"Arctracer" Letters

Hilary & Rick's Visit to South Africa

Daughter Hilary and son-in-law Rick flew to South Africa in April 2012. They met us in Cape Town and together we traveled around much of southern South Africa. We explored the city of Cape Town, toured Cango Caves and an Ostrich Farm, spent two days at Addo Elephant Park, went to Cape Agulhas, saw the Boulders African penguin colony near Simon's Town, visited the Cape of Good Hope and walked trails on top of Table Mountain. We were impressed with the beauty and variety of South African scenery as we drove past rolling farmland, steep mountain ranges, arid plains, fertile river valleys, sandy beaches and rocky headlands. In 12 days we covered 1800 miles, staying in small guest houses and backpacker-type lodges. We had a wonderful trip!

The Start: Saldanha Bay to Cape Town

Both Avis and Europcar were willing to deliver cars from Langebaan to Yachtport Marina in Saldanha Bay. We had experiences with both of those companies. We learned that our costs were lower if a Travel Agent arranged our rental rather than if we arranged it ourselves. This seemed strange, but to save money we had a Travel Agent reserve a small car. When the Kia was delivered we realized it was too small to accommodate four adults with luggage so we exchanged it for a Nissan Tiida which proved very suitable. The drive to Cape Town took less than two hours on excellent roads. Helpful people at the Cape Town International Airport Information desk found rooms for us at Ashanti Lodge, a backpacker place on a lower slope of Table Mountain within walking distance of downtown. We picked up Hilary and Rick in the evening after their flight from New York. Outside of rush-hour traffic it was a twenty-minute drive from the airport to Ashanti. We spent the first day of their visit in Cape Town. This enabled them to adjust somewhat to the six-hour time difference and for us all to see a little of the city. We walked all the way down to the waterfront, admiring the mix of old and new buildings between the sea and Table Mountain. The city seemed relatively clean, safe and prosperous. We especially enjoyed strolling through the park and gardens near the Parliament and other government buildings. We used Ashanti's free (one hour per guest per day) wi-fi to check our email and bought reduced-price drinks at their upstairs bar during Happy Hour.

Cango Cave and Ostrich Farm

On Hilary and Rick's 33rd-month anniversary we drove from Cape Town on the N2 highway over beautiful Lowry's Pass, then turned east of Swellendam onto R324, through the spectacular Tradouw Pass and then via scenic R62 to Oudtshoorn. On the way we saw baboons, ostriches, antelopes and many sheep and cattle. We also saw an unusual rainbow in mid-day, so low that the rolling hills appeared above it. We stayed in a chalet at N.A. Smit and the next morning after seeing our first African Hoopoe we drove north from Oudtshoorn to the Cango Cave. The limestone caves extend several kilometers under the mountain and are not completely explored. We took an excellent two-hour guided tour through the most accessible portion for 69 Rands each (7.5 Rands is about $1 US). (A longer "Adventure" tour was available which included crawling through very small and tight spaces - the smallest of which was 60 cm wide and 5 meters long). We saw a variety of stalactites, stalagmites and other beautiful formations in narrow tunnels and large cavernous spaces. Lighting was adequate and our guide was very good. He had a beautiful voice and sang the South African National Anthem in a chamber once used for concerts. After our tour we lunched at a restaurant at the cave entrance.

(view photos of Cango Cave)

Just a short distance from the caves was the Cango Ostrich Farm. We took the tour, saw some of the birds up close and learned a little about them. Ostrich farming in the area was very profitable when the plumes were fashionable and many farms still produce eggs, meat, leather and feathers. We watched a couple of tourists ride on ostriches but did not try it ourselves. Nina, Hilary and Rick let ostriches bend their necks around them and over their shoulders reaching for food - a bizarre and mainly hilarious experience. Jerry stood on eggs without breaking their shells - not surprising since an adult ostrich sitting on eggs weighs up to 350 pounds.

(view photos of Ostriches)

Addo Elephant Park

We drove east from Oudtshoorn (N12, R341, N9, R329, R75 and R336) on a scenic route along which we saw antelopes, bustards, Meercats and Blue Cranes (the South African national bird). We arrived in Kirkwood just before dark and found the Geelhoutboom Bed and Breakfast (info@geelhoutboom.co.za and telephone 042-230-1191). The manager, Beverley, gave us sausages, butter, eggs, tomatoes and milk to have with our bread as there was no local restaurant open and the only store in town would close in 10 minutes. We made our own supper and looked at photos we'd taken during the day. The Internet service was not dependable but this was an excellent place.

The next morning we drove about 40 minutes past huge citrus fruit orchards and packing houses to the northern gate of Addo Elephant National Park. The park opened at 7:00 and closed at 18:00. Admission for one day was 150 Rands for adults, or free with a Wild Card Pass. We spent the whole day driving slowly along park roads, stopping often to view wildlife. The park was established in 1931 to preserve the sixteen remaining wild elephants in the area. Since then the park has become the third largest in South Africa and its wildlife has increased significantly. We counted 91 elephants on our visit the first day and 31 on the second day - more than we saw in any other park. In addition, we saw many other animals and birds, some of which were new to us. We did not see any cats but were told that lions and leopards were there. Our day in the northern part of the park was a wonderful game-viewing experience. We had dinner at a restaurant at the park headquarters. On our way back to the guesthouse we saw herds of Wildebeest and Kudu in the twilight and had our first sight of a rare Sable Antelope.

The next day we drove to the southern entrance of the park, following close to the park boundary on a rough road which was made tolerable by seeing White Storks and Secretary Birds. We had another good day viewing park wildlife, including two huge Cape Buffalo almost too close to our car. We hoped to see a Black Rhinoceros but did not. We had lunch again at the park's only picnic area and left through the northern gate just before it closed. We ate supper at the Lenmore Restaurant north of Addo village and spent a third night in Kirkwood.

(view photos of Addo Elephant Park)

Cape Agulhas

Our next objective was the southern tip of Africa. Leaving Kirkwood we took the R75 south to Uitenhage, then drove to Hankey (via R334, N2 and R331). We started along R332 through the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area but suddenly reached a gate with a sign indicating permits were required on a steep, rough road. This was surprising because our map indicated an ordinary highway. We backtracked through the beautiful valley and then continued westward on the N2 and scenic R62. We ate delicious Dutch pancakes in Kareedouw at "The Sweaty Dutchman" and then continued on to George and Mossel Bay. We spent the night in Santos Express Train Lodge, old railroad cars converted into backpacker rooms right on the beach. We enjoyed big, traditional meals at their restaurant and fell asleep to the sound of waves. Rick took a swim in the chilly Indian Ocean the next morning.

We drove toward Swellendam where our route turned south off the N2 onto R319 to Bredasdorp and then to Cape Agulhas. This is the southernmost point of Africa and where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. We climbed the old lighthouse and took photos at this extreme point of land. We drove back to Struisbaai where we ate seafood at the Pelican Harbor Cafe near small fishing boats which work along this southern coast and saw a swimming penguin which seemed to be looking for handouts.

(view photos of Cape Agulhas)


On the road back to Bredasdorp we saw were about 25 Chacma Baboons foraging in a field. The name Vermont was irresistible so we stayed in that pleasant community in the "Fudge Guest House." Supper was in a Mexican restaurant in nearby Hermanus. The next morning we walked a trail along Vermont's rocky shore, seeing kelp in the cold water.

(view photos of Vermont)

Cape Peninsula

Driving south on the R310 we passed through Simon's Town and stopped at the Boulders to see "African" (formerly known as "Jackass" because of their braying) Penguins. We bypassed the boardwalk area where lots of tourists paid for admission and found plenty of penguins for free as we walked along the path. Some were nesting under the trees and some were walking near the water. They seemed unperturbed by camera-toting tourists. We were surprised by a fat "Dassie" (Rock Hyrax, a large rodent) which scampered easily over the fence. We thought the Dassie might be after penguin eggs but learned later that it is a strict vegetarian.

(view photos of Penguins)

Driving south we entered the portion of Table Mountain National Park (85 Rands per person or free with a Wild Card Pass) which includes Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. At Cape Point, the high eastern tip of the peninsula, a funicular railway (45 Rands each) carried us up nearly to the lighthouse. We climbed stairs as high as we could for spectacular views of waves crashing on rocks far below. It was a beautiful day but the wind was fairly strong. We could not imagine being there during a storm. We had pizzas for lunch at the "Two Oceans Food Shop" where pesky Red-winged Starlings tried to knock food from Jerry's hands. The restaurant name was amusing because it implied both Atlantic and Indian Oceans were present. The official meeting of these two oceans is 90 miles away at Cape Agulhas.

Just a short distance away we visited the Cape of Good Hope, on the western corner of the Cape Peninsula. This was practically deserted, without any buildings or other tourist facilities. We enjoyed walking in the wind on the rocky shore. A plaque identified it as "the most south-western point of the African continent." Some historians claim that Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias named this the "Cape of Storms" as he endured a storm there in 1488. Later it was renamed "Cape of Good Hope." to please the king of Portugal since rounding this Cape provided hope for a sea route to the East. In this part of the park where there were few people we saw a troop of baboons (escorted up the road by three rangers) and many Bontebok antelopes.

We left the Cape Peninsula along its Atlantic coast, driving over the spectacular Chapman's Peak Drive. This snakes along the face of a cliff above the ocean and is popular with cyclists even though it is narrow and has no shoulders. We parked overlooking Hout Bay as the sun set. It was a beautiful scene. We proceeded down into the town of Hout Bay and arranged to stay at the Harbourmaster Bed and Breakfast on the hill just a short distance from the marina. We called friends staying on their boats in the marina and arranged to meet them for dinner. We walked to the marina and rode to the Friday evening marketplace where we ate. It was a fun evening of socializing with friends from "Salsa," "Luna," "Merlin," "Dharma Bum III" and others.

(view photos of Cape Point)

Cape Town

The next morning we drove back to Cape Town along the coast but it was so foggy we could see almost nothing of the beautiful scenery. We returned to the Ashanti guest house for our last days in Cape Town. We had a lovely anniversary dinner at Marco's African Place which served good food with live music. The following morning was clear so we took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain (generally R195/person but with a 20% discount using our Wild Card). This mountain is prominent in almost every view of Cape Town and the view from the top is spectacular in every direction. The top is fairly flat as the name implies and is large enough to have a unique ecosystem. We enjoyed walking around despite the chilly 6 degrees C (43 degrees F) temperature and biting wind. In the afternoon Hilary and Rick treated us to "A Taste of Cape Town" where we had lots of fun sampling specialty dishes prepared by some of the city's premier chefs. After that there was no need to go anywhere for dinner. On our last full day in Cape Town Hilary and Rick took us on a fun "Bunnyventure" that they designed on a map of the city. We all used cameras to capture some of Cape Town's unique sights. We finished with "Bunnychow," which is chicken or steak curry served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread or a Vegetarian Salomie which is a roti with mixed vegetable curry. We ended our tour with dinner at Arnold's restaurant on Kloof Street which included a complimentary bottle of wine from them through Ashanti Lodge. On the 24th of April we left Cape Town after twelve wonderful days with Hilary and Rick.

(view photos of touring with Hilary & Rick)