Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cape Point Tour, Cape Town

If you only have two days in Cape Town I would highly suggest spending one touring the city and the second touring Cape Point.  For any nature lover you can't get much better than the Cape Point tour.  I went with a company called Ilios Travel, which took me and a small group of five others on a planned tour along the Atlantic Seaboard stopping at Hout Bay, Chapman's Peak, Cape Point, Simon's Town and the Boulder Beach Penguin Colony and then to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.  It is a wonderful full day trip, which will take you from 8am to around 5pm.  If you are with your own group of people I would suggest hiring a private guide for the tour so you can be more flexible in how long you wish to spend at places and where/when you would like to stop, but the group tour is a great alternative and the Ilios guide was wonderful, making sure we hit every stop, but allowing us to take time to photograph and enjoy everything.  Some guides on group tours will get a bit pushy about time and start herding you along, which happened to me on another Ilios tour in the winelands, so it is luck of the draw.

Our first stop on the tour was in Hout Bay where you can take a boat out to Seal Island to see hundreds of Cape Fur Seals lounging and playing on a small rock island.  The boat ride takes about 45 minutes round trip and is very fun.  The water gets a bit bumpy, especially on windy days so if you get seasick it may be best to skip it and shop around at the market set up on the shore.  If you can deal with the rocking, you are in for a fun quick trip to see some playful seals. In August-September the seals are breeding and many babies can be seen playing on the island. The unique eco-system that is found in Cape Town from the two oceans meeting creates a beautiful layer of cold air that looks like fog that can be seen hovering above the water near the shore line, making for a beautiful landscape.

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From Hout Bay we continued our drive along the water to Cape Point. Most of the drive is right along the waters edge and provides for beautiful vistas to be seen from the car window.

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Cape Point itself is very stunning and is a wonderful spot to see the beautiful fynbos, the local plants of the Cape. The Garden Route, which is the road between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is famous for its flora and many of the endemic species are endangered. In the park you can also spot some wild ostrich and antelopes. You may even spot some baboons along the way.

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The Cape of Good Hope is the South-Western most point in South Africa and is said to be where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, although I was later told they really meet closer to Gansbaii. At the edge of Cape Point is a light house that was built in 1919. You can either take a funicular up to the top or walk. It is about a 20 minute walk and I would highly suggest it because the scenery is quite beautiful. The area is wonderful for bird watching and sometimes even whales can be seen in the water from the walk. If you are short on time take the funicular one way and walk the other, but I really recommend walking in at least one direction. The view from the top is spectacular and well worth the trip.

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The next stop on the tour is Simon's Town and Boulder's Beach where you can spot the highly endangered African Penguin. This past may the penguin was put on the endangered species list and new precautions have been taken to keep them safe. You used to be able to go right up to the penguins and touch them, but there is now a raised boardwalk to keep tourists separate from the penguins to ensure their safety. Before the boardwalk tourists disrupted the penguins natural environment sometimes breaking their eggs and ransacking their nests. The seperation upsets some tourists, especially children, but it is important to remember that these animals welfare must come first and humans have destroyed their land and it is now our responsibility to protect them. Plastic drums can be seen placed into the land, which are man made penguin homes that have been put in by ecologists working to save the species. Because of guano scraping the penguins can not make their own nests anymore and ecologists have come up with a wonderful substitute that is being used successfully on Boulder's Beach and Dyer Island. You can actually purchase a home for a penguin to help support their plight from the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, for more information click here. It is wonderful to watch them in their natural environment as they play with each other, swim in the water or sun themselves on the beach.

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The last stop on the tour is at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. I could have easily spent an entire day just in these gardens and if you are an avid birder or botanist I would suggest budgeting plenty of time for this beautiful area. The gardens is a wonderful spot to see local flowers like to Protea and local birds like the Sunbird.

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