Wonders of the Western Cape

img_8866

The Western Cape, a South African province with coasts bordering the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, is  best known for the port city of Cape Town which is very popular with Indian visitors. But beyond that, there are other hidden treasures like Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn on Route 62 that are worth including in South African itineraries

img_9340

You just cannot miss it. Anywhere you are in Cape Town, the huge monolith towers over you and holds you mesmerised. Table Mountain, called so because of its flat top, is the Western Cape’s and indeed, South Africa’s most photographed iconic landmark. And what better place to view it than from the balcony of a room at the Taj Cape Town in the heart of the city and close to St George’s Cathedral. Sunrise and sunsets offer amazing photo opportunities with the Mountain offering stark constrasts in ever changing skies.
Since 1929, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has taken millions of tourists to its top every day from where visitors can get breathtaking views of Cape Town. The cable cars’ special revolving floors provide 360-degree views of the mountain and city. Table Mountain is part of a national park of the same name. There are about 2,200 species of plants found on Table Mountain and 1470 floral species. Many of these plants and flowers are endemic to this
mountain.

img_8995

The magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the eastern foot of the mountain was founded in 1913 and spans 1300 acres that includes a unique conservatory with plants from different parts of the world. The Cape Floral region of the national park is one of the richest floral regions in the world. Over 70 per cent of the flowers are endemic to the Table Mountain. It is no wonder that the mountain was chosen as one of the new seven world wonders. Besides the mountain, the national park contains another one of South Africa’s attractions, the Cape of Good Hope, the most southern point of the African continent. Shopping enthusiasts must head to the Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront dotted with a string of local and international shops, restaurants and museums. The Taj Cape Town has regular shuttles to The Waterfront which is named after Queen Victoria and her second son, midshipman Prince Alfred, who tipped the first load of stone to erect the breakwater for Cape Town’s harbour in 1860 to make it a safe haven all year round for passing ships. A short ferry ride from the Waterfront, in Table Bay, is Robben Island – the notorious prison where South African president Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year sentence during apartheid. It is now a living museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

img_9057

Another interesting architectural monument is the Castle of Good Hope, the oldest colonial building in South Africa, built by Dutch colonialists between 1666 and 1679. The pentagonal fort which served as the seat of military and government operations for over two centuries is open to the general public.

img_9066

A little away from Cape Town is the seaside village of Simons Town where the popular Boulders Beach is located.  The beach is home to the famous colony of African Penguins – once called Jackass Penguins for their hilarious braying call. It is a unique sight to these penguins strut all over the beach. As they are a protected species, visitors are not allowed to touch or feed them and security cameras make sure they don’t.

Route 62

Route 62 is one of the most rewarding trips in the Western Cape, a meandering road from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn. Also known as the Wine Route, Route 62 leads through the wine-growing areas of Wellington, Tulbagh, Worcester, Robertson and the Klein Karoo and is thus one of the longest wine routes in the world. If you take the route during May-December, look out for a sea of yellow canola fields that look like a scene in an oil painting.

img_9021

En route, make a pit stop at Oude Post Bistro in Swellendam. While your driver can fill up the gas at the filling station, try out their Roosterkoek (the traditional bread to accompany a braai or barbeque – simply balls of bread dough cooked on a grid over the coals).

img_9020

Oudtshoorn, the largest town in the Klein Karoo area, is known as the ostrich capital of the world. Two ostrich-feather booms, during 1865-1870 and 1900-1914, truly established the settlement. The town’s economy is primarily reliant on the ostrich farming and tourism industries. Oudtshoorn is home to the world’s largest ostrich population, with a number of specialised ostrich breeding farms, such as the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm set up in 1938 by two brothers, Johan and Viljee Keller, who have been ostrich farmers in the Klein Karoo for four generations. They have ostrich tours where visitors can have an interactive session with these birds, sitting on them for a photo or riding them. You can even feed them by hand and enjoy a ostrich derby race. Finish off with a meal at their Pepper Tree restaurant. Indian menus can also be arranged here, courtesy Nellie-Enid Burger who manages the restaurant.
Midway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay or Mossel baai is a harbour town known for the wide Santos Beach and the 19th-century Cape St Blaize Lighthouse, which offers bay views.  The bay is also known for surfing and shark cage diving. Located in Mossel Bay, the Point Hotel is the closest hotel to Antarctica from Continent Africa. It is also the only hotel in Africa that is built on ocean rocks and overlooks the blue expanse of the Indian Ocean. The world’s largest natural tidal pool is located just in front of the hotel and from the hotel’s balconies, guests can view humpback whales and dolphins in June to September.

C for Cango

In Oudtshoorn, another must visit destination is the Cango Caves, a series of limestone chambers set in Precambrian (a time about 4500 million years ago) age. The caves were apparently first explored by a local farmer named Jacobus Van Zyl (after whom the first chamber, Van Zyl’s Hall, is named).

img_9150

Visitors will be amazed at how well preserved the caves are with paved pathways and lighting effects that present the beauty of the dripstone caverns and vast halls of towering stalagmite formations with names like ‘the bridal couple’ and ‘the hanging shawl’. In totality, the extensive system of tunnels and chambers in the Cango Caves stretch for over four kilometres, but the section open to visitors, about a quarter of this, takes place as part of supervised tours, including an ‘adventure tour’, which takes about an hour and a half. Cango Caves is the only show cave in Africa which offers a choice of Heritage (easy) or Adventure Tours. All tours are led by experienced, knowledgeable and accredited Cave Guides.

img_9179

The nearby Cango Wildlife Ranch is an interesting stopover. The ranch started out in 1977 as the Cango Crocodile Farm, South Africa’s first crocodile show farm. The farm was a place where crocodiles were bred to be sold. In 1986 Andrew and Glenn Eriksen purchased the farm and today it is known as the Cango Wildlife Ranch, a conservation park that is home to more than 90 species of animals and reptiles.