Summer 1997 - South Africa

Summer 1997 - South Africa

I hope to have a map here soon, with the routes of the trips I did on it.


Well, South Africa was at first somewhat colder than I had expected, but it's not like cold in the UK. For a start it's quite warm during the day, even if it gets to about freezing at night. The temperature at midday is around about 17 degrees C or more. It only rained three times over here. During the latter half of the summer temperatures were more like 20 during the day and the house was not nearly as chilly as it had been; I no longer needed sweaters in the house!

From June until July I didn't do very much; mainly lounging around the house. Shame it was so COLD in the house, as there is no central heating; the only heat comes from the sun thought the windows or from little gas heaters, or if you're graced with its presence, then the cat makes a great blanket... Fortunately I have the warmest room in the house, as it is small and gets sun all day long. But out of doors, it's lovely.

There is a great restaurant outside Johannesburg called the Carnivore. It's an eat as much as you like meat restaurant. First, you get a pot of soup. Unfortunately, Pumpkin, but I had some anyway. And you get some nice bread too. Then you are given a revolving two tier tray with a choice of 6 salads below and a similar number of sauces for the following meat. You are then given an obscenely hot metal plate, and a whole potjie (pronounce it poikee and you'll be close. It's a 3 legged cast iron pot with lid, used for cooking on fires) full of pap, basically, a staple food down here. It's served with a tomato sauce to actually give it some flavour. A baked potato is also offered. Now starts the procession of meats. They come on what are apparently Maasai tribal swords. (A bit out of place in South Africa - the Maasai are the bloody tall (always over 6' - going on for 7') cattle farming people from up Kenya way. (Their staple diet is milk and cow's blood). First came Peri-Peri chicken - sweet and spicy. I got a leg. About 20 seconds later- Ostrich sausages? Yup, I have one. These were very nice, kind of herby flavour. Then Pork sausages. Yes, I'll have one of those too, cheers. Now my memory goes hazy on the order but here come the rest of the meats: Beef, Pork, Lamb (Really good beef and Lamb; I'm not a great pork fan) had lots of all of those. Now for the interesting stuff. Wildebeest - like beef, but a lot nicer, in my opinion. Also, Ostrich. Definitely better than steak. Crocodile. Kind of stringy, lots of bones. Oh, and not to forget Giraffe. Bit tough that one, compared to the other meats, but not bad. Oh, is that it? hmm. By this time, waiters, and my mother looked on astonished. "Making up for protein deficiency", I replied to the unasked question. Oh, could I have some more Ostrich, please? Thankyou oh, and the man with the ostrich sausages, could I possibly trouble you? Thanks. I also had some more lamb. Really rather nice, barbecued lamb. And also more either Wildebeest or beef, I don't recall. I decided that perhaps I was appearing a little gluttonous; perhaps I ought to stop. So I put down the white flag on the table which meant we had ‘surrendered' I could have eaten the whole lot again. I jest not. I really don't know why, but when I got here from Wales, I ate LOTS of food. We then had dessert and coffee. Rather nice chocolate mousse. Shame about the Coffee (there is NO decent coffee in restaurants in this country - but at least it's better than the American watery stuff - but only just).
And to stuff your gob to the hilt costs a maximum of R70 plus drinks - less than a tenner...

The most ‘interesting' thing during the summer were the ‘Break ins' or attempted ones, anyway. We have had on at least 2 occasions intruders in the garden; the first one we knew about on the same night as he tried to break into the flat above the garage where my grandfather (who went back to Switzerland at the end of June) was staying. The guy was opening the door when my grandfather was near it; he noticed this and opened the door wide. He saw the guy standing there and punched the intruder in the face. He promptly ran off. My grandfather then stood there screaming help for a couple of minutes until my mother happened to hear him from her bedroom (which is on the side of the house facing the flat). The rest of us never heard until she came downstairs and told us she had heard him; we were on the other side of the house watching TV.

The night my Grandfather left, some people tried to force the lock on the flat door open. This succeeded in jamming it in the locked position. We only found out when my mother, during the day, happened to go up there and noticed the damage.

Interesting theories abound about these break ins. The guy who tried to break into the flat the first night was wearing a shirt or something over his face, which suggested to the more paranoid members of my family (anyone living in Johannesburg for more than 6 months...) that it was someone we (or more specifically) my grandfather would recognise. And therefore a member of the Gardener's family (probably one of his brothers). Why? Well, who else, other than someone who knew the garden would know that a) the flat above the garage was occupied b) that my grandfather had money (his own fault: I shall digress here and explain- My Grandfather has made a show of never locking his door. Worse, he offered to buy the Gardener a smallholding and a few days before these incidents had gone with the gardener and his brothers to their home village or whatever. They quite frankly ripped him off, making him pay for everything: food, petrol, car hire etc. for 3 days. He was, as may be imagined, not impressed and withdrew his offer. He paid for everything in cash (of which he had what would have appeared to them wads of)).

At my dad's office, 2 people had been burgled and one hijacked in his Mercedes at gunpoint. All in the space of 3 days.
My father has decided to get a gun; the razor wire has been beefed up and security measures around the house generally tightened up.

More newsworthy things have happened - like actually going and seeing stuff.

For most of July, apart from the last 2 weeks, I worked at Standard Bank. And getting paid without a work visa... I guess they know all the loopholes. Not an awful lot of money, but in South Africa R15 an hour is pretty decent pay for a temp, I'd imagine. Shame I have to get to work for 8 in the morning... what ever happened to 9-5 jobs?! Officially the day ends at 4:30, but since my dad doesn't leave until at least 6:30. I usually end up working longer to keep from being bored, unless it's just too darned boring (like Data Entry), in which case I just go up and do work for my dad. Which is at least a change from data entry :). I then took that two weeks off to tour around South Africa with a friend from London, and after that, finished off my 5 week contract with 2 weeks at the beginning of August.
The job was pretty boring much of the time and mainly involved data entry - which I have repeatedly sworn to myself I would never ever do ever again after typing out all the fishing records for the Shetland Islands for like 5 years...
but I digress.

Get a browser wot supports piccies....


<GRATUITOUS MEERCAT PICTURE (Sorry these guys are cool)

I went on a 3 night trip to the Kruger National Park with a mate from the UK which cost 665 Rand including 2 meals a day (brekkie and supper) and camping fees. Probably the most excellent trip I've ever been on. And at 87 quid... 1 night was spent at a private game reserve (Moholoholo Game Reserve - Swazi for ‘the great one') on the way to the Kruger; this was after a day of driving through the very beautiful (And very different from European scenery) Eastern Transvaal - or as it is now called Mpumalanga(!) The feature that makes this area so scenically beautiful is the Northern part of the Drakensburg Escarpment. This part of it is more cliffs than mountains - making for impressive views, waterfalls and gorges. (Further south (near and in Lesotho, they are definitely mountainous - Thabana-Ntlenyana 3483m - the highest peak in southern Africa (south of Kilimanjaro 5895m). Lesotho has the highest lowest point of any country of any country in the world - an apt tourist slogan - the ‘Kingdom in the sky'.) Check out some pictures if you want - they're not mine as I don't have a camera. 3 rondavels -but you'll have to wait a day or so for this; still trying to find decent piccies. (ones with a border can be enlarged by clicking on them).

Supper was a Braai - Steak and Sausages, and with salad and Pap - like mashed potato except 20 times more unappetisingly flavourless and stodgy as hell. Its also revoltingly glutinous- you have to cut it with a knife. Oh, and it isn't potato. It's maize. It is made vaguely edible by liberal application of a tomato sauce- rather a nice one this time, actually; it was much nicer than the last time I ate the stuff (at the Carnivore, see above).

Before you get the wrong impression, it was really a very nice meal overall.

In the morning, we went on an EARLY game walk in this reserve (there are no large predators there) and saw a few types of antelope, learnt some botany, watched the Canadian make tracks for Sean (one of our guides) to interpret beside real ones... none them had him fooled. Mainly due to 9 noisy French kids, we didn't see very much, but it was a rather nice and interesting walk anyway.

After breakfast at 8am, we packed and went to a nearby Wildlife Rehabilitation centre (in fact, it was on another part of the same reserve). The highlight was being licked by a lion.
It was only an 8 month old cub, fortunately, but it acted just like an overgrown kitten - one that weight over 30kgs... It certainly knew what to do with North Americans- it twice made play charges at the Canadian in our party- the first time having a nice chew on his neck - no marks!!! The second time, it crouched down and ran at him. It put its front legs round his waist and then play chewed on his back. Not expecting this, and understandably agitated the Canadian pulled away and sensing fear it gripped tighter - leaving a nice souvenir - both as holes in his T-shirt and as a wound that would become quite a nice scar. Just what you want to take back from Africa to show your mates! Oh, and a vulture decided to have a go too (this was before the lion)- while he was holding it (the Vulture), its head went up his T-shirt sleeve and had a quick nip of his upper arm... These beasties all also looked quite interested in a small child as the next meal, as did the lion cub. His parents were wise to keep him close to them- you could see the lion tense to charge every time he left the ‘protection' of the Group.

After this, we continued on to the Kruger National Park. (Biggest in South Africa- about the same size as Wales). We arrived at the Orpen Gate around 1 and had lunch (as well as booking a night game drive). Then we went on to the rest camp we were staying at, dropped off the trailer and went on a game drive. Its incredible how quickly you get used to (and indifferent to) animals - especially Impala. Jeez, some people even took PHOTOS of them - (At the beginning, before they had seen billions of them). That night, we went on a night game drive, this time in a HUGE Safari Truck owned by the National Parks Board and driven by one of the park rangers. Another ‘incident' involving the Canadian - seeing the perfect photo opportunity of an African Sunset, which needed to be framed just right by a tree asked the ranger to go back and forwards several times, until the shot was just right, and then snapped away with a rather nifty Nikon. And I'll admit, if it came out, it will be a nice photo. Lots of laughs from the occupants of the vehicle, although I'm not too sure about the ranger... One interesting thing (apart from (briefly) seeing several nocturnal animals (Civets, Genets, Bushbabys etc.) was being mock charged several times by an Elephant. A large bull. Apparently, this same bull had actually charged the same ranger (in a smaller vehicle) a few weeks before. Interestingly, it managed to ‘creep' up on us; it nonchalantly strolled across the road behind us, hid behind some thick thorn bushes and the emerged in a ‘threat' display in front of us. Definitely some intelligence there. When we eventually moved of, it followed us. Sitting in the back, I was somewhat concerned about the thing charging me, so I kept an eye, well both, really, on it. As did everyone else. (There was no metal plate between me and it- just the seat back). There was even a Boomslang snake up a tree- very venomous if they can actually bite you; (they have very small mouths, and are back fanged). They were even thought to be non-venomous until a keeper in London Zoo was bitten and killed by one.
We even got 1,000,000 candle searchlights to play with. These things are serious light sources. And conveniently, the animal's eyes glow in the dark, making it pretty easy to spot them, even in heavy bushes. Just over half way through the trip, we stopped and got out (!) of the truck at a waterhole (complete with resident Hippo and at least one croc, which we had seen earlier in the day). Most amazing was the sky. With no moon and miles from the nearest light source (even though at relatively low altitude) the stars were so bright that you could even make out the Milky Way as 2 distinct lighter bands directly overhead and even make out individual stars in the bands. Here we were told several interesting things what people and animals had gotten up to. One of them was the result of a Rhino charging the very same vehicle we were travelling in - It knocked the passenger side door of the driver's compartment all the way into the middle of the vehicle - an impressive feat.
Supper was Chicken with some sort of veggies and potatoes. Chicken, not surprisingly done on the Braai. Rather interesting were the companions we had - two hyenas lurking just outside the fence. Great! I'd wanted to see hyenas all day and these were REALLY close.
The night was spent in a tent.
The next morning we set off early after packing up the camp. We drove through the bush doing the usual things - groaning at impala, and staring at lion shaped rock - which I have an uncanny knack of dismissing (correctly) very quickly, especially with binoculars, when every one else is fooled, or uncertain. We (or rather the others, stared at one rock for 10 minutes, waiting for it to move - it was in the shade, underneath a bush, and could, I suppose, have looked like a lion's hindquarters. While everyone else was intently examining the rock I was looking at the surrounding bush for anything more interesting, having already had a butchers at it through binoculars.
At 10:30 we stopped at a bush camp for brekkie - no fences, so anything could have walked into the camp. Bacon, Eggs and Toast. Done on gas fired barbeque things (provided free of charge). (Please note all previous barbecuing has been done over wood!). The camp was full of birds. I think it probably matches Trafalgar Square, but with Hornbills and Glossy Starlings instead of pigeons. Oh, and of course no fountains or Nelson's column...
Later that day, we ended up on top of an escarpment with a commanding view of the plain below. Inspection of the shade below the Acacia trees revealed lots of Wildebeest. And well over a kilometer away, Sean - nuff respect - managed to spot a rhino under a tree. I could only make it out as an indistinct blob, but it was rhino shaped, with horns, so it wasn't a rock; plus it moved.

That night (the last) the meal was potjiekos- a stew made in the aforementioned potjie on a wood fire, and rice. It was so nice that some people had the leftovers for breakfast the next day, very slightly warmed on the embers still left from the night before. The Canadian even took down the recipe in his Journal (quite full, already having traveled through SE Asia for 6 months).
On the last day, we went for a game drive (before breakfast) and managed to see the previously elusive lion - only one - and two Rhino- this time much closer. (And, of course, lots of impala).
In fact, the only one of the ‘Big Five' we didn't see in the Kruger was a Leopard, but we had seen one in the wildlife rehabilitation center (which doesn't really count, as it comes when called, but, hey it's a Leopard all the same). And we saw dozens of the smaller Denizens of the park, but I won't bother with a listing.
We shall all miss the Canadian, because he was certainly good for a laugh!

Next, we thought we'd try ‘Durbs' - Durban. This is the biggest seaside resort town as well as a major port. We arrived on Sunday afternoon. On the journey (past Lesotho) we passed more of the mountain scenery mentioned previously. On the journey, we passed a road sign proclaiming the number of accident free days along probably the worst road in South Africa for accidents- the main road into Durban from the Drakensberg- which is STEEP (downwards) and very windy. It also is the worst place for sudden banks of fog. Matched with the reckless driving of the South Africans, it's bound to cause trouble. When we passed it, the sign proudly reported that 4 whole days had gone by without incident... and the driver informed us that this was an unusually high number.

We arrived in beautiful sunshine, hot weather and a fair bit of humidity. And spent the next three days in overcast or rainy weather... so much for a lying on the beach type holiday. Anyway, it allowed us ample time to explore the rest of Durban. Of which there isn't really a lot, and 3 days in bad weather does not give you a good impression of Durban. And the fact that it was the middle of winter in the middle of the week didn't help matters either. So I'll have to check it out in better weather some other time. However it did allow me to visit the Natal Sharks Board in Umhlanga Rocks. Well, actually a km outside of the town up what the guide book described as a steep hill. A lie if you live in Bangor; it was just very long, with a fair gradient, but nothing too bad. As this is what I had most wanted to do in South Africa I was well impressed that I actually managed to get myself there, as it is 15 km's from Durban, and public transport being what it is over there... We eventually decided to take the Umhlanga Express which was a minibus. On hearing this, we were filled with dread, as we had heard minibuses were a super dodgy way of travelling (the are almost exclusively used and run by blacks). Suitably divested of valuables, we were surprised to find that it was operated by a white man and mainly seemed to cater for OAP's (Umhlanga is a retirement town!) going back and forth from Durban. Phew!!! But, alas, no street cred for having braved a ‘proper' minibus taxi...
Due to the timetable of the bus service, we caught the noon bus to get there in time for the 2:00pm show and dissection. We finally arrived, braving the vagaries of public transport and the subsequent walk at 1:00PM and spent the next hour going around the museum looking at all the displays as slowly as possible. There is not enough material there to occupy a whole hour, but we managed it... somehow. The wait was well worthwhile. The 1/2 hour A.V. presentation was pretty impressive for what is essentially a research and protection (they're in charge of the shark nets - which I was astonished to find were NOT physical barriers, but rather, fishing devices, as there are gaps in the nets... Oh, I feel safe now :( I wonder if all those surfers in Durban, rather stupidly surfing at dusk (the best time, statistically speaking, to get eaten by a shark) knew this. I doubt it. But then they're surfers...
Then we got to watch a shark being dissected. Much nicer, having dissections done by someone else, (rather than your own feeble efforts). They have BIG livers... (up to 1/3 of their body weight).

We had to go back to Jo'burg via Swaziland. We had booked a hotel in the capital, Mbabane, but on getting to Swaziland, we discovered that the bus was not going to Mbabane, even though that's what all the tickets, timetables etc. informed us was the case. But no to worry, as we stayed in a youth hostel in a game reserve (possibly the only one in Swaziland, which is a tiny country). Not being bothered to cook, we opted to be driven to the main camp to eat at a restaurant. We chose the traditional barbecue which consisted of pap, salad, sausage and Wildebeest, Oh, and apparently some Impala but I don't recall that. The wildebeest was very tough, and the meal was overall quite disappointing, in my opinion. And we got charged R20 each for the privilege of being driven there and back... However, the settings of the eatery would have been great providing one of the following conditions were met: either daylight or floodlighting; it overlooked a hippo pool with big windows; unfortunately it was pitch black and you couldn't see anything. Not even a reflection of light from the lights inside. There were a few Nyala walking through the camp when we arrived. I'll have to go back some time, as you can take walks through the park, the only danger being Ostriches (a notice advising actions to be taken if attacked was pinned up prominently) - (rather interestingly, I seem to remember from when I was here at the age of 7 being told at an Ostrich farm that a well aimed full force kick from a male can leave a hole in the metal cladding of a coach or bus...) and Hippos (making sure you are home before they get their nocturnal behinds out of the water to forage). Back to Jo'burg on Thursday night in order for my friend to get a plane on Friday.(1st August).

If you're English at the current exchange rate you are LOADED with cash. (7.62 Rand to the pound at one point). Check this student friendly pricing out: spirit measures, 50p (R3) ‘stubby' beers also R3. (about 250-300ml) they don't do pints here in most places. But there is usually more alcohol- the lowest are like 4% and that's for a ‘lite' beer... Accommodation in youth hostels varies from 20 to 35 Rand a night. A meal for 2 in a beachfront Chinese under 13 quid including drinks. And apparently prices have doubled over the past few years. Another illustration of how weird this country really is: My sister's best friend's brother (!) and the other people living in their student house hired a maid to do the washing, because it's cheaper than going to the launderette or buying a washing machine (plus maids can do other jobs). And these guys are students. Sheesh!!!

If this country had no problems with crime (so you could, for instance walk down the street without looking for the nearest bolt hole in case you get chased/threatened (Or in Johannesburg not walking anywhere!!)) it would be the best holiday destination on the planet. So long as you aren't looking for great night life; you have to have a car in Johannesburg to get anywhere and that's the only place in the whole country with any night life whatsoever. (i.e. clubs and that kind of thing).
But for people interested in the outdoors it offers a lot. The old tourist motto used to be ‘A world in one country', and thanks to the unique factors of South Africa's position, its varying altitude and the presence of warm and cold currents, it truly is. Also getting somewhat inebriated is easy (and cheap) ... this seems to form a major part of what some people deem to be a ‘good holiday'...

We (me and my parents and one of my 2 sisters) just did a trip whichI had thought would be a trip to Cape Town for 9 days, and a trip along the Garden Route (a scenic drive of a couple of 100 kms, mostly near to the coast). But we also visited Namaqualand and a lot of other places; basically a round trip of 4,500 km in 9 days! More of that when I get the chance, but to meet my tuesday deadline I set myself, i'll release this before it's really finished.

I plan to elaborate a bit more and get more pictures, so come back in a while (I'll put a notice up when I've actually done something on the What's new page).

OK here's the Namaqualand stuff!

The first day, we drove to Kimberley. This town's claim to fame is Diamond Mining - and for good reason. The largest man made hole on earth apparently is in this town. Simply known as ‘The Big Hole' it had an absolutely ridiculous amount of rock and earth removed from it mostly by hand. I think it was something like 28,000,000 tonnes. For 1 tonne of Diamonds. It is therefore a very large hole... You can't even see all of it as there is something like 1-200 metres of water at the bottom... The hole and the surrounding museum are about the only things in Kimberley worth a look, really.

We stayed at the Kimberley Club, which is apparently on of the most famous Gentleman's Clubs in South Africa. Pretty decent place actually. My napkin had a hole in it though. Quite expensive to stay the night, I'd imagine. My Claim To Fame: I've been a member... For a day!

After this, we continued cross country to a place called Springbok, passing through a place called Pofadder, which is something of a South African Timbuktu - i.e. the middle of nowhere! We stayed overnight in Springbok, and ate at a hotel in town which had a pretty impressive collection of minerals in the ‘foyer'. There was also a restaurant there, were we ate. Not exactly high class, more like an American Diner really. We stayed at another hotel just down the road.

The whole town had a feeling somewhat like a wild west town really. The only money they really get is the tourists which only come for a month, if that to see one of the great natural wonders of the world- The Flowers of Namaqualand. It's something surprisingly few South Africans have seen - most saying "Oh, we must go before we die".

Basically, this region of the country is semi arid desert. But when the rains come, the entire ground is carpeted in flowers as far as the eye can see. It really is impossible to describe without pictures, and they's have to be pretty big to convey the vastness of these fields of flowers! Perhaps, this would be a good subject for an IMAX film? Anyway, they've been the subject of a lot of natural history films on TV- so you might well have seen them.

But for me, far more impressive than these flowers which were little more that annuals - they grow, flower and set seed in under a month, were the more permanent residents of this utterly inhospitable terrain. These are the succulent plants. They are absolutely fascinating. The incredibly strange shapes they grow into really have to be seen! I was rather taken by the Lithops plants which are called ‘stone plants' - they really do look like stones, and they're so small you'd normally not see them unless you look very closely. Their natural habitat is scree slopes, where they'd blend in beautifully! An incredible array of these plants (the succulents, not just Lithops) survive in this area, even though throughout most of the year the region is little other than a desert, with rain falling only a few times a year - usually in the space of a year around about August. During the rest of the year the temperatures are extremely high and with no rainfall, it's incredible that anything can survive. But they do and they thrive. Incedentally, South Africa is one of the most florally diverse countries in the world, with the Cape Fynbos being particularly of interest to botanists. But give me the succulents of Namaqualand any day!

We slowly wound our way down to Van Rhynsdorp, going along numerous dirt roads in search of the best flowers. Along one, we came close to breaking an axle, where the road dipped to go under a railway track; you could see water at the bottom of the ‘ditch' - I would have slowed down a lot not knowing the depth of the water. I even had a bad premonition about it, but no, my dad ploughed on at 30, and WHAM! We smacked into the side of a humungous pothole. My dad was not amused and gave up on that road. He gets very stressed out whenever we go along anything other than tarmac in his precious Volvo 850 estate. And says we need a 4x4 everytime when we come back from somewhere, and then says we don't really a few months down the road... Every damn time... Anyway I digress.

Eventually we reach Van Rhynsdorp, and go to the place my mother had booked. Had they heard of us? Nope. And they were full as well... They were really nice people and very apologetic about the whole incident. Even gave us free drinks while we waited for them to arrange alternative accomodation. Eventually they found some, and off we went. We arrived and it turns out the people we are staying with are Afrikaans speaking with very little English... And none of us spoke any Afrikaans!!! So, we just about got along on their limited English.

We ate that night in a restaurant next to a Shell garage; the waitress didn't speak very much English either! I decided we had stumbled across an English black hole in Van Rhynsdorp... Not really surprising, seeing as most people speaking English as a first language are in Gauteng (i.e. the province around Johannesburg) or in the Cape (i.e. Cape Town especially). But many (White) South Africans still speak Afrikaans as a first language and English as a second...

In the morning, I noticed in the Lonely Planet Guide that Van Rhynsdorp had a succulent nursery. I insisted we went, and it was amazing. All these plants that would have taken you days to find were right there to look at and even buy! So, of course I did buy a few Lithops and a number of other plants as well. They spent most of the rest of the trip in a paper bag, and they weren't too happy about that especially since they had bare roots. Eventually I bought a small pot and crammed them all in there (It was somewhere near Plettenberg Bay that I got the pot). Some of them are still alive in a much bigger pot back in Johannesburg, four months later. As are most of the plants in the much more expensive planter which my parents bought. They were amazingly cheap really, and if you ever go anywhere near Van Rhynsdorp I strongly recommend a visit to it!

On we travelled to Cape Town leaving behind Namaqualand, somewhere that deserves a much longer trip, a 4x4 and a number of serious walks.

We arrived in Cape Town in the pouring rain,and eventually found the place we had arranged a self catering house with. (Incedentally it was beautifully furnished). I can't for the life of me remember who we booked it through, but it's a brochure full of fairly exclusive holiday getaways. Anyway, Cape Town is supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it probably is. Not really for the architecture, which isn't all that great, apart from some of it; most is fairly modern hi-rise buildings. The beauty lies in its setting, probably unrivalled anywhere in the world. All around it lie the mountains, of which Table Mountain is only one, and before it lies the Ocean.

We stayed Cape Town for two nights.

One of the days we went to Kirstenbosch, which is the famous botanic gardens in Cape Town, and it is well worth a visit. When we went, most of the Proteas were in bloom and they are very attractive flowers. The gardens themselves are situated on the lower slopes of Table Mountain on land bequeathed to the nation by Cecil Rhodes. He has a memorial overlooking Cape Town which surveys all of the city, the ‘Cape Flats' and also has stunning views of all the mountains. But back to Kirstenbosch. It has a brand new succulent house, so of course I went and had a look see at that! It's claim to fame is that it has the southernmost Baobab tree in the world in it. Incidentally, Cream of Tartar is made from Baobab seeds/seed pods. If you want more on Kirstenbosch I'm sure any tourist leaflets will mention it!

We also visited the Two Oceans Aquarium on the V&A Waterfront, which is redeveloped dockland, with a wide range of shops and restaurants etc. Me and aquariums are like bees and honey... The most impressive thing in there was a huge circular tank full of pelagic shoaling fish and at the bottom some rays (one of them was absolutely massive - it must have had about a 10 foot ‘wingspan') and a number of ‘Raggies' - Sandtiger Sharks (Eugomphodus taurus). Two divers got in there and fed the fish, one equipped with a radio, which sounded awful as it was built into his regulator. Incedentally, at one point the huge ray I mentioned earlier practically covered him when trying to get food. The raggies were mildly interested in eating, but since it was not a raggie feeding day they were persuaded to move along with a shark billy - basically a big stick. I sure wouldn't like that job, ta very much!

Incidentally, they have just opened that tank for dives to paying customers; they say it will help to quell the myths surrounding shark attacks - I reckon most people going in there will be doing it to show how ‘hard' they are...

Elsewhere they had a pretty nifty microscope connected to a tv camera - far better than anything they have in the School of Ocean Sciences over here. Ihung around there for ages, as it was pretty interesting all the stuff they had to put under it. Eventually the demonstrator asked me if I'd like a go! I sure would! I stayed there until closing time playing with it, which was brilliant. They even had something there on display that none of the staff could work out - and it certainly wasn't in any of the guide books. It was some kind of arthropod - I think, it was absolutely minute and lived in a tube. It occasionally came out and went back in in about 0.5 seconds flat... It looked vaguely shrimp like but I certainly wouldn't like to commit myself to that! The tube was less than ½ amillimeter long, so you can imagine how hard this thing was to see, even with the microscope. I wish I had one of those to use in my practicals! It would sure save a lot of eyestrain! I went behind the scenes very briefly to put the display organisms back in tanks to recover from being in containers all day being warmed up by the lights.

The whole aquarium is quite impressive and far better than the one in Durban.

That was a pretty memorable day!

Another thing we did in Cape Town was to go to the IMAX cinema and watched a film about Whales, which was really very impressive as the screen is so huge and the sound system equally as impressive. IMAX is a truly massive film format; it almost fills your peripheral vision, which gives an incredible sense of being there; you actually get vertigo when you look over a cliff; when you're zooming around in a plane you almost feel motion sick sometimes!

After Cape Town, we continued our way along the coast to the east eventually reaching Hermanus, a place now famous for the frequency of whale sightings; indeed, they are present for several weeks around that time of the year. The dominant species is the Southern Right Whale, a few others sometimes being seen. We spotted a few way out in the bay; you really needed binoculars to see them, but it was nice to see some whales first hand - even if they were a mile away! The whole tourist economy of this town is driven by the whales; there's little else there, and generally all people do all day is watch the whales. It is illegal to get within 300 meters of a whale in South Africa and it carries severe penalties if you do!

After having lunch in Hermanus, we travelled on to Mossel Bay and spent a night in a cheesy little hotel and ate at a Milky Lane - Not a good place to try to get food; all they do is pretty nasty food with cheese and cream cheese in them; almost guaranteed to make you sick or at least feel ill... But at least they can do desserts. Mossel Bay has left no real lasting impressions!

The next two days we suffered from pretty nasty weather...

After we left Mossel Bay, we headed inland to Oudtshoorn (I think that's how it's spelt). The area is famous for ostrich farming, and the area is covered in Ostrich farms; during the 1920's a fashion fad for ostrich feathers for adorning clothes and such like made many millionares, the so called ‘Ostrich barons', who built huge ostentations ‘palaces' - most of which are now decaying and abandoned as they are too expensive to maintain. We stopped briefly at an ostrich farm (only a very small one) to get a few eggs (empty ones- you can make an omlette for an appreciable number of people out of one ostrich egg!), as my mother wanted them to ‘decoupage'. We saw the incubating shed which had 2 huge incubators in - they were the size of industrial catering freezers. I don't remember how many eggs each one held, but it was an awful lot!

There are large farms in the area that act as tourist attractions as well, with things like ostrich rides/races, which sound like fun, but we didn't visit one of these.

After that, we headed for the Cango Caves. Apparently they're world famous, and justifiably so; they are incredible; one of the caverns is so big they used to hold classical music concerts in it for several hundred people! There were several possible tours; one was a very short one which only showed you the 2 largest caverns; the intermediate one showed you all the caverns basically until the going got tought - i.e. it stopped before you had to crawl/squeeze your way through openings for over an hour... Which I and my sister wanted to do, but my parents didn't so we got stuck with the shorter tour.

Next time I'm in the area I'm doing the longer tour!

After that (at which time the weather was still lovely)we headed back towards the ocean and Plettenberg Bay, which is another of the innumerable holiday towns along the coast of South Africa, but this is one of the more famous ones.

I had planned to go diving here, but events conspired against this... i.e. the weather which had turned absolutely atrocious by the time we got there - windy, probably gail force - and raining.

We sat in the car by the beach watching the sea, as there were also supposed to be whales in this area. All of a sudden this whale started jumping out of the water in front of the car. My dad swore it was an Orca (Killer Whale), but as I hardly saw it (someone's head kept getting in the way - as did the windscreen which was constantly covered in a sheet of water from the rain), so I wouldn't like to pass comment.

Eventually we drove off to the place we were staying for the next two days, which was a caravan park which had a number of huts in it and we stayed in one - it was more of a log cabin really with a kitchen and lounge/dining room area as well as a bedroom.

We decided to go on a walk along the beach in the rain. Oh how nice was that? Not very as it was very windy and sand was flying everywhere and you got coated in spray from the sea, so you end up sticky as well as wet from the rain and frozen from the wind chill. Well, it was winter, after all!

We found a nice restaurant in the town and ate there both nights; it was very popular so it must have been good!

The next day the weather wasn't much good either, but we went to the Tsitsikamma National Park which has some of the world's tallest trees in it - The Outenquia yellowood. It was a pretty interesting place, shame about the rain and wind! Once we got under the cover of the trees it was much nicer; there were frogs or insects in the trees making loads of noise, plus that from the birds. The whole path was covered in a wooden boardwalk which was extremely slippery, every so often there was a break in the trees and you could see the sea, and usually the cliff you were standing next to... Eventually we reached what was essentially a rope bridge - although made out of steel cables. Notices were plastered everywhere saying its use was at your own risk and that bouncing on the bridge was absolutely forbidden. So eventually I ventured out along it after allowing some other people to ‘risk it' first. They survived. So it was my turn. So I crossed it and when I got to the other side turned around and went back. This time stepping heavily and regularly - almost marching. This made the bridge sway up and down quite seriously, and practically launched you into the air every so often. This was quite fun and really worried my parents and sister when they tried to cross it.

Eventually I though I better not stress the bridge out too much, as after all it was a good 30 feet to the water which was a river in storm flow going straight out to sea...

This bit still needs finishing!


James Stapley
james@jamesstapley.com

Copyright © 1997 James Stapley Published 23/9/1997

Please also visit my much more recent (i.e. 4 years more recent (has it really been that long???!!!)) page I wrote for photo.net - A Photographer's guide to South Africa.