Cape Town 2019

Waterfront Cape Town – The South African

It’s fantastic being back in Cape Town! A location that stole my heart during the first visit in 1987. The beautiful coastal city is surrounded by incomparable Table Mountain.

View of Table Mountain from My Gardens Apartment

I arrived on May 2nd after a series of flights beginning in Catania Sicily and passing through Rome and Addis Ababa Ethiopia – including two plane and terminal changes more tiring than the thirteen-hour flight.

Cape Town at Night – wpblink.com

During the flight from Addis Ababa to Cape Town naughty Indian children commandeered the aircraft running wild through the aisles disrupting everything. A passenger complained in a loud way and the children were forced to sit down and behave themselves. Upon arrival in Cape Town, they continued wreaking havoc in the immigration hall, running races through cordoned off lines, clearly undaunted by their reprimand on the airplane. Their parents seemed amused.

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Cape Town – Rhino Africa

After Berlin, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Sicily, passengers on Ethiopian Airlines were more diverse than any of the places visited, except maybe Berlin. I’m still processing the time spent in Europe and the Balkans – a valuable learning experience with priceless memories!

Table Mountain from Melkbos – Discover Africa Safaris

When returning to Cape Town I always notice changes – some subtle, others not. I’ll be here through mid-June and then on to Hermanus, Onrus Beach, and Walker Bay.

Cape Town – Independent.ie

My apartment in Gardens neighborhood is in a high-rise building with retail and parking garages on the lower levels and residential above. I’m on the 17th floor and look out at Table Mountain. It’s thrilling to watch the mountain constantly changing depending on weather, wind, and sky. It almost seems close enough to touch!

Pink in Cape Town’s Sky that Artists Try to Capture

The building is secure and comfortable. Everything is within walking distance including a great choice of restaurants.

Walker Bay Sunset – Unsplash

I have a rental car for day trips and places further away. After seven months without driving, it’s nice to be mobile again – even though South Africans drive on the wrong side of the road :)…

Table Cloth of Fog Over Table Mountain

Today the wind is howling – yesterday it was calm. Earlier the Table Mountain Table Cloth was visible as fog gently spewed over the flat-topped mountain. It’s mesmerizing watching sunrises and sunsets and spectacular scenery changes from foggy to clear and back again. Hiking on the mountain is part of my agenda.

Walker Bay Grootbos Nature Reserve – Robert Harding

The drought crisis is over but water and energy conservation are everyday concerns in Cape Town. Hopefully winter will bring significant rainfall. May temperatures are mild in the 60s and 70s but forecast to reach the 80s next week.

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway – springbokatlas.com

South Africa’s General Election is May 8 with another ANC (African National Congress) victory predicted. Elections are always exciting. South Africa’s economy and social inequalities create an emotional, volatile atmosphere with protests for change.

The Company’s Gardens Cape Town – The Heritage Portal

There’s considerable voter apathy in South Africa, especially among young voters. The ANC disappointed and is under pressure to improve the failing economy, address unemployment, provide better services (especially power), improve infrastructure, and curb crime, violence, and government corruption. All are complicated issues with unemployment, the economy, and a looming energy crisis heading the list.

Views Onrus Beach and Hermanus Bay – Pinterest

One thing I’d forgotten about (almost) is the Hadeda Ibis – known as the “loudest bird in Africa“. With Hadedas nearby, you don’t need an alarm clock!

More later…

Whale Festival – Celebrating Marine Life

Whale Fluke Walker Bay

Last weekend was the 26th Hermanus Whale Festival highlighting efforts to protect whales from extinction. The festival’s “ocean-themed activities emphasized education and environmentally responsible adventures”.

Kayaking with Whales and Dolphins

The people of Hermanus “look after their destination, both from an environmental and conservation perspective”. The festival focused on creating awareness and celebrating the annual return of the beloved Southern Right Whale.

Spouting Southern Right Whale

Festival features included cultural activities, food, quality crafters, and sports events:

  • Music Stage
  • Vintage Car Show
  • Marine-Themed Eco Exhibits
  • Adventure Activities
  • WHALE WATCHING – LAND, SEA, AIR

Whale Twins?

Whale Watchers

An Eco Marine Tent featured local ecotourism operators sharing information and interacting with visitors. The operators have “embarked on a major campaign to change the way people view ocean wildlife on the Cape Whale Coast”.

Breaching Whale with Cormorant Audience

Whale Watching

Hermanus is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as “one of the 12 best whale watching destinations in the world”.  In honor of the Whale Festival, I booked a boat-based whale watching tour in Walker Bay! Most tour companies I contacted were fully booked for the weekend, but I didn’t give up. Hermanus Whale Watchers managed to squeeze me into a Sunday morning tour!

Their boat, Unathi (“God is with us” in Xhosa), is designed for whale watching with engines that “minimize underwater noise”. Unathi seats 36 people and is smaller than most boats run by other operators. The tour was well worth $60 for 2 hours on the Bay – FANTASTIC experience all about the whales!!! A few people got seasick, but we stayed on the upper deck!

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Getting so close to the whales was an unforgettable experience! The sight of their massive bodies and hearing their beautiful sounds will stay with me!
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Our knowledgeable South African guide, Phillip, wasn’t a marine biologist but has led whale watching tours for over 7 years. As a marine sports enthusiast, Philip enjoys surfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, and sailing.

New Harbour

The whales were aware of our presence. We approached slowly to avoid disturbing them. Philip said he wasn’t sure if whale watching boats irritate the whales – no one knows. It’s possible that they become accustomed to the boats. He thought returning whales recognized certain boats and didn’t seem to mind sharing the sea. Philip knows the whales by their unique markings.

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Facts about South Right Whales show they have an average lifespan of 50 to 100 years. Many of the same whales visit Walker Bay every year.
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The best whale watching is in shallow areas close to the coast where warmer water facilitates mating and is gentler for vulnerable newborn calves. Whales further out to sea dive deeper and stay down longer.

Breach – Barnacles and All

Three species of baleen whale visit South Africa:

Before I Learned to Get Down for Photos

Whale Hunting and Exploitation

I was unaware that a major reason for whale hunting and exploitation by Russians and South Africans was for making munitions. It’s unbelievable that “between 1914 and 1917 over 175,000 whales were killed to make explosives” used during World War I! Thankfully, whales are now protected. This season, officials have spotted almost 250 calves in Walker Bay!

Guide Philip – In the Middle

New Harbour

I thought the white patches around their eyes were barnacles, but our guide explained that they’re “eyebrows” unique to each whale. Southern Right Whales also have identifying white patches on their underside.

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Hermanus is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as “one of the world’s 12 best whale watching destinations”. 
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Windy, Choppy Sea

Photography is difficult in a moving boat. The wind and sun glare didn’t help. I need to study the video and action photography features of my digital camera… For me, it was difficult taking photographs and holding on at the same time. Like others, I learned to stabilize myself by sitting down along the side of the boat, where I could lean against the guard to watch the whales and take photos at the same time. It was fun!

Nimble Whale

The sea was choppy but we missed the strong wind that came up later that afternoon. Recently the wind has been ferocious! A tree outside the house I’m renting touches the siding and when strong wind comes up in the middle of the night, the pounding branches roust me. Wind is my least favorite part of this spectacularly beautiful place!

Cormorant

Whale Behavior

There are two types of whale groups – mating and calving. It’s rare to see both hanging out together. The best viewing was along the coast close to Walker Bay Nature Reserve in nearby Stanford. The first sighting was a male and female, who were clearly soul mates. Later, we observed groups of 4 to 8 or more whales mating. None of them breached, but we saw typical whale behavior – fluking, spyhopping, logging, spouting, and lobtailing.

New Harbour

“The most spectacular whale activity is when they launch themselves up out of the water and then twist and fall back down. This is called breaching, and it’s believed whales do it for several reasons – to communicate, attract females, dislodge parasites, get a higher view, drive off predators, or just play. Southern Rights usually only breach about three-quarters of their bodies out of the water. Other species, like Humpbacks, jump clear.”

Cormorants in Walker Bay

Southern Right Whale and Calf

Fernkloof Nature Reserve Hermanus South Africa

Maanskynbaai from Fernkloof

Fernkloof Reserve is one of nature’s bright gems, and it’s a short 15-minute drive away! I’ve hiked the waterfall trail and am learning other routes. Fernkloof trails are gentler than Table Mountain with spectacular views of Walker Bay, Hemel en Aarde Valley, and Maanskynbaai (Moonshine Bay)!

Erica Annectens

Cliff Hanger Heath

Mountain Pride Butterfly

Fernkloof has four “routes” – green, red, blue, and orange. I’m working up to the more challenging orange route and its inner and outer circuits.

Fernkloof covers 7 sq. miles in the Kleinrivier Mountains. The reserve includes 37 miles of hiking trails, flowering fynbos, thick shrub vegetation, forests, and secluded dams where you can swim on hot days.

Sugarbird

De Bos Dam

Fernkloof’s luxurious fynbos is magnificent! The word fynbos derives from the Dutch word ‘fijn bosch‘ or fine bush.

Fernkloof is known for around 500 varieties of Erica. Colorful ericas (Cape “heath“), disas, and proteas are endemic to South Africa.

Trail3

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Fynbos is a “collective name for a myriad of evergreen shrub-like plants with small firm leaves, including woody plants with hard leathery leaves”.

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The climate is “Mediterranean with cold wet winters, hot dry summers, and strong south-easterly winds”. I can vouch for the extraordinarily “strong” winds!

Caterpillar Photo from Fernkloof Website

Fynbos

Fynbos

Orange Disa

Pincushion Protea

Disa

Fynbos Brush

Protea

Yellow Disa

Fynbos

Fynbos

Disa Uniflora Bergius

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“There is no other place on earth where so many distinct fynbos species grow in such proximity. More than 1250 species of plant have been collected and identified in Fernkloof.”

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During my hike yesterday, I didn’t see any large mammals but enjoyed birds, mountain pride butterflies, unusual beetles, and lizards. There are several creeks and waterfalls, and I heard, but didn’t see, frogs. Hikers are known to encounter interesting species of turtle plodding along the trails. It would be thrilling to see an elusive Cape Leopard.

Lizards and butterflies are too fast for photos, but I followed a lizard to a rock outcropping near “Adder Ladder”. Considering the name of the trail, I retreated.

Rock Hyrax – Dassies

Beetle, Locust, or Alien Creature?

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Grey rhebok, Cape grysbok, klipspringer, baboon, mongoose, and dassie are present in small numbers. Nocturnal animals in the Reserve are seldom seen but include the porcupine, genet, hare, and Cape Mountain Leopard.”

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I plan to hike Fernkloof often not only for the exercise but because the refreshing, pristine environment is uplifting and makes me feel happy and content!

Hoy’s Koppie Hermanus

View from Hoy’s Koppie

Hoy’s Koppie is a historical contour hiking path with panoramic views of Hermanus, the Fernkloof Mountains, and Walker Bay.  It sticks up like a big bump near the main part of the Hermanus business district. The rock outcroppings are stunning and “because of the koppie’s orientation”, different varieties of fynbos grow on either side.

Klip Kop Cave

Formerly known as Klipkop (Stone Hill), Hoy’s Koppie has an old cave of the same name. “Artefacts and debris found by two archaeological expeditions put the age at between 250 000 and 50 000 years old. Rudimentary scraping tools from the Middle Stone Age were found in both scientific excavations.”

Fernkloof Nature Reserve

Hoy’s Koppie is part of Fernkloof Nature Reserve. The natural environment of the Koppie and its spectacular views are magic! Well-maintained hiking paths are managed by Cape Nature, so it’s a safe hike in just about any weather.

Hoy’s Koppie has two parts:

  • A sloping lower area with luxuriant fynbos
  • An upper area with rocks and stones eroded from steep cliffs

Selfie

Sir William Hoy

Sir William Hoy was one of the most charismatic figures in Hermanus history. A Scottish-born head of the Cape and South African Railways in the 1920s, he fell in love with Hermanus and visited repeatedly for the fishing and relaxed, restful lifestyle. Hoy regularly stayed at the elegant Marine Hotel.”

Sir William Hoy

“One of Sir Hoy’s greatest pleasures was climbing the Koppie with his gillie (hunting or fishing companion) Danie Woensdregt, of an evening and looking out over Walker Bay to plan the next day’s expedition. On his death, his wife, Lady Gertrude Hoy, informed Woensdregt that Sir William wished to be buried at the crest of the Koppie. Woensdregt planned the first formal hiking path on the Koppie. Later, Lady Gertrude was buried along her husband and both graves remain preserved at the highest point of the koppie.”

Marine Hotel Hermanus

Known as “a remarkably able and meticulous organiser, Hoy controlled the movement of supplies to the British troops during the Anglo-Boer War, for which he received knighthood”.

The Koppie is safe and perfect for a spur of the moment solo hike almost any time of day. I ran into a young African guard patrolling the koppie who offered to hike with me. The best part is an observation point at the top where I saw my first breaching whale! Nothing less than amazing watching such a huge animal gracefully lift itself out of the water!!! It was too fast and far away for a photo but the vantage point and a good pair of binoculars make the Koppie an awesome location for whale watching – something Sir Hoy knew!

From Rotary Way Higher Up

Cape Overberg Nature Reserves South Africa

The entire Overberg is an exquisite nature reserve and floral kingdom with richer fynbos than any other area in the Cape. I arrived in July – the heart of winter – but the weather was dry and warm. During August, we’re still waiting for winter and have only had a few significant storms. The reservoirs aren’t as dry as Cape Town’s, so Overberg’s drought isn’t as severe. I’m adjusting to fynbos pollen, sea air, and the all-encompassing rogue wind which rattles all and rises and falls as it pleases!

Most buildings in Hermanus don’t have heating systems like we use in the US – they don’t need them except during a few winter months. Interior heat comes from fireplaces and portable room heaters. Yesterday it was almost 80 degrees, and last night I didn’t need to build a fire!

Sculpting Old Harbour

Cape Overberg Nature Reserves – Atlantic and Indian Oceans

Nature Reserves on my exploration list include nearby locations spread out along the coast of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The biggest decision is which direction to go – east toward Betty’s Bay or west to Gansbaai. East or West, both directions delight the eye:

If you enjoy nature, the communities in these areas have much to offer and are ideal for a peaceful, active retirement. I’ve considered relocating on a permanent basis but am not ready to commit fully. My renewable visa expires in 2020, and I have no idea if there will be more restrictions. Obtaining the first long-term visa was arduous.

Other than Hermanus, these are some areas of consideration. They offer interesting people, outstanding inexpensive restaurants, diverse outdoor activities, volunteer opportunities, hiking trails, and white-sand beaches:

Hermanus Cliff Trail, Beaches, and Whale Watching

This hiking blog – Walking the Cape – written by locals describes easy and challenging hikes. It would take months to complete them all! Yesterday I spent time hiking the Hermanus Cliff Path that begins at New Harbor and hugs the Atlantic coast to Grotto Beach and Klein River Estuary. If you hike the whole trail, it’s about 8 miles. The path isn’t difficult and the coastal scenery is gorgeous – photos attached.

Now I have several new “favorite” beaches for warmer weather, including Kwaaiwater, Voëlklip and Kammabaai. There are many small private coves and beaches along the Cliff Trail but getting down to them is dicey. I stopped for a few minutes to ponder the sea and saw surfers climbing up from the beach – boards in hand – on an almost invisible path hidden by fynbos.

Watched a group of 7+ whales for over an hour near Dutchies Restaurant at Grotto Beach. The whales were having fun – no breaching but lots of spouting, pec slapping, and tail fluking. With binoculars, it was amazing watching them!!! Locals say whales can sense a crowd of spectators and sometimes show off for their audience. Like humans, you see more whales on clear sunny days during mid- morning or afternoon.

A woman from Hermanus told me about an experience she had at a small sheltered beach when suddenly a mother whale and her calf appeared near the shoreline. She said the calf looked about the size of an elephant and seemed to be getting a lesson from its mother on how close to get (or not get) to the beach. It was listening to its mother, and after a few practice runs could come close to the shore and then gracefully steer itself back out to sea.

Map of Cape Nature Reserves

Hermanus Western Cape South Africa

Walker Bay Whale Coast

I haven’t posted on my blog since settling earlier this month in Onrusrivier – a few minutes’ drive from better known Hermanus. Onrus is a beautiful seaside town and whale-watching destination In the Cape Overberg overlooking Walker Bay. It’s surrounded by Voëlklip Beach and Grotto Beach.

Grotto Beach

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During peak whale watching season –  August to mid-December – Southern Right Whalesbecome part of the Onrus seascape”!

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“When sitting at a restaurant about to devour a delicious meal, don’t be surprised when everyone drops their cutlery with a yelp of glee and rushes to the edge of the balcony for a closer look at the frolicking whales. They’re not to be missed!”

Right Whales breed in the sheltered bays of the Cape coast, spending up to five months a year there. “They pass time playing, courting, and nursing their calves, often metres from the shore, providing spectacular land-based viewing!”

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“Hermanus is about breathing fresh ‘champagne air’, drinking crystal clear mountain water, watching marine life from your restaurant table, visiting the richest Floral Kingdom on earth, and satisfying your palate with exquisite food.”

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Southern Right Whale Family

There are many hiking opportunities in the area, including Fernkloof and Kogelberg Nature Reserves. Both known for “minimal human interference and exceptional diversity and quality of fynbos”.

Violet Eared Waxbill – Derek Keats

Another option, the easy Hermanus Cliff Path, hugs the seafront and passes over cliff tops and beaches. During whale season, you can sit on wooden benches along the path and enjoy a birds-eye view of the exciting whales, coastal Fynbos, and over 200 species of birds.

Hermanus is an eco-destination. Kelp forests along the coast nurture abalone and crayfish. Southern right whales, humpbacks, and dolphins make seasonal visits to Walker Bay which extends from Gansbaai to Hermanus.

Guinea Fowl – Peter Chadwick African Conservation Photographer

The area is an angler’s paradise and one of the best places in the world to do land-based whale watching. Between June and December, “hundreds of Southern Right Whales congregate in the sheltered shallow waters of Walker Bay to mate and calve their young”. The Bay is a Whale Sanctuary Marine Protected Area.

Breaching Right Whale

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“With an excellent choice of outdoor activities, you can do anything from mountain climbing to deep-sea diving .”

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Fernkloof Nature Reserve

Outdoor enthusiasts stroll along coastal paths or hike for days through mountain ranges. Water babies can surf, swim, sail, dive, kayak, and watch whales from rocky outcrops or boats. Foodies can dine in style or enjoy wine estate picnics. “No matter your taste for life, Hermanus adventures await your discovery.”

Hermanus War Memorial, Commemorating Fallen Heroes of WW I and WWII

It’s wonderful here, but ironically, I’ve suffered from a flu-like allergic reaction to endemic fynbos and have struggled with congestion, inflammation, sneezing, and coughing. I will need to take antihistamines continuously but after a few weeks the symptoms are improving. Local pharmacists say that fynbos allergies even plague some locals. Many are resigned to taking antihistamines and using nasal spray year-round.

Disa Ferruginea