

Left: Allee Bleue; Right: Delaire Graff Cheese and Wine Tasting

We made our second stop at Allée Bleue which we just picked because we thought it had a nice sign from the main road and it was close to Boschendal. The grounds weren’t as nice but the tasting was really delicious and the guy pouring for us gave us extra servings of some of their better wines for free. Unfortunately, I was driving so I could only have some small sips but Diem loved the extra portions. Our last stop for the day, Delaire Graff, we just picked from a map of the different wineries in the region. We were so glad we went there because it was super nice. The balcony where we had our tastings had beautiful mountains surrounding the grape vines, striking sculptures within perfectly manicured gardens, and artistic fountains. I felt way too under-dressed walking into this place but basically all the customers were similarly dressed.  We ordered a wine tasting and a cheese platter which came out with a gorgeous presentation with flowers. Both the wine and cheese were delicious. It was a perfect way to end the day before heading back.

Penguins, Penguins everywhere!

Peninsula Tour. On our second day we scheduled a day tour of Cape Point and the Cape Peninsula. Our tour company offered the day tour as a free bonus for booking the safari and we almost cancelled because of the weather. The day started off rainy and cold and we were worried that it was going to last all day. Three other people joined us and we started by driving through the beach areas of Cape Town before stopping at Haut Bay. We had breakfast and coffee while other people went on a boat cruise to see sea lions. It was still cold and wet out and we've seen plenty of sea lions so we passed. After warming up for a bit, we drove along Chapman's Peak Drive to Simon's Town to meet up with a colony of Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach. This was really cool because there were so many penguins and we got really close to some. Apparently at night they walk through town to their homes and in the morning they walk back down to the beach and ocean. Most of the ones we saw were just chilling on the beach enjoying the sun.

How the day started, not much of a view of Camps Bay

Can't get enough of these little guys

Bike ride along Misty Caves and coast

We next went on a bike ride along the coast along the Misty Caves and some ostrich farms. It was nice to ride a bike and get some exercise. We went for about 30 minutes and then stopped for lunch at a small sculpture shop. After lunch our next stop was the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where we saw some zebras, baboons, and eagles. It was a nice park area but we had to stay in the car the whole time and most of the animals we saw were pretty far away.

Our final stops were the top lighthouse at Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Our tour guide told us we actually were lucky that it was rainy earlier because the lighthouse was relatively empty and that it's normally packed with people. After walking around the top of the lighthouse we made our down to the Cape of Good Hope. I had just finished reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. In the book, the author has an emotional, life-changing epiphany while overlooking the Cape of Good Hope from the cliffs by the ocean. By the time we hiked down to the cliff edge, the sky cleared up and it was a beautiful day. While it was a very amazing view and experience, I can’t say it was life-changing. Even still, it was an amazing day and we got to see so many sites around Cape Town. We were so glad we didn’t stay in and skip the tour when we saw the weather in the morning. After we got back we had dinner at the Thai place by our Airbnb. The food was actually a little disappointing but it was still good to have Thai food again.

Sights around Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope

Left: Cliffs of Cape of Good Hope; Right: Lighthouse of Cape Point

Great White Shark Cage Diving. The next day we checked off another bucket list item for me, great white shark cage diving in Gansabaai. Gansabaai is a little over 2 hours south of Cape Town and we left around 7:30 AM to get there by our 10 AM dive time. On the peaceful drive down, the car in front of me ran over a truck tire and it flew up and hit the front of our rental car. It made a loud noise but I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. The car wasn’t making any noises or anything and we were only 20 minutes away from Gansabaai so we decided to wait to check it out.  When we got to the dive company we took a look at the damage and it was worse than we thought. The entire front license plate was completely knocked off, there was a huge crack in the bumper, and a large black mark on the front hood and bumper. Looking at that damage kind of put a damper on the day but once the tour started I was still excited to go.

Car damage from the truck tire, where's the license plate?

The ride out to the sharks is actually really quick, only about 20-30 minutes from the shore. After we arrived at the dive spot, the captain went over the procedure again and put the cage in. We put on our wetsuits and waited our turn. It took about 10 minutes before we saw the first shark. The captain mentioned that the sharks we were going to be seeing were only adolescents but they were still really big. A couple got right up next to cage and one rammed into cage. After seeing that I was pumped to go in and made sure we were in the second group. When we got in we immediately felt the rush of the cold water. Even with the wetsuits and hoodies, there was definite shrinkage. Unfortunately, once we got in the cage and put our heads under the water, visibility was pretty bad. Even though the sharks came really close to the cage we couldn’t see them underwater. After that a few more groups got in the cage and we watched from boat which was a better vantage point to see and appreciate just how big the sharks, and their teeth, were. We got a few good videos from the boat and tried to stay warm. The tour lasted a couple of hours and we came back to shore for some light lunch and coffee. Afterwards, we drove back to Cape Town and dropped off the car. The agents immediately saw the damage and I filled out some paperwork. Luckily, my credit card covered the rental damage which ended up being about $225. For dinner, we went to the Vietnamese place down the street again and went to bed to get ready for our safari.

Cape Town lived up to all the expectations we had. You really need at least a full week in Cape Town to explore and enjoy the surrounding area. We had four jam packed days and really needed more. I was especially disappointed that we didn’t make it to the top of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. We also missed exploring the downtown and beach areas in the city. Our plan is to come back and spend a couple of days further exploring the different wineries and wine routes around Cape Town. Not everything is perfect in Cape Town though. There are a number of poor areas and coming into the city from the airport you can see a large shanty-town, Crossroads, similar to what you would see in Rio, Brazil. However, there is so much beautiful scenery, natural wildlife, and great, affordable food to make Cape Town tops on our list of places to go and a city we plan on returning to soon.

See the full gallery of our time in Cape Town here: Cape Town, South Africa.

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Paul is a lawyer taking a mid-career break focused on capturing all his adventures during his yearlong honeymoon around the world.

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