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Good Holiday Ideas | October 5, 2022

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Africa in a hurry

Africa in a hurry
James Hill

Editor at Large Pietro Simonetti reports from sunny Cape Town.

Day 1 – We Americans get such little holiday time compared to Europeans that I was forced to do Southern Africa in 10 days! So what is better than waking up to an unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean glittering in the early dawn light? Answer – breakfast at the The Azure Restaurant’s terrace at the 12th Apostles Hotel just off Camps Bay in Capetown, southern Africa.

Not only you still have the 180 degree view of the Ocean, but you’re enjoying it with delicious food, fresh beverages and exceptional attention from the wait staff. If you are there in July or August (their midwinter) you might even spot a whale or two.

After breakfast, right behind the hotel, there are a series of well-maintained trails that can challenge even the most serious marathoner. I jogged off the numbness of a long flight from Colorado to the backdrop of the 12th Apostles mountains with their rough summits. In front, the Atlantic Ocean shimmers, cool and refreshing.

In the afternoon, take a trip to Green Point, Sea Point and the Cape Quarter Shopping Center. If you are a vinyl aficionado, Mabu Vinyl is a must stop. With a bit of luck, Sixto Rodriguez might be lurking by the store.

TIP: Cape Town is hilly and the narrow roads can be congested at times. Rent an automatic – It’s a lot easier with all the stop and go.

There’s only one place to spend the evening, waiting for the sun to set over the Western horizon. That is the top of Table Mountain. A quick 5-minute cable car trip takes you to the summit where there are plenty of spots to have a late snack, a beer and be ready with the camera.

TIP – Find a rock close to the cable car station. The queue for valley return can swell to well over an hour with all the people that are trying to get off the mountain as soon as the sun dips.

Day 2:

Wake early and take the M6 coastal road to Simon’s Town (former British Naval Base) to try your luck with the Shark Cage experience. There are two well established outfitters that enjoy testing your fear in the Indian Ocean, by Seal Island.
The boats leave the port at 6:00 AM sharp and return by noon. Strong winds, undercurrents and the sharks’ poor cooperation sometimes make it difficult to schedule a trip. If you are lucky to get the green light from the skipper, it will be an unforgettable experience. For the ones that like their feet on the ground, Boulders Beach is now a sanctuary for the extremely cute African penguins. They are not domesticated, but they don’t mind people.

The rest of the day can be spent visiting the Cape of Good Hope’s park. There are two lighthouses marking the most Southern point of the African continent. The newer lighthouse is perched on top of a taller peak, with amazing views of the two Oceans – the Atlantic and the Indian – meeting in a spectacular way. The second lighthouse is the more historical one and it’s almost at the base of the rocks. The path to the older lighthouse can be quite adventurous, with cliffs on both sides of the narrow trail.

TIP: Watch out for strong winds at these lighthouses. They can be very forceful.

Day 3:

South Africa’s wines make a presence in the world map and the nearby Stellenbosh valley is the best place to experience this new explosion of taste. There are so many choices and most vineyards combine a food and wine pairing option. In March you can witness their harvest and taste most of previous year’s creation. Amazingly, a heavily devalued Rand and a young industry force a lot of their prices to be very reasonable, borderline cheap. Some choices:

Eikendal – R44, Stellenbosch, 7130, South Africa
Cavalli Wine And Stud Farm Strand Rd, Somerset West, Cape Town, 7129, South Africa
Oldenburg Vineyards – Zevenrivieren Road, Banghoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa
Peter Falke Wines – Groenvlei Farm, Annandale road, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa

Hotel choice – The 12th Apostles Hotel and Spa
Fine Dining Cape Town, Restaurants South Africa, Wine and Cocktails Cape Town – Azure Restaurant and The Leopard Bar

Maby Vinyl – 2 Rheede St, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
DAY 4

The Skeleton Coast in Namibia is so named because of the huge number of shipwrecks (and bodies) on this stretch of unforgiving coastline of roughly 500 Km squeezed on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and the other side the relentless Namib Desert.
The first Portuguese explorers called it “The Gates of Hell”. The beach is now peppered by shipwrecks rusting away in the salty wind, while thousands of seals rest lazily among the relics, giving a different perspective about the passage of time.

A two hour flight from JoBurg on a small turbo prop lands you on a dusty tarmac not too far away from Walvis Bay. The final destination for the night, an elusive reclaimed lighthouse, by the name of Pelican Lodge, now serving as the headquarters for adventurous tourists seeking the challenges of the Namibian coastline. Planted on a shifting peninsula, with sand and waters battling for space on a daily basis, the lighthouse enjoys unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean, 360 degrees, and the shifting dunes of the desert in the distance. There are not too many places that can claim the status of “in the middle of nowhere”. Pelican Lodge definitely earns it. The tall structure looked like a mirage for 40 km of fine sand, where even the powerful 4×4 Toyota truck struggled to gain any ground. Every meter fought hard towards the final destination. The vehicle feeling like a raging bull – at times uncontrollable – picking his random path through the dunes.

TIP: Sand driving in Namibia. Lower your tire pressure to less than half normal. Pull the handbrake. Rev the engine up to 3,000/4,000 RPM. Set the 4×4 gear to Low. Release the handbrake, quickly shift to 1, 2 and 3 gear. Keep the RPM going, maintaining a speed of 50 Km/H and never decelerate! If you get stuck, lower the tires even more, dig as much sand as possible, rock back and forth, rev up again and GO!

Things to do:

Shipwreck sightseeing – All along the coast, old and new, trapped in the sand forever until they dust away into oblivion.

A day in Swakopmund – A German town in Africa, with Bavarian architecture – this region was German run before the Brits kicked them out in the Wars. A bizarre experience, with even beer halls and a beerfest, it was truly unexpected.

Seal watching – with over 2 million seals on the coast (they outnumber the human population of Namibia), it’s not hard to spot them. The smell of the dead animals will alert visitors of their presence well before you can spot them.

Sand boarding – Plenty of dunes to strap on those boards and earn some sand sliding medals.