After a fairly rigorous 33 hour journey, I arrived into Capetown, ready to take on new challenges. There is so much that seems familiar in South Africa to a person from New Zealand. the pragmatism, the seeming casualness and the welcome. However, on occasion one is quite forcefully reminded that you are in a country, beset with a level of violence we would find distasteful in New Zealand. As an example, it seems customary to pay self-appointed people to guard your car when you park in a large carpark. One wonders what would happen if you did not…….however customs clearance was very straightforward, with no form to fill in, so shortly after my arrival I was well settled into a self-catering apartment. Time to stay awake!!
We travelled first to Kirstenbosch gardens – at the foot of Table Mountain, which itself threatens to overlook all of the Capetown city bowl. The Gardens were established exactly 100 years ago and are full of the native fauna of the Cape district, known as Fynbos. Being in a fairly similar latitude with Auckland, some of the plants here are familiar, but some are unique to the Cape district.
After the entrance, with its very old (centennial!) bonsai trees, we wandered into the Camphor Path and then up the hill to find the ‘Mandela Gold’ Crane flower – brightly coloured and extremely beautiful – a suitable celebration of the man who, more than any other, helped to bring South Africa out of the rule of apartheid, into the many coloured nation that is symbolised by its flag.
Afterwards, we saw the variegated colours of the Protea – fondly called “pincushions” by the locals – Ericas and the mysterious-looking Cycad Palms. The Enchanted Forest contains a large example of the Outeniqua Yellowood tree that stands astride the forest like a colossus out of the Fantasy novels that I enjoy so much – probably best thought of as a form of escapism…
After this energising walk around the sloping gardens, we checked out the Rhodes Memorial on the way home. A former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, and the instigator of the Rhodes Scholarships, dearly sought after by many international students, he is celebrated in a memorial based on the Greek temple at Segesta, Sicily – a suitably cosmopolitan approach to this man’s life. The bust of Rhodes himself is protected by eight bronze lions leading up the steps.
Come the next day after the fair day at the Gardens and the wind is gale force and biting cold. This was the day to go up Table Mountain, but alas and alack, the Mountain was closed with cloud cover and the aforesaid winds stopping the cable car. Still we made it high up to the bottom of the cable car, before continuing, as planned, down to Cape Point – commonly known as the Cape of Good Hope – around which sailors had to travel to enable them to access the riches of the Orient. There are many wrecks in this area – including over fifty in World War Two. ( I counted up to there in the little museum).
This was a fascinating trip, down through Simonstown and into the Table Mountain National Park area. There are flora changes here in the semi-tundra desert-like conditions. Little water is available and high winds often accost the coastline; the plants have evolved to suit the conditions.
On arrival at the Lighthouse, I was told we were NOT walking up the hill, but timidly taking the funicular (cable car). Oh well, maybe I didn’t need that exercise in any case. Once up at the Lighthouse area the view is simply astounding, with infinite vistas all around and of course high winds threatening anybody daring to wear a hat or cap. Numerous tourists and languages can be heard here with busloads of people arriving and departing. However there is still enough space to feel the sense of wonder at the Cape, which promised so much to the mariners rounding it, but which also claimed the lives of so many of them.
Returning towards Capetown, I was delighted to see several animals alongside the road. Notably some baboons, an Ostrich; later on some whale spouts (no whale flukes today!) and of course the Leopard statue which stands upon the rock at the entrance to Hout Bay.
Back via Chapman’s Peak Road – built early in the 20th century, it wends its way, precariously clinging to the sides of a sheer cliff. It is apparently used for advertisements here of new cars, with Pyreneen-type overhangs, not to keep the snow off, but more as semi-tunnel arrangements through the unforgiving rock formations.
Finally we travelled past the twelve apostles – all suitably bearded today and then to Signal Hill, from where I was able to look down upon the Capetown city bowl and also across to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, which rewarded me with small gaps in the cloud cover giving some idea of the grandeur of this well known natural landmark. However the ‘tablecloth’ was well laid today.
Two days in South Africa and already a glimpse of life ahead with the contrasts between the Fair Winds and the stormy weather.