Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hermanus, Cape Overberg, South Africa

Hermanus, the world's foremost land based whale watching destination, is a thriving holiday resort offering residents and holiday makers all modern amenities, yet retaining its fisherman's village charm. The popular resort town of Hermanus, situated between mountain and sea, has gained world-wide recognition as the world's foremost land based whale watching destination. This has resulted in the former fishing village showing a tremendous growth over the last few years.

Contributory factors to the success of the town are the natural scenic beauty, the mild climate, the range of outdoor activities available, and the close proximity to Cape Town, with Hermanus being a mere 140 km from the Cape Metrople. The ideal base from which to explore the Western Cape and the Cape Overberg.

Whale watching in South Africa - Every year, these beautiful gentle giants congregate to our shores to mate and calve. South Africa has got to be one of the most incredible destinations in the world for watching marine mammals. In early June, southern right whales leave their Antarctic feeding ground to frolic in the warmer waters of the Western Cape coast. Here they mate, calve and generally hang out, occasionally flopping a tail up, or sticking their heads out of the water, much to the delight of onlookers. They are a true marvel to behold.

Whale watching in South Africa is done from June to November, although it’s not uncommon for whales to be spotted outside this period. They pick some of the most beautiful stretches of our coast for their activities. Some of the best viewing spots include Lamberts Bay on the Cape West Coast, the Cape Peninsula, False Bay, Hermanus, Arniston, Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay. Some 37 species of whales and dolphins are found in South African waters, but the most common are the humpback whales and southern right whales (in spring), which are frequently encrusted with white barnacles. Humpback whales are similar in size to southern right whales (around 15m), and are often seen off the South African coast between July and November as they move to Mozambique to calve and breed, and to Antarctica, where they feed.

The absolute best way to enjoy whale watching in South Africa is to go on a whale-watching boat trip. The boats are big, comfortable and moderately dry. Boarding is easy and people in wheelchairs can be accommodated. In some cases, the prices of these whale watching boat trips can be quite high, but the chance to get within metres of whales at water-level is simply unforgettable. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Constantia vineyards, Cape Town South Africa

The elegant suburb of Constantia is situated in the Cape’s oldest winelands and is home to renowned wine estates and numerous award-winning restaurants. Lined with oak trees and gabled Cape Dutch homesteads, Constantia is a pretty suburb situated on the lower slopes of Table Mountain. The winelands began in 1685 on the farm of the governor of the Cape Colony at the time, Simon van der Stel. 

Having chosen an enormous tract of farmland for himself and his family, Van der Stel named his estate Constantia after his daughter. Today, Constantia is one of Cape Town’s most prestigious suburbs. After Van der Stel’s death in 1712, his estate was divided and sold off as the wine estates which still exist today.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town South Africa

Kirstenbosch is South Africa’s world-famous national botanical garden, set against the backdrop of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak, and home to more than 22 000 indigenous plants.Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 to protect the immense floral wealth of the Cape. Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, this 528ha (1 305 acre) botanical wonderland is magnificent in any season. Paved paths make walking around a pleasure, and plaques and signboards provide information on the trees and plants. There is a free daily walking tour at 10h00, and visitors can enjoy golf cart tours every hour for R50 (additional to Garden entry fee). 

The glass-topped conservatory is home to numerous plants – including an enormous baobab tree – from different South African habitats. If you’d like to go back in time some 3.2-billion years, the Gondwanaland Garden displays types of plants that were present when there was only one continent on Earth.

Kommetjie and Kommetjie Lighthouse, Cape Town South Africa

Kommetjie (“small basin” in Afrikaans) gets its name from early beginnings, when settlers apparently used the natural basin as a convenient fish trap. Today the suburb’s main attraction is its wide, long, beautiful beach, which extends for more than 8km (5mi) to Noordhoek. Its length and flatness makes Kommetjie a popular dog-walking and horse-riding venue.

Another attraction is the tallest cast-iron lighthouse on the South African coast, the white Slangkop (“snake head” in Afrikaans) Lighthouse, which stands approximately 30m (98ft) high and is made entirely from steel. Slangkop Lighthouse has been operational since March 4, 1919 and has a rotating electric light that gives four flashes every 30 seconds. The central point of the light is 41m (135ft) above water, making it visible even in thick misty conditions. The lighthouse is powered by the Cape Municipality, but it also has a standby diesel alternator, which takes over in the event of an interruption in the main supply.

St James, Cape Town South Africa

Just a little further on from Cape Town’s well-known Muizenberg beach (with its ubiquitous Victorian bathing boxes) is St James.  Also boasting the trademark and oft-photographed bathing boxes, St James is a picturesque village and beach, which offers beachgoers respite from the westerly wind. St James is one of Cape Town’s smaller suburbs, yet it has a rich history. Thanks to a publication put together by St James historian, Michael Walker, the history of some of the original homesteads built between Muizenberg and St James in 1883 has been recorded. From St James towards Muizenberg, a number of gracious stone houses still remain as testament to a wealthy colonial past, during which the main road was commonly known as “Millionaire’s Mile”. 

During the late 19th century, homes were constructed from stone, plaster and limestone, and sported thatched roofs. Some of these homes have been handed down from generation to generation and still exist today, giving visitors a glimpse of what St James looked like in its heyday. One such structure is St James Cottage, built in 1853. According to historical accounts, the owner, Abraham Auret, hid prisoners of war in the loft during the Anglo-Boer War, and helped to stage their escape across the bay. Today St James offers the visitor a relaxing spot in which to unwind and enjoy the intimate beach and rock pools along the False Bay coastline. There’s also a safe tidal pool and a tennis court for the more energetic. This beach is ideal for families as the pool is warmer than the surrounding sea.

Greenmarket Square, Cape Town South Africa

City centre, Cape Town South Africa

When it comes to fun and entertainment, Cape Town is the mother of all cities, and there's no such thing as a dull moment if you’re in the heart of it: the Cape Town city centre. Here, you'll find loads of attractions and entertainment options.

Meet the flower sellers of Adderley Street, something of a Cape Town institution, and make sure you browse in Greenmarket Square, the city’s best-loved flea market. The Pan African Market in Long Street (which is vibrant, particularly at night) is a must for curios and wares from all over Africa. There are two museums that are an absolute must – the District Six Museum on Buitenkant Street and the Iziko South African Museum, which is part of the collection of eight Iziko Museums of Cape Town. 

City Sightseeing Bus Tours, Cape Town South Africa

The open-top double-decker buses of City Sightseeing are one of the best ways to take in the highlights of Cape Town. With the sun on your shoulders, and an elevated view of your surroundings, you’ll see why the CitySightseeing Bus is the popular official tour of Cape Town.

There are two routes covering more than 20 of Cape Town’s iconic attractions and destinations, including Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, Sea Point and the Constantia Wine Route. The buses depart from outside the Two Ocean Aquarium every 15 minutes, seven days a week, starting from 09h00, and you can use your ticket to jump off at any of the stops near the attraction you wish to visit, and get back on the next bus after you are done.