Tired, completely drained after our Great White Shark cage diving, and not to mention still covered in dried salt water and chum mixture, Serena and I closed the loop of our road trip with a 2-hour drive back to Cape Town.
We got back to her apartment, took a much needed showe, and for headed back to Waterfront for dinner since I didn’t get to spend much time there when I first landed in Cape Town.
We made reservation at Sevruga, one of the trendy waterfront restaurant at the pier. I just have to show you this picture of their menu! This seems to be a common practice in South Africa where they serve their regular menu and have a little “asian” side menu consisting of dim sum and sushi. And they called dim sum “asian tapas”… which, if you think about it, actually made sense!
The food was awesome and the restaurant had a great ambiance to it. Too bad that means they have dim lighting and my food pictures came out shitty, but hey.. I tried!
I had their Truffle fillet, served with mushroom cannelloni, truffle salad and gaufrette potatoes (R200). The meat was very tender and delicious but I was disappointed to not detect any truffle aroma at all, which is the reason why I chose this dish to begin with. Such a let down for a dish that bothered to mention truffle twice in its description. The rest of the dish was amazing though.
This is how South African pays for their parking. With an automated machine!
After dinner we were going to go straight home but as we were exiting Waterfront, Serena changed her mind and told me she’s going to take me “somewhere”. We went to the same road we took to go to Camps Bay but she made a right at the peak to a very dark road, and at the top of the road (which I later learned is called Signal Hill), we were greeted by this absolutely amazing, glittering view of Cape Town.
I took these pictures with my iPhone so they aren’t the best, but I was completely flabbergasted at the scenery. I guess it’s just one of those things you had to witness yourself!
Someone, I forgot who, once told me South Africa has one of the biggest population of Great White Sharks. So being the marine life lover of course I made it a point to see them in their habitat while I was there! I booked a cage diving tour with Great White Shark Tour and begged Serena to come with me. Originally she wasn’t going to do it because she’s not very fond of water activities, but after much convincing and promises of an epic trip she finally caved.
Day 4 – November 6, 2012
We woke up early and drove one street down to the GWS office. We had a quick breakfast there, paid our tours and waited around for other people to arrive. The sea was nice and calm that day, which undoubtedly makes for an excellent boat trip. Lucky us! :)
Brian, the owner of the tour, briefed us on what to do and what to expect out there. He remarked that we were a lucky bunch because the weather wasn’t so great last week, but now it’s beautiful and sunny! They handed us each these over sized neon orange wind breaker to protect us from the cold sea weather. At first we laughed at how ridiculous we looked in it, but later on I was really grateful to have them because the wind was icy cold and we were still damp from being under water…
Soon after the briefing, we were led down to the bay and onto our boat. I’m so glad I booked with this tour. Their boat looked so much more sturdy than the other boats we saw there and I definitely don’t want to mess around when it comes to dealing with great white sharks!
We came across two Southern Whales on the way to the Shark Alley! It was a mother whale and her albino(?) calf. They quite far away, and we were informed that we can’t come too close. The coast guards are watching to make sure no one disturbs the whales.
We took the boat for about 20 minutes before we slowed down and finally anchored. Brian explained that they’re going to start chumming the water to lure the sharks to our boat. Then, the first batch of people can come down to the cage for underwater viewing. The cage accommodates only about 8 people at a time and there were maybe 30 of us on the boat. I didn’t go as the first batch because I wanted to wait so I can observe where I want to be to get the best view.
It didn’t take too long for the sharks to come around. Not even five minutes later, our boat was surrounded by 3-4 great whites and everyone, including me, was VERY excited. And then the first jump came…
We witnessed many heart-pumping jumps as Brian baited the sharks with a large-sized fish head and a decoy foam bait. I knew great whites are capable of jumping out of the water while hunting, but I had no idea they could jump that high out.
It’s crazy how fast they swim when they’re ready to attack. You can’t really see them underwater since the visibility wasn’t so great, so they literally looked like they charged out of nowhere. Truly a magnificent predator.
Despite being called “cage diving”, you don’t actually “dive” under water the whole time with a tank or anything. You just float around in the cage with a mask on and then duck your head underwater when people frantically shout “down down DOWN!” (meaning a big shark is coming towards the cage). The crew were really good at spotting the sharks and telling you when to duck down.
Serena and I went as the third batch. We had difficulty putting on our wetsuits because it was skin tight and really thick, but we got some help from the crew. I observed that the best spot is to the left of the cage since Brian was sitting behind it and kept pulling the bait towards that area, so you are almost guaranteed a front seat view of the shark charging right at you. After putting on the suit and our little water booties, I quickly went for the left of the cage.
Being underwater and in the cage was possibly the most uncomfortable feeling. The water was piercing icy cold and extra fishy due to the all the chum, but in the end it was well worth it when I managed to be RIGHT in front of the shark when it charged at us and even bit at the cage relentlessly before letting go. The adrenaline rush was incomparable to anything I had ever experienced, and those sharks really do have crazy sharp teeth. I saw it myself from less than 30cm away. Simply amazing!
After about 20 minutes in the cage, we pulled out. Personally for me it was more than enough since I couldn’t have lasted a second longer in the ice cold water. You have the option to go back in the cage later if you want, and many did, but I really could not bring myself to get into the water again.
You actually get to see the shark more clearly from on top of the boat, so I climbed up to the top deck and spent the remaining time there, enjoying the aerial view of all the sharks. It’s an eerie feeling seeing so many great whites lurking around your boat at the same time!
After about 2-3 hours of shark watching, we left the shark alley. Brian then took us around to see the seals but on the way there, we got a little something more than we bargained for.
The mother Southern whale and her calf were seen again, this time much closer to our boat so we turned off the engines and observed from afar. The calf kept poking his head out of the water, as if looking at our boat curiously, and getting closer and closer.
Suddenly, before we know it, everyone was screaming in excitement. The calf decided to check us out and swam towards us, and then glided right next to our boat!
It only lasted a few seconds, but we got a good glimpse of the baby whale. The mother never got as close to our boat, but we were able to see her just fine as she was herding her calf off.
Then we went to the seal island, with many of them swimming around, in and out of the water like this guy right here.
I was still heavily jetlagging so I was up really early at 630am. While waiting for Serena to wake up, I couldn’t resist throwing on a bath robe and laid down at the patio. The weather was absolutely perfect outside!
Earthbound, being a Bed & Breakfast, obviously served us breakfast that morning. They had us fill out a little form the day before of what we would like to have for breakfast, which was then brought to us in a cute little picnic basket! They even have a little milk bottle for our cereals which I think is suuuuper adorable.
After breakfast we packed up our things, checked out and drove south using Route 328. Our next destination is Cape Agulhas, which is the most southern point of the African continent. Since Mossel Bay is also on the way, we decided to stop by and have a look around too.
But first, Route 328.
While Route 62 and 60 was beautifully scenic and different, Route 328 presented something that felt very familiar to me. Of course, it’s just like the drives around SoCal! I know I sound like a broken record by now when I keep saying how similar everything looked to California, but it really is.
This reminds me of the drive up to Big Bear
We also saw a TON of Ostriches by the side of the road! Here is one of them:
After a few hours of driving, we finally arrived at the southern coast of Africa and made a right to Mossel Bay which had us drive next to the ocean for awhile. Now tell me this doesn’t look like the drive up Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu!
There wasn’t much to do at Mossel Bay, so we just took a few pictures and went on our way to Cape Agulhas via Highway N2. We stopped by a small town called Swellendam for lunch and fill up on gas.
I ordered steak frites while Serena got oxtail soup. One thing to note is that Malay/Indonesian cuisine is quite prevalent in South Africa. I wouldn’t have expected that! We kept seeing curry, sambal and oxtail soup on the menu.
A short 30-min drive later, we finally arrived at Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic ocean meets!
The area around Cape Agulhas is still largely under construction but they were nice enough to build this monument for people to take pictures of.
We then continued on to our next destination. Google map told us to go back to Route 317, and we always trust google map, even when the road was pure dirt road like this:
Little did we know that this dirt road would continue on for a long way, about 46km. We kept wondering if we were going in the right direction and was starting to feel nervous since there were NO other cars around, until we finally hit Route 43, which is a normal highway. From then on it was a smooth, nicely paved drive to Gansbaai!
Gansbaai is a very small town by the beach consisting of just two small main roads. Our hostel was really nice, but aside of a few houses, a gas station and a restaurant, there wasn’t much else to see.
As i said before, Serena drove like a mad woman so we can make the last tour of the day which departs at 4PM. Cango Caves is about 30 mins drive up the mountain from Oudstshoorn. We left at 3:30PM so we just barely made it at the door before the last tour was about to depart. Thank god, or else our itinerary would have been screwed!
Our tour guide was a pleasant african guy. He told us the history of Cango Caves and how it was accidentally found by a farmer who was chasing one of his goats down the cave. Before there was any electricity, the cave was obviously pitch dark and he only had a candle as a lighting source. They turned off the light for us to simulate how it was like at that time. It was quite scary for me since I don’t like being in the dark.
We also learned that the cave was used as a stage for an orchestra performance, but was discontinued as people started destroying the cave and stealing stones while watching the performance. So now, the caves are only accessible under tour supervision. Our tour guide performed an afrikaan song for us to demonstrate how sound resonates naturally inside the cave (and he had a nice voice!)
We continued to explore the cave, chamber by chamber. I was amazed at how well kept the cave is and how the routes are very well paved, so you won’t have a hard time walking on it at all. The size the chambers were also impressive. Most of them are about two stories high or more. If you chose to go on the adventure route though, you’ll come across some of the more narrow pathways.
They always keep the lights off to prevent moss and fungus from growing inside the cave and damaging it, so each time we walk into a chamber it’s a new revelation on its own.
After Cango Caves, we drove back down to Oudtshoorn. We had dinner at this seafood chain restaurant (which name I forgot) and I had Kingklip, which is commonly served all throughout South Africa. It’s this white fish with dense meat texture that goes well with creamy/tangy sauce.
Appletiser is a soda drink that’s widely available in South Africa. Serena loves it and keeps ordering it with every meal! It tasted like carbonated apple juice. They’re also available in red and white grape juice (called Grapetiser) but we didn’t like those very much.
After dinner we went for a quick grocery run and then back to our cozy B&B. We chilled by the pool for awhile before turning in for the night, talking to a European couple who is renting one of the rooms.
We also had a quick chat with Marie, the owner of the B&B, who impressed me so much when she revealed that she will be taking part in the long ultra marathon consisting of a 90km run! She is extremely fit and does morning bikes daily on top of running the B&B on her own. Here I am completely knackered after just a 5km run and I’m probably half her age :|
We left Cape Town bright and early at 8am since we needed to reach Oudtshoorn by 3pm, and it’s a whooping six-hour journey to get there. Thankfully driving in South Africa is quite straight forward, where the highways are nicely paved and clearly labeled on Google maps so we didn’t have any trouble navigating at all.
We planned to hit Route 60 then to Route 62, which are both famous for being the most scenic drives in South Africa. Sadly the weather was not cooperating that day, it was a bit foggy and cloudy.
Still, I was very excited to be able to see so much land again. I really love living in Singapore but one must admit that we are very deprived of land that such scenery and nature have become a novelty for me.
It didn’t take very long before we started hitting the highways and down yet another mountainous road. We even drove straight through one of the mountains. Literally straight through, as in they burrowed a tunnel through the mountain!
Then we hit another long tunnel through the mountain, and to my delight the weather on the other side of the tunnel were absolutely perfect. The clouds and fog have cleared up and from then on, it was six hours of crystal clear blue skies and beautiful scenery!
Here is an adorable South African road manners I learned from Serena during our road trip. On smaller roads, when a car knows it is driving too slow, they would pull over to the side and let you pass. Then to “thank” them you can turn on your blinking warning light for a few seconds. Other drivers will do this to you too if you let them pass! How freakin’ cute is that?
This is how a typical mountain looks like around South Africa. Very rocky, a lot of definition and grassy area at the foot of it with more small rocks peppered all over. I really went snap-happy throughout the drive! We even spotted some turtles crossing the road at several occasions, but I failed to get a good picture of that.
A curious blanket of cloud covering only that patch of mountain. I wonder what the scientific explanation behind this is?
There were some small towns along the route and sometimes the towns are so small that the highway just cuts straight through it. But you know you’re about to drive through one when you start seeing farms like this on the side of the road.
Finally we hit Oudstshoorn area at around 2:30pm. Since we had some time to kill, we made a left on one of the dirt roads to an Ostrich farm to have lunch before driving into the city.
Sadly there were no Ostrich on this particular farm due to the bird flu, but we did see a ton of Ostriches at other farms later on, and by the side of the roads.
While lunch was being prepared and Serena was busy with her phone, I took a walk outside to soak in the sun and was greeted by this extremely friendly little girl! According to the farm owner, she is only 6 months old.
I ordered a smoked chicken salad and it came in this HUGE plate. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing and that’s very rare for me!
We quickly finished lunch and drove over into the city to check in at our B&B, called Earthbound B&B, which is located in a really residential area. It was so nondescript from the outside that we drove past it without realizing and had to u-turn back. Once you get inside though, it was THE nicest B&B I’ve ever stayed in! Basically you get a room within the owner’s (very big) house. The room is really nicely decorated and so, so cozy.
I squealed around in delight for a little while. Props to Serena for finding this super cute place!
Then we had to hurry over to Cango Caves as we realized that we were close to missing the last tour of the day. So we hurried outside and Serena drove like a mad woman up the mountain.
Honestly, I don’t know how to begin this entry. I feel upset and a little guilty at the thought of never being able to fully capturing the beauty of Africa through my measly writing and pictures. After my virgin trip to Europe a year ago, I felt like I had hit the pinnacle of travels and was sad that I will never experience this wondrous feeling of being in Europe for the first time again.
Then the Africa trip came along. I knew it was going to be special, but Africa was just… so above and beyond my expectation that I fear my future travels won’t measure up to this trip. I spent ten days in Africa, from Nov 3 – 13. Out of those days, I spent six days in South Africa, three in Zimbabwe and one in Botswana. And it was, arguably the best ten days of my life.
So what brought me to Africa? I’ll be honest, not even eight months ago the thought of visiting Africa had never crossed my mind. And it would never have if it wasn’t for Serena and her temporary work assignment to Cape Town. As soon as she settled the dates of her stay in CPT, my tickets were booked. We arranged it so I arrive on her last day of work and we could then explore South Africa together, before flying out to Zimbabwe and Botswana for a real African Safari experience.
Day 1 – November 3, 2012
I booked my flight with Emirates again, the same airline I used to fly to Europe last year, so it was another 7-hour flight to Dubai followed by 3-hour transit at DXB before I was finally on my way for a 9-hour flight to CPT.
This is how South Africa looks like for the most part from above. Very mountainous with patches of desert and greeneries here and there, and very reminiscent of California right down to the dry weather.
I landed at 4pm, and was greeted at the gate by Serena who picked me up from the airport since she has a car there, which I’m super thankful for. While driving from the airport, I got my first culture shock: People in South Africa walk freely on the side of the highways! We referred to them as “walkers” and later on spotted plenty of them walking the highways on the way to Oudstshoorn, which isn’t exactly close to town so they must have walked a lot.
Also, South Africans called their traffic lights “robots”. I was told this is because when the traffic lights were first brought into South Africa, they replaced actual human policemen and was called “robot policemen” for awhile, and now shortened to just “robots”. The term stuck around and is now widely accepted throughout the country, even on road signs!
We then dropped off my luggage at her awesome apartment in Century City area and went right out the door again for my first taste of South Africa.
She took me to her favorite place in Cape Town, a beach called Camps Bay, to catch the sunset. It involved some driving through the mountain and away from the city – throughout which I just couldn’t stop making remarks about how amazing this place is. Cape Town is indeed very, very beautiful.
Across the street from the beach is a row of restaurants and lounges, with front seat view of the ocean.
While waiting for the sun to set, we settled down at one of the restaurants by the beach for a quick snack since Serena’s taking me somewhere else for dinner. I (of course) had to taste some South African wine and opted for a glass of rosé while Serena had some chocolate cake dessert.
I was pleasantly surprised that South Africans take cards as method of payment everywhere. I didn’t have to deal with cash throughout my visit here, and I was actually advised not to since they would rip you off with the exchange rate (I got a much better rate charging things on my card).
When you ask for the bill, the waiter would come to your table with the card machine and charge your card right in front of you. I was told this is because there was an issue with credit card fraud awhile back, so they had to make sure no one is copying your card info at the cashier. As for tipping, you normally tip 10% and add it to the bill yourself.
I have to say, my favorite thing about dining in South Africa has got to be how ridiculously easy to split bills, by just telling them exactly how much you want to charge to each card. Simple, right? I really think more countries need to adopt this payment method!
We sat around chatting and catching up for a little while. Once the sun started to set, we crossed the street back to the beach for some pictures and sightseeing.
Serena drove us back to the city and we went to walk around an area called Waterfront where we had dinner. This area is basically a promenade by the beach-type of area and is a great place to hang around at dinner time. It was jam-packed with plenty of restaurant options to choose from.
We settled on a Greek restaurant for dinner, which was great but they had weird red lighting at the restaurant so I didn’t take too many pics. We came back to Waterfront again later on, where I was able to snap some more pics.