Pocket friendly Cape Town and views with a difference.

The distinctively cheerful, bright red busses are a common sight in Cape Town, taking tourists and locals to all the best places in the city. You name it, City Sightseeing have a hop on hop off bus going that way.

Not content with showing you the city, the Peninsula, the Winelands and the townships, they now have a way to show you a very different view of Cape Town, one from the water.

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It could be said that the V & A Waterfront is the heart of tourism in the city, and what better way to get orientated than seeing it from the waterways of a working harbour..

I hopped onto one of these water busses on Sunday  and was totally captivated by the sights of the city seen from a different perspective.

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The 30 minute tour starts just behind the Two Oceans Aquarium  on the V & A Marina, continues under the Bascule bridge and into the Victoria Basin, then under the swing bridge to the Victoria basin, before returning to the starting point.

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I am not a big fan of plugging in ear phones to hear a scripted commentary. This is mainly because I prefer to move around to get photos and have to keep unplugging the darn things, but also because I personally prefer a more interactive approach.

That said, the commentary did provide many unusual and interesting facts like the name of the huge band who had their yacht built in one of the shipyards, what was once the tallest silo in South Africa, and what a “Synchrolift” is.

I will not spoil you with the answers, do the tour, it is only ZAR40.

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The commentary also provides information on activities and attractions at the Waterfront. I would highly recommend it for orientation before exploring the area on foot.

The return trip provides fantastic views of Table Mountain as the early explorers must have seen it, it really is impressive  from this angle. Lion’s Head and Signal Hill look over the bay and call you to drive up for the opposing views.

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TIPS.

  • If you want to get great photographs do not do as I did and cruise at midday. Rather take the first trip at 9am or the last trip at 5pm when the light is better and the glare off the water is greatly reduced.
  • If you are a first time visitor to Cape Town, do this trip first as not only is it good for orientation, it also provides a lot of information that will assist you in making the most of your time at the V & A Waterfront.
  • If you are on a budget this tour is very affordable and allows plenty of time to enjoy the FREE walking tour of the city offered by City Sightseeing at 11am or 3 pm every day.

For more information on the variety of tours offered by City Sightseeing,or to book online,  visit the website . Discounts are offered for online bookings and there are great combo packages on offer.

Enjoy Cape Town.

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Fun facts about elephants

Did you know… ?

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  • In one day an adult elephant will eat and drink the equivalent of 714 Big Macs and 594 cans of Coke
  • An adult male can weigh as much a 3 Land Rovers or 6 Hyundai i 10’s
  • Elephants are vegetarians.
  • Elephants are right or left handed regarding their tusks. This is why the tusks vary in size and the degree of wear and tear as one tusk is favoured.
  •  A female elephant carries a baby for 22 months before giving birth.
  • New born ellies weigh in at around 120 kg’s.
  • Elephants spend 12 out of every 24 hours looking for and consuming food and water.
  • Elephants can tip toe, sort of. The spongy soles on their huge feet enable them to walk silently when they need to.
  • An elephant can go underwater and use it’s trunk as a snorkel.

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The African Elephant “Loxodonta africana”

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An adult elephant has only one predator, and that predator is man.

Elephants are remarkably well designed to survive in the wilds of Africa. Nomadic by nature they live in family groups or larger herds and look out for one another. Sadly they have very few skills to protect themselves from exploitation by man.

So long as there is a demand for ivory, poachers will hunt, maim or kill elephants for their tusks.

Please say no to anything made from ivory. Ivory is only beautiful on elephants.

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In tourism, sadly there is a thriving “Elephant Industry”.

Education makes it easy to refuse an opportunity to ride, feed or walk with elephants.

Any human interaction with a paying public must be able to ensure that the elephant will obey instructions and can be controlled at all times. This can only be achieved by breaking down an elephant’s independent will.

This is usually done by chaining the animals, beating them and depriving them of social interaction. The process of being captured, restrained and transported is hugely traumatic in itself, but the separation from their families, especially a young one from it’s mother, is devastating.

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Let’s take a closer look at these giants who are classified as a threatened species.

ELEPHANTS BY NUMBER.

HEIGHT:    3 – 4 meters.

WEIGHT:   3000 to 6000 kg.

EAT:   Up to 150 kg per day.

DRINK:   About 150 litres per day. An adult bull can drink 220 litres in one session.

EXCRETE:  Produces about 140 kg of dung in 24 hours.

SPEED:   Can run at speeds of up to 40 km /ph

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ANATOMY OF AN ELEPHANT.

THE SKIN

The skin is grey in colour, very wrinkled and has a sparse covering of course hair. It can be as thick as 3 – 4 cm in places.  The elephant uses it’s trunk to throw sand and water over its body which forms mud. The mud settles into the wrinkles where it stays moist and helps to keep the elephant cool. The mud also protects the skin from biting flies and other insects.

THE TRUNK

The trunk is a very long nose with an acute sense of smell. By continually raising the trunk up into the air, it can detect danger or sniff out food as far as 2 km away. The trunk also functions as an arm, and is used for picking up food from the ground, plucking leaves off of trees, and guiding, hugging or smacking a young one.  When drinking, the trunk acts as a giant straw, sucking up litres of water to squirt into its mouth. When required, it can be a snorkel. The elephant can cross a river, walking on the river bed, fully submerged, extending it’s trunk to take in air. The trunk is made up of about 100 000 muscles.

THE  EARS

Elephants have excellent hearing, and so they should with ears that account for about 20% of their size. The ears are used as cooling fans when flapped to create a breeze. The also have an intense network of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. These blood vessels facilitate the flow of 15 to 20 litres of blood per minute which also aids in keeping the elephant cool.

THE TUSKS

Tusks are actually giant incisor teeth. They double up as handy  tools for digging out roots and tubers to eat. Tusks are strong enough to split a tree before the elephant uses its body weight to knock it to the ground. Often this destructive tree felling is done for just a few mouthfuls of the juiciest, sweetest leaves at the top of the tree. Elephants are right or left -handed regarding their tusks. This is why the tusks vary in size, and the degree of wear and tear, as one tusk is favoured.

THE FEET

These are large, round and have very spongy soles.  A thick layer of cartilage acts as a much-needed  shock absorber. Elephant tracks can be as big as half a meter. In muddy conditions each foot can leave a hole that would be knee-deep to an adult human. The spongy soles allow the elephant to move in stealth mode. If required it can walk across dried leaves and not make a sound.

THE EYES

An elephant’s eyes are quite small but their eyesight is said to be fairly good in dull light, but not so great is bright, more glaring conditions.

THE BRAIN

An elephant’s brain weighs between 4 and 5 kg, perhaps this is why it is said they have good memories. The most experienced in the herd usually guides the group to remembered watering holes and sources of food.

Scientific observations indicate a certain level of intelligence and logical thought. Elephants have been seen picking up rocks to throw at other animals displaying threatening behaviour, using logs to de-activate electric fences and using sticks and leafy branches to remove ticks and to keep flies at bay.

Elephants have a complex system of communication that includes a variety of sounds, eye contact, gestures, body language and touch.

Strong familial bonds are formed for life. All members of the herd are fiercely protective of the calves, and when needed will play an active role in feeding and teaching the little ones. Elephants seem to be compassionate creatures and will assist other elephants and sometimes other animals who are distressed, injured or stuck. They will instinctively comfort the distressed or orphaned calves.

The death of an elephant is acknowledged by the herd and a grieving of sorts occurs. They will often linger in the area as though paying their last respects.In some cases they will attempt to lift, cover or bury the deceased.

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AN AVERAGE DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN ELEPHANT.

Their mission each day is to find food, water and shade.

About twelve out of every twenty-four hours is spent foraging and grazing to eat their fill, and then finding water to wash it down with. This can require them to cover move across vast areas and they walk as a group.They graze on grass and roots, and pluck leaves, seed pods,and berries from trees. They will even strip tree bark to get at the soft inner layer of pulp. Anything vegetable is food for them.

Elephants are active by day and by night, often resting in the shade during the heat of the day.  They love water, and after vital grooming has been done, they will play, rolling in the water or mud, spraying water with their trunks and splashing, chasing one another and even swimming.

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HOW THE HERD FUNCTIONS.

The herds are matriarchal, with the an experienced female as the leader. Other cows, babies and young males under about ten years old make up the rest of the family. Males leave the herd when they reach sexual maturity and join bachelor groups, only  rejoining the herd when a female is in oestrus.  As the gestation period is a very long 22 months, a cow will generally give birth  to a single calf every  4 years or so. A 627new-born calf weigh in at around 120 kg’s.

Elephants are very tactile, even when walking they will often be close together, rubbing up against one another.

Very young elephant will walk underneath their mother when the heard is on the move. Slightly older ones walk just behind the mum, holding her tail with their trunk.

The babies require a high level of care from their mothers until they are 4 – 5 years old.

The mother and other females in the heard all play a role in teaching the young how to get food, use their trunks, identify danger and protect themselves.

Elephants can live for 70 years if they manage to avoid poachers or capture for human entertainment.

Elephants are magnificent when viewed in the wild, respected and free.

Please share the knowledge of why animal interactions are cruel and unnecessary.

Do it for the ellies on #WorldElephantDay.

 

The Moravians of Mamre on the Cape West Coast.

It takes just 45 minutes to travel back in time to 300 years ago.

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Back in the day, long before this fertile valley caught the attention of Jan van Riebeeck and his cronies from the Dutch East India Company, the inhabitants were a Khoi-San tribe, known at the time as “Cochoquas” or “Proper Saldanhars” who lived off the land and had a very nice life.

Then in 1652 the Dutch colonized the Cape, and like all colonisers they spread out, explored and with little or no regard for local inhabitants, they took over.

France, Britain and Portugal all added to the history of the Cape, but the people who made the biggest and lasting impression on Mamre were the Moravian Missionaries.

 Who are the Moravians?

The Moravian Church was founded in the Czech Republic in 1457, and is said to be the first breakaway from Catholicism. By the 1670’s the movement was pretty much destroyed as a result of persecution and wars.

The rebirth occurred in Germany in 1720, and by 1730 missionaries from Herrnhut in Saxony, East Germany were sent out to spread the word. The first Moravian Mission Station in South Africa was established in Genadendal in 1792, and local people were trained to become teachers and ministers.

In 1808 the Moravian missionaries were given  three farms in the area around Mamre. They were not really interested in the politics of the Cape, nor were they mad about the Dutch or British who governed there. They wanted to spread the word of God, convert the followers of Islam, and build a community, teaching skills like  farming, carpentry, brick laying and leather tanning to the local people.

Moravian lifestyle.

After their strong Christian beliefs and values, community, respect and education appear to be the cornerstone of the Moravian lifestyle.  They were way ahead of their times in their thinking and ideals. They created communities that embraced people of all nationalities, races and status, who worked and lived together peacefully.

More astonishing was that in the days when women were not permitted to vote, and children should be seen and not heard, the Moravians not only allowed ordinary men or women to be affirmed and chosen as priests, they also believed that the spiritual and educational life of children was of high importance.

They taught skills and work ethics that empowered people to create better lives for their families, and taught others how to become teachers . Good succession planning way before the expression was coined.

The Mamre Moravian Mission Station is a collection of nine historical buildings.

The oldest building, The Parsonage, was built in 1697.

In 1822 the Church was completed and is the fifth oldest church building in South Africa. In 1887 the impressive Marcusson Organ was brought from Norway and is still used today.

The Cook House dates back to 1700, and visitors can arrange to bake bread in the old fire place.

Other buildings include the Old Shop which serves lovely teas and baked goods, the Long House which brings the military history of Mamre to life, the Mill, Acorn House and the school.

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The Mission Station is a peaceful place.  The whitewashed buildings on either side of the wide road are shaded by old oak trees, or look out onto open areas of wild flowers and colourful gardens.

On one side the view is of the hills in the distance, and a charming path winding next to to the stream. To the other side a hill rises up leading to walks, views and the cemetery.

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We took this path, stopping to explore the remains of an abandoned house halfway up the hill, then spent an hour walking through the graveyard. The names on many of the headstones are Germanic, some dating back to the 1800’s, and they all tell stories, some very sad.

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The Wild Flowers

Flower season is between July and October, with August and September generally offering the most spectacular displays.

Many flowers will not open on an overcast day, but when the sun is shining the optimum time is between 11am and 3 pm, so plan accordingly.

Please walk carefully through the fynbos and try to avoid standing on the plants. Do not pick any plants or flowers , they are there to be enjoyed by everyone.

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Tour guide  Reginald Josias  083 528 6120  seastreamscc@gmail.com.  Reginald grew up in Cape Town and was sworn into the Moravian Church as was the tradition if you wanted to stay in Mamre as a citizen at the time. A registered Tour Guide, Reginald is a mine of information regarding the history of this area. I found him to be very professional, well prepared and an absolute gentleman.

  Gay Alexander  alexandergay368@yahoo.com  083 615 3749 . Gay is a resident of Mamre and she knows almost everyone in the town. She has numerous stories and anecdotes about growing up in Mamre and offers guided tours that are informative, personal and include stories that have been passed down to her through the generations.

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How to get there.

Mamre is just 60km from Cape Town. Take the N7 until you see the Engen Swartland One Stop Petrol station,and just beyond that take the left turn to the R304. Travel for 4.8km until you reach a T junction and turn right. Continue on this road for 17.8km, through Atlantis, past the first turning into Mamre.

Look out for the sign on your left that says Mamre Historical Moravian Mission. Drive through the stone walled entrance and follow the road to the traffic circle. Go round 3/4s and you are at the entrance to Die Werf.

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Thank you to West Coast Way, Reginald and Gay for giving me the opportunity to experience Mamre.

Saldanha Bay. Where nature is raw and people are real.

The deepest natural harbour in the Southern Hemisphere is situated in Saldanha Bay, 140km from Cape Town on the Cape West Coast, and a mere 22 km North of the upmarket tourism mecca,  Langebaan.

First Impressions

Saldanha is a working town of many contrasts.  There are areas that look decidedly unloved, others of great natural beauty that are dominated by huge industrial plants from the commercial fishing and steel industries that sustain the local economy.  The SA Naval Training base adds a strong military flavour to this coastal community.

There is a sense of being on an island as the sea is often visible in more than one direction. In parts the landscape is appealing with its rugged plains and fynbos rich hills, but the first impressions of Saldanha do not reveal the depth of natural and cultural offerings.

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The Cultural Heritage Centre is the logical first stop in Saldanha.

Old photographs, artefacts and documents will provide great insight into the town and its multi layered history. The highlight is the curator Linda and her stories.  She brings the past to life with tales of family sagas and war stories, the local heroes and the apartheid era. She describes everyday living as a worker in the fishing factory, and revives the horror of shipwrecks and fishermen lost at sea.  She answers any question you pose to her.   Linda was the first of many locals I met whose passion for the area fuelled my desire to get to know their Saldanha.

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 To book a visit to the Cultural Heritage Centre please contacts Linda Prezens on 073 492 7815.

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SlipWay Waterfront Restaurant

When hunger strikes you can drive, sail or kayak to the Slipway Restaurant in the Saldanha Bay harbour. Partially hidden by a large ship in the dry dock this eatery is a place where you could spend all day. It has a fully stocked bar and the seafood is so fresh you wonder how you missed seeing them catch it.

The outside deck looks out over the bay where there is always some activity going on, or you can pass the time chatting to the owner Diane Schaafsma. Not only does she have a passion for Saldanha, Diane and her late husband, Robert, were also adventurous travellers. They have circumnavigated Africa in a yacht, sailed all over the Mediterranean, and encountered pirates in the Red Sea.  A Kombi Camper van was their home when they explored Europe and they have travelled to many of our neighbouring countries on safari. So yes, do chat to Diane, she is  not your average restaurateur, and can certainly talk about much more than food.

SlipWay Waterfront Restaurant 022 714 4235   http://www.slipwayrestaurant.co.za/

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Blue Bay Lodge

If you were any closer to the sea, you would be in the water.

The beachfront lodge has an interesting history and has grown organically from a modest single dwelling to the grand beach resort it is today.

In the very early 1800’s a man called Dirk Kotze built himself a shanty cottage on a sand dune. He had many kilometres of beach and fynbos to himself, his only living neighbours were snakes, scorpions, moles, steenbok and bat eared foxes. Life was obviously tough and he eventually vacated the cottage and it quietly decayed, alone and unloved until the early 1950’s.

In 1953 Henry and Babeta Wicht bought the farm Pienaarspoort, and on this land stood the remains of Dirk Kotze’s home. Henry and Babeta used the bones of this cottage to create their family home, adding on as their family expanded to 9 children. The original homestead in now the 16 roomed lodge and is owned and run by Andre, one of the 9 children who grew up there. Over the years Andre has grown the lodge to the resort it is today, adding suites, self-catering cottages, tennis courts, a swimming pool, hall, conference centre and the children’s play area.  http://bluebaylodge.co.za

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Mart-Mari is not only the Marketing manager for the lodge; she is also a third generation Wicht.

Her pride in the lodge is evident and she has clearly grown up on stories of what it was like in the early days, and she has her own dreams of how it will continue to grow to meet the future.

Her gorgeous dog, Crispy, is just as proud, and clearly loves living here with a beach as his playground.

There is a sign in the dining area that is obviously obeyed by all. It reads “BE NICE, OR GO HOME”

Blue Bay Lodge offers relaxation, action, and nature in equal measures. Just get there, and let the rhythms of the surroundings dictate your pace.

They are presently running themed specials that include “Cycling & Hiking”  “Health & Wellness Getaway”  “Making Memories, a family break” and a “Besties Weekend”  They all sound very appealing especially when you know they will include great dollops of West Coast hospitality.

Birds and beaches

Two hundred years ago French explorers were astonished by the “impenetrable clouds of birds of all sorts and colours” and today while numbers might have diminished, the birdlife in the mornings and evenings is still quite remarkable.

An early morning mission to catch the sunrise was not to be, as the fog was so thick the horizon disappeared and it was impossible to tell the sand from the sea, or the sea from the sky.

The whole world was grey, and silent.

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And then the birds appeared. A never ending flow of black and white action. Swooping, diving, calling, gliding, gathering in in groups, showing off I think.  Magical, mesmerising stuff.

They were so thick on the ground that I abandoned my beach walk and sat and just watched as they flicked in and out of sight in the cold, grey nowhere.

After an hour of just watching, I decided the birds could share the beach with me. A walk along the beach to the reddish glow that is the massive steelworks, fed with ore from Sishen way up North, and transported to Saldanha on one of the longest goods trains in the world.

Again, Saldanha does not initially impress. The beach was not a pristine white holiday brochure. It was coloured in stripes of red, green, white and brown. A combination of seaweed, dying seaweed, completely dead seaweed, and flotsam dyed red from the emissions from the steelworks.

Surprisingly, there was not bad smell from any of this, and squatting down for a closer inspection revealed all kinds of fascinations. The dead white “stuff” was like a scribbled spider’s web, the green and red like a thin crust over the sand. Tiny creatures scurried and ate, and footprints of birds were imprinted in all directions in the sand.

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Cliff paths and curious sounds

Mart -Mari took us on a walk and scramble along one of the many hikes that need to be explored. We started fairly high up, with outstanding views that are a big help in getting your bearings. As we slipped and slid over the loose stone, (I landed on my bum in the first three minutes) we saw the first few flowers making an early appearance. Flower season starts in July and I am told that the hills are an artist’s palette of colour then.

The path winds up and down onto the beach in parts, over rock pools and back up onto gorse covered dunes. The terrain and scenery are continuously changing.

As we walked I kept hearing a sound that was similar to the Noon Day gun, a canon shot fired at midday in Cape Town. Mart- Mari said nothing, grinned and kept walking.

We were now on a series of huge black rocks, and after cautioning us to be careful, Mart- Mari introduced us to Bomgat. (Literal translation is bomb hole)

Two huge rocks stand side by side, and a very narrow channel has been eroded between them. This channel opens into a wider pool. The waves drive the water into this narrow gap where it hits the wall and sprays high in the air. The noise that sounds like an explosion is from the water, the shape of the pool below creating the acoustics. It is very tempting to want to get really close, or even try to climb down a little way for a better view. The rocks are very slippery, the water sprays high in the air, so please be careful. Hang on tight to young children at this spot. But do go. It can be seen and heard impressively from a safe distance.

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Water sports Galore

The shape of the Bay and the weather conditions make for perfect sailing, kayaking and canoeing. Due to two four km long piers with an opening of just 800 meters between them, the bay is sheltered and can be enjoyed all year round.

And more

Whale watching, and the magnificent display of wild flowers from around July to September, golf course, yacht club, mountain bike trails, birding sites, horse riding and walks will keep all outdoor lovers busy and smiling for days.

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How to get there.

Travel on the R27 from Cape Town for 120km. Turn left at a sign marked Saldanha, Namakwa Sands Saldanha Street for 12 km then turn left again onto the R399. Drive for 6km to the centre of town.

For more information go to http://www.westcoastway.co.za/

Thanks to WestCoastWaySA and Blue Bay Lodge for hosting me and showing me this delightful town.

Blue Bay Lodge is an attraction on the Blue Benguela Route of West Coast Way