Road Report #8
Leaving Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park the road is very flat, occasionally rolling, km after km of fenced grazing lands. This being winter, everything is grey-brown. The only animals we see are sheep.
A hundred km down the road we come to the town of Upington, a pretty, prosperous looking place with wide, tree-lined boulevards and lots of old Dutch Cape architecture. The local mall is so busy we have to circulate a few times to find a parking place.
Everyone seems to have money to spend here. We have lunch in a café specifically because the sign promises WIFI. Mediocre lunch and the WIFI is not working. I am nearly in tears as my first grandchild is on the verge of arriving early. When I mention this and how important it had been for me to check my email the manager invites me to use her personal computer. Which I do, thank you.
Augrabies National Park
Proceeding west from Upington we are headed towards Augrabies Falls, less than 100 km. The landscape now changes completely to one of large rock formations. I won’t call them mountains but these are some serious hills. Everywhere we look – vineyards march up and down the undulating terrain of what is called the “North Cape.” We also see a lot of big cement pads, open to the elements. Turns out these are for drying grapes into raisins, a major industry here.
At Augrabies Falls National Park we discover that we cannot get a campsite – all full. This surprised us because just that morning we’d had the fellow at Kgalagadi NP, also a SAN Park, check his computer. He could not make a reservation for us, but not to worry “There is lots of space at the campsite.” Apparently not. We are advised to head for Augrabies Lodge, a private facility just 3 km outside the gate.
This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events. The lodge has a beautiful grassy campground with lovely gardens and new ensuite ablution blocks. I asked about WIFI. No, they don’t have WIFI at the lodge but the business next door, a raisin company, has WIFI that they don’t secure and everybody uses it. So I tried and indeed, the signal was so strong I was able to enjoy long SKYPE calls with the family.
The next morning we returned to Augrabies Falls NP and our reserved campsite. The campground is open and beautiful. There are lots of dassies who seem to be very playful, chasing after each other or climbing to the very end of some highly flexible branches to get the seeds/nuts hanging there. Watching them I was constantly holding my breath, waiting for them to fall but they never do.
There were lots of pretty birds, most of whom were chased off by a pair of black starlings that claimed this campsite as their hood. There are lots of signs warning us off feeding the birds and wildlife but these two seemed determined to wait that out. When I finally brought out my lunch they got very excited and made flying lunges at the table. They were not pleased when I chased them off and settled in the bottom of the braii pit. Eventually Steve came along and "dropped" some pretzels. They knew he would :)
I had no expectations about this place. It was simply on our route so why not stop here for a night. We discover a park that is a very different and lovely place, set in the midst of gneiss rock formations that are about 400 million years old. The gneiss peels like an onion so many of the formations have become completely rounded. The peeling is a result of the extremes of temperature from 40+ deg in summer to 0 deg in winter.
The falls are the product of a 17 km chasm in the Orange River. It is now the dry season so the falls are pretty but not spectacular. But a photo display shows that in 2010 the floods came within metres of the viewing platforms and “spectacular” does not begin to describe it. “Scary” is probably a better word.
In late afternoon we follow the 25 km 2wd road that that takes us deep into the park. The views of the chasm and the unique landscape created by the gneiss formations are impressive, especially as the sun is setting.
The rocks are colourful, sparkling with secret elements. The vegetation is interesting. I am always intrigued by the interesting grasses and the beautiful flowers that creep out of these barren, rocky terrains. From this area, continuing south down the Cape, the showing of spring wildflowers is said to be spectacular. I can imagine.
The 340 km to Springbok pass quickly on a road that is
smooth and easy to drive. The terrain is quite flat and scrubby but when
we pull over for lunch at a rest area we notice the beautiful rocks. Even
the big rocks that are used by the farmers to secure the bottoms of their
are almost pure quartz crystals. If we were not flying home and needing
to consider weight I’d be packing the truck full of these things!
Towns all have a “look” to them that is immediately evident. Springbok is clean and pretty, snugged into this hilly, rocky terrain.
The shops are all tenanted and there are well tended flowers in pots everywhere we look. We picked up a few things from the Super Spar and got our leftover Namibian money changed into Rand. They only charged me 1% exchange plus .57 service charge. I had been carrying a lot more cash than I normally would because the small businesses in remote areas we were traveling through in Namibia did not accept cash.
The campground in Springbok is kind of quaint. The toilets all have home made doilies on them.
We are so glad we are following the coastal route towards Cape Town as this road has been exceptionally scenic. North of Vanrhysdorp the mountains are big, the rock formations reminding us of places like Colorado and the spectacular Monument Valley.
South of Vanrhysdorp the mountains stand back, opening into lush valleys that have been terraced into the vineyards renowned for South African Cape wines. Irrigation canals snake through the valleys while a pine-like evergreen, planted into windbreaks defines the fields. Purple sage grows wild and a little further south the citrus orchards begin, heavy with oranges.
We certainly are not feeling those tensions as we travel. We go for a walk down the main street of Citrusdal. It’s another example of dusty, impoverished rural Africa. There is a grocery store (usually Spar) and what we at home would call a “Dollar Store.” Here they call them “Crazy Stores.” They are usually owned and run by Asians and have a lot of lower quality products, from kitchen to clothing to bric a brac. I buy some socks there for 9 Rand a pair. That’s just over a dollar.
There is a PEP Store which is a clothing store, again the lower end of quality. The PEP chain is prevalent throughout southern Africa. We see a post office and a bank and a fish and chip take out. There are a few independent shops in dark alleys selling electronics or fashion. But that is about it.The campground is on the grounds of an old farm/ orchard. We are instructed to keep the gate closed because the resident horse is an elderly chap who likes to wander. The cool green landscape of the farm is in direct contrast to the town, just two streets away. It is dusty and and dry.
Locals hang out on the street, not seeming to have anything much to do other than just hanging out. They are indifferent to us – neither friendly nor hostile, simply indifferent. It’s as if we are invisible. There does not seem to be any tension in the air.
A week later we are up in the Battlefields area and an interesting young black man guides us through the Ncome Museum which presents the Zulu version of the Battle of Blood River. He is an intelligent, thoughtful young man and he keeps telling us how happy he is to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with people from elsewhere in the world. He maintains that after 10 years of black government the people no longer blame the whites for all their problems. Their frustration is with “the government.” He does not see any serious civil disturbance on the horizon.
“The children now in school, my nieces and nephews, they have no experience with apartheid. They don’t know anything about that. For the rest of us, those years are moving into the far past. It is time now that we all live together in peace. South Africa is for all Africans who live here.”
Another few weeks down the road I chat to a retired fellow who travels all over South Africa with his caravan, visiting parks. He tells me, “There are problems still to solve, but I think we are going to make it.” I think so too.
Heading south down the west coast of the Cape, past the
many miles of orange groves we veer west to the coast and stop for coffee
in Veldrif. “Cappuccino time” is one of our bad habits while
traveling. But we are not finding the little cafes and bakeries in southern
Africa that encourage that behaviour. You can buy a pie or cake in a grocery
store but the bakery/coffee shops we love are few and far between.
There are (I believe) eleven official languages in South Africa . Most of the people we meet speak both English and Afrikaans to start with but I am finding Afrikaans to be much more prevalent. It is the language I am greeted in when I walk into a store or up to a service counter in a national park. When I say that I only speak English they immediately switch but when you overhear locals talking to each other, it is usually in Afrikaans. The language has a very interesting history I won’t go into here but South Africa is the only country in the world in which Afrikaans is spoken.
Veldrif was also worth a stop because there is a wetlands area at the edge of town that is inundated by hundreds of pink flamingoes. We are on the road towards the West Coast National Park which is renowned as a wetlands bird sanctuary but we are surprised to see the flamingoes right here in town.
Good thing we stopped for a look because the only flamingoes in the park proper were few and very far away. We climbed to the top of the parks largest promontory for a view of the lagoon below. The colours of the water were stunning. The hillsides are covered in protea bushes, just now budding. They must be amazing come September. When were here ten years ago it was in the midst of protea season and I fell in love with these dinner plate-sized flowers. Not so lucky this time.
Established in1985 to preserve Langabaan Lagoon and the islands in Saldanha Bay, West Coast National Park includes salt marshes, wetlands, granite islands, dune fields, and large breeding populations of seabirds that make their home there or migrate through. There is also a lot of history in the area which is rich with fossils. The building that houses the park restaurant dates back to 1744.
Approaching Cape Town we had a great view, once again, of Table Mountain. This is an icon that is supposed to be rare to see without its “tablecloth “of clouds. When we were here ten years ago we were fortunate to ascend it under blue skies and we could again today if we chose to.
Everyone keeps telling us that the good weather will end “tomorrow” with terrible winds, serious rain squalls and unending misery. Since it was still early on this perfect blue sky day we headed directly for the Cape of Good Hope.
Between its ocean beaches and its towering mountains, Cape Town is a stunningly beautiful city. It also has a great freeway system. One each of the days we were there we traveled through the city and suburbs in what would be rush hour in North America but were never tied up in traffic.
We were very grateful for our GPS again because while these freeways make moving through a city smooth and easy if you know exactly where you are going, it’s a bummer if you screw up an exit. There is no way to just “go around the block” as you would in a city with a simple grid. So yes, we did miss an exit and yes, were so very grateful for the GPS which guided us back through the web of overlying freeways and onto our destination.
The Cape of Good Hope is a steep-sided peninsula, jutting out into the oceans. Chi chi towns like Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town cling to the cliffs, charming and picturesque. The whole scene reminds me of Monterey in San Francisco or Stanley in Hong Kong. The road winds through the town lined with expensive boutiques and galleries to one side, the turquoise ocean to the other.
These little resort towns are very congested, so winding through them takes more time than we’d figured on. We settle into a caravan park half way down the Cape in a place called Simon’s Town. Called Oatlands, the campground is terraced into the steep hillside, each site with a spectacular view. The price is just 100 R per night, including both electricity and hot showers.
All this sea air gets Steve’s appetite for fish and chips stimulated so we return to Simon’s Town for dinner at the Salty Dog. Hake is the common white fish here, making the fish and chips first class.
The fellow that checked us in at the RV Park warns us that there is a TERRIBLE storm on the way tonight with gale force winds, freezing temperatures and driving rain to hit us through the night and next day. I imagine that we’ll be thoroughly battered, exposed as we are up on the side of the hill, but we pull the quilt up over our heads and spend a peaceful night.
In the morning? Another blue sky day. We are off to the end of the Cape. It is popularly believed that the Cape Point is the most southerly point in Africa and where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet but this is not so. That distinction actually belongs to Cape Agulhas a little further east.
The Cape of Good Hope has a very rugged shoreline with
huge surf surging into its rugged shoreline.. Cormorant, gulls and sacred
ibis prance along the waterline, joining some 250 different bird species
that live on the Cape. We also saw three zebra, some eland, daisies, many
ostrich and two different herds of baboons.
Still, but not quiet because massive waves crashing over the rugged headlands are not quiet. But there are no human noises. Steve sets off to climb the cliffs to a distant viewpoint. I make a pot of coffee, sipping it on the rocks where I bask in the wonder of it all.
When it is time to return to the human reality we follow the western route up the Cape. But first we are seduced by the vendors at the park entrance gate. Most of their product is same same but we did see one set of carvings that really caught both our eyes. It was a log that had been rustically carved into a family of elephants walking each behind each other. It will be a big bother to bring home but we could not resist. In the photo Steve is examining the piece with the vendor who repeatedly kept referring to the “hidden details” of this masterpiece.
Continuing up the west coast of the cape we come on town after town clinging to the cliffs below the backside of Table Mtn. These are very expensive developments I think. The houses are modern with clean lines and modern European architecture. When we see an older home it is of the traditional Cape style architecture – a Dutch influenced home with square lines, whitewashed plaster finish and distinctive cape-style roof line.
Around and below the Cape we come to the shopping area known as the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. When we were here 10 years ago, this was a simpler development with an excellent craft market. I bought a beautiful painting here then. It still hangs in my office. And always will. It is touchingly abstract vision of women dancing.
Now the V&A is a waterfront tourist-attraction with many craft markets and galleries, kiosks selling excursions, hotels and restaurants. It is also a major shopping mall with all the usual chain stores attracting the city’s better-heeled shoppers. In the craft markets we bought a few interesting things and enjoyed coffee and a muffin – excellent – 72 R for both but the muffins were high quality multi-grain and fruit filled. So big, they actually served as dinner.
On the way out we come on a signpost indicating distances - 16,912 km to Vancouver. That is a LONG way home.
Great end to our too-short time in Cape Town. Tomorrow
we start up the world- renowned Garden Route.