Cape Town to Victoria

November 9, 2008 – Sunday – Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria, BC, Canada

Southern Africa 2008

I kill time in my hotel room until my 4:30pm transfer to Cape Town airport arrives. The hotel insists that I pay 450 Rand (US$54) for a late departure, and I have to change rooms, so I feel entitled to take full advantage of the facilities before I depart. I use the time to catch up on my travel journal, annotate photos, have a couple of naps, and have a shower before leaving for the airport. I will be traveling for over 30 hours before I arrive back home!

The South African Airways flight from Cape Town to London/Heathrow takes 12 hours. SAA serves a wonderful dinner and complimentary wine after we leave Cape Town, and then the cabin lights are shut off until a couple of hours before our arrival. As usual I don’t sleep during the flight. We are in a holding pattern over Heathrow since we arrive a bit early. Apparently they have a 6am curfew at Heathrow – no doubt to give the surrounding neighbourhoods a bit of respite overnight.

Cape Town to Heathrow flight map
Cape Town to Heathrow flight map

South African Airways uses Terminal 1 at Heathrow and Air Canada uses Terminal 3, so I catch the shuttle. At least Terminal 3 is a more modern and civilized place to wait five hours for my 12:05pm departure, although I still can’t find any Wi-Fi networks. This is a prime people-watching place, since Heathrow is probably the busiest transfer point in the world.

After boarding my Air Canada flight to Vancouver, I notice right away the more “basic” service provided as compared with the full service provided by SAA on my previous flight. The 9-hour Air Canada flight departs on time and goes smoothly. I don’t see any aurora over the polar region this time, like I did on the Victoria to London flight at the start of my trip.

I only have an hour and forty minutes connection time in Vancouver, but manage to clear customs and immigration and board my flight for Victoria with time to spare. I’m home by dinner time on November 10th, having gained 10 hours as I cross so many time zones traveling in a westerly direction for some 32 hours elapsed time. The marathon flights are over, and I can finally sleep!

Heathrow to Vancouver flight map
Heathrow to Vancouver flight map

Cape Peninsula

November 8, 2008 – Saturday – Cape Peninsula Tour, Western Cape, South Africa

Southern Africa 2008

JoeTourist: Cape Peninsula &emdash; Cape Fur Seals on Duiker Island
Cape Fur Seals on Duiker Island

As we leave Cape Town, we drive past millionaire’s paradise: Camps Bay, Clifton Beach, and Llandudno. We stop at Hout Bay and take the boat tour to see the Cape Fur Seals on Duiker Island (60 Rand, US$7 each). There is a five man band serenading us as we disembark. Since Chapman’s Peak Drive is closed due to slides, we drive through Constantia and go past the prison where Nelson Mandela was held while he was treated for TB.

We then loop back to the outer coast and see parasail surfers at Witsand Bay before entering the Cape of Good Hope Preserve. Our driver spots 12 Eland and 6 Bontebok, and some wild Ostrich. The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwesterly point of land in Africa, and certainly qualifies as a landmark. It is madness as tour buses arrive and everyone scrambles to get their photo taken. I manage to get my photo taken before the crowd gets in there!

Cape Peninsula shoreline - Sea Point, Bantry Bay and Camp's Bay
Cape Peninsula shoreline at False Bay – used with permission from Emile Grundlingh

Cape Point is at the end of the peninsula, and has both the original lighthouse (decommissioned after the Portuguese liner Lusitania was lost on the rocks) and the new lighthouse (located lower down so it’s not obscured by fog). I hike up the very steep trail to the top of Cape Point where the old lighthouse is located (see banner image above). There is also a funicular railway running to the top. Our guide called ahead and reserved a table for us in the restaurant at Cape Point – a very busy place!

JoeTourist: Cape Peninsula &emdash; African Penguins at the Boulders Penguin Colony
African Penguins at the Boulders

After lunch, we drive back along False Bay, stopping at a very nice public campground and picnic area. Next stop is the African Penguin colony at The Boulders, where we nearly get blown to bits by flying sand and strong winds. As we drive through Simon’s Town, our guide points out the shark warning system that is in place for this strikingly beautiful beach area.

As we return to Cape Town, our guide talks about the apartheid years and how Cape Town was segregated. He is of Indian descent, and describes how his family was forced to move several times during that dark period of South Africa’s history.


Cape Town

November 7, 2008 – Friday – Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Southern Africa 2008

Before checking into our Cape Town hotel, Craig and Phineous take us up to Signal Hill. The views of Cape Town’s shoreline and the mountains (including Table Mountain, the Apostles, and the Lion) are spectacular (see above banner image). We then check into the Hollow on the Square Hotel, and I say goodbyes to our guide Craig and our driver Phineous.

One of my fellow solo travellers on the tour and I take the hotel shuttle (R10 each) to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. It is a happening place – the locals are obviously out for dinner on this Friday evening. We manage to get the last unreserved table at the Wang Thai restaurant. It is wonderful Thai food. I have prawns and stir-fried vegetables with steamed rice, a corn meal appetizer and a cappuccino to finish (200 Rand, US$24).

Useful information about Cape Town from our guide

  • The Red and Blue open-top buses offer good self-guided tours of Cape Town. Tickets cost 100 Rand (US$12) for the whole day. Buses run from 9am to 2pm. Buy tickets from the Clock Tower at Victoria & Albert dock. The Blue bus covers the beachfront area, and the Red bus covers the inland area (city & Table Mountain).
  • Robben Island boat tour is closed right now, but it is a 4 hour tour when operating.
  • If restaurants list “SQ” in place of the prices, ask for the price before you order, otherwise you will probably be in for a rude shock when the bill arrives.
  • The red Excite taxis offer the best rates and service in town. Call them on 021 448 4444.

Knysna to Cape Town

November 7, 2008 – Friday – Knysna to Cape Town, Eastern Cape, South Africa

JoeTourist: Western Cape Province &emdash; Poop deck, Bartolomeu Dias 1988 replica
Poop deck, Bartolomeu Dias 1988 replica

Southern Africa 2008

There is a torrential rain storm and strong winds all last night and this morning. The noise awoke me several times last night, since my cottage has a metal roof. First stop is the Bartolomeu Dias Museum in Mossel Bay, which is a maritime museum showcasing the Portuguese explorers Vasco de Gama and Bartolomeu Dias. There is a full sized replica of Dias’ caravel ship in the museum, which was sailed from Portugal to South Africa in 1988 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of exploration in this area by the Portuguese.

Lowveld farmhouse in Heidelberg, Western Cape

After we have lunch in the farming and grape growing community of Swellendam, we drive through some beautiful Lowveld farming areas before driving through the 4km long Huguenot Tunnel on our way to Cape Town. After exiting the tunnel, we are suddenly in the grape growing district of Paarl, which is known world-wide for their wines.



November 6, 2008 – Thursday – Oudtshoorn, ostriches and caves

Formations in the Cango Caves
Formations in the Cango Caves

Southern Africa 2008

Our day trip today takes us through George, the main town, and then over a mountain pass to the Klein Karoo region. Our first stop is the Cango Caves, where we take the Standard Tour which only covers a fraction of what can be seen in the caves. The caves have dried out over the last few years because of lack of rain on the surface, however they are spectacular nonetheless.

Next stop is Ostrich Show Farm near Oudtshoorn (see banner image above). A few of the lighter members of our group get to ride the ostriches, and we also learn all about feather palaces.

We stop in a mall in Oudtshoorn for a lunch break, and are entertained by the barking buggy boy in the parking lot. Yes, he barks like a dog…and seems to get a great thrill out of entertaining us while we wait for everyone to return to the bus from their various lunchtime activities.


Garden Coast

November 5, 2008 – Wednesday – Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) to Knysna, Eastern Cape – the Garden Coast of South Africa

Southern Africa 2008

As we drive along the Garden Coast, we encounter many pretty spots, including Jeffrey’s Bay offers world class surfing, as does many of South Africa’s beaches.

JoeTourist: Eastern Cape Province &emdash; Sandy beach
Sandy beach at Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park is our lunch stop. The shoreline is beautiful here as well, with sand and rock, and whales to see offshore. As the Brits in our group tell me, it could be the English south coast (or our shoreline off Victoria in Canada for that matter).

Next stop is Face Adrenalin, the world’s highest bungee jump off Africa’s highest bridge (Bloukrans River Bridge). We watch as a woman jumps. It is a very long way down (216 metres), and she dangles there for quite awhile until they come down on a second line to pull her up.

Garden Route – South African National Parks

Plettenberg Bay is an upscale town and residential area with a lovely long sandy beach (see banner image above), but it has a shanty town close-by west of town. Knysna town is also upscale, with nice shops and quaint malls just like home! We are staying in the Knysna Hollow Country Estate for the next two nights. It is quite deluxe, offering cottage style accommodation for everyone.


Grahamstown (Makhanda) & Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha)

November 4, 2008 – Tuesday – East London to Grahamstown (Makhanda) and Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), Eastern Cape, South Africa

Southern Africa 2008

Before we leave East London this morning, we see a whale with its tail sticking vertically out of the ocean. As we drive through town, Craig points out the Mercedes assembly plant where most right hand drive vehicles are made for export to the rest of the world. We make a coffee stop in a quaint town called Bathurst, where we are served some lovely scones and coffee in a garden cafe.

JoeTourist: Eastern Cape Province &emdash; The Observatory Museum in Grahamstown
The Observatory Museum in Grahamstown

Next stop is Grahamstown, where many of us tour the Observatory Museum. There is a reflecting telescope and a working camera obscura in a tower on top of the museum. Both were acquired and built by an early English settler to this area called H.C. Galpin. He made a living as a watch and clock maker.

Craig tells us Grahamstown is safe to wander around in, so our group spreads out to take advantage of the shopping and banking. I try to use my Canadian bank card in one bank, but the machine rejects it. I walk down the street to another bank where the bank machine works fine for me. Lunch is on our own account today, so I stop by a bakery and pick up a very nice deli sandwich for 9.50 Rand (US$1.15). On our way out of Grahamstown, we stop to see the 1820 Settlers National Monument, which offers a good view of Grahamstown from high on a hill, but it really doesn’t have much else to offer.

JoeTourist: Eastern Cape Province &emdash; The salt flats north of the city
The salt flats north of Port Elizabeth

We have a fairly long drive to Port Elizabeth, with the salt ponds and new harbour appearing just north of the city as we approach it. Port Elizabeth is a busy city, and it’s residents are quite affluent. We are officially now on the Garden Coast. The vegetation is much greener than before, and the rivers are no longer dry. Huge farms that appear to be very productive are visible along the expressway, and there are some spectacular sandy beaches as well. We are staying at the Paxton Hotel in Port Elizabeth – a modern hotel located next to the rail yard and main road. After check-in I order a Beck’s beer from the bar, which costs 16 Rand (US$2.25).

We leave for dinner as a group this evening and drive to 34° South – a restaurant Craig recommends, which is located in a casino complex. The dinner service takes over two hours for some of our group, however I am served right away, and since the couple I’m seated with this evening don’t speak very good English, I finish quickly and have well over an hour to kill after the meal. I always find people watching to be a fascinating pastime when I travel, and this evening is no exception. I sit at the bar so I have a good vantage point and order a cappuccino. The barman sings to himself as he works, and is quite cute as well, which keeps me entertained until we board the bus to return to the hotel.

The Paxton Hotel has wireless Internet access available in each room, so I take advantage of this to catch up with my email and JoeTourist travel blog.


East London

November 3, 2008 – Monday – Coffee Bay to East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Southern Africa 2008

We have a late 10:30am departure from Coffee Bay, which gives everyone time to have a leisurely breakfast. There are some surfers and wake boarders out this morning, as well as some porpoises just past the surf line. I have plenty of time to walk the full length of the beach before we depart.

It is a long 200 km drive today. We travel through more of the dry Transkei Province, arriving in East London around 3:30pm. We are staying at the Kennaway Hotel, which is an older hotel that is in pretty good shape. The hotel is situated right on the East London esplanade (shoreline), and our guide Craig says it is safe to walk outside. It is very windy this afternoon, but many of our group walk along the waterfront and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful shoreline.

There is lots of action to see from my front-facing window at the hotel: a boy and a young man beg for change in the parking lot in front of the hotel (the boy gives the man any money he is given); construction workers wait for a ride home in a big covered truck (which finally arrives); young joggers from the exclusive health club located in the nearby aquarium building run along the waterfront; affluent black people pull up in the parking lot in front of the hotel in their fancy cars to use the ATM and buy junk food from a nearby convenience store.

I go for dinner this evening to Guido’s, a restaurant attached to the hotel, which is recommended by our guide Craig. The food is quite good. I have a calamari dinner and two glasses of wine (about 80 Rand or $9.50 including tip). It is a family-run restaurant, so the service is very good. I join a Swiss couple from our group for dinner this evening. They are very interesting to talk to. She has a South African friend with dual citizenship who moved to Switzerland after apartheid ended.

Canada also has many immigrants from South Africa, so we were comparing notes. We both agree that the current security problems in South Africa will likely get worse before they get better. We also agree that the role that South Africa currently enjoys as the economic engine of the African continent will not last. We think they will experience further economic declines before there is any possibility of a return to their current leadership position. As with other tour members, we agree prices of meals, liquor, as well as add-on tours is about one quarter to one half of what we would pay in Europe or North America.

November 4, 2008 – Tuesday – East London to Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Before we leave East London this morning, we see a whale with its tail sticking vertically out of the ocean. As we drive through town, Craig points out the Mercedes assembly plant where most right hand drive vehicles are made for export to the rest of the world.


The Transkei & Coffee Bay

November 2, 2008 – Sunday – Drakensberg to Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape – the Wild Coast of South Africa

JoeTourist: Eastern Cape Province &emdash; A woman and her cow alongside the highway
A woman and her cow alongside the highway in Transkei Province

Southern Africa 2008

We drive through the Transkei Province on our way to Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast. Transkei is a former homeland area for blacks when apartheid was still in force in South Africa. Many black people continue to live in this region despite there being a chronic lack of water.

We travel through Mthatha aka Umtata, which is the provincial capital and home of South Africa’s most famous citizen, Nelson Mandela. Mr. Mandela no longer lives here, however some of his family continue to live in the region. He comes back to his hometown to celebrate his birthdays. He celebrated his 90th awhile ago, so he is getting to be quite old.

Update: Nelson Mandela died December 5, 2013 after suffering from a long illness, and was buried in his hometown of Qunu.

JoeTourist: Eastern Cape Province &emdash; View of the beach and the Indian Ocean from the hotel
View of the beach and the Indian Ocean from the hotel at Coffee Bay

It takes almost an hour to drive from the main highway just south of Umtata to the Ocean View Hotel at Coffee Bay. It’s like traveling to another country, since the coastline along the Indian Ocean is warm, wet, and tropical. I have a room with a view of the ocean. This is a nice hotel, but well off the beaten track.

I join the wake-boarders, taking my first dip in the Indian Ocean surf before dinner, and body surf for awhile, which is great fun! Coffee Bay is spectacular, with dramatic headlands at either end of a beautiful curved one kilometre long sandy beach. There is also an estuary at one end of the beach where a stream enters the ocean.

After dinner this evening, an African dance troupe comes in and does a similar floor show of Zulu singing and dancing as we saw at the Drakensberg Gardens with one difference – the young women are topless. Some of the men in our group go crazy, taking pictures and generally acting goofy. As I leave the dining room after dinner, the dance troupe are in the lobby counting the money they collected from us after the show. I compliment them on their dancing and singing, but take no photos or video.

November 3, 2008 – Monday – Coffee Bay to East London

We have a late 10:30am departure from Coffee Bay, which gives everyone time to have a leisurely breakfast. There are some surfers and wake boarders out this morning, as well as some porpoises just past the surf line. I have plenty of time to walk the full length of the beach before we depart.


Drakensberg Mountains

November 1, 2008 – Saturday – Durban to the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

Southern Africa 2008

We are up at 5am this morning so we can arrive in Underberg early enough for people to embark on a 4×4 expedition to Lesthoto, a mountainous land-locked nation within South Africa. I opt to skip this excursion, so I stay with the bus, and go for an early check-in at the Drakensberg Gardens Resort. We are warmly greeted at this nicely appointed and vast resort. They have their own 18 hole golf course, multiple dining rooms and bars, hiking trails, a pool, spa, and lots more to do. I have a nice lunch on the patio and then go back to my room and sleep for a couple of hours this afternoon to recover from all the early mornings on this tour. Later, I go for a hike along the river for an hour before dinner. It’s always good to have some down time away from the group when on such a long tour.

Drakensberg is a strikingly beautiful area of South Africa. The mountains are the main feature, however there are also some vast farms in this area. Most seem to be raising livestock – cattle or sheep.

This evening’s dinner is included in the tour and is served buffet style. I’m seated with the Dutch contingent this evening. Some of them speak good English, and they are always a lot of fun. We get along very well, as they buy me wine and I buy them beer. The staff of the resort performs a floor show of Zulu singing and dancing. They are quite good, so I take some video.