Archive for October, 2015

Klipgat Trail hike, Gansbaai to DeKelders, South Africa

LIMG_0935Well, 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.

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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.

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Tortoises. They actually move pretty fast!

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.

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Beautiful views of sea and coastal scrub the whole way.

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We stopped for a quick core workout at one of the bays.

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Mostly a coastal path, with infrastructure such as stairways where needed.

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Just a thin strip of public land – but what a boon for the community!

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One optional descent along the way to some sea caves.

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We went down by a stairway, but our route back up was a bit rough!

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And this was the view pretty much the whole way… with whales feeding close to shore, just off the kelp beds. Great hike!

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Kleinbaai to South Africa’s southernmost point, Cape Agulhas: birdwatching and whales!

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Heading east along the coast.

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.

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Breaching southern right whale at Pearly Beach

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Another southern right whale just off the kelp beds.

Our trip soon became a birdwatching expedition – first here at Pearly Beach, with sandpipers, whimbrels, and endangered African oystercatchers along the rocky shoreline.

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Still working on ID-ing this guy, some sort of plover at Pearly Beach.

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African black oystercatchers – endangered – nesting here.

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A whimbrel watching the crashing surf. This is an amazing species – we have them here on Vancouver Island. Our birds go down to Central and South America for winter. This guy, here in South Africa, was most likely raised in northern Scotland! And will head back there to nest.

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!

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A tree full of weaver nests!

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Bickering weavers.

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They are very pretty birds, though – these cape weavers.

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.

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Now onto the dirt tracks – and some amazing birding.

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Tailbird!! (Later ID’d as a pin-tailed whydah)

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!

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Very pretty birds, these blacksmith lapwings.

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And yes – ostriches!

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.

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Blue cranes are rare and endangered – but they were common down here.

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.

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Struisbaai – where lots of kids were playing in the warm ocean water.

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A limited lunch menu – but good security!

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.

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Walkway to Cape Agulhas.

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And here we are at Cape Agulhas – southernmost point on the African continent. Not as spectacular as the Cape of Good Hope.

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Nice birds at the cape, too – this is a Kittlitz’s plover (I think)

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Cape Agulhas lighthouse…

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…built in 1848.

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Later learned this is an oryx, or gemsbok – native further north.

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.

 

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And these guys? Later learned – the bigger, darker ones are bontebok, these ones on a fenced-in reserve, but they were actually originally native to only a very small area right around here. I think the little guys are springboks – native to northeastern South Africa and Namibia, but not to this exact area.

 

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).

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Cocktails at the Great White – with a southern right whale skeleton suspended overhead.

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Stellenbosch 1 – Tasting wines and olive oils

LIMG_0883This 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.

LIMG_0879I’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:

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Hiking Table Mountain, above Cape Town, South Africa

LIMG_0867One 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!

Here’s where we parked. We are about to hike up to that pointy peak in the centre, which is where the gondola arrives to.

Here’s where we parked. We are about to hike up to that pointy peak in the centre, which is where the gondola arrives to.

The start of the Platteklip Gorge Trail - one of the MANY routes up the mountain.

The start of the Platteklip Gorge Trail – one of the MANY routes up the mountain.

Frogs in the pond at the trailhead. We saw three frogs fighting, biting one another and rolling around. Who would have known?

Frogs in the pond at the trailhead. We saw three frogs fighting, biting one another and rolling around. Who would have known?

A pretty steady climb. First view point, looking over Cape Town - only part way up.

A pretty steady climb. First view point, looking over Cape Town – only part way up.

Checking out the gorge...

Checking out the gorge…

...which the trail follows, to avoid the cliffs.

…which the trail follows, to avoid the cliffs.

Partway up the gorge. Views getting ever better! You can see the road below, to get an idea of how far we have come up so far.

Partway up the gorge. Views getting ever better! You can see the road below, to get an idea of how far we have come up so far.

Now on top. We were surprised by how many trails there were up here. We decided to take the one to McClear’s Beacon, the highest point on the mountain (which really is very flat on top like a table), before heading back to the gondola for a ride down.

Now on top. We were surprised by how many trails there were up here. We decided to take the one to McClear’s Beacon, the highest point on the mountain (which really is very flat on top like a table), before heading back to the gondola for a ride down.

Trail on top to McClear's Beacon.

Trail on top to McClear’s Beacon.

Stopped for lunch at the beacon,with great views northward, then followed a different trail back, skirting the cliff edge on the west side, above our car.

Stopped for lunch at the beacon,with great views northward, then followed a different trail back, skirting the cliff edge on the west side, above our car.

Cliff-edge view over downtown Cape Town.

Cliff-edge view over downtown Cape Town.

It’s spring here, and there were so many beautiful wildflowers in bloom up here.

It’s spring here, and there were so many beautiful wildflowers in bloom up here.

Heathers.

Heathers.

(Not sure what these are).

(Not sure what these are).

And here’s a view of Lion’s Head, the peak we climbed the other day in the mist and fog - with no views!

And here’s a view of Lion’s Head, the peak we climbed the other day in the mist and fog – with no views!

Then back to the top of the gondola cable - a much busier place than where we had spent most of our day.

Then back to the top of the gondola cable – a much busier place than where we had spent most of our day.

But still with gorgeous views - here looking down above Camp’s Bay. Check out the little rock ledge on the far left - can you see the little furry guy sun-baking there?

But still with gorgeous views – here looking down above Camp’s Bay. Check out the little rock ledge on the far left – can you see the little furry guy sun-baking there?

ve is the African elephant. (I would have guessed guinea pig...)

Here he is, closer up. He’s an animal called a dassie. Apparently his closest living animal relative is the African elephant. (I would have guessed guinea pig…)

And then the gondola ride down - a very fast trip!

And then the gondola ride down – a very fast trip!

Back to the car around 3pm - now finally leaving Cape Town and heading inland, to the world-famous wine-producing area of Stellenbosch. Blog post about that coming...

Back to the car around 3pm – now finally leaving Cape Town and heading inland, to the world-famous wine-producing area of Stellenbosch. Blog post about that coming…

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Finally! We made it to the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

LIMG_0785Well, 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:

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View to the north fromthe lighthouse.

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View westward from the lighthouse – that point behind the beach is the Cape of Good Hope.

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At the restaurant.

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Dave thought it was fun to feed the red-winged starlings from our table at the restaurant. Until he realized that the restaurant provided water spray bottles to shoot them with, to keep them off the dining tables – and suddenly Uncle Dave turned into the starlings’ worst enemy.

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Nice view! We saw a fur seal from here, as well as a few mongoose-like mammals. We still don’t have a bird book or animal book, so we are kinda making up the names of the things we see as we go…

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Five pm – lunch finally over with, and still an hour or two until sunset, we are finally heading out on a little hike.

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A beautiful little beach below – wish we had more time.

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View back eastward to the lighthouse. Turned out the lighthouse was too high – ships couldn’t see the light if it was foggy out – so they had to build a new one, lower down. You can just see the new one on the rocks, just above the horizon.

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Surprise! We saw ostriches as we hiked to the cape!

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View back east towards the lighthouse. The ostriches were on the flat green plateau on the upper left. If you can see any black dots there – that is them!

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View from the Cape of Good Hope, downward and to the west. There is another parking lot down there. This now is the Atlantic Ocean (previous pix were the Indian Ocean).

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Reptile. Lots of these guys. Since we don’thave a reptile book, I have named him the South African black alligator lizard.

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Better ostrich views on the way back. There were small chicks, too – you just can’t see them in my photos. Sorry!

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There was a little side-trail on our way out. You are supposed to be out of the park by sunset or you risk getting locked in (and we were still 10k from the gate) – but this would probably be our only time EVER coming here, and we wanted to take advantage of every moment. So we took the side-trail… and we saw our first whales from here! They are southern right whales. There was one right below us, here in the bay, just at the break, and several more further out to sea.

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Heading back to our car…hmmm, this road was chockerblock full of cars here when we arrived.

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Yup, definitely last car here. And definitely a very full day. We barely made it out of the park, arriving to the gate just as it was closing!

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Visiting the African penguin colony at the Boulders, Simonstown

LDSC_0032There 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!

The whole area is boardwalk- so visitors have great opportunities to get very close to the penguins, yet the birds are not disturbed by our presence at all.

The whole area is boardwalk – so visitors have great opportunities to get very close to the penguins, yet the birds are not disturbed by our presence at all.

It's near the end of the nesting season, so there were lots of big fat chicks around.

It’s near the end of the nesting season, so there were lots of big fat chicks around.

Here, the parent is regurgitating to feed the chick.

Here, the parent is regurgitating to feed the chick.

The site is right on the ocean. The penguins can walk from the beach up to their nesting sites in the dunes. Here are both fluffy grey chicks and blackand white adults.

The site is right on the ocean. The penguins can walk from the beach up to their nesting sites in the dunes. Here are both fluffy grey chicks and blackand white adults.

Lots of them resting on the beach.

Lots of them resting on the beach. So nice to be able to see them so close.

Really fun birds to watch.

Really fun birds to watch.

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!

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Birdwatching between Cape Town and Cape of Good Hope… sort of

Crowned crane (from further north in Africa)

Crowned crane (native to areas further north in Africa)

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.

One of MANY hornbill species.

One of MANY hornbill species.

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!

The scarlet ibises - from South America - were spectacular!

The scarlet ibises – from South America – were spectacular!

The white peacock display was like a choreographed ballet - the three of them turning in time with one another.

The white peacock display was like a choreographed ballet – the three of them turning in time with one another.

Flamingos!

Flamingos!

And not just birds. The squirrel monkey habitat was fun - a huge enclosure where the little guys could come visit us. This guy wanted Dave's glasses. He's squeezing Dave's ear with his soft little fingers - no claws!

And not just birds. The squirrel monkey habitat was fun – a huge enclosure where the little guys could come visit us. This guy wanted Dave’s glasses. He’s squeezing Dave’s ear with his soft little fingers – no claws!

A red-billed toucan.

A red-billed toucan.

The wood ducks really liked the furniture. These guys are native to North America - we sometimes see them on the Beaver Pond near home.

The wood ducks really liked the furniture. These guys are native to North America – we sometimes see them on the Beaver Pond near home.

Duck on a table!

Duck on a table!

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