Penguins, Wildflowers and the Karoo

After a 30 hour flight with layovers from San Francisco to Cape Town, we landed amidst a late winter storm that spirals up to the Cape from the Southern Ocean in the southern late winter/early spring. After dealing with a rental car SNAFU for several hours, we made our way down through the southern suburbs of Cape Town, our trial by fire for driving on the left side of the road to the charming, and very English village of Simon’s Town.

THE PENGUINS OF SIMON’S TOWN – Penguins are strictly a southern hemisphere critter. The African black footed penguin is the second northernmost of the lot, after the near equatorial Galapagos penguin. Sadly, factory fishing for their preferred prey – sardines (pilchards), and other forage fish – have reduced their numbers by nearly 90 percent. But a glimmer of hope occurred some 30 years ago when a few pairs ventured onto the mainland at Simon’s Town. Now nearly 3,000 penguins breed there, with their  numbers increasing aggressively each year. But therein lies a challenge….

Say Dear…Is That A PENGUIN!

Wherever you go in Sim0n’s Town, you’ll be greeted by a small tuxedoed, fellow – at restaurants, parking, and, driving….The locals have adapted, but if you’re a bit tired, and you’re driving down the road at night and you see something…….what….say, dear, is that a PENGUIN? Why yes!

 

THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE – From Simon’s town, we ventured south to the ragged end of the continent, a name drilled into the head of every sixth grader: the Cape of Good Hope, known to the Dutch of the Dutch India Company as the Cape of Storms, and is indeed littered with the skeletons of ships ranging from 10 to 400 years of age. We ventured to the Cape on a typical blustery day when you felt you could see all the way to the Southern Ocean….a landless 5,000 miles to the south.

 

THE FLOWERS OF WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK – Virtually every Californian gardiner is familiar with the African daisy. Beautiful, and really nice in large bunches. Now imagine African daisies….carpets of daisies…white…red…blue…lavender…stretching for MILES…. That will give you a feeling for West Coast Park in the a wet spring….and we were lucky to arrive in the wettest spring in a decade. Now add large mammals lounging and feeding in the daisies – zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, bontebuck, 2,000 lb. eland and more. Combine this with hundreds of other blooming plants…mindblowing!

THE KAROO – Much of southern, interior South Africa is dominated by a dry grass and shrubland called the Karoo. It is unique to planet earth, and, again, due to luxuriant rains, was in full bloom. This time imagine vast open spaces, with every kind of succulent plant you can imagine x `100, then add in towering mountains, some snowcapped, yes, snowcapped (our car was cloaked in ice each morning). In our humble Polo VW rent-a-car, we drove, about 150 mile on dirt roads to reach the heart of Tanqua National Park, to stay in our own, remote “wilderness hut” – no electricity, but clean sheets, a warm bed, incredible views and….absolute silence, save the 200 plus species of birds, many occurring nowhere else, serenading us at dawn.

SA WINE COUNTRY – After the long retreat south from the Karoo, we landed in the quaint, 400 year old town of Stellenbasch, in the heart of South Africa’s wine country. Tomorrow, it’s south and east to the Indian Ocean.

Cheers!

Bryan and Jane – More to come

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