Around the Cape in a motorbike sidecar

One of my South African travel bucket list items I got to tick off during 2017 was going on a motorcycle sidecar tour in the Cape.  A visit to a conference in Stellenbosch had the opportunity arise to join a tour from Spier via Strand and Gordon’s Bay as far as the Stoney Point penguin colony in Betty’s Bay and back and I just could not say no come rain or shine.  Which turned out to be the case. Literally.

The guide from Cape Sidecar Adventures picked two of us up from the hotel on a wet and dreary day.  We both received calls from the owner early morning already to check if we were still interested to go even though it was wet out, and we were both still game.  So the trip was on.  Kitted out in rain pants and leather jackets my companion for the day slipped into the sidecar while I hopped onto the back of the bike.  The first sheet of rain hit as we went through Stellenbosch but neither of us wanted to miss out on the experience and with the guide willing we kept going.

Chapman’s Peak may be rated as one of the ten most scenic roads in the world, but I’ve got to be honest, the R44 from Gordon’s Bay to Rooi-Els doesn’t have to stand back one step.  It really is a stunning drive along the coastline even with rain in your face.  Ordinarily, this specific tour would go on to Kleinmond but once we got to the penguins at Stoney Point it started coming down a bit so we settled for hot chocolates in the coffee shop before backtracking to Pringle Bay for a fish and chips lunch by a fireplace. Did we mind being slightly wet (because the layers kept most of the water out)? Hell no. We were having too good a time.

The weather started clearing on our return journey so we got to stop at a couple of the viewpoints along the way.  The views really are stunning but the highlight is definitely being able to go on a trip on one of these beautiful historic bikes.  Being able to tick this off my bucket list is one thing, but now I am hooked and next up would love to do their full day Peninsula Tour with visits to Hout Bay, Chappies, Cape Point and Boulders in Simon’s Town.

PS, I would have loved to take some stunning pictures of our ride, the scenery and the bike itself, but the weather just didn’t play along and I kept the camera hidden away cosy and dry for most of the trip.

Lions Head Sunset

Last week I spent some time in Cape Town attending the annual World Travel Market Africa tourism trade show.  The one afternoon after the show I headed up to Table Mountain Road for a walk just before sunset and could kick myself for leaving my camera at the guesthouse the morning.  My phone had to do and I caught the sun setting between Table Mountain and Lions Head through the wild grasses.
Moments later as the sun disappeared past the mountain towards the horizon

Sunset from Signal Hill

They say that you can’t really say you’ve visited Cape Town if you haven’t been up Table Mountain. We’ve done Table Mountain before and with a family of four it’s a bit of an expensive exercise so on our whistle stop visit to the Mother City for the Cape Town Mega event we decided on the next best option.  Signal Hill.  Even better, Signal Hill at sunset.

The one thing we didn’t quite think of was that it was a Saturday afternoon and the weather was great so just about half of Cape Town had the same thing in mind.  Traffic up was hectic and parking is limited.  Add to that a coach parked in the middle of the turning point at the top and cars squeezing into every available spot so the clever option was to park on the far side and cut across the top of Signal Hill on foot.  Something which turned out to be a wise move as leaving later on was much quicker from that side. 

The material covered take off area used by the paragliding outfit based up on Signal Hill makes for the ideal viewing site and as the sun started heading towards the horizon over the Atlantic Ocean, people took their places. 

There you have it, a beautiful Cape Town sunset over the sea.  Not many clouds, or more accurately just about nothing at all, meant no beautiful colours and painted skies, but still stunning never the less.  
The options to watch the sun setting over the Atlantic in Cape Town is many but I prefer Signal Hill because of all the added views of Table Mountain and the surrounding city.  But lesson learned.  Don’t go on the weekend in peak season.

All the views from Signal Hill

Signal Hill in Cape Town isn’t just a great spot to view the sunset from, but it’s also has some awesome views which is ideal if you don’t have the time or budget to go up Table Mountain.
Green Point with the Cape Town Stadium and Table Bay with Robben Island in the distance on the left

Cape Town Harbour with the V&A Waterfront as well as the City Bowl

Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles

Cape Town’s Noon Gun. An almighty BOOM!

It’s a beautiful late morning in the Cape Town City Bowl.  Not much of a breeze blowing and Table Mountain, without a table cloth draped over it, rises up behind the city in all her glory.  Peaceful.  Visitors and locals alike are going about their daily routine, heading between meetings, window shopping, grabbing a quick coffee, sightseeing… Suddenly, BOOM! Pigeons fly up from the pavement, a couple of American tourists duck for cover, a Joburg businessman jerks his head up, a travel blogger from PE nearly drops her camera and a small group of Germans recompose themselves when they realised that nobody else reacted to the sound.  A local sipping his cappuccino at a table on the pavement outside one of the many coffee shops just shake his head and smile.  The Noon Gun gets them every time.

Although I get to visit Cape Town two or three times a year and enjoys going up to Signal Hill for sunset, I haven’t been to see the Noon Gun in probably close to a decade and a half.  A visit to the Noon Gun during a quick trip to the Geocaching MEGA in the Mother City meant I didn’t just get to go and see the gun fire again, but also show it to my family who made the trip down with me.  
The Noon Gun (which are actually two cannons, the second just in case the first one fails) are situated on the side of Signal Hill overlooking the City Bowl and Sea Point.  About 15 minutes before it is time to fire, a red flag is raised and a member of the SA Navy steps up to prepare the guns for the daily shot.  Everybody stood a bit closer and a quick history lesson followed.
The Noon Gun has been fired since February 1806 and the two original guns are still in use today.  The guns were cast in England in 1794 and brought to the Cape a year later while under British occupation, apparently making the two guns the oldest guns in daily use in the world.  The reasoning behind firing a shot at noon every day (except for Sundays and Public Holidays) was, according to local tradition, to allow ships in port to check the accuracy of their marine chronometers.  Even though a Time Ball was taken into use in 1818, the gun continued to fire daily till this day and many Cape Townian still set their watches to it.  In 1864 they started to trigger the gun remotely from the master clock of the oldest timekeeper in the country, the South African Astronomical Observatory, thanks to the advent of the galvanic telegraph.

Both 18-pounder smoothbore muzzleloaders are loaded daily (six days a week as mentioned previously) with 1,5 kg of gunpowder each.  If the remote trigger on the first gun fails for some reason, then the Cannoneer on duty will quickly change over and fire the second gun manually.  You don’t get to see somebody load a cannon with a rammer every day, but you do at the Noon Gun when a rammer gets used to tamp the charge into the muzzle.

With noon approaching and everything in place for the gun to be fired, we were all asked to stand away a short distance.  If you are afraid you’ll get too much of a fright because of the sound, then standing behind the guns are best, but for the best view then a side position is the place to be.  Cameras and phones got lined up and suddenly it was time.  The countdown started at 10… 9… 8… 7… a quick check if the camera was focused properly… 6… 5… the lady next to me giggled nervously… 4… 3… it was time… 2… 1… BOOOOOM! Smoke everywhere. Exclamations all over.  Wow, that was slightly louder than most expected.  Quick check to see what my photo looks like and disappointment.  A total blur.  The shock of the BOOM messed with my focus.

A couple of my Geocaching friends did get video clips of the gun going off though and I’m nicking Penny’s one to share with you.

Getting to the Noon Gun is quite easy actually.  Just follow the “Noon Gun” signs from the corner of Buitengracht and Bloem Streets up through the Bo-Kaap along Military Road.  Just take it easy going up though as the road is steep and winding and there’s always just that one guy who will come flying down from the other direction.

The best part of visiting the Noon Gun?  It is totally FREE!!!

A window on Table Mountain

Two weeks ago we had a whistle stop visit to Cape Town to attend the Geocaching MEGA that takes place somewhere in South Africa only every two years.  We literally drove the 800 km down to Cape Town on the Friday afternoon, attended the MEGA on the Saturday and returned on the Sunday.  One of the events during the day took place on Signal Hill and I just could not pass the opportunity to snap a pic of Drama Princess in the picture frame up there with Table Mountain in the background.

Shark Spotters over Muizenberg

On my last visit to Cape Town I had to make a stop in Noordhoek and returned to Cape Town via Fish Hoek and Boyes Drive.  At the top of Boys Drive I pulled over to enjoy the view of Muizenberg Beach from the lookout where one of the shark spotters is based.  The Shark Spotting Programme is the only program of its kind in the world. Cape Town has, over the last few years, experienced an increase in the number of great white sharks sighted in the in-shore zone. In response to these events and the increased fear by water users, particularly in False Bay, two community driven programmes were started out of a need to improve the safety of recreational water users.  The amalgamation of these two initiatives resulted in the Shark Spotters programme.  How it works is that Shark Spotters are positioned at strategic points along the False Bay coastline. A spotter, like the one on this particular lookout, is placed on the mountain with polarised sunglasses and binoculars. This spotter is in radio contact with another spotter on the beach. If a shark is seen the beach spotter sounds a siren and raises a white flag with a black shark. When the siren sounds the water users are requested to leave the water and only return when the appropriate all clear signal is given.
He wasn’t doing any jumping around while peering out over the edge with his hands above his eyes so it didn’t seem like there were any sharks close inshore anywhere.  I peered down along the coastline anyway and thought to myself that these guys obviously know just what to look for what with all the waves, cloud shadows, surfers and pieces of floating sea bamboo around.

A historic water trough in Mowbray

I often wonder if people really realise how many historic places and objects there are around our cities and towns.  I’m not only referring to the big and well known historic attractions but rather to smaller ones many people probably drive past without even a second look.  One of these I discovered in the Cape Town suburb of Mowbray while on my way to a meeting.  I was following my GPS to a Geocache that was on my way and it took me to this historic water fountain with trough on a traffic island.  This fountain was manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co of Glasgow and presented to Mowbray by the SPCA in 1899.  These days the fountain is no more and the trough has a little garden in it.

Table Mountain – Pulling the table cloth over

Table Mountain.  Probably the most iconic attraction in South Africa.  Something every visitor to the country wants to visit.  Being in the tourism industry I often get asked about Table Mountain by visitors and one piece of advise I always give is to go to the mountain at the first opportunity you get.  I was guided a tour down the Garden Route to Cape Town and on arrival in Cape Town we noticed the mountain was open.  There was bad weather forecasted and both the driver and I urged the tour leader to change the itinerary so that we could go straight to the mountain.  He didn’t want to as we had four days in Cape Town before they flew out and there would be more than enough time.  Needless to say, the left without being able to go up.

The main reason for somebody not being able to visit the mountain is wind and often with the wind comes the table cloth.  There is a legend about the table cloth going back to the early days of the Cape.  It goes that the devil challenged a local called Van Hunks to a smoking contest on the mountain and after days of continuous smoking lost.  It is said that the table cloth appears every time Van Hunks and the devil decide to have a rematch up on Devil’s Peak.  On my last visit they had a little puff, but not a full on competition.  Perhaps next time again.  Although it would mean I wouldn’t be able to see my mountain.