Archive for October, 2015
Well, we had spent a lot of time in the car this past week. And on planes for a few days before that. Not great training for our Kalahari race, which was now only days away. We had loved Stellenbosch so much on our way through, that we decided we would stop here again on our way back to Cape Town. But we would stop and do a coastal hike from the village of Gansbaai first, before heading inland. A good chance for us to get some exercise, as well as to test our gear.
This was a real eye-opener of a hike – a great chance to see what towns back home like Tofino and Port Alberni could do with waterfront lands if they planned ahead a bit. The whole 7 km hike is along a narrow strip of shoreline, nearly all of it with residential land backing it. But the shoreline itself – the beaches and the rocky headlands and the cliffs – is all public land, and the trail that passes over here is beautiful.
The day was quite warm – nothing like what we were expecting in the Kalahari, but still a lot hotter than what we were used to back home – so this was a pretty good training hike with our loaded packs. I was quite surprised to feel hot spots developing on my heels – precursors to blisters – which I guess was due to the hot weather and my sweaty feet. I had worn these same socks and shoes, with the loaded pack, many times at home with no problems at all. A good little warning, for being proactive about taping those areas before the race started.
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. This was a lovely hike, and there were whales just behind the break nearly the whole way. Dave and I really appreciated the chance to get a few hours of activity in, before getting back in the car to hurry off – our time in the Cape Town region was rapidly running out, and we wanted to get to at least one more winery in Stellenbosch today, before they closed.
I had always believed that Cape of Good Hope was Africa’s southernmost point. But on this trip I learned that Cape Agulhas, a tiny bit to the south but much farther east, actually holds that claim to fame.
I’m glad that Dave and I didn’t plan to go any further east than Cape Agulhas. Planning our trip from home, everything looks so close together on the map. But once you get here, there are so many places you want to stop at.
We’d arrived at our B&B in Kleinbaai at nightfall the previous night, just in time to have dinner at the quirky pub just outside this tiny seaside village : the one and only place we experienced our whole time in Africa where the cheap wine really IS just cheap wine. (Everywhere else, it is cheap yet world-class). This was plonk! Terrible! (The food was good, though).
We started reasonably early the next morning, with our first stop at Pearly Beach, 10 km east of Kleinbaai. You don’t need to take a boat trip to enjoy the whale-watching here! We could have stayed here all day, watching the southern right whales feeding just off the kelp beds and just behind the beach break, some of them with calves.
Our trip soon became a birdwatching expedition – first here at Pearly Beach, with sandpipers, whimbrels, and endangered African oystercatchers along the rocky shoreline.
We finally forced ourselves back into the car to continue eastward, towards the cape -when I spied a tree alongside the road full of weaver nests. I forced Dave to pull over and back up, and we watched the birds, lovely yellow cape weavers chattering and hanging upside down from their suspended nests. Little did we know how many trees like that we would see in the coming miles!
We still had not had a chance to buy a bird book, so we had no idea of the names of the species we were observing. We ended up making up names for most of them – our own private birding language. When our route eventually veered on to gravel roads, a sparrow-sized bird with a tail about four times the length of its body flew alongside for us and finally landed. We called it the tailbird.
But the birding became much more spectacular than that… as we came across flocks of ostriches! We passed a lot of wetlands, with all sorts of wading birds and ducks and geese. I named one of the ducks we saw the white-faced whistling duck (because that’s what it looked like and that’s what it did)… and later learned that I had got it pretty much right!
A distant flock of spoonbills was one of the highlights of our day, along with a range of small birds in brilliant shades of yelllow, red and green (later identified as weavers, bishops, and a malachite sunbird), and several blue cranes: gorgeous graceful cranes with long wing feathers than blow in the wind, South Africa’s national bird.
With all of the birdwatching, it took ages for us to make it to the cape. We were starved by the time we stopped for lunch, at a little hole-in-the-wall fish and chips stand around Struisbaai.
The cape itself was beautiful too, with some short walking trails around – a chance to stretch our legs after all the driving. The lighthouse here was constructed in 1848 – but by now it was already 5pm, and they were locking up so we couldn’t go in.
The drive back was fun too… a few fenced-in areas that we figured out were private game farm. The animals must have been sleeping when we drove through the first time, but now they were moving around.
Dave screeched to a halt a few times: “Wow – what is that?” It’s fun being in Africa – like being a child again, with all of the new animal names and bird names still to learn.
We finished our night with a drink and dinner at the Great White Restaurant – named for the sharks that frequent this area. (No… we didn’t go swimming here).
This post is labelled #1, because we only had one night booked in Stellenbosch and then were driving east along the coast – but we liked it so much there that we decided to pass through again on our way back. So there will be another post about our wine-tasting adventures around Stellenbosch coming.
I’m going light on the text and heavy on the photos, because we are still travelling and I don’t want to spend all of my time on the computer. We first visited a winery called Tokara, that also grows olives, so we did an olive oil tasting there. (It was around 10 am… saving ourselves for wines later). Then we moved on to one called BabylonStoring, that also has huge vegetable gardens and orchards, with kilometres of trails. We wandered the gardens there for an hour or two, then had lunch and did a wine-tasting there, before hitting the road – through the wine-producing town of Franzshoek and over the mountains, to our next stop for the night back on the coast.
Tokara Vineyward and Olive Farm:
One of the things on Dave’s “definite to-do list” for South Africa was to hike up Table Mountain. Of course I was happy to go along. What a surprise to find out that it rises more than 1000 m above the city of Cape Town!
There is a gondola that goes up to the summit, but of course we would rather walk. We took the Platteklip Gorge route, parking near the bottom of the gondola cable, and hiking from there. We had originally planned to stay in Cape Town only two nights, and to hike Table Mountain either our first or second day, before hitting the road and driving east along the coast.
But the weather wasn’t great for hiking – totally fogged in and windy on the mountain – and we were really enjoying the Cape Town area, and the places we could get to from here (that I’ve already blogged about: the Constantia wineries, and the Cape of Good Hope). And the forecast was looking much better a few days away – so we ended up staying a total of four nights in Cape Town, hiking up Table Mountain on our final day. And, as you will see from these photos, it was worth the wait. It was a stunning day!
Well, it took us a long time to get here. The first day, we were waylaid by the wineries at Constantia. Next day, we were delayed by a visit to World of Birds and then to the penguin colonies at Boulders. But, that second day, we kept driving south, and around mid-late afternoon we finally made it to the Cape of Good Hope.
It was 3 or 4 pm, and we hadn’t even had lunch yet. There was a funicular (slanted railway car going up the hill) to the lighthouse above, with a trail alongside. Dave had heard of an award-winning restaurant here called Two Oceans (because this is the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet – although it is not the southernmost point of Africa) and we thought it might be beside the lighthouse. So we hiked up there – hungry! – and the view was magnificent… but the signs to the restaurant allpointed down, back to where our car was parked.
So we hiked back down, and found the restaurant hidden at the back of the parking lot – but with a magnificent view of False Bay and the shorelines to the north and east (we were on the east side of the cape – the Indian Ocean side). Stopped there for a late lunch of the most tender calamari I have ever tried, and finally around 5pm headed out for our hike to the cape. Here are some pix:
There is so much to do here, and it is so hard to figure out where to spend our time and what things to bypass. We’d already spent most of the first half of our day at World of Birds, and we wanted to make it all the way to the Cape of Good Hope this same day. But we would be driving right past the colonies of African penguins, near Simonstown. It would be a shame to bypass this – but if we stopped, we might not have much time at the Cape of Good Hope….
Well – who would drive past penguins? Of course we couldn’t! Their colonies are right on the edge of town, a stone’s throw from the highway. (In fact, there are signs on the highway warning you to lookout for penguins). It’s part of the national park system, and very well managed. We paid our entrance fee and had a quick walk around…. don’t have time to write much, we’re trying to get back on the road – but here are some pix!
This was a really worthwhile stop. But we didn’t have much time left to spend at Cape of Good Hope. So we got into the car and started driving – our last chance to see the point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet! Next blog post will describe that!
Well, this was fun! The day before, Dave and I had hoped to drive all the way to Cape of Good Hope (like an hour’s drive south of Cape Town) but we were waylaid by the wineries. So we tried again today… but he had noticed a turnoff yesterday for The World of Birds. We REALLY want to buy a good bird book to identify South African birds – so we stopped for a visit, not really planning to go in.
Well – we did, and it was amazing! There are over 300 species there – mostly birds, but also some mammals and reptiles too. It started 40 years ago as a private venture on rented land, aiming to house injured birds, and it has grown from there. We were especially impressed by the size of the enclosures. They are very large, so the birds can fly around. You can actually walk through most of them – very large habitat areas where you are right in there with the birds. And very impressive species – not so many small songbirds, but lots of raptors (kestrels, owls, vultures) and lots of wading birds such as ibises, egrets, herons and storks.
And a great collection of hornbills – very unique African birds.
What was especially nice to see here was how many of the birds were nesting – a sign that they are really well treated, and very comfortable in their habitats. They had lots of room to fly or walk around, and we could observe lots of natural behaviours.
So it was 1pm when we left there… still only halfway to Cape of Good Hope, not having even passed by the penguin colonies yet, not having even eaten lunch yet! So much more to do this day – more blog posts coming – but for now, some bird pix!
Dave and I had big plans for the day. Our friend Thamar, who we had hiked up Lion’s Head with the previous day, recommended that we visit the vineyards at Constantia, a short drive south of Cape Town (she lives in Constantia). So we planned to pop in there and visit just three of them, before continuing south, visiting some of the coastal villages, then down the peninsula to look at penguin colonies and hike around the Cape of Good Hope.
Well, wine tasting in South Africa is not how we are used to it. They sit you down at a table and serve you your wines, one by one. It is not fast – but it is very pleasant! We really enjoyed the relaxed pace – but we only managed to make it to two wineries (we had lunch at the second one) and it was already 5:00! Too late to get to the Cape of Good Hope-so that was our day!
Dave and I arrived here in Cape Town on Monday afternoon – pretty exhausted from the long long journey. The next day, yesterday, we poked around the waterfront, then met my friend Thamar and her husband Richard for a late afternoon hike up Lion’s Head, a conical peak on the side of Table Mountain, and then dinner.
I know Thamar from the one-week ultramarathon I did in the Himalayas two years ago. We were room-mates for the week, and we kept in touch – so I emailed her when Dave and I made the plans to visit Cape Town.
The weather was less than ideal… very grey and overcast, with enough of a drizzle falling that we got fairly wet on the way up. But none of us wanted to wimp out. Thamar kept saying it was a shame that we couldn’t see the view, or where we were going. We were fine, though, having fun anyway – but it was hard to know where we actually were in the fog!
A fun hike. The rain added atmosphere, and it was nice that things cleared enough that we had someviews at the end. And then lots of fun all together at a good local Mexican restaurant.
This was the “easy” day – provided you hadn’t pushed your body too hard the days before. Of the original fifty one racers who had aimed to complete all three days, seven had either DNF’d a previous day, or had chosen not to start today. So we were down to 43 aiming to complete the entire staged ultramarathon. We were a total of 78 on the start line, though, including the one-day runners. And today it was rainy… but at least not very cold.
We started again at Spirit Square, downtown Golden, but this time we headed in the opposite direction – over a covered bridge then along the Kicking Horse river on a wide gravel track, before veering into the woods. I don’t know for sure why this town was named “Golden” – but for anyone visiting at this time of year, the name sure makes sense, with all of the leaves turning colour.
In general, I am pretty slack in my actual “running” training – a lot of what I do is steep fast hikes, or long slow jog-walks, mixing up the jogging and walking. I really should do more runs without walking breaks – I’m sure it would make me faster. So – considering that – I was very pleased by how much I felt like running on this third day!
I may not be a great runner, but what I am good at is taking care of my body and pacing myself for multi-day races. So it was quite interesting to see that I was keeping pace with, or even staying ahead of, several of the women who had been running hours ahead of me the previous day. Especially on the uphills – there was nothing steep today, but the whole route was just gently rolling, up or down – and I was still able to run the uphills where they were reduced to a walk.
For much of the first half of the race I had a nine-year old following me! He actually wanted to pass me, but he was running with his mom and she kept reeling him in,reminding him to pace himself for the full 19 km. She’s actually a very experienced hundred-mile racer, very good with pacing and keeping Tristan fed and happy. I really love that, seeing kids out there challenging themselves physically, with the encouragement of parents who actually know how to make it a positive experience for them.
So that ended up being the first time in my life being passed by someone 42 years younger than me! (In my defense, I had run 55k the previous day. And I’ll add, in my defense, that 9yo knees take the downhills a lot better!). Tristan and his mom had been eating along the route, so when I stopped at the halfway aid station for a snack, they blew past me and I never saw them again!
It was a great feeling to make it to the finish line – always a good feeling, and even more so when it is a challenging multi-day route like this one. My biggest goal was to finish it uninjured – because I have only four weeks between this race and Dave’s and my one-week race in Africa! – and I finished it feeling wonderful! And quite pleased with my times.
Stage winner was – by along shot – California’s Jorge Maravilla in 1:39, a performance which put him solidly in front as three-day champion, for a total time of 8:27:58. Alberta’s Ailsa MacDonald continued her stunning performance – apparently she is new to trail racing, just transitioning from marathon running – taking first female and second overall with a total time of 9:10:03. I think we’ll be hearing more about Ailsa in the coming years!
This was a fantastic race, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The routes are simply stunning – in particular, the Day 2 ultramarathon day with the ascent along the canyon rim and then the ridgeline traverse. And it’s quite easy to get to – especially if you live in BC or Alberta (Golden is only a 2.5 hour drive from Calgary). The Golden Ultra race dates are already confirmed for the next three years: Sept. 23-25, 2016 and Sept. 22-24, 2017 and Sept. 21-23, 2018. I hope to be back running there again soon – maybe I’ll see you there!