Monday, April 30, 2012

South African Navy Museum

Taking a walk around Simon's Town after our train ride from Kalk Bay during our summer holiday in December we "stumbled" upon the South African Navy Museum .  The museum is housed in and around the original Dockyard Magazine / Storehouse which dates back to 1743.  After 1810 when the Royal Navy moved its headquarters from Cape Town to Simon’s Town the building was extended to become the three-storey building it is today.  Just after coming through the entrance there is a number of Naval Guns from different eras, but that's just the start. 
The museum is much bigger than what one would think it is looking at it from the outside with several life-sized displays like this naval helicopter.
Amongst others there is also a life-size ship's bridge with movement and sound making it look like its on a stormy sea somewhere. Drama Princess tried it out and you can see how she is holding on to the chair with the effects scaring her a bit.

Except for the display of naval equipment, boats (or parts thereof), the helicopter, missiles, etc, etc, etc, there is also a display of paintings, photos, medals, insignia and other relics.  A special treat was spotting Former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils (not the guy in the photo above though) showing his wife around the museum while we were there.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Just Nuisance

Just Nuisance, along with Jock of the Bushveld, are probably the two most famous dogs in South Africa.  Nuisance, a Great Dane, was born in 1937 and as his owner worked at the naval base he started hanging out with the sailors.  Nuisance roamed around freely and began to take day trips by train with the sailors, going as far afield as Cape Town.  Although the seamen tried hiding him the conductors would find him and put him off the trains.  The railway company eventually warned that Nuisance would have to be put down unless he was prevented from boarding the trains.  This news came as a shock and the the Navy decided to officially enlist him which meant that as a member of the armed forces he would be allowed on the trains AND receive free rail travel. He was enlisted on 25 August 1939.  His surname was entered as "Nuisance" and rather than leaving the forename blank he was christened "Just".  His trade in the navy was listed as "Bonecrusher".  Just Nuisance died in 1944 and was buried with full military honours and a monument was erected in Jubilee Square in Simon's Town.  Read the whole story of Just Nuisance, the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy, on Wikipedia.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kalk Bay to Simon's Town train ride

My Kidz have never been on a train in their lives and the ideal opportunity for that first train ride presented itself while on holiday in Cape Town.  Cape Town has a very good rail commuter service and we decided to catch the train (along with quite a few other tourists) from Kalk Bay to Simon's Town.  The tickets cost next to nothing, probably less than the petrol if we had taken the car.  Waiting for the train at Kalk Bay Station the kidz were looked like they were high on sugar bouncing up and down in excitement and checking down the track the whole time to see if the train was coming yet.

Finally the train arrived and we got on our way down the Peninsula's eastern seaboard towards Simon's Town.  The kidz just loved the experience and couldn't stop looking out the windows at the passing landscape of beaches, people, buildings and ocean.
The train ride isn't that long and it probably took us about 15 or 20 minutes to travel between the two towns.  Along the way we passed Fish Hoek and Glencairn before getting off at Simon's Town Station about one kilometer outside the town centre.  After spending about two hours exploring Simon's Town on foot we headed back to the station for the return journey.  A journey well worth the travel.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chapmans Peak Caravan Farm

We really enjoy camping and usually try to camp at two different places for our summer camping holiday.  Last year (2011) we planned to start out in Montagu and then head down to Cape Town for the second part.  It was a bit of a struggle to find a family friendly, sheltered and nicely situated caravan park, but finally decided on Chapmans Peak Caravan Farm in Noordhoek and we weren't disappointed.  Not just was it a fantastic caravan park but also very well situated to explore the Peninsula and close enough to go into the city for the day. 
Chapmans Peak Caravan Farm has 46 caravan and camp sites very nicely spaced on the 2 hectare property.  The sites are big enough for a large caravan and us with our 3 tents had more than enough space to play with.  My biggest worry before the holiday was the notorious Cape winds, but as soon as I we pulled into the caravan park my fears were snuffed out.  There were more than enough trees as well as grass hedges to stop any wind from reaching our tents and during the ten days that we were there the wind didn't bother us once.
Chapmans Peak Caravan Farm isn't called a farm for nothing as they have a whole host of farm animals roaming the park.  We had daily visits from the geese as well as the ducks while the kids all tagged along with owner Chris every evening when he went to feed the horses, cows and pigs.  The geese and ducks were normally the first once to visit a site after people packed up as they probably find lots of bugs and goggatjies when the ground sheets are lifted up.

The elaborate play park is situated in the cow camp and as long as the kids watched where they stepped they could spend hours climbing, swinging and playing in the park.  We had to go looking for them a couple of times after dark as they just wouldn't return to camp on their own.
The adventurous Chaos Boy even tried out the foofy slide.  Next time we decide to go to Cape Town on a camping holiday again I will definitively stay at Chapmans Peak Caravan Farm again.

What did we like? 
Location, shelter from wind, lots of shade, activities to keep the kids busy
What didn't we like?
The noisy caravan club camping behind us and perhaps the ablutions could do with an extra sweep a day (not that I'm complaining about it)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chapman's Peak Drive

Chapman's Peak Drive as seen from Noordhoek Beach
Spending 9 days in the Cape during the Summer holidays I had the  opportunity to drive along Champan's Peak Drive on two occasions and just realised again why it is seen as one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world.  Chapman's Peak Drive winds its was along the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula between Noordhoek (where we stayed) and Hout Bay.  The drive is 9km long with 114 curves and hugs the 593m high Chapman's Peak.  What makes the drive so scenic is the fact that while the road twists and curves you always have cliffs towering up on the one side with a sheer drop down to the sea on the other along with magnificent coastal views all the way.

Chapman's Peak Drive seen from one of the view points along the way
In 1607 the skipper of the British ship Contest found his vessel becalmed in what is now Hout Bay and sent his pilot, John Chapman, to row ashore in the hope of finding provisions.  The pilot later recorded the bay as Chapman's Chaunce (chance) and the name stuck to the area even though the bay was later called Hout Bay.  Construction on Chapman's Peak Drive (then known as The Hout Bay - NoordeHoek Road) started in 1915 with the use of convict labour with the first portion up to the main lookout spot being opened in 1919.  The whole road was finally opened in 1922 and since then millions of motorists, cyclists, bikers, hikers, runners and specially tourists (both local and international) have enjoyed the road with it magnificent views.

The view of Noordhoek Beach from Chapman's Peak Drive with some of the retaining structures on the left
In June 2008 after an accident in which a boulder fell on a car and killed a person, the road was closed for major upgrades and repairs.   During the upgrades various catching nets and retaining structures were erected to minimise rock falls on the road as much as possible.  The construction work took over a year and the road was eventually reopened in October 2009.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cape Point Vineyards

Visitors to the Cape would normally associate wine with the Stellenbosch and Franchhoek areas, so big was my surprise to discover the Cape Point Vineyard on the Cape Peninsula just outside Noordhoek.  Although some reports show that vines were planted in the Noordhoek area as early as 1752, the Cape Point Vineyard's first vines were only planted in 1998.  The vineyard is situated on a narrow strip of land between the cold Atlantic and the mountain with the warm summers and cool sea breeze creating the perfect micro climate with slow ripening conditions.

I'm not much of a wine drinker but couldn't resist escaping the family for an hour or so to go wine tasting at the vineyard's tasting facility.  They have two wine brands that they market, the first under the vineyard label,  Cape Point Vineyards, and the second one being their funky label called “Splattered Toad”.  They produce both white and red wines but their Sauvignon Blanc is world class and has won several awards over the last couple of years.  You can start by tasting a minimum of three wines (for curious non drinkers like me) or there are options that include more wines.  They also have a deli on site and you can order cheese, cold meats and fruit to enjoy with your wine. 

The Cape Point Vineyard, and specially their irrigation dam and system, is a primary breeding ground for the Western Leopard Toad which is endemic to the area.  The toad is also the figurehead of Noordhoek and the Vineyard has started working closely together with the local residents and Toad NUTS (Noordhoek Unpaid Toadsavers) in their conservation efforts of these toads.  The Splattered Toad label is based on the Western Leopard Toad and R1 gets donated to the conservation initiative for every bottle of Splattered Toad sold.  Funding was also made available by Cape Point Vineyards to, amongst others, erect signage to warn traffic of toad breeding zones.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hydrangeas at Noordhoek

Hydrangeas (or Christmas Roses as we also call them) at the Noordhoek Farm Village during our Cape visit in January.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fish on the Rocks

Everybody loves fish and chips and every city or town has a good fish and chips shop on a corner somewhere.  But good isn't always best and for the best fish and chips around one has to head past the harbour at Hout Bay and down to Fish on the Rocks.  Africa's favorite (as they put it) fish and chips shop was started by the Brodericks 23 years ago and has become a very popular stop for both locals as well as national and international visitors.
The choice between hake, snoek, yellowtail, calamari and prawns make it quite difficult to decide what to order and my choice the day of our visit was deep fried snoek.  I can just taste that snoek again along with the smell of vinegar on the chips. Mmmmmmmmmm......
The best way to experience your meal at Fish on the Rocks is actually down on the rocks next to the restaurant overlooking the bay and mountains beyond.  Ours was a windy day but the Damselfly still wanted to go and sit on the rocks.  Even if it was just with a ice cream.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cruising to Seal Island in Hout Bay

Every morning hundreds of tourists head out on a tour of the Cape Peninsula with most of them making one of their first stops of the day at the Hout Bay harbour for a cruise around the Sentinel Mountain to Duiker Island, more commonly known as Seal Island.  Standing on quay side you have a choice of boats to make the 45 odd minute trip to the island and back with several operators offering tours.  Our choice for the day was the Calypso which was built locally and launched in 2001.  The Calypso is operated by Circle Launches who have been running Duiker Island cruises since 1972. 

The cruise out to the island takes about 10 or 15 minutes with seating available both inside or out on the deck.  We unfortunately chose a bit of a windy day to visit so the wind blew spray across the boat every time we went over a wave.  As soon as you arrive at the island, which is nothing more than a collection of big rocks sticking out the water, you see why its so popular.

Duiker Island is home to about 6,000 Cape Fur Seals of various shapes and sizes with cows weighing up to 115 kg and bulls tipping the scales on a whopping 350kg.  Most of the boats doing the trips also have underwater viewing areas where you can watch the seals swimming below the boat.

After about 15 minutes of seal viewing we headed back to Hout Bay and while my kidz where hiding under deck from the spray, these kids did the Titanic thing and stood on the bow enjoying the experience.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hout Bay Harbour

Mention the word "waterfront" in South Africa and everybody would immediately think of the V&A Waterfront on the Cape Town harbour.  What few people know is that the first harbour front emporium in South Africa (actually in Africa) was developed in Hout Bay on the Cape Peninsula.  Fourth generation Hout Bay resident, Stanley Dorman, designed and developed Mariner's Wharf in the Hout Bay Harbour after visiting similar developments all over the world.  Mariner's Wharf opened in 1984 and today is still on of the most popular attractions on the Peninsula.

Hout Bay is a busy fishing port and most of the activities taking place can be see as one strolls around the harbour.  Fishermen returning from sea and off loading their catch, seals basking in the sun, gulls overhead and tourists everywhere.  All of this taking place with the mountain and Chapmans Peak Drive in the background.

The activities around Hout Bay Harbour has expanded to more than just Mariner's Wharf these days, but its still the heart of it all.  All along the harbour you now find little shops, take aways, restaurants and a food emporium.  Not forgetting the main reason why thousands of visitors flock there, boat trips to Seal Island.