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Saturday, April 11, 2020

Cape of Good Hope : Table Mountain National Park - Cape Point

Why is Cape Point such a popular tourist destination?  What could possibly attract so many visitors to these shores?

We believe that no December holiday - for our family - is complete unless we have added a day excursion to the world-famous "Cape Point ".  This nature reserve has so much to offer and the scenery is definitely part of the main attractions.

With coastlines situated at the junction of two major oceans currents  (the cold Benguela along the West Coast and the warm Agulhas on the East Coast) that provide unique weather and ocean conditions.  Although the Cape of Good Hope is popularly perceived as the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, they actually meet at Cape L'Agulhas at the Agulhas National Park.
( Olifantsbos beach )

Searching for The Albatross

Our mission this year was to record sightings of Albatrosses gliding over the stormy seas.  As we arrived at Olifantsbos beach, we had our first Albatross sighting, and what a glorious moment it was!   It is important to note that if you want to enjoy a similar sighting, you have to keep an eye on the weather.  Look out for an approaching cold front (a strong North Westerly Wind is your best bet) and with Windguru as our most preferred weather guide, we chose the most suitable day.
(The start of the Thomas T Tucker trail at Olifantsbos car park - named after one of the shipwrecks along this coastline )
Up early to beat the crowds we were on our way for some serious landscape photography and birding. As always this would be complemented with some hiking and general exploration of the peninsula sculptured to perfection by the stormy wind. The Thomas T Tucker trail is one of the mapped hiking routes in the reserve and is also the best way to enjoy the area and to experience the pristine beaches on foot.
( Cape fynbos with an abundance of flowers )

We Planned a Perfect Storm

Overcast and a chilly North Wester wind blowing - which was to be expected - the conditions were very different from the normal weather for this time of the year, but this was planned.
( Fynbos flowers in the Cape Point reserve )
Benefits to the cold weather conditions were no queues at the entrance gate and wonderful, dramatic clouds to assist with our landscape photography. Not to mention the fact that we would have an opportunity to witness Albatross from the coast, which worked out perfectly for us on this day.
Olifantsbos is situated on the western side of the peninsula and faces the oncoming cold fronts.  Being able to witness the Albatrosses gliding effortlessly over the stormy ocean on the horizon was a special moment for our family. Relieved that all our planning had paid off we scouted the area and ticked off a few local birds too, most common birds around were Swallows, Terns, and African Sacred Ibis.  One of the most magnificent getaways in the cape peninsula is the cottage on Olifantsbos beach it sleeps 12 and is perfect for groups of friends and family.

( Typical fynbos flowers in abundance due to our excellent rains over the past few months )

Flowers in Abundance

( Due to the harsh weather conditions there is little to no trees, but the natural fynbos makes up for it )
En route to the cape point, the sky's opened and the clouds were amazing, another bonus for us as photographers. The windswept landscape is devoid of any trees, but the cape floral display makes up for this.

( The unique scenery of this very diverse nature reserve )
It is now mid-summer here (December) the landscape was looking more like the September flower season, a wonderful display of colours covers the area as far as the eye can see. With excellent rains over our winter period, the Cape fynbos was surprisingly abundant.

The Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre 

A quick stop-off at the visitors center - which has a wealth of information and history of the area - also had welcomed restrooms.   We were hoping for a snack or a coffee on offer, but this has been canceled since our last visit here.  The Ornithological display and historical information of the area were incredibly interesting, and we recommend that you take your time and enjoy the special displays and information provided.
(one of the few trees in the reserve due to this harsh environment Monterey Cyprus planted in the late 1940's )

Two Oceans Restaurant and Gift Shop

Having worked up a healthy appetite it was perfect timing when we arrived at the main car park at cape point to stop for the five-star lunch on offer at the restaurant.  They also have a takeaway section if you are running short on time, and a gift shop should you wish to buy a souvenir or send a special postcard.
( the Two Oceans Restaurant and Gift shop )

The Two oceans restaurant was perfectly located and breakfast with sweeping views across False Bay on the Eastern side was the call from the family.  The lucky visitors between the months of May to October can spot Southern right whales from this point.

Cape Point Lighthouse and Beyond

Needing to walk off that yummy eggs and bacon we decided to first tackle the steep uphill steps to the famous Cape Point Lighthouse.
( One of many lookout points and benches to admire this rugged coastline with windswept beaches and crashing waves )

The historic old lighthouse can be seen on the steep uphill steps, it is worth the effort as you will be rewarded with 360C views of the peninsula. With Cormorants roosting on the high steep cliff faces and others returning from foraging.   We had an unexpected pleasure of watching a breeding pair of Peregrine falcons hunting and roosting on these rugged cliffs.
( The cape of Good Hope - the most south-western point in Africa )

The picturesque Dias Beach with its white sandy beaches must not be mistaken for a nice place to swim.  These waters are exceptionally dangerous.  It is best to look for beaches on the False Bay side for warmer and calmer waters.

( rugged, windswept coastline with towering cliffs right at the tip of the Cape Peninsula )

The Scenery was Extravagant

Our plan was to take the Light House Keepers Trail, this leads you to the furthest point south and along the towering cliffs of the peninsula.

( Here you can see Dias Beach in the distance as seen from the many lookout points on the way up to the Lighthouse )
\With so many points of interest, historic landmarks,  sweeping views, and serene beaches, this makes it impossible to experience it all with one single visit.  We have had the privilege of many visits and each time we discover something magical about this location and this trip was no different.

The original Lighthouse was built in 1859, but due to its elevation, it was decided to build a second lighthouse closer to the edge of the water.  The new Lighthouse assisted ships with a safer passage around the notoriously dangerous Cape Point.  One can take the Light House Keepers Trail to enjoy even more views from different angles, right up and until the point where the tip of the peninsula finally reaches the ocean.
( the start of the Light House Keepers Trail to the very end of the peninsula ending here at Cape Point )
With the wind turning west the clouds started to build and we could see the rain approaching. Undeterred we soldiered on, we were on a mission and a few drops of rain wasn't going to come between us and some of the best views in South Africa. Not forgetting that these cliff faces have some of the best birding viewpoints and seeing a few more Albatross and other seabirds would be great.
(Sweeping  views across False Bay )
Well, it wasn't a few drops but a full-frontal westerly shower, scrambling for cover we all climbed into a small rocky overhang in order sit this one out. Being wet and this far from our vehicle was a bad idea, so we sat tight and made funny videos and discussed our visit.  All in all, this trip proved to be so different from what we are used to and in the end that's what made it so special.
The wind had backed off and had gone more westerly, some scanning one can view the ocean that stretched as far as the eye can see. Luckily we got to witness the effortless flying of albatross, not able to determine the species that were roaming the oceans in their constant quest for food.
( One of the many tourist hot spots, here you need to wait in line to get you family photo )
Sunny, warm blue sky's reappeared, it was summer, after all, so off to our next location the most south-western point of Africa (at Cape of Good Hope),  a quick tourist photo and scanning the coast for special bird sightings. Hikers use this as the end or starting point of the very popular Dias beach walking trail. Breathtaking views of this rugged and very dangerous coastline, the many shipwrecks in this area are a constant reminder of how treacherous these stormy seas are.
( Platboom Beach and surrounds, you can simply park your car and walk for miles…… )
Many years ago we would visit Platboom beach to surf this reef break to the right of the beach. Wonderful memories of endless waves with not another person in sight. Our day in a way was no different, the tourists had arrived but due to the inclement weather, the numbers were far less than what your typical summer day in December would produce. That suited us just fine as crowds and queues are defiantly not our thing.
(The reef break to the right of Platboom Beach, wonderful  memories of this wave )
Leaving Platboom the Dias Cross monument is unmistakable as it towers above the landscape. Fearless European travelers discovered these shores as far back as 1488. The second monument in honour of Vasco Da Gama can be visited as you make your way down to Bordjiesrif.
( Dias cross with views looking across False Bay to Cape Hangklip ) 
When Bartholomeus Dias reported back to the king on his return, he named this location Cabo da Boa Esperance (Cape of Good Hope).
(Bartolomeu Dias rounded the cape in 1488 - Dias cross monument ) 
Driving through the reserve you need to be very wary of the local Chacma Baboons, these are the only Baboons that are protected in Africa. 

You can enjoy their antics from the safety of your car, but never get too close or attempt to feed them, they remain wild and potentially dangerous. 

Witnessing the troop passing us on our way down to Buffel's Bay and seeing their antics and playfulness around our vehicle, and at times on our vehicle, had us engaged for hours.

( Chacma Baboon - Papio ursinus: these troops have been afforded special protection )

( The jaw bone and carcass of a Humped Backed Whale that had washed ashore )
Diverse habitats, ranging from rocky mountaintops to beaches and open sea, large animals are a rare sight but it has a wealth of smaller animals and over 250 bird species have been listed here. All in all, we managed to record 39 birds for the day , once again we would have ticked off many more, but it was a family outing with some birding on the side.
(Buffels Bay on the False Bay side, picnic sites, tidal pools, and wide-open spaces makes this one of the popular beaches )
As this nature reserve covers such a large diverse area, one can never predict what will be found around the next bend. Birders flocked from all over the country when a King Penguin came ashore on Buffels Bay beach Nov 2019. We had a superb experience with this rare foreign visitor.  It is only the fourth time that a King Penguin has been recorded in the Western Cape.
(Da Gama Cross as seen above can be viewed on your way down to Bortjiesrif )

(Black Rocks area with the Vasco Da Gama cross visible )
Driving to the various secluded beaches for a braai or picnic, offering spectacular views of the coastline and cliffs of the peninsula before it disappears into the ocean. Warm tidal pools, diving, fishing, and many other recreational activities are available. This is the first time that we have visited the Blackrocks area and even as a local and a regular visitor to Cape Point, this was an unforgettable experience with endless views of this beautiful landscape.
(The front lighthouse along the Light House Keeper Trail )

(Both the historic lighthouses can be seen along this trail)

( Rough water and unpredictable seas make the Atlantic coastline very dangerous for anyone who ventures into these waters )
The Cape of Good Hope nature reserve was proclaimed in 1938 and now it has been incorporated into the Cape Peninsula National Park since 1998.

This area encompasses 7750 hectares of rich and varied flora and fauna, as well as 40 km of coastline.

The main attraction for this nature reserve

  • Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre
  • Rich and diverse fynbos
  • walking trails
  • Hikes and picnic sites
  • Tidal pools at Bortjiesrif and Buffels Bay
  • Game, bird and whale watching
  • Historical monuments and buildings
  • Shipwrecks
  • Viewing sites of the two lighthouses
  • Angling and diving
  • Most south-westerly point of Africa
  • Curio shop
  • Two Oceans restaurant
  • Accommodation
  • 2-day hiking trails
  • Surfing, windsurfing and Kite surfing

Most importantly the great outdoors, go explore …..

Cape of Good Hope Map 

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