Chapman’s Peak Drive is considered one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world, and you can see why in the gorgeous shots I downloaded from online above, and my shots below. Above the road, vertical sandstone cliffs rise 700 metres to the summit of Chapman’s Peak while the cliff below drops away equally vertically. At the northern end of this 7 km series of twists and turns is the picturesque lobster fishing town of Hout Bay.
In 1607, the skipper of the ship, “The Consent,” found his vessel becalmed in Hout Bay and sent his pilot, John Chapman, to row ashore in the hope of finding provisions. The pilot later recorded the bay as – guess what? – Chapman’s Chaunce (chance) and the name stuck, becoming official on all East India charts.
In 1914, preliminary surveys on the road got under way. Surveying the route was a scary business – at times the surveying party was on all fours as they investigated the perpendicular terrain. The project appeared to be a ‘mission impossible’ but the Governor would not take no for an answer and eventually he ordered the ‘go ahead’ for the highway along the cliffs. The spectacular roadway took seven years to complete, at a cost of ₤20 000, hewn out of the stone face of Sheer Mountain. It opened to traffic on Saturday 6 May 1922 by the Governor of the Union of South Africa, His Royal Highness Prince Arthur of Connaught.
The road seemed doomed again for reasons familiar to us in B.C. – there were many dangerous, some fatal, rockfall accidents and landslides and through several lawsuits, the law evolved and the government was forced to take responsibility for the safety of the travelling public. As a result of these incidents and the resulting liability, Chapman’s Peak Drive was officially closed to traffic indefinitely in January 2000 and was open and closed for the next few years. The problems continued until 2009 when it re-opened after a year of major upgrades and repairs. Chappies has remained open since then and is beloved by locals and tourists like us.
Along the way to the Cape, we came across these guys – the males are black, the females buff, and it is spring, after all, there are some very fresh chicks if you can spot them:
The Cape of Good Hope has been engrained in my mind since public school. Originally claimed in 1488 by Portugese navigator, Bartolomeu Dias, and declared by King John II as the southern tip of the African continent, the Cape was so-named because its discovery was a good omen that India could be reached by sea from Europe. While that part was true, the southern tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet is about 150 km southeast of here. Nonetheless, the Dutch certainly prospered from the discovery of this trade route to Indonesia and India.
The Flying Dutchman
The Flying Dutchman by Albert Pinkham Ryderc, 1887
Legend and many literary references have it that the ghosts of the crew of the ship, “The Flying Dutchman,” haunt the headland and its waters. It is said that the ghost ship can never make port, doomed to sail the oceans forever and that the crew will try to send messages to land or to people long dead. In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom.
There have been many reported sightings of the ship, or of a ship glowing with ghostly light. On a three year educational voyage with his tutor and older brother, the future King George V, recorded this in his journal:
“July 11th. At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchmancrossed our bows.
A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the
midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig
200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up
on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from
the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her… At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.”
Whether good hope or bad omen, we were visiting the beautiful peninsula today. It was atmospherically grab-onto-something-or-be-knocked-over windy. The Cape Peninsula is a 100 km (60 mile) long spit of land at whose tip stands the most powerful lighthouse in the world.
Look who dropped by while we were there [baboons]:
Yesterday we saw some beautiful scenery and some wildlife on Robbens Island, too – a tortoise, some oyster catchers and some Steenbok, a small species of antelope:
We have been hearing lots of African music at the V & A, and today being Saturday, we heard and watched some enthusiastic school-aged kids at Boulders Beach.
Status: Endangered (but recovering)
Two feet tall, brimming with head-cocking curiosity and hair-trigger irritability, the Jackass Penguins are among the most endearing sights on the Cape, and being thoroughly socialized, they grudgingly tolerate human presence. Boulders Beach, with its gigantic beachball-round boulders, has one of only two land-based African penguin colonies.
Maybe you’ll fall in love with them as I did, watching this lovely video, and you’ll hear how they got their name, too:
Sure enough, we heard them heehawing when saw them today.
Living proof as to just how windy it was along the coast today:
Home to about 2,600 species of flowering plants, the Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve is part of one of the six floral kingdoms in the world, the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Beautifully situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, our last stop today was at the breathtaking Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens dedicated to the preservation of plants indigenous to southern Africa. Kirstenbosch includes a fragrance garden, a medicinal garden, 2,500 species of plants found on the Cape Peninsula, a Protea garden (the beautiful National flower), a braille trail, a cycad amphitheatre and a conservatory. The indigenous fynbos, of which the protea is a type, are said to be at their best this time of year.
A special feature is the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway – affectionately known as the Boomslang (a highly venomous bright green snake), and you can see why. This 130-metre steel-and-timber bridge snakes its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum, providing stunning views of the Garden and the Cape Flats.
Of course, where there are flowers, there are birds, and the Garden’s home to some beauties:
All the senses were treated today!