Today was one of the more interesting days of the trip. After an early morning alarm and breakfast, we had our sights set on driving to the Cape of Good Hope (southern tip of the country), vising the penguins at Boulder Island, and finishing up with the late afternoon tour of Robben Island.
The day was off to a rough start. Last night we got a warning that we had low tire pressure on one of the wheels (second time this trip, NZ throwback) and even after trying to fill it with air last night, we still had issues this morning. After spending the 8-9 am hour at the tire shop and getting the tire plugged, we were finally on our way.
The 90 minute drive took us through quite the change of scenery- we left beautiful sunny Cape Town and ascended various mountains and low and behold we drove into a massive cloud/fog system where we could barely see 25 feet in front of us. The temperature also dropped almost 5 degrees C and we were hoping that the fog would disappear by the time we arrived.
We pulled up to the Cape of Good Hope National Park and paid the entrance fee and made our way in. 12 km into the park there is a famous lighthouse which we were told offered amazing views of the surrounding area but today would not be our day.
In the fog we had no idea how long the hike up to the top would be. And although it only took 10-15 minutes, we could literally see nothing aside from the lighthouse up there. After exploring the top of of the peak, we made our way back down and decided to try to go to the official Cape to see if the visibility would be any better.
Thankfully, the second stop in the national park gave us a few more chances for decent photos as well as the opportunity to see the baboons and ostrich that live in the park.
With our pictures in tact, we got back in the car for the 25 minute drive to Boulder Beach- the famous beach in Cape Town where you can see all of the penguins….well, not today. We arrived at the parking lot and it was slammed, we had to park quite a bit away down a street full of houses.
We paid our second entrance fee to the national park and discovered a very tiny beach with all of 2 penguins visible- one when you walked down the path and one laying on the rock. We walked around and were convinced that we were just in the wrong spot, thinking that there must be a different path to the plethora of penguins. Eventually we found an off-path option where we climbed over some rocks to get to the other side of the beach. While we did find a few more penguins, this was certainly not all that it lived up to be.
Thankfully, we had gotten a restaurant recommendation for lunch and made our way to a beach-side restaurant overlooking the water and laughed about our morning experience. We got in the car earlier than planned to make the trip back up north for the hour or so to get to the V&A Waterfront Area.
The third tour of the day, and one that finally lived up to the hype, was our Robben Island Tour. Robben Island is just outside of Cape Town and for approximately 400 years served as an exile and prison for a variety of folks, starting for the diseased in the 1700s to the political and criminal prisoners from 1960s-1990s, the remote island is just a 30-minute ferry away.
During it’s “prime” of apartheid, the prison held 1200-1500 political prisoners including the 30+ that were deemed the highest priority including Nelson Mandela and the other leaders of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations.
The tour was split into two sections- a bus tour and a prison tour. The bus driver was one of the most passionate tour guides we’ve ever had. We drove by the limestone quarry were prisoners were forced to work for 8 hours a day. We drove by the various buildings and barracks that were stood up for WWII that survived and were later used to house the guards on the island. We drove by structures that were built to be even more solitary than solitary confinement. We didn’t realize how large the island was until on the bus and learned that it was 12 km and now actually serves as a residence to 30 or so workers for the museum and their families. We did get a good photo on the tip of the island pointing back towards Table Mountain and the downtown area.
After the bus tour, we were dropped at the front of the prison where we had a tour from a former prisoner. It was really inspiring and interesting to learn about the prison from someone who had spent far too many years there. Our guide was sentenced to a 5-year term on Robben Island in December of 1984 and led us through what his life was like as well as those that came before him. We didn’t get too many pictures when inside but walked through the main gate, the court house, various individual and group cells, the rec yard, and many other components to the prison including the cell where Nelson Mandela spent most of his time on the island.
We learned of the horrors of solitary confinement vs. general population as well as how the prisoners found some sense of community in their situation- including smuggling notes on dining dishes, smuggling in newspapers, and using community time for prayer and recreation to help align on strategy.
After the tour, we boarded the ferry back to the V&A Waterfront and found our way to another dinner spot recommended by the same person as last night. We walked about 10-15 minutes back to restaurant along the water and had another phenomenal meal overlooking the lights on the water and the ocean.
While our first two activities of the day were slightly underwhelming (we’ll blame the weather and just a stroke of bad luck), the afternoon and evening were exceptional. As we wrap up our stay in Cape Town proper before moving to Wine Country tomorrow, we know we’ll be back here eventually as there’s so much to see and do and tons of great (and affordable) food.