A group of adventurous Sole Sisters and partners journeyed to South Africa in March 2018 to hike the Northern Drakensberg Traverse. This traverse is considered to be one of the world’s top 10 walks, and we couldn’t wait to get up there. It would be a shame to go all the way from Australia to South Africa without seeing a few more sights though, so we added a week of fun and sightseeing before we tackled the mountains.
Our first port of call was Cape Town, where we enjoyed a lovely stay at the Lézard Bleu guest house in the suburb of Oranjezicht on the lower slopes of Table Mountain. It was the perfect launching pad for five days of exploring the Western Cape. Our lovely hosts spoiled us with a beautiful breakfast every morning, and we returned each evening for a swim in the pool and a relaxing drink on the deck.
Our first day in the Mother City was spent exploring the city, with stops at Greenmarket Square, the “Arch for Arch” honouring the much loved Archbishop Tutu, and the V&A Waterfront.
Highlights of the day included a caffeine hit at the extraordinary steam-punk coffee shop Truth (judged the world’s best coffee shop two years in a row) and a visit to the fabulous Zeitz MOCAA art museum in a converted grain silo.
It was a fun and relaxing day to recover from our journeys and find our feet in Africa, but looming over us as we gently strolled through the city was the awe-inspiring Table Mountain. A reminder that the next day would not be quite so easy!
Climbing Table Mountain
We started with an early breakfast and drive up to the lower cable car station, where we began our ascent of Table Mountain. Most people take the cable car to the top, and a few walk the direct route up, but we opted for a challenging route via India Venster.
Our guides, Ray Leveson and Frank Dwyer, helped us scramble up the rocks and kept us entertained with local knowledge. The day started with bright blue skies, but as we climbed the mist and clouds rose with us to cover the tabletop. It was a tough climb, but we enjoyed waving to the lazy folks in the cable car!
We rewarded ourselves with a coffee stop at the peak, before heading off across the top of the mountain via Echo Valley. The swirling mist denied us the summit views, but instead we focussed our attention on the rich diversity of the fynbos: disas, proteas, ericas, restios and more. The Cape Floral Kingdom, of which Table Mountain is part, is a UNESCO World Heritage site
During lunch on a rock along Smuts’ track, the mist lifted and we had terrific views over the southern suburbs of Cape Town towards False Bay.
We descended through the afromontane forest via Nursery Ravine into Kirstenbosch Gardens. The beautiful blooming proteas and frisky sunbirds enchanted us and took our minds off our weary legs.
We were happy to see our driver in the carpark at the Gardens though – it was long day out on the mountain, but a truly stunning walk and a good warm-up for the adventures ahead.
Touring the winelands and Cape Point
After our hard work climbing the mountain, we treated ourselves with a day tour of the vineyards inland from Cape Town with lively guide Annie Delport.
We started with a chocolate tasting and coffee at Spice Route, then moved on to Fairview and Backsberg for cheese, wine and brandy tastings, and eventually a gourmet lunch (more wine naturally) at Glen Carlou.
Even that wasn’t enough, so we stopped for an ice cream and a stroll round the lovely old university town of Stellenbosch. It wasn’t all gluttony though, as the hunt was on for the perfect ostrich skin bag. Fortunately, Stellenbosch is full of shops!
The Cape of Good Hope beckoned and we spent a day driving the Cape Peninsula circuit, with stops to see the penguins at Boulders Beach, the stunning view from Cape Point, and the lookouts on Chapman’s Peak Drive. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the wind was whipping the spray up from the Atlantic Ocean, and we were happy to retreat back into the city.
Our last day in Cape Town started with a walk through the peaceful Kirstenbosch Gardens, then an afternoon free for everyone to relax or follow their own interests, followed by a taste safari and lively African music and dance at Gold.
Klein Karoo and Garden Route
We thoroughly enjoyed the Western Cape, but it was time to move on to explore other parts of South Africa. We headed northeast out of Cape Town and through the Klein (Little) Karoo, which despite being a semidesert region was beautiful and full of surprises.
We stumbled upon Giovanni’s Italian Country Kitchen in Calitzdorp and learned about the Italian prisoners of war who settled in the area after WWII while we enjoyed excellent pizza and homemade amaretto.
After marvelling at the huge flocks of ostriches in the paddocks by the highway, we decided to visit one of the ostrich farms and have a closer look at not only the birds but the ostrich skin bags!
The dramatic change of vegetation and the view of the Indian Ocean from the high pass down into the town of George was stunning, and we happily headed into the town of Wilderness to stop for the night at the Moontide Guesthouse.
The next day we continued east along the coast of the Eastern Cape on the Garden Route, which rivals the Great Ocean Road for spectacular scenery.
We stopped at a few important landmarks en route, including the 1855 Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Belvidere, where two of our Sole Mates were married nearly 30 years ago.
Our final stop was Jeffreys Bay, where Mick Fanning famously punched a shark. Sadly, there were no sharks or surfers in sight, so we headed on into Port Elizabeth, where we were welcomed with open arms by our Sole Mates’ families. They treated us to a delicious South African braai and very comfortable homestays for the night.
The challenge of the Drakensberg awaits in part 2!
Fabulous photos by Jo
India Venster is a difficult and dangerous route up Table Mountain. Weather conditions on Table Mountain can change quickly. Do not attempt this route without an experienced guide. This track map is approximate and should not be relied on.