The Overberg

I'm excited and nervous all at once this morning. I need to get cleaned up, packed, pick up the laundry, check out of the hotel, and get transport to the airport to meet Jackie, whose flight is landing at 8:50am. I woke up at 7:15 and the mad rush began. I showered and packed, but I had to wait till 8 am to pick up my laundry in the wash-and-fold up the street.

I called Fish for a taxi, but the timing was not going to work for him. Last night I had a lengthy discussion with the hotel staff about reserving a cab this morning, but I turned down the offer, so I had to arrange a taxi. I went to get the laundry, and on the way out I asked the front desk about a taxi. They said there was one waiting for me—I guess the guy did arrange it last night, so now I was really rushed. I ran up to get the laundry, packed it in my crammed suitcase, grabbed a couple of pieces of bread from the restaurant, and hopped in the taxi.

I snapped some photos from the back of the cab on the way to the airport. It was a gray morning, the first I've experienced in Cape Town. I wanted to get some shots of the imposing cooling towers by the side of the N2 highway. These towers are part of the Athlone Power Station, which was operational from 1962 until 2003. Last month, the metal rings collapsed on one of the towers, prompting the immediate demolition of the towers. This will happen in May 2010.

Beside the airport is the Langa suburb of Cape Town. One of the oldest townships in Cape Town, it was designated a living area for blacks in the 1920s—the practice of apartheid was in place before the policy became official in 1948.

We made it to the airport and I waited in the international terminal for some time. It's a small airport, so there was no chance of missing Jackie. I just hoped she made the flight. She flew British Airways from New York to London, then London to Cape Town. But, a British Airways strike was looming, so I wasn't sure of her flight was canceled or if she made her connection. At long last, she did appear through the doors from customs—tired but excited.

We picked up the car, walked the long labyrinth of paths out to the lot (there is still a lot of construction at this airport in preparation for the World Cup in June), and inspected the car. We will drive a white, Chevy Cruze, a four-door sedan.

First, I wanted to spin around the parking lot for a bit to try this right-hand driving routine. Driving on the right side of the car and driving on the right side of the road had me a little worried. Shifting with the opposite arm, looking in the opposite direction, I'm hoping I can do it. Thankfully, the gear box is configured the same way, and the gas, brake, and clutch are in the same order too.

After spinning around the lot for a minute or two, much to the wonderment of the construction workers, we took to the airport loop road. First task: find our way out of the airport. We drove around for awhile and were warned that there are no signs yet (construction). We got lost a bit and ended up at a military base entrance, then another car rental place, where we found ourselves in need of the reverse gear. Embarrassingly, we could not figure out how to put it in reverse! There's no button, lifting or pressing the stick down did not work... Eventually, someone from the nearby rental office came out to help us with our reverse problem, and got us out of the airport too.

Soon, we were heading east on the N2. I was doing it—driving on the wrong side of the road. After trying to visualize doing this for the past few days, I finally came up with a system: like the States, always keep the centerline on the driver's side of the car.

Jackie and I drove out the N2 highway to Strand, where we turned south on R44 along the coast. Overberg means "over the mountain" and is the breadbasket of the cape. Strand was a rather colorless, mundane seaside town with inappropriately high towers. We were looking for lunch, but there was nothing that piqued our interest here. We continued on to Gordon's Bay, where we stopped at a seaside restaurant. I had calamari grilled in garlic which was pretty good. While we were here, we called ahead and booked a place in Hermanus for this evening.

Map of the drive through the Overberg

Our trip through the Overberg, from Cape Town to Knysna.

Past Gordon's Bay, we stopped off at an overlook, where the beach below was host to a flock of surfers. The mountain was covered in fynbos, the low-lying shrub that covers this part of the country. Although clouds covered the mountaintops, the view was still beautiful.

Near Betty's Bay, we saw a sign for a penguin colony and decided to bite. Neither of us knew there was a colony here, and it was a nice surprise. I'd seen penguins near the Cape of Good Hope a few days ago, but I wasn't sure if Jackie had seen them before. Turns out she has, in South America, but we'll stop in anyway to see some more.

The Stony Point penguin colony is much larger than the Boulders colony on the opposite side of the bay. We spent an hour gawking at the penguins, cormorants, and a lone seal. The beach does not look good for swimming, it is very rocky and filled with seaweed.

Perhaps because of their exotic nature to us northerners, penguins seem endlessly entertaining. I can't tell you how many photos Jackie and I took of these bird-seal hybrids.

These two must be related, they seem to be in tune with one another.

After watching these strange birds for awhile, you begin to project human emotions to them. These three shots struck me for their emotional quality:

This place is not called Stony Point for nothing. It is very rocky, but it is the gradient of color from the deep brown near the water to the bright white at the tips which makes it so beautiful. Then there's the yellow lichens growing on the tips, too.

Penguins nest on the bare ground, where they gather a few sticks to make something that resembles a nest.

We took a lot of penguin photos, but they are fun to watch and certainly exotic to see.

We caught these two getting intimate with one another.

Finally, our penchant for penguins was exhausted, and we took a few more shots of them, and the other wildlife that largely goes unnoticed, and pressed on to Hermanus. We did not have a long drive today, so we had time to sight-see.

We arrived in Hermanus around 5 pm, tracked down our room for the evening in the Hermanus Esplanade. We stayed in a self-catering apartment for R300, or about $45 USD. Of course, the place was not four-star, or two-star for that matter, but it did the trick.

Most notable were the stairs, which were treacherous, at best. Also, there was no shower, only a large bath. But, the beds were comfortable and clean.

After we settled in, we strolled around town scoping out dinner options. There is a small harbor with fishing boats and fish-cleaning tables by the water. The town is situated above the coast, making this more of a seaside town rather than a beach destination.

The primary activity here is whale watching. And, one need not get in a boat to do it. This town claims to be the best land-based whale watching town in the world, where you can sit on the high bluffs and see whales breach from the comfort of land. Unfortunately, this mainly happens between June and December, so no whale sightings for us on this visit.

The town has recently undergone a renovation of sorts, I looked at images in Google Maps and the entire waterfront area has changed. Now there is a nice park overlooking the ocean, and a former parking lot is now an outdoor eating area for surrounding restaurants. Fountains were built and streets realigned.

We settled on a place called Fusion Cafe. Jackie got a salad, which was presented as a tower, and I got a curry. We sat, talked, enjoyed a nice pinotage, and took some photos.

We walked around town a little after dinner. I wanted to find a phone card, and we both took some photos of town. We headed back around 10:30 pm and fell asleep soon after that.

The next day we decided to visit Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa. Not that this would be a super-special place, but it was a way to see the Overberg and another part of the coast. The land flattens out as one heads south to the cape. It is also hotter and drier here too. We spotted some ostrich farms along the way. We were also pulled over a few times, random police checks. Are they looking for a criminal on the loose?

The landscape at the cape is beautiful. Green ocean, with brown and gray rocks. Quite lovely. After passing through the nearby town, there is a kilometer-long gravel road to the southernmost point. We're here, right? May as well see it.

We hiked around the rocks and I came across a large tidal pool which occupied me for some time.

Soon we drove to the lighthouse at the edge of town. The lighthouse was built in 1848 and is now a museum. We walked around for 10 minutes, then continued on our way.

We left a little after two o'clock and we had some ground to cover yet. We booked a place in the town of Knysna (pronounced "nize-na"), one of the big towns along the Garden Route. We drove back north, were stopped by the police again, and hit a grocery store in Swellendam.

Swellendam is one of the oldest towns in South Africa. Its population is around 30,000, but you wouldn't know that if you visited on a Sunday. The main street was deserted, and everything was closed except the grocery store. We picked up some car food: bread, apples, and nuts, and continued on our way.

The drive to Knysna was long, but nice. Mossel Bay marks the western side of the Garden Route, and a massive oil refinery marks the outskirts of Mossel Bay. Knysna, on the other hand, is located deep within the Garden Route. Over the next couple days, we will visit the forests of the Garden Route.