Although taking time away from lovely Cape Town is never easy, there are a wealth of nearby places to visit as either full-day side trips or overnight excursions. We stole three days from city exploration, in order to see the outer sites that most appealed to us. On top of the children’s list was some beach romping at Boulders Beach with a community of penguins, while Dan wanted to hike the Southern Cape peninsula and sleep in a National Park cabin, and I wanted to sample the best of South African wine in the nearby vineyards.
It started with a scenic morning drive along the Atlantic coast with spectacular beaches, Table Mountain peaks and slopes, and endless blue ocean. We eventually crossed the center of the Southern Cape peninsula to join Gavin and Meriem at Boulders Beach. The kids were excited to finally see the famed colony of African penguins and actually get to swim with these cute birds. I kept wondering if the bay would be clean, or if it would feel a little like swimming in a murky, algae-covered penguin loo. Would it have a stink similar to malodorous seal habitats? Thankfully, my fears could have not been further from the truth. The white sugar sand and clear turquoise inlets were sheltered from the wild False Bay by massive granite boulders. From Foxy beach we could stroll wooden, board walks and view the birds from a few meters away, while the bushes above the waterline were the perfect nesting grounds to spot many penguin eggs. This was all very interesting to Stella and Gabriel, but nothing could contain their impatience for finally swimming in the shallow pools of Boulders Beach. It was genuinely amazing to see how up close you could get to many penguins, even watching them whiz by you as you swam in the ocean.
After lunch in a french-styled bistro in Simonstown, we temporarily parted with Gavin and his gal, to drive South to the Cape of Good Hope. Touring the rocky headland of this Southern peninsula is a spectacular journey through moonscapes of tumbled rocks, thick sandstone fynbos, and dramatic, craggy cliff-sides. The area is often chilled by cool winds and slow-moving fog, alternating between atmospheric bursts of golden sun and deep blue skies to the grey and moody lighting of overcast clouds. We walked as far as the lighthouse paths would allow, spying black lizards and rock hyrax. That day we stayed overnight in Table Mountain National Park in one of the few and final cabins available to rent. It was a peaceful and quiet place to contemplate where we were, where we’ve been, and where we were going.
The next day found us headed to wine country, where we were reuniting with Gavin and Meriem. Along the way, we stopped at the popular beach in the surfer’s suburb of Muizenberg. This was mainly to satisfy my desire to photograph the straight row of colorful beach shacks that stand on stilts in the sand.
We stayed in Franschhoek (Afrikaans for “french corner”), one of the oldest towns originally settled in the late 1600’s by French Huguenot refugees. It is now home to an upscale, fancy wine community, full of boutique shops, gourmet restaurants and quality art galleries. Many of the original Cape Dutch farms are now sprawling vineyards, which have grown into renowned wineries. We took full advantage of the glorious sunny weather, and hopped from one vineyard to the next, sipping chardonnay, chenin blancs, sparkling wines and cabernet sauvignons amidst the greenery of a shaded garden. Even with the kids working hard to contain their boisterous energy, it was an incredibly relaxing way to spend 24 hours. I was reminded of Napa and Sonoma in California, but the valley and surrounding mountains were also distinctly South African in appearance. Perhaps, what made the whole experience extra enjoyable was the fact that the prices were ridiculously low. Of course, some of this is factored due to the strong US dollar exchange rate, but it is also a fact that wine is a very affordable libation in S. Africa. We were constantly amazed at how little a very decent bottle cost (average $5), that we decided to stock up on a mixed box of our favorites for our upcoming road trip. We eventually returned to the busier city milieu of Cape Town, but with more appreciation for the lifestyle of all those in the Greater Cape.