In April 2023 we were fortunate to be able to visit South Africa. My partner Ken had never been to South Africa so it was wonderful to see the places I know so well through his eyes.
I grew up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and moved to live in Cape Town when I was 18 years old. Two years later I got married and moved away from Cape Town. My husband and I lived in many places across southern Africa before I returned, fourteen years later, after he died. By that time my whole family was living in Cape Town and I always had a feeling of ‘coming home’ when I returned. I remarried and lived in Namibia for four years before emigrating to Australia in 1991.
The last time I visited Cape Town was in 2012. Things sure have changed a great deal since then.
We were fortunate to stay with my brother Brian and his wife Graziella. They lent us a car and a phone. I hot-spotted my phone to the local one and armed with Google Maps and memories of places I had visited often, we began exploring.
Things went very well until we took a wrong turn returning from the mountain. (Constantia Nek) Google began the usual ‘rerouting – rerouting’ and I presumed the reason it was taking so long to reroute was because we were out of Wi-Fi range. I directed Ken towards Cape Town as I knew how to get home from the middle of town. It was four thirty in the afternoon when we arrived in the city centre. Ken, on his first day of driving in a new country, discovered that rush-hour taxi van drivers do not obey the usual road rules. He was playing dodgem as they went left into off-ramp roads only to push back into the traffic before the ramp made them leave the freeway. I was very impressed with his ability to avoid hitting the many taxis that pushed in front of him if he left as much as a metre between our car and the one in front.
It was then that I discovered the reason why Google Maps wouldn’t reroute was because the phone with the local SIM card had gone flat.
Welcome to driving in South Africa, Ken!
Cape of Good Hope
One of the first places we visited was the Cape of Good Hope. We were astonished at how calm the ocean was and saw a yacht sailing out past the cape with engines on as there was not enough wind to move them. We recalled our friends, Barb & Rob White, having a similar experience when they circumnavigate the world on Zoony.
We chose a day with little cloud cover to go up Table Mountain in the cable car. As a teenager I climbed the mountain often. Not too sure if I could manage it as easily these days.
In Tasmania we have kunanyi/Mt Wellington, 1270m high with a prominence of 693m.
Table Mountain is only 1086m high, but with a prominence of 1055 it seems far larger and more impressive.
NB: Prominence is the elevation of a summit relative to its surrounding terrain. This is different from its overall elevation, which measures the height of the summit.
Brian and Grazzie took ten days off from their business and drove us along the Garden Route. We spent a few days at Knysna in an apartment overlooking the lake. Brian had towed his boat so that we could fish on the lake. Unfortunately, the only fish we caught were a few puffer fish! It was glorious to be on the water and we enjoyed exploring the area very much indeed.
Addo Elephant Park
We stayed in a beautiful, tree-top cottage in Addo and enjoyed visiting the Addo Elephant National Park. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see more elephants than we did, because the park has over 600 of them. Ken had never seen them in the wild before, and elephants are always delightful so I soon got over my disappointment.
We were astonished at the security measures wherever we went in the Cape Province. My family gave us a lecture on how we should take care when removing the vehicle from their yard and closing the security gate.
- Put everything that you don’t need, out of sight, into the boot
- Check the road to ensure there is nobody loitering or watching the yard
- Get into the car
- Lock yourself inside the car
- Open the gate with the remote
- Drive out of the yard
- Stop the car and lock the gate – checking that it closes properly without anyone entering
- When stopping at traffic lights, be sure not to open any car windows.
My family told us of an occasion where people opened their car windows at traffic lights to give money to the many beggars on the street, and had pool acid thrown into their eyes.
When you drive into any parking area, even one owned by huge shopping complexes and tourist car parks, people wearing high visibility tops guard your vehicle – for a small fee. I guess everyone needs to earn money, however we found it difficult to get used to.
People live in homes that are so secure, I wonder what happens if there is ever a house fire and one is prevented from escaping because of bars on windows, and security gates between areas.
Many people live in gated communities. When visiting friends one needs to first make an appointment and gain security to go into the gated community.
After living years on board Nichola and sailing around the South Pacific islands where we never once locked our boat, we found the security measures in South Africa to be disturbing.
“When we went into the centre of Cape Town City we noticed many special Safety Officials who handed out the flyer with tips on ensuring an enjoyable stay. Top of the list was
You do NOT need a permit to walk in the streets. IGNORE well-dressed fraudsters who insist you need one, or any kind of permission to access a precinct.Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCCD)
IT’S A SCAM!”
Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, Cape Town
We visited the V&A Waterfront many times. There is a great vibe around the waterfront and excellent choices for a meal, drink or light snack. We enjoyed the musicians and traditional dancers very much indeed and a great variety of shops and markets showcasing African craft. We found it cheaper to buy souvenirs out in the countryside, however the choices are amazing on the waterfront.
We visited the Two Oceans Aquarium, The Iziko South African National Gallery, and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA). All were superb.
We enjoyed a stroll around the gardens and a meal at one of the cafes before venturing into the city centre.
!Khwa ttu – San Heritage & Education Centre
We visited the San Centre on our way to spend a few nights at the Buffelsfontein Game Reserve on the West Coast, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town.
From human origins to contemporary San life. A compelling story told in three thought-provoking buildings.
“The San, the first people to inhabit southern Africa, represent a 100,000-year-old culture which should be considered one of the world’s treasures.”— Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
We wished we had more time to explore the San Centre because it was fascinating. There is something to entertain every age group.
Buffelsfontein Game & Nature Reserve
I did a stint as a safari tour guide in Botswana in my late teens and growing up often camped where the ‘Big Five’ roamed freely. This was Ken’s first visit to Africa and I wanted him to see as many of the species as possible.
Touring the Buffelsfontein Game Park with our knowledgeable and fun tour guide Duane was another highlight of our trip. On our tour we saw most of the species of game in the reserve and watched the caged lions being fed. The reserve does not have enough animals to sustain the lions and panther running wild.
Great fun was had when we came across rhinos, Max and Lilly. Max enjoys rubbing his head on the wheel of the tour vehicle so we definitely got to see him ‘up-close-and-personal’!
I think the highlight of Ken’s African Animal Viewing was as he spotted a group of six Sable grazing in the wild when we drove through the Karoo.
Sheilam Nursery & Cactus Garden
The spectacular, Sheilam Nursery has over 2000 different species of cacti and succulents. It is close to Robertson, 170 km from Cape Town. The plants are enormous and fascinating. Definitely worth a visit, even if you are not ‘into’ cacti and succulents!
Franschhoek is a town in South Africa’s Western Cape with centuries-old vineyards and Cape Dutch architecture. We were in our element visiting all the different art galleries.
It was interesting to note the impact of ‘load shedding’. Some businesses had their own power generators/batteries whilst others simply worked without lights. Buying a book in a dark bookstall was a tad challenging…
Load shedding requires switching off parts of South Africa’s electric grid in a planned and controlled manner due to insufficient capacity or to avoid a countrywide blackout. The higher the stage, the more electricity needs to be saved and the longer the blackouts last for.
There is an increased security threat during power outages. Blackouts may adversely affect security protocols, including alarm systems and electronic fences; opportunistic criminal activity increases during electricity outages. Malfunctioning traffic signals increase the risk of accidents at intersections, and the lack of public lighting may elevate the risk of driving at night.
Citizens check online daily to see when they will have power, or not. One’s day needs to be planned around this. A friend of ours uses an oxygen tank when she sleeps, unfortunately, this requires a continuous power supply and often the power is switched off overnight. Not ideal, as you can imagine.
Tasting South African wines is always a pleasure. Cape Town and the Western Cape has: 2 693 Wine Grape Farmers. 45 Producer Cellars. There are an astonishing 457 Private Wine Cellars.
Needless to say we felt obliged to visit a few with my family and special friends.
Poor People Accommodation
We found a great contrast between the different socioeconomic groups of the population. In the affluent areas there are huge houses, all with very visible security. The ‘very rich people’ were of any race and not all ‘white people’ as I had imagined.
The middle-class folk too, were of every race, also with security or in gated communities.
The poorest communities seemed mainly to be of colour. Unemployment is high. Spanning the age group of 15 to 34-year-olds, the data from Statistics South Africa, which was released in May 2023, shows that the total number of unemployed youth stands at 4.9 million, as a result of a 1.1% increase from the last quarter of 2022, to 46.5% for the first quarter of the year.
No wonder crime is rife. One wonders how the children of the ‘squatter community’ will fare in the future.
Penguins at Boulders
When I was a young girl, my younger brother and I went on a camp from Rhodesia/Zimbabwe to stay at Boulders Beach, near Simons Town in the Cape. We travelled by train with a group of other children and spent a few weeks at the ‘sea side’ (Zimbabwe is a land-locked country).
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and remember being delighted by the penguins that wandered around the property and the town.
In 1982 a colony of African penguins settled at Boulders Beach that now forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. These African penguins are only found on the coastlines of Southern Africa (South Africa & Namibia). These penguins are currently on the verge of extinction.
These days there is a charge to get onto the beach and go through the information centre. However, if you do not have much time/have seen penguins before, many penguins can be seen when you walk along the track next to the reserve.