The southwest coast of South Africa presented a refreshing new vibe and ecosystem. Hugging the coastal range, rimmed by mountains that cradle fertile valleys, the interplay of Atlantic and Indian Ocean currents brews diverse weather, vegetation and bird populations in this region.
Again, we arrived late, after a long day of travel on incredibly bumpy roads. (You’ve not met a speed bump till you’ve gone over one of thousands on the road between Cape Town and Langebaan on the back seat of a 12-pack van!) Patrice and Sandra welcomed us to the Glenfinnan Guest House. Usually the Glenfinnan serves only breakfast, but we, being so late and so special, were treated to drinks and a South African style Braai before we turned in for the night.
After a sumptuous cooked-to-order breakfast, we spent a full day exploring West Coast National Park (WCNP), which was in the midst of prime flower and bird breeding season.
The WCNP surrounds a large saltwater marsh lagoon with extensive wetlands and coastlines that shelter marine invertebrates, seaweeds, and endemic coastal wading birds and seabirds. If you know where to look, you may also find mountain zebra, eland, hydrax, steenbok, ostrich, and bontebok. And I made a brief acquaintance with a Puff adder.
From the Park we traveled toward Capetown where we spent our final nights at the posh Vineyard Hotel, which is an historic building left over from the colonial days when it commanded a stately private vineyard.
During our stay in Capetown we completed a loop that encompassed both pincers of False Bay. Capetown is actually nestled between Table Mountain and Table Bay, just west of Cape Point, aka the Cape of Good Hope. Directly east of the Cape Point, across horseshoe-shaped False Bay, sits Cape Hangklip. False Bay got its name 300 years ago from sailors who confused the bay with Table Bay because Capes Point and Hangklip look so similar. Once pulled out of the current and into False Bay, it was a struggle to get back out to the ocean again and get around that pesky Cape of Good Hope.
The Cape of Good Hope derives its name from being the farthest south point along the African coast so that sailors headed for India could round the point and at last head eastward toward their destination. The weather and currents are famously horrible. But the view from the Cape is breathtaking. And on the walk to the top, my companions pointed out a pod of Bryde’s whales cavorting in the ocean.
The east side of False Bay lies in the shadow of the Hottentot Mountains, which bleed moisture from the clouds and dump abundant (or once abundant) rain into the Elgin Valley east of the mountains. The Elgin region is famous for deciduous fruit, flowers, and wine.
The grounds at the Vineyard Hotel were a birder’s delight. The food was good. It was a nice place. Very European. Not very African. (Except for the birds.)
And even some of the birds aren’t very African, like the ubiquitous Hadada Ibis, who behaves much like our Canadian Geese, overpopulating in areas where the living is easy, and making the most god-awful racket when they fly over that they were the first birds I recognized by sight and by sound.
All good things must come to an end. From the lovely grounds of the Vinyard Hotel, we headed again to the airport for a very long journey home. Thus the end of my African journals.