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Cape Town

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

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.
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Garden Coast

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

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.

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East London

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

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.

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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

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 Mtatha 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.

Helicopter tour of Kaua’i, Hawaii

January 19, 2001 Helicopter Tour – Lihu’e, Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, Hanalei, Kawaihau

Jack Harter Helicopter Tours

Jack Harter Helicopter Tours

Jack Harter Helicopters started the helicopter tour business in Kaua’i, and they came recommended by the B&B I was staying with. They use six passenger Eurocopter AStars custom-equipped with the largest windows and a unique cabin layout, giving passengers the best views possible. They also offer doors-off flights with their Hughes four passenger helicopters for those who want an extra thrill, or for dedicated photographers who want to avoid window reflections in their photos. I learned from my trip to the Grand Canyon that helicopters are an excellent way to see the country, so I decided to spend the money on this tour.

Jack Harter Helicopter tour map

Jack Harter Helicopter tour map

The tours start at the Lihue heliport, which is adjacent to the main airport, but you need to check in at the Jack Harter Helicopter office, which is located very close to the airport. You will be briefed on safety procedures and then driven to the heliport. Takeoff was smooth – an indication of the rest of the flight. We flew around Kaua’i in a clockwise direction.

South Coast

Looking over Ha’upu (Hoary Head) Ridge from the air offers a gorgeous view towards Kipu Kai, Kawai Point, and the Menehune Fishpond. The spectacular Mana Waipuna Falls is next on the itinerary, and as we proceed toward Waimea Canyon, we fly over Olokele Canyon and can see the irrigation ditch which supplies the fields in this normally arid area with water for the sugar cane crops.

Waimea Canyon

Driving to Waimea Canyon by car presents some spectacular vistas, but seeing this canyon from a helicopter is a whole new experience. As we approach the canyon from the south, we catch glimpses of the colors and water courses that make this canyon so interesting. The red rock and soil that makes up so much of Kaua’i is laid bare in this area of high erosion. The vistas from the head of the canyon looking back south show the way the layers of mountain ranges fades into the sea, and we get an excellent view of Barking Sands from high atop the ridge just before we dip over the top and catch our first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast.

Na Pali Coast

Our first glimpse of the Na Pali coast as we clear the ridge line wows us with the view of the Kalepa Ridge cones on the  Na Pali coast. Streaming sunlight over the mountains is simply magical; the high surf makes the Na Pali coastline stand out. This is simply awe-inspiring. There is no substitute for seeing the Na Pali coast from a helicopter.

Hanalei & Central Mountains

Maniholo Bay & Ha'ena Pt looking toward Hanalei

Maniholo Bay & Ha’ena Pt looking toward Hanalei

As we leave the Na Pali coast and head past Ha’ena Point, the beautiful Hanalei Bay comes into view. Maniholo Bay & Ha’ena Point frame pretty Hanalei Bay, with Princeville further down the coast. We fly close to falls in the mountains behind the valley, which are the source of the Hanalei River. In quick succession as we cruise down the coast towards Lihue: the Makaleha Mountains, fantastic Keana’awi Falls shrouded in cloud , beautiful Kohalalele Falls, showing us the wettest place on earth are the central peaks of Kaua’i – Wai’ale’ale and Kawaikini.

East Coast & Lihue

As we approach Lihue and the end of our tour, we see Wailua Falls and look north along the east coastline over Hanama’ulu Bay, productive farmlands, the upper Wailua River, and glimpse the Sleeping Giant. We float down on the helicopter pad and reluctantly return to our land-based existence.

What was the highlight of the helicopter tour? The Na Pali Coast was a clear winner, although seeing the Waimea Canyon from the air was interesting after having driven there the day before. The Hanalei Valley is even more beautiful from the air. Incidentally, the narration from the helicopter pilot was amazing. He had facts, figures, answered our questions, and had some very interesting stories to tell the whole time we were airborne. He even knew when to be quiet, and let us enjoy the amazing views!

I enjoyed this helicopter tour immensely – this is a vacation highlight you should not miss!