round the Cape of Good Hope
The very first thing we did during our first trip to South Africa was go to see the penguins at Simon’s Town. It was our “baby moon” – a long weekend escape to Cape Town tacked onto S’s antenatal screening in Pretoria. We drove straight from the airport to Simon’s Town, arriving just as storm clouds gathered overhead. We spent enough time on the boardwalks observing the breeding penguin colony to feel that the visit had been worthwhile. Leaving as the first raindrops fell, however, we knew we would have to come back to do the Cape Peninsula justice.
Returning to South Africa with our kids a year later, Simon’s Town again topped our list of must-visit sites, but this time we decided to roll it into a longer excursion around the Cape of Good Hope. We had rented an AirBnB in Bakoven, which made it convenient to take the ocean road past the scenic beaches of Camps Bay, Llandudno, and Noordhoek to Chapman’s Peak Drive – a beautiful, cliffside route with blind hairpin turns, vertical drop-offs, and spectacular ocean views that leads to the Peninsula.
Our first instinct was to head straight for the park’s southernmost tip, but there was not much to do there other than queue to take pictures next to the sign marking the Cape of Good Hope. Baboons roamed the shoreline amid signs warning visitors not to feed them. A trail led up the steep hillside, but with two small kids and no clear idea as to where it led, we decided to skip it.
Instead, we climbed back into the car and headed for the Cape Point lighthouse. Munchkin got a kick out of riding the Flying Dutchman funicular before we ascended the remaining stairs to the lighthouse. The ocean raged beneath us in beautiful fury. Small wonder that the first Portuguese sailors to round the tip of Africa called this the Cape of Storms. Like many first-time visitors, we had thought the rechristened Cape of Good Hope to be the continent’s southernmost point, but it turns out that is not true. Cape Agulhas, a couple hundred miles east, enjoys that distinction.
We walked back down rather than taking the funicular, enjoying the views and working up an appetite, our intention being to dine at the Cape Point restaurant. Unsurprisingly, since our visit fell during the height of the tourist season, the restaurant was packed. The staff found us a table, but took a small eternity to take our orders. When after 20 minutes of sitting we had not even received our drinks we decided to abort the mission; good thing too – when we asked to cancel our order, the waiter informed us that he had not even gotten around to putting it in. Leaving the park, we spotted a handful of sable antelope, which was a first for us.
We drove to Simon’s Town and had a late lunch there before going to visit the penguins. Our first visit had been so rushed that we didn’t realize that the protected area has two distinct entrances. Last year, we had gone to the boardwalks at Foxy Beach, which allow one to observe the breeding penguin colony, but obviously restrict one’s access to the penguins. Another entrance a bit further down the street leads to Boulders Beach, which has fewer penguins but enjoys the virtue of being an actual beach.
Munchkin played in the sand and splashed around in the calm, warm water, and every once in a while a penguin would waddle across the beach, carefully skirting the visiting tourists. Most of the penguins hung out at the edge of the small bay, among the boulders that give this beach its name. With no enclosures or fences, it was possible to get as close as one dared to the penguins – or, at least, as close as they would permit. Being flightless, penguins have rather limited range of motion, but they would hiss angrily and snap at anyone who got too close.
Munchkin got nearly as much of a kick out of hanging out with the penguins as we did, though we couldn’t help thinking that this was one more in a long series of awesome experiences he will ultimately forget.