Our next day was spent driving up the scenic coast. Obviously from the name Cape Town, we were driving along the coastal cape filled with beach views. It was crazy to drive through the coast and picture where we were on a map, so far from home at the tip of Africa. We made a quick stop for the beach, including a lunch with a watery view, and then a trip to the reason I booked this trip – Boulders Penguin Colony.
This residential beach area is home to a colony of roughly 3000 penguins that can be seen from a very close range. Of the 1.5 million African Penguin population estimated in 1910, only about 10% remained at the end of the 20th century. The colony started from 2 breeding pairs in 1982, and now is home to thousands. The breed (Spheniscus demersus), which is actually an endangered species, was first referred to as Jackass Penguins, due to their donkey-like sounds. Now the penguins have been renamed to African Penguins, as they are the only penguin species that breeds in Africa. As many of you know penguins are my absolute favorite animal so being this close to them was a dream come true. Please enjoy just a few of the thousand photos I took that day.
The next day was wine country day. Before we got started on our wine tours, our amazing Cape Town driver Quinton made a pit stop at Drakenstein Correctional Centre, where Nelson Mandella spent the last part of his imprisonment for campaigning against apartheid. The front of the prison now hosts a statue of Mandela titled the “Long Walk to Freedom Statue.” It was unveiled on August 21, 2008 in the presence of Mandela on his 90th birthday.
Our second stop was the town of Franschhoek, which is Afrikaans for “French Corner,” and one of the oldest towns in South Africa. It is part of the Stellenbosch Municipality. Franschhoek’s original inhabitants are the Khoisan peoples, which are now mainly extinct. Louis XIV banned Protestantism in France in 1685, which caused hundreds of French Huguenots to flee their country in pursuit of religious freedom. Tale as old as time. In 1688, the French Huguenots arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and were given the Franschhoek Valley to settle. Of course the French went ahead and made some of the best wine in this region that was perfectly located for wineries.
The region is also known as the City of Oak, due to its vast amount of oak trees. The founder of Stellenbosch, Simon van der Stel, initiated the planting of oak trees in Stellenbosch. He had an interest in botany and commissioned the planting of around twelve thousand European oak trees in 1687. Also, he made it a stipulation that everyone living in Stellenbosch had to plant trees on their property. There are now laws in place that state you cannot cut down one of these historic oak trees without government permission. Talk about some tree huggers who love wine. We cannot help but to stan.
Our stops included Le Lude (sparkling wines), Boschendal, and Hidden Valley Winery. This included a wonderful picnic lunch at Boschendal and of course a tipsy van ride home filled with classic sing a longs such as Africa, Life is a Highway, and Goodbye Earl. Thank you Quinton for being such a trooper.
We also made a special stop in Stellenbosch at our tour leader’s mothers shop, Stellenbosch Crafts Alive. The mission focuses on empowering local crafts producers through training and mentorship to become sustainable entrepreneurs. You can buy a cup of coffee and some local art at the shop, where proceeds go back to helping the community. I got myself a wonderful crochet penguin pin and patchwork notebook (I know very on brand for me). If you want to learn more you can visit their site: https://www.craftsalive.org/. Also make sure to go follow them on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stellenboschcraftsalive/
On our drive back to Cape Town for the evening, we passed a multitude of “Informal Settlements.” I was unable to grab any pictures that captured it since we were driving fast, but definitely wanted to touch on the subject. These communities are at the outskirts of Cape Town and show the remnants of past policies and apartheid. According to IS Maps, “there are around 146,000 households in 437 informal settlement pockets in Cape Town. Many were established before democracy but are still not recognised as permanent and their residents lack occupation rights and security of tenure.” From what we could see, they were overcrowded areas full of tin roof houses and inadequate basic services such as bathrooms. I did not learn much while I was there about these communities and plan to look up more, but felt it had to be mentioned on the blog.
Our last day in Cape Town was a free day. For some reason as a group we decided the best use of our day was to go shark cage diving. South Africa, especially the Gansbaai region, is famous for its shark and whale populations. To end the year, we decided it was best to leave 2022 with the sharks. We were up at 5am and drove 2 hours to get on a tiny boat into freezing cold waters, all with the hopes of coming within inches of a shark.
The cage itself sits partially above water so that you can stay afloat and only go under once there is a shark to view. A metal bar is placed inside the cage for you to push yourself underwater using your hands. Do not go past this metal bar or else you may never see your hand again. We waited on the boat for 3 hours before seeing any sharks. Sometimes they come within minutes and other times hours. We were lucky to have seen sharks on our first boat trip out. The video below shows our new bestie, the Bronze Whaler shark, which can grow up to 3 meters long. This was honestly one of the coolest experiences and although I was terrified at first I am so happy I did this.
We got back to our hotel exhausted, but ready to dress up for New Years Eve dinner and drinks at Kloof Street House. Here I got to try ostrich and an amazing lamb. I would love to say that we danced the night away, but instead I found myself passed out from a day of sharks.
The next day we were up bright and early to make our way to safari for the rest of the trip. Until next time please enjoy this photo of me assimilating into the penguin colony (how would they know)…