The Cape of Good Hope has always intrigued me.
I read a lot of history books when I was growing up. About great explorers crossing oceans and all of the adventures they had along the way. I knew at a young age that it was in fact Abel Tasman that discovered New Zealand, not Captain James Cook as we were led to believe. I read about Christopher Columbus and his accidental discovery of the Americas (he thought he had found a new trade route to Asia) and I read about Captain Cook being killed by natives in Hawaii.
I also read about the discovery and first modern rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartolomeu Dias.
When it was discovered in 1488 it was an important milestone for the Portuguese in establishing trade relations with the Far East. The Cape of Good Hope was originally called the Cape of Storms and was thought to be the southernmost point of Africa, when in fact that title goes to Cape Agulhus, 150km to the East.
It is located at the tip of the Cape Peninsula, 70km south of Cape Town, and is part of Table Mountain National Park. This section of the park encompasses the actual Cape of Good Hope itself, as well as Cape Point, another headland that is 1.2km to the east.
The long drive from our Air BnB apartment in Hout Bay was punctuated with many stops along the way, to ogle at the coastal views and explore small beach towns.
The famous Chapman’s Peak drive whisked us away from the busy environs of Hout Bay, along a road carved into the side of the cliffs, and to the deserted expanse of Noordhoek beach.
The houses were no longer packed together and there were tracts of undeveloped land: we weren’t in the city any longer.
Located down a quiet side road not far from Noordhoek is the small coastal community of Kommetjie. Parking outside the striking Slangkop lighthouse, a tall and slender beacon of protection, we meandered along a quiet waterside trail.
Houses lining the path had little security with low fences and none that were electrified. In South Africa I have only really seen this lax approach to security in and around Cape Town. Security is at such a high level in the rest of the country that seeing the lack of it here made me feel safe.
Locals greeted us as we slowly walked along, admiring the view and watching fishermen in small boats heading out to sea among the kelp.
Back on the road we were treated to a stretch of the drive with fabulous scenery and an uninterrupted view of the powdery white beach below. The crowds we had been encountering for much of our time in Cape Town (that’s what you get if you travel there during the high season) were nowhere to be seen.
Stopping for a toilet break in the sleepy settlement of Scarborough, I managed to run down to the beach for a quick peek and was astounded, again, by the sheer beauty of it. Cape Town knows how to do beaches!
After a quick stop for coffee in a farm café we re-joined the masses. Suddenly it seemed that everyone in Cape Town was heading to the Cape of Good Hope, they were just coming from the other way around the coast.
The line of cars leading up to the toll gates looked daunting but it only took about 15 minutes till it was our turn to go through. We all had to pay the very expensive (for South Africa) R110 each which although only amounts to AUD $11, it is a lot for South Africans.
Once we were through the gates there was no more waiting and we cruised along the stark, treeless expanse of grassland to Cape Point.
There are two ways to get up to the lighthouse at Cape Point. You can pay more money and catch the funicular, or you can walk. Obviously we walked.
It would have taken about 10-15 minutes to reach the lighthouse but we stopped a lot along the way to check out the view over the coastline below. Like pretty much everything else in this part of the world, it was incredible.
There is a small museum in the top Funicular Station which recounts some of the many ships that were wrecked off the turbulent point while trying to round the Cape, as well as the legend of the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship that is a portent of doom and is said to haunt these waters. Apparently even the Prince of Wales, who was to go on to become King George V, spotted the ship in the year 1880. Spooky stuff!
After reaching the lighthouse, I decided to walk the path that stretches out beneath the lighthouse and to the furthest point of Cape Point, overlooking another smaller lighthouse perched precariously on the rocks.
Walking along the narrow path, surrounded by expanses of water on both sides, I felt like I was on the edge of the world. The wind was fierce and at times I was almost stopped in my tracks by its impressive power. With less people on this short trail compared to the one above, it gave me time for reflection and to fully appreciate the beauty surrounding me.
Back to reality, I met Trav and the family back at the bottom of the hill in the only Café in the Cape of Good Hope National Park. I was prepared for the crowds of people as it was the only place to eat within miles, but I only had to wait about 20 minutes to order and receive my pizza which was a reasonable price and was surprisingly tasty.
There is a walking trail between Cape Point and the nearby Cape of Good Hope so Trav and I walked it, while the others drove the car around to meet us there.
We had saved the best till last.
With the wind whipping us at all angles, we strode out along the wooden boardwalks and sections of dirt path that make up the awe inspiring cliff top trail, leading to the Cape of Good Hope. Below us was the expanse of rugged Diaz beach. We saw seals playing in the waves and wished we had time to walk the many stairs down and back again so we could swim in the crystalline water.
Ostrich and Eland (a type of large buck) were grazing on the long grasses near the path. An ostrich flapped its large wings at a young buck when it got too close.
A number of my favourite South African animal, the curious dassie, were also along the pathway, unbothered by the humans walking so close to them.
Reaching the cape we scrambled down the steep rocky path to the car park to meet up with the others. The walk was only about 30 minutes and 2km but in that time we saw so much.
I wasn’t ready to leave. There were so many other small beaches and short hikes we could do in the park but the day was winding down and we still needed to visit the penguins of Boulders Beach.
On the way out I finally got to see the most famous resident animal of the Cape of Good Hope: Baboons, and lots of them.
Luckily we slowed down when approaching them and I got to have a really good look. There was a large family group with babies that were so tiny and cute. Baboons are fascinating and I could literally watch them for hours. They are always doing something interesting like picking fleas off each other, digging around in the mud or something else equally entertaining.
Our trip to the Cape ended up being my favourite day of our time in Cape Town, and my final experience there was a great one: being regaled by a bunch of hairy entertainers.
Have you been to the Cape of Good Hope?