Western Cape, South Africa

I’d be back visiting Australia and New Zealand as often as finances allowed, if only it wasn’t for the dreaded jet lag. But two weeks of feeling grotty, followed by another two upon returning home does somewhat dampen one’s enthusiasm.

Naval Dockyard at Simon's Town

Naval Dockyard at Simon’s Town, Cape Peninsula

And so with just a two hour time difference, yet the pull of glorious summer sun, South Africa was a bit of a no brainer as a winter destination this year.

Baboon at Cape Point

Baby baboon tucking into the pigface foliage at Cape Point

With Paul serving in the Royal Navy for many years, it’s not often we find a country that neither of us have previously visited, but South Africa was exciting on this dimension, too. By day three, we were both entirely smitten and Paul could be found head deep in rugby schedule and leave entitlement analysis, planning our next adventure.

In the hills above Stellenbosch

In the hills above Stellenbosch; this scene somehow reminded me of the Atlas Mountains in the far north of Africa, some 5,000 miles away

So what can I tell you about this extraordinary place?

Robben Island, Cape Town

Agave americana on bleak Robben Island, Cape Town

It’s hard to know where to begin. In fact my head is still in a whirl with all that we saw. I was indulged with five incredible gardens and five breathtaking hikes; I now feel quite intimately acquainted with the highly distinctive fynbos indigenous vegetation of the Cape.

Oudebosch to Harold Porter Garden Trail, Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Can you believe this is low season for fynbos wildflowers? Our fantastic guide, Gilly Louw, showing us nature’s own garden at Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Perhaps I’ll start with an overview of our two weeks, a chronological look at the areas we visited, before looking at the gardens and vegetation in more detail.

Day 1: Kirstenbosch
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Town

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Town

We commenced the trip in Cape Town, staying just a couple of minutes walk from the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. What a surprise to find it just down the road when we arrived at our guesthouse (perhaps more so for Paul, than myself)! Frequently listed as a top ten garden of the world, Kirstenbosch had been on my wish list for a very long time. So far I have filtered my photos of it down to just 68…a little more to do!

Day 2: Table Mountain
Table Mountian National Park, Cape Town

Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town

On day two we headed up Table Mountain. We thought we’d be adventurous and climb the 1,000 metres to the top, before getting the cable car back down. I’ll share more with you about how this didn’t entirely go to plan, but the summary of the day is that this was where I fell in love with South African fynbos.

Days 3 & 4: Cape Peninsula
Beaches and mountains on the Cape Peninsula

If you ignore the mountains, Bondi, anyone?

Day three saw us discover the Cape Peninsula. Some of the spectacular views reminded me of Australia, others of Greece, but every so often you were re-awoken with unmistakably African sights.

Looking out to the Cape of Good Hope

And the Cape of Good Hope doesn’t half look like Greece, to me…

I found it an incredible mix of cultures: strong influences from the Dutch, Brits and indigenous Khoisan people with additional twists from maritime traders, other African tribes, the Portuguese, indentured Indian labourers, the Hugunots (French Protestants fleeing religious persecution) and, even more sadly, slave Malays. The 11 official languages go some way to demonstrating this incredible ethnic and cultural diversity.

Hout Bay markets, Western Cape

…but the Hout Bay markets are unmistakably Africa

I did find the inequality quite confronting. Whilst social mobility is improving, you can’t help but notice a very strong correlation between colour of skin and average wealth. Some of the stories we heard about the time of Apartheid were just impossible to comprehend and there are clearly layers and layers of complexity to the situation which two weeks as a tourist leaves you entirely ill-equipped to make sense of. Yet despite an unemployment rate of over 25% today, there was not a moment when we felt either vulnerable or threatened.

The Lighthouse at Cape Point

The Lighthouse at Cape Point; perhaps it’s that deep blue sky that reminds me of Australia so much

On the contrary, we struggle to think of anywhere that we have received such a warm, friendly and genuine reception. Day after day, our expectations were exceeded, all races seemingly aligned in wanting to go that extra mile to make our holiday the best it possibly could be. Combine this with some of the best food we’ve ever had and the most spectacular natural beauty and this country really does hit the jackpot.

Days 5 & 6: Somerset West
Helderberg Nature Research, Somerset West

Helderberg Nature Reserve, Somerset West

Somerset West was hot, hot, hot but the blue skies made for lovely photos! We were taken around Helderberg Nature Reserve by a very passionate guide who indulged me with all the botanical names. We were also staying just next door to another top ten South Africa garden…so thought it rude not to pop in.

Days 7 & 8: Stellenbosch
The Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University

The Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch is all about vineyards and historic architecture. It’s the most delightful little town and actually not so very far from another very famous garden! Thank goodness for a tolerant husband.

Days 9, 10 & 11: Hermanus
Grotto Beach, Hermanus

Birthday boy Paul, on Grotto Beach, Hermanus

Hermanus has a beachside holiday town feel about it. We had one of our most relaxing days here, wandering along the beach and watching the kite surfers. This happened to be on Paul’s birthday and we stopped for a celebratory drink: Paul a Pimms and me a water. Both priced at £1.50!

Fernkloof Nature Reserve, Hermanus

Fernkloof Nature Reserve, Hermanus

We explored both the magnificient Fernkloof and Kogelberg nature reserves and found that our last hike happened to conveniently finish up in the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden.

Day 12: Betty’s Bay Penguins
Betty's Bay Penguins

Betty’s Bay Penguins

Driving back to Cape Town along the scenic coastal road, we stopped to visit the penguins at Betty’s Bay, one of just three mainland penguin colonies in Africa. The drive reminded us of the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne, although amazingly enough, my Melburnian husband offered up the view that Clarence Drive actually beat the Australian version.

Days 13 & 14: Cape Town
Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Cape Town

The view of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront from our room, with the habitual ‘tablecloth’ clouds over Table Mountain

Our last two days were spent back in Cape Town, this time based at the historic Victoria and Albert Waterfront. It was somewhat touristy, but very attractive, nonetheless. We braved a pretty rough sea to visit Robben Island, where Jama, a former political inmate, showed us the cell where Nelson Mandela spent all those years. What I didn’t realise was that ‘Mr Mandela’ also had a garden there. It would be a little glib of me to suggest that his garden may have played a role in his almost superhumanly robust spirit, but I’ll admit, I did wonder if it helped, just a bit.

Mr Mandela's garden, Robben Island

Mr Mandela’s garden: manuscripts were hidden in this small exercise courtyard garden behind his cell. I wonder if it was a little more lush when he was tending it

Alas, it was time to leave the Cape and we were hit with a bump by the service and food quality on our flight home with a fairly well known British airline. Now back in freezing temperatures, I’ll keep dreaming and enjoying my photographs until such time that we are able to revisit the very special country that is South Africa.

Vergelegen Wine Estate gardens, Somerset West

Vergelegen Wine Estate gardens, Somerset West

Note: Piet and Andries from Trails and Travel put together this wonderful itinerary and looked after us like royalty whilst we were there. We can highly recommend them if you are thinking of a South African holiday.

32 thoughts on “Western Cape, South Africa

  1. jangorman says:

    Belated happy birthday wishes to Paul. Wonderful pics Janna.South Africa is definitely appealing through your eyes. The gardens look amazing. Cant wait to hear more about your hike up Tabletop Mountain.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thank you, Jan. I’ll pass on your good wishes to Paul. Hope I manage to tempt you into a South Africa trip, too. I feel it is somewhere every Australian should visit. If you (and John’s knees) are up for the Table Mountain climb, I’d just advise planning it for the end rather than the start of your holiday!

  2. Adriana Fraser says:

    I love the parkland Janna – what human being can copy that? I can also see why so many South African plants are so happy in Australia (some a little too happy). Gorgeous views and sky and certainly an interesting place to visit.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh Diana, I’ve just googled the fires. I’d heard nothing on British news channels about them. It’s really quite distressing and scary. I know many plants need fire but it’s just heartbreaking to think of areas disappearing in uncontrolled ways. Having said that, some of the land that was coming back after recent fire was very beautiful. I guess you are more used to it than I am. Stay safe.

  3. Catherine says:

    You may be a good writer Janna, but the quality of your photography just keeps getting better and better. Easily better than many professionals’ work I’ve seen over the years. These are superb both as artistic compositions and as pictures that tell their story and the depth of field is perfect. What are you using to take your shots? And are we seeing much post production work?

    • jannaschreier says:

      Why, thank you, Mrs Stewart! I’m all for a bit of flattery (/praise?), especially of the ‘pictures that tell their story’ variety: it’s something I try really hard to achieve. But…you want me to confess my secrets?! Oh, OK, then. I took one camera to SA: an iPhone 6S! I find in bright light it’s the best (in the UK I use a DSLR much more regularly). I think I lightened four photos above (eg ‘Mr Mandela’s garden’) – I find post rather than pre production adjustments work better for poor light on the iPhone. And I obviously crop occasionally (as with the Waterfront photo, to take away distracting foreground roofs) but my aim is always to achieve something that accurately represents what I saw with my own eyes. I’m not big on ‘fairy tale’ photos with psychedelic colours and contrasts, so just occasionally tweak when my photography fails to portray reality.

        • jannaschreier says:

          One of the key messages I took from the course I did with Clive Nichols was that actually ‘subject’ counts more than anything else. I’m sure that visiting beautiful places is the greatest photography skill I possess!

  4. Deirdre says:

    A fabulous blog that makes me want to go there – and I have never before wanted to! So many plants that do well in Sydney come from this part of the world.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh, thank you, Deirdre. It was living in Sydney and seeing all those South African plants that really changed my desire to visit into a necessity!! I hope I can inspire you further with some of the garden and natural landscape details – it really is Australia on steroids!

  5. germac4 says:

    Lovely to have a trip down memory lane, my mother was brought up in the Cape, and always talked about the wild flowers in spring. On our visit a few years ago we missed Kirstenbosch, to my great regret. I loved the buildings at Stellenbosch ..a great photo of the Faculty of Theology …oh the stories that street could tell! Also a great shot of Cape Town Harbour, you were lucky to get such good weather…with the lovely cloud on the mountain.
    I agree with your husband about the coastal road…hard to beat the Cape version. Thanks for the tour.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I’m so glad it stirred some happy memories. I’ve got so, so much to show you! Although I can only imagine the intensity of wildflowers your mother must have enjoyed in spring.
      All is fair in love and war though – whilst South Africa has the edge on coastal roads, Australia wins on penguins. I just feel so lucky to have been able to experience both!

  6. Louise Dutton says:

    Well you have done it again Janna! Beautiful, just beautiful! I am sure you have many, many more photos 😉 I just don’t know how I will manage to get around to all these magnificent gardens and places you inspire me to visit. I look forward to hearing/viewing more about this great place.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Hello Louise! Happy New Year. Thanks for your kind comments about the photos. As I said before, it’s hard to take bad photos when everything around you is so stunning. I think we’ll need to do some prioritising when you start to make travel plans! But I have a feeling that South Africa will come very near the top. Let’s see…

    • jannaschreier says:

      Beyond amazing. I absolutely loved it. It must be a bit tricky for you adjusting to cold, cold Edmonton at this time of year. We visited in 2015, but only in summer. I’m sure it’s a whole different ball game right now. If it makes you feel any better, I’m finding it tricky adjusting to being back in England in winter, and I spent the first 33 years of my life here. But moving around the world is so, so worth it; really hoping you’re feeling very settled soon.

      • lcdorkin says:

        The cold is certainly a change from sunny Cape Town summer this time of year! We still get excited by the snow and winter-feel so it’s not as bad as it will be when that novelty wears off! Although, we have already started wishing summer could just get here already 🙂 Thank you so much! Moving really is one big adjustment but being able to travel so much really does make it worth it. I hope you adjust back to England winter soon.

        • jannaschreier says:

          Yes, it’s just cold and grey here. Rarely do we have the romance of snow! I agree that seasons are fun, but when I lived in Sydney I thought a couple of months at a chilly 16-18 degrees was just fine to tick the winter box!! Kuala Lumpur did get boring though as every single day was the same all year round for two years. All these experiences are incredible though. We are very lucky.

  7. annpappas says:

    When we were growing up in the 1960’s, my mom sometimes used take us to Kirstenbosch in the afternoons after school, where we’d play on the river bank – climb what we called the ‘big rock’, and build ‘dams’ in the river. That section is all fenced off now.

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