Sharks and penguins

Trip Start May 06, 2012
Trip End May 24, 2012

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Friday, May 11, 2012

Our final task in Cape Town was to collect our car, a white Citroen that at time of writing we've yet to name; 'The Great White’ has been mooted but so far nothing has stuck. Driving in Cape Town (remember: an CT is an area, not a just a city) is pretty straightforward. Like the Brits, South Africans also drive on the left, there’s less on the road and very few drivers appear to be in a hurry: our Robben Island guide introduced us to the notion of African Time, basically meaning that all times are approximate!

We meandered our way from Cape Town centre to Simon’s Town via a number of picturesque hamlets: first a quick hour on the beach at Camps Town, then onto Muizenberg via the spectacular Chapman’s Peak drive which offers panoramic views over Houts bay. Muizenberg had much of the Victorian seaside town about it in terms of atmosphere and appearance. This was our first stop of the trip on the eastern side of the cape, meaning the beach was part of the False Bay inlet as opposed to facing onto the Atlantic itself. Somewhat surprisingly, this apparently makes it a much better destination for surfers; my Agatha Christie-reading companion informed me that the great lady enjoyed surfing holidays at Muizenberg. I must admit I found the mental image of Agatha Christie catching a wave a difficult one to conjure, but maybe that’s just me.

Simon’s Town itself combines centuries of naval tradition – it’s still a significant base of operations for the South African Navy – with catering to the present-day tourist industry. We got an early night as we had significant business to attend to the following day: namely penguins and (hopefully) sharks.

In their confirmation email our tour operator Apex Predators had warned us that ‘like trains and planes, boats don’t wait’, an effective message judging by the ten passengers on the boat tour turning up at the pier before our scheduled departure time of 6.45am. The early start allowed us to watch the sun rise over the ocean, an exhilarating way to start the day. We soon ran into a huge school of 1,000 plus common dolphins, almost literally as the dolphins love to swim alongside the boat and surf on the momentum the boat creates. We rounded Seal Island, set the bait and waited for the Great White to take it. Would we see Marshmallow, so named because he bit a chunk off the polystyrene buffers on the edge of the cage? Or could it be Shy Guy, the reclusive fellow always reluctant to approach the boat? Well, in the event we were unlucky: we didn’t see a Great White. There are no guarantees on these trips, and we’d be warned on the previous day that sightings had been down recently but decided to continue nonetheless. However, our disappointment was short-lived. We caught up with some of the dolphins swimming with a few seals. Lynds and I were able to dive in open water, passing within metres of the animals and listening to the constant high-pitched chattering of the dolphins’ language (based exclusively upon the letter ‘E’ – perhaps only one episode of Sesame Street has been broadcast on Dolphin TV). We then returned to Seal Island where we dived for a second time, this time in the cage, viewing the seals playing in the shallows where they are safe from shark attack. Suddenly, a phone call was received and the boat was tearing across the bay, where we saw a pod of Orcas (killer whales) chasing a large school of dolphins. Sightings of Orcas in the bay are extremely rare (the captain had seen 11 sightings in 18 years) so despite the absence of the Great Whites we had nevertheless seen something rare and awesome.

As we’d set out so early we were back at our hotel by 1pm, which left us plenty of time to explore the famous Boulders Beach in the afternoon, home to the famous Jackass (African) Penguins. We’d earlier enjoyed the comical sight of three Penguins looking entirely out of place in the middle of Seal Island (see pictures); the best caption we came up with was "I thought you said it was fancy-dress?!" The penguins are typical African animals: they’re completely unfazed by and disinterested in humans and they look slightly ridiculous, waddling around on the sand as if evolution decided to have a bit of a joke at their expense. However, I was lucky enough to see a penguin swimming close up as I was having a paddle. They might look somewhat ridiculous on land but they resemble a smartly-dressed torpedo in the water, accelerating effortlessly and gracefully. It might not have been a Great White Shark, but seeing these Penguins at close hand in their natural environment was a great experience in its own right. On the way out we saw a sign which instantly became one of my favourites: “Before leaving, please check for penguins under your vehicle.”
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Pat & Mike on


alexanderdrury on

Thanks both, now updated to include penguins!!

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