Cape Town, Mossel Bay & Richards Bay
TR Robertson — Upon arrival to Cape Town, Carolyn and I, had arranged a quick 4 hour tour of Cape Town prior to boarding the ship for our 15 day cruise around the tip of South Africa. Cape Town is Africa’s most popular tourist destination and a popular destination for South Africans on vacation. We had arrived at the tail end of the vacation period.
Cape Town is home to the National Parliament and many governmental offices. Forbes magazine has called Cape Town one of the most beautiful cities in the world and National Geographic has listed Cape Town as one of the most iconic cities on the planet and “Places of a Lifetime”. Cape Town was originally developed by the Dutch East India Company as a supplying station for Dutch ships sailing east. The first permanent settlement was established in 1652 by Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck.
Our tour guide, from Springbok Tours, took us to the entrance area of the Table Mountain Cableway in Table Mountain National Park. Table Mountain is at least 6 times older than the Himalayas. These large gondolas ascend the 3,558 height of Table Mountain in 5 minutes. The cable cars were built by the Swiss and feature a rotating floor giving everyone on the cable car a panoramic view of Cape Town and beyond. The cliffs and upper area of Table Mountain, so named for its flat surface at the top, are home to over 2,285 species of plants and fauna. Table Mountain was named by a Portuguese navigator, Antonio de Saldanha in the 1600’s. Table Mountain has Devil’s Peak on the east and Lion’s Head Peak on the west with a number of hiking trails leading to the top. Rock climbers can be seen ascending Table Mountain as the cable car reaches the top. Over 27 million people have visited Table Mountain since 1929, when the first cable car was built to take visitors to the top. The day we were there it was chilly, but clear. In a moment’s notice, clouds roll in and the wind picks up. The clouds roll over the top in what is called a “table cloth” of clouds. We walked around the paths and took photos from the rock walls that have been constructed. We also made a stop, after leaving Table Mountain, at Lion’s Head Peak for a different view of the city.
After our visit to Table Mountain we drove down into the city. Our guide made a quick stop in an area he referred to as Muslim town. This colorful area was home to a number of Cape Town citizens of the Muslim faith, but our guide said there was some issues building in this area as a number of non-Muslims are moving into the area bringing in a bigger variety of restaurants and businesses. He said there was a protest building against what the people living in this area see as an encroachment on their way of life. Racial, religious and cultural differences still exist in Cape Town.
We drove through the city and took in the Victorian styled government buildings and a quick stop at a huge shopping center, called North Wharf Square, to purchase a Springbok’s National Rugby team shirt for my son Chris, and we were back at the terminal building for our Cruise ships. The ship departed at 5 pm, but we would be back in Cape Town at the end of the cruise for a chance to see more of this city, the surrounding area and a trip to the southernmost point of the continent and a trip to one of the earliest wineries ever established.
Our first stop on the cruise would be Mossel Bay, a coastal village along the east coast. This area is part of the “Garden Route”, so named because of the ecologically diverse vegetation along the coast. Mossel Bay is a holiday town and a popular winter retreat. The area was discovered by Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias in 1488. Dutch navigator Paulus van Caerden renamed the area Mossel Bay after the mussels he and his crew discovered in the bay. One interesting place to visit in Mossel Bay is the Post Office, estimated to be over 800 years old. In the museum associated with the Post Office is the milkwood tree that sailors are reported to have put letters in that they wanted delivered to loved ones, depending on whether they were headed east toward the Far East or west toward Europe. The Bartholomew Dias Museum has a full sized replica of Dias caravel (small sailing ship). After tendering in to the dock, we boarded buses to go to our first tour from the ship. Our first stop was the Botlierskop Game Reserve. A short drive out of town took us to a beautiful building housing a gift shop, viewing platform, small restaurant and a well-designed entrance area for boarding the specially designed open air vehicles that would take us around the reserve. Botlierskop is home to over 200 species of birds as well as hippos, rhinos, lions, buffalos, elephants, springbok, giraffes, black impalas and more. Our guide took us on a two hour bumpy trip around the reserve. What I will remember most is seeing a collection of 4 white rhinos laying under a tree. Huge creatures with their horns intact. Rhino horns are extremely valuable and used illegally by the Far East, primarily, with the bizarre belief that ground up the horn makes a man more virile. All of the game reserves have armed guards and surveillance to protect the animals. As we left to return to the ship I picked up brochures that indicated Mossel Bay is one of the harbors offering Great White Shark viewing experiences and is also home to the World’s first Ostrich farm – Highgate. Ostriches are raised for their eggs, feathers and meat. Back at the Nautica, we set sail for an overnight cruise to our next stop – Richards Bay.
Richards Bay was established in 1879 by Sir Frederick Richards. The town has quickly become a north coast holiday destination, enjoying summer climate all year round. The town boasts the country’s largest harbor and offers the visitor entrance to Zululand. For our tour to Zululand we had a private tour, a van holding 6 people and our guide. We drove for about 45 minutes, getting to see a lot of the countryside. Our guide gave us a little background about the Zulu culture, as he is a Zulu. He said traditionally, Zulu men take many wives, each wife costing 11 cows, less if the woman had been married before. In today’s culture, Zulu men aren’t taking as many wives due to the cost of cows, about $1,000 each. Our guide only has one wife and a child. Wedding ceremonies take 3 days, with lots of drinking of specially made Zulu beer. Zulu death rituals are also a bit unusual. The family can hire moaners and criers to grieve over the body. When we reached the Zulu village, a recreation of a traditional Zulu village, we were greeted and led in by a guide. We were told to pick a stone and toss it on a large rock pile, if it stuck on top, we would have good luck. We were shown the making of Zulu beer, Zulu spears and shields and taken into a Zulu court yard with traditional fencing and beehive houses. Our group then entered a large house, called the Grandmothers House. Here we were treated to a series of traditional Zulu dances and songs. Most of the dances are done by the men. The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa, some 10-12 million. The Zulu were united by Shaka Zulu in 1818 when he united and defeated opposing tribes. Our trip to the Zulu village ended with a very nice lunch.
Back to the ship and on to our next stop. In Part 3 we will visit Maputo Mozambique, Durban and East London South Africa where you will hear about different game reserves and a true third world country.