Continuing our 5-part journey through Southern Africa, we now head from Johannesburg to Cape Town, affectionately known as the Tavern of the Seas (named as such due to sailors stopping here halfway along their route between Europe and India for the spice trade to refuel before the second leg of the journey.)
After landing at Cape Town International Airport, we were whisked away by our private car service to the historic and luxurious Table Bay Hotel, which has famously hosted royalty from all over the world. We had left this day open without any concrete plans – aside from a hard-to-get dinner reservation – and found ourselves exploring the hotel grounds and surrounding Victoria and Alfred Waterfront on foot. The hotel offers a decadent high tea experience in the lobby’s recessed seating area with comfortable lounge furniture and a skilled pianist in the background. High tea is quite popular around this area given the region’s heavy British roots throughout history. For a set rate, each person could select two flavors (each served as an entire kettle!) of tea ranging from traditional white, black, green, and red teas to traditional South African varieties, along with a tower of finger sandwiches and sweet and savory treats for the table. Our favorite tea was the Jade of Africa, we highly suggest you make this your first kettle so that you have room in your belly to finish it all! But wait, there’s more! The focal point of this experience is the beautifully curated dessert table in the center of the lounge offering everything from cheese and charcuterie to parfaits and napoleons to cake and cheesecake. There was so much on offer, we couldn’t even attempt to try it all!
The weather was gorgeous and gifted us with a completely unobscured view of the majestic Table Mountain across from the V & A Waterfront. This is a very modern and commercialized area where you can find authentic handmade souvenirs as well as high end shopping experiences. Our first stop was at Pandora to satisfy my travel charm collection. We then made a beeline to the local Starbucks in search of their “You Are Here” series mug for Cape Town. I have an indulgent habit of collecting several things from every destination we hit, so these are staple itinerary stops on our travels. Sadly, this Starbucks was out of stock of the Cape Town mugs, so we kept our eyes peeled along the way for other locations. The waterfront is dotted with colorful hand painted statues of rhinoceroses meant to promote conservation by encouraging you to “adopt a rhino.” It’s a great way to start a conversation with any littles in your party regarding the importance of conservation and some of the dangers these precious animals face, while also keeping it fun and light-hearted with a cute photo opportunity. We finished our stroll with a ride atop their humbly sized Ferris Wheel for some lovely sunset views over the water.
The absolute highlight of our first day – and the highlight of my entire culinary journey through life – was getting a highly sought-after dinner reservation at The Test Kitchen. If you read my post on our brief stop in Johannesburg, you may remember me recommending a place called Carbon by Chef Luke Dale Roberts. This is his original masterpiece, and it is surely not to be missed. The menu is inventive and creative, the ingredients fresh and inviting, the plating exquisite, and the ambiance warm yet industrial all at the same time. While they do offer a tasting menu and wine pairing, you do have the option of ordering a la carte, which is what we chose to do because we wanted to try everything in sight! Our starters consisted of tangy Korean BBQ with kimchi slaw and perfectly crispy popcorn prawns paired with a deliciously sweet yet spicy orange glaze. I decided to be a bit adventurous and order the kudu filet in a hazelnut demi-glacé. The winner overall was the fish of the day – a delicately prepared garlic and herb encrusted Yellowtail endemic to the Southern oceans. The wait staff sprinkled us with a dash of pixie dust by providing complementary glasses of Brut Rose to begin our evening and then finished the night off with tequila shots to officially welcome us to Africa. Let me just say, their idea of a shot was at least a double! This was by far the best meal I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling anywhere in the world, and I have been quite a number of places. If you take anything away from this blog post, let it be this restaurant!
Our first full day in Cape Town brought us to the coastal region known as Simon’s Town to spend some time cage diving with Apex Shark Expedition! It was ideal weather to search for some big aquatic predators. We saw at least four different Bronze Whaler sharks and several Seven Gill sharks (which, fun fact, are considered to be the last prehistoric creature left on Earth and only found in a handful of locations!) Our group got into the cage first and unfortunately at this point, both water visibility and shark activity were low. And then suddenly … out of the blue (see what I did there, punny isn’t it?) … the sharks appeared from all directions. At this point, our group had already taken off our wetsuits. If you’ve ever been in a wetsuit, then you understand putting on a wet wetsuit is next to impossible even with the help of an entire crew. So, naturally I did what any sane person would do. I jumped back into the 55-degree Indian Ocean sans suit and got up close and personal with so many sharks as soon as the opportunity presented itself. It was chilly, but oh so worth it. I did promptly find the jacuzzi upon return to the hotel, though! After we got our fill of shark spotting, the crew took us past Seal Island and observed literally thousands of mama seals and their pups splashing in the turquoise sea. We learned that the males return only in November for mating season and that the females raise their young independently. This is the location where National Geographic photographers typically get shots of Great Whites breaching the waters as they hunt seals leaving the island for the first time – sadly, the babies make easy prey. During late May, the Great Whites are mainly at Mossel Bay, which would have been an 8-hour drive round trip from Cape Town, so we opted for the closer expedition out of Simon’s Town. They typically begin their migration back to False Bay (where we dove) June – August. Next time we are in town, I’m making it a point to go searching for Great Whites no matter the travel time!
Back on solid ground, we started our next day off by making our way up Table Mountain via funicular. It’s always hit or miss whether this activity will happen or not as the fog is unpredictable and is known to entirely engulf the top of the mountain, completely obscuring your view from the top. Luckily, we made it up and took in some views before the clouds came rolling in. There are quite a few interesting high-altitude birds that call Table Mountain their home. I managed to snap a few photos of someone snacking on some berries for breakfast. We watched as some adrenaline seekers got set up to jump off the side of mountain – talk about free falling!
Another great spot for dinner is a local restaurant called “Gold,” which represents traditional African dishes from 15 different countries across the continent. We started the evening with a drumming lesson (which takes more energy than one might think!) before sampling several creative plates inspired by traditional cuisine. Our favorites were the Cape Malay Masala Tomato Soup and Mozambique Peri-Peri Chicken Wings. The venue offered authentic song and dance meant to connect the living and dead through ritual as entertainment during dinner and we were even given the opportunity to have our faces adorned with customary paint patterns surrounding this ritual. Over the course of our three weeks in Africa, many meals ended in the traditional South African dessert known as Malva Pudding – do yourself a favor and try them all! Everyone makes them slightly differently, so keep track of your favorite concoctions and try to replicate them when you return from your epic adventures! If you are looking for a great way to experience a lot of varied culture all condensed into one evening, this is surely the stop for you.
Moving on to our third full day in Cape Town, we started with a rather lengthy drive out to the Cape of Good Hope along the Cape Peninsula. This area represents the southwestern-most point of the African continent and is where the currents of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. It was initially discovered by Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer, while looking for a sailing route between Europe and India to further the lucrative spice trade. Evidently, his ship got caught up in a nasty storm and he lost sight of land. He sailed East for a week with no sightings, until he decided to try moving North. The story goes that within one hour of changing direction, he saw land. What land, might you be wondering. It was none other than today’s Cape of Good Hope. He wanted to name this navigational landmark the “Cape of Storms,” but Portuguese royalty thought this name would scare off sailors and instead dubbed it “The Cape of Good Hope.” Eventually, the Portuguese established a colony here, which served as a refueling station for their men as they were losing too many sailors to scurvy, a deficiency of Vitamin C that is easily remedied by consuming fresh fruits and vegetables (and these fresh options could only last so long on a ship.) Along the way, we spotted a trio of ostrich along the cliffs (abnormally close to the water’s edge), a huge array of birds, and many epic views of the Cape, the coastline, and other critters included eland, seals, and many more colorful birds.
Alas, we did not drive all these hours just to view the southern-most coastline. No, silly! We also paired this excursion with a trip to the Boulder’s Beach penguin colony, which is also a part of the Cape Peninsula and itself an extension of Table Mountain National Park within Cape Town. This is only one of three land dwelling penguin colonies in the world, so how lucky were we to see them frolicking freely in the sand and shallow waves?! Sadly, these penguins are endangered and are thus a protected species. This specific colony lives happily within the protected natural environment of Boulder’s Beach (named appropriately for the large rocks jutting out along the shoreline) where they spend their days waddling, splashing, and swimming without a care in the world. In 1982, this colony started with only two breeding pairs, but is currently up to over 3,000! This sharp increase in numbers is likely due to recent limitations on trawling in False Bay, leaving more small aquatic species available to the penguins as part of their natural diet. For a quick fun history fact, in 2000 there was a large oil spill off the coast of Cape Town that was devastating to the local wildlife. Tens of thousands of animals were captured so they could be decontaminated (with none other than Dawn dish detergent!) The only problem was that there was nowhere for these animals to reside and no resources to take care of them during the timeframe that the water itself was being sanitized. So, officials decided to release the animals well north of their usual home. They put small trackers on three penguins – who locals affectionately named Peter, Pamela, and Percy – and tracked their migration back to their home. In the time it took them to swim home, the water had been sufficiently decontaminated, and the trackers were then removed from the three penguins. There is now a local children’s storybook about this migration that seems to have gotten rave reviews – and yes, this group of grown adults did search high and low until we found ourselves a copy to bring home. If you’re in the mood for one more fun fact – or perhaps a disturbing fact? – these cuddly creatures have a set of teeth that rival sharks. Seriously, not kidding! Google what the inside of a penguin’s mouth like if you dare (disclaimer: you may get nightmares later!)
For our last and final day in the picturesque region of Cape Town, we ventured out to sample the grapes of Africa. That’s right folks, to Stellenbosch we go! We started the morning at Eagle Encounters, because any day spent in Africa should ideally have some kind of animal sighting, Eagle Encounters at Spier is an avian sanctuary where any sick, injured, or newly released “pet” may come for help until they get back on their own two claws. The program is designed as a catch, rehabilitate, and release sequence, where 75% of the 400-600 injured animals they take in annually are eventually released! Those that are either too badly injured or are a human imprint (meaning an animal raised by or around humans and thus does not possess the instincts and skills necessary to survive on its own in the wild) are kept at the sanctuary permanently and fill the role of Animal Ambassadors to spread important information regarding conservation.
After viewing small and large birds and everything in between, as well as having some owls come sit with us in the audience, we had not one – but two! – wine tastings. The first was conveniently located at Spier and came with a chocolate pairing, while the second was at Boschendal Vineyards with a very tasty lunch buffet and ample vineyard views. We even had a surprise guest comes to speak with us while enjoying lunch. Cristo Brand, author of Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend, was Nelson Mandela’s prison guard on Robben Island. He told us about many stories over lunch that moved people to tears. It was an excellent surprise to the itinerary and added a nice reminder of South Africa’s not so distant history regarding apartheid and how the New South Africa came to be. We also got a signed copy of his book, which I’m sure you can find online if you’re interested.
On our way back to the Table Bay Hotel for our final night’s rest here, we stopped in the town of Stellenbosch for some shopping. This area was the most interesting shopping venue we came across while in Africa. I regret not picking up some of the items I had my eyes on while perusing their wares. Specifically, one of the storefronts was manned by a Zimbabwean wood carver who had a floor lamp on display with at least 15 levels of carvings of the Big 5 in dark wood. It would have fit perfectly in my living room, and he would have even shipped it back for free. Additionally, Karoo Couture is a high-end leather shop with many ostrich leather bags on display. I found a deep brown nice tote made of the second most durable leather in the world and surely should have purchased it but did not for fear of finding additional options later in the trip. At least Karoo has an online retailing option. Perhaps I will buy myself a new bag for Christmas later in the year!
Well, this wraps up our fantastic journey through Cape Town, South Africa. Part of this epic adventure was put together a la carte to fill in the gaps of our interests, and others was set for us as we vacationed with a tried-and-true luxury tour group. So, no matter what your style of travel is, we can help connect you to it! As always, our dedicated team here at Your Concierge NYC is invested in turning your dreams into a reality. It would be our pleasure to curate the trip of a lifetime for you and your family. We are at the ready for anything you can throw our way! After all, if it doesn’t bring you joy or make you money, it really should be our responsibility. Click here to reach out to us and learn about all the ways our services can enhance your lifestyle, your way.