Cape Town, South Africa
Not going to lie, the first time I thought about visiting South Africa all I could think about was "Safari." Yeah, that was pretty much the only thing that came to mind. How silly was I. I had no idea that South Africa had so much more to offer. This beautiful country has a little bit of everything. Breathtaking landscapes, mountain top views overlooking the ocean, beaches, multiple vineyards, nightlife and not to mention the people are very kind and some aren't so bad to look at 😉
I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in Cape Town with 15 other girls, (including my other half - my sister and my best friend Jessica), making it one big amazing trip! My friend Mer planned the whole thing, which I couldn't thank her enough as I have a tough time planning a trip with six people let alone 16! (Thanks again Mer!)
We all got to do a little bit of everything, and I can't wait to share some of our adventures with you all! I would say let's dive into it, but that part comes a little later (diving with the sharks that is- yes, sharks!), but read along and see what an incredible trip we had!
The flight took about 16 hours total from New York's JFK international airport with a connection through Johannesburg. We landed in Cape Town around 12:30 pm on the 8th and headed to our Airbnb. To describe our Airbnb in one word - Gorgeous! I'm talking about a three story house, with glass windows everywhere, bedrooms with ocean views, outdoor balconies surrounded by mountains and overlooking the sea. Yeah, I could live there.
Spier Winery, Fairview, Graff (just a few we went to)
The first full day we had, a group of us had purchased tickets for the "Cape Winelands Full-Day Tour from Cape Town." The van picked us up at our airbnb, with our guide named Barnabus, who gave us information about the history of Cape Town itself as we ventured to about four different wineries. Each vineyard after the next just kept getting more and more beautiful. I think out of all the wineries, our favorite was this place called "Fairview" where we got to sample pairings of cheese and wine together! My favorites at each winery were always the rose and one wine was brandy infused. I ended up buying a bottle of South African rose to take home to my parents and my sister ended up buying the brandy infused wine!
Mojo Market, Watershed/VA Waterfront, Green Point, Long St
In South Africa there are many market areas to do some shopping and get some gifts/souvenirs. We spent two days going out to the local shops as the weather wasn't cooperating with us to go on any hikes at all during the week - just an excuse to go visit again right 😉 From handmade necklaces and handbags to hand crafted wooden figurines and pieces of art, we definitely each brought home a piece of South Africa with us.
Local Dining/Night Life:
After shopping at the Waterfront on Saturday we all went to dinner at this African restaurant called Marco's African Place. Some of us got a few "exotic" foods. I put exotic in quotations, because it was exotic to us such as Impala, Springbok, Crocodile and even Ostrich, which turned out to be pretty good.
We returned to the Airbnb after dinner, and all just hung out - drinking and playing card games with each other. My sister, Jessica and I wanted to experience the nightlife so we went out that Saturday night. We went to a couple bars called The Village Idiot and Ace of Spades and met some of the locals. It turned out to be a fun night of drinking and dancing and making new friends.
One of the days we booked a full day tour to see the entire peninsula of Cape Town. A bus picked us up at our Airbnb with our tour guide name Orien. He gave us vast information about the history of Cape Town about the apartheid and how Cape Town came to be what it is today. He was very knowledgeable, and it was very interesting to hear facts and statistics. Example: he told us the three ethnic classes in South Africa are considered, whites, blacks and coloreds, which we all found interesting because in America, we would most likely take that as racism.
We started off on a boat at about 9:30 am in the morning to head to Seal Island, which is home for 64,000 seals, making it a popular place for great whites to feed. It was a cloudy day with a little bit of drizzle, but we set sail anyway. Luckily the boat had an indoor area, so we didn't get wet. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the little island, and we circled around three times to get some pictures. It was pretty neat to see so many seals just lounging around basically on this rock, in the middle of the sea! We didn't see any great whites (Still - those will come later!)
The next stop on the tour was the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwestern point of the African Continent. Here we took some pictures and even saw some ostriches, in which we were told not to get to close to because they can kick you! Yikes! Fun fact - on the drive we saw some baboons. Just like here in the states we have "Deer Crossing" signs. In South Africa they have "Baboon Crossing signs and you're warned to stay in the car!
We then were driven to Cape Point which is a very scenic landform with beautiful views of the ocean. You can even take a 10 minute hike up to the Cape Point lighthouse, which offers the best views of the ocean. Also, at the lighthouse stood a post with different cities listed on separate "flags" indicating how far away each city was, which I thought was pretty neat. We did the hike and had a mini photo shoot taking in the incredible views. It was so beautiful. Pictures don't do it enough justice.
Our next stop we had lunch at another local seafood restaurant. Most of us had fish and chips, the local fish being Hake. It was really good. The calamari was the best part - it was lightly breaded and fried and just delicious! After lunch, we headed down towards Boulders Beach to see all the penguins. They were so flipping cute, and so many of them! I mean, who knew South Africa had penguins!
Following the penguins (not literally) we drove to a winery and had five different samples of wine, before ending our Peninsula Tour for the day. It was a different winery than the girls and I had been too the other day, in case you were wondering 😉
Great White Shark Cage Diving:
Wednesday the 14th, seven of us made the two hour van ride down to Gansbaai, which is about two hours away from Cape Town and the Great White Shark capital of the world! Our tour was through Shark Lady Adventures. We arrived at about 1:30 where we had a light meal and were given instructions on how the day was going to go, before heading out to sea. We got on a boat and it took us about 20 minutes to get to Shark Alley.
We then were split up into groups of about 4-6 people per dive, so there were three groups in total for our diving experience. You are each given a wet suit to go over your bathing suit and a snorkeling mask. When it's your group's turn to go, the diving instructor helps lower you into the cage, where you grab onto a bar to help hold yourself in the water. My sister, Jessica and I were the second group to go, following our friends Mer, Bree, Kerry and AnnMarie.
On the top of the boat you can spot the sharks coming towards the cage. The diving instructor then yells to "Go Down" to the people in the cage, meaning to take a breath and go underwater to see the sharks. Casey is on the far left, then me next to her and Jessica next to me. It was an exhilarating experience to say the least! At first the water was a little chilly (As June is the beginning of South Africa's Winter months), but once you see the sharks literally a foot in front of you, your forget all about the cold! I still find it hard to believe that we actually experienced Great White Sharks in their natural habitat, just right in front of our faces! It was even more so exciting and a little nerve-wracking when they would come up and hit/shake the cage!! I definitely would love to go again! To sum it up in one word, it was pretty bad ass.
Safari: Inverdoorn Reserve
Our last day in South Africa we headed to a safari which was about 2.5 hours away from our airbnb. We got picked up at 9:00, checked into the safari by noon (our living accommodations to the left. There was another single bed as the room held up to three guests (this was Casey, Jessica and I's room), but we all slept in the double bed as it got a little chilly at night!), had lunch and had our first safari excursion by 4:00 pm. (The other girls did a Cheetah excursion for an hour before the safari, where they go to take pictures and interact with the Cheetahs. My sister and I opted out of doing the Cheetah interaction and ended up exploring more of the reserve we were staying at.) We rode on the reserve in a jeep driven by a tour guide who took us along the reserve for a couple hours to spot some of the wild life and give us interesting facts about the animals we would see, and we did see pretty much all that we were expecting.
The first ride out that evening (the second excursion took place early the next morning), we saw cheetahs, which were being rehabilitated to wild life. The rangers? (for lack of better word to call them and my knowledge for that matter) who were in charge of feeding the cheetahs had tied an already deceased chicken in this case to a pulley-like system. Once the pulley was activated the chicken was dragged down the "runway" (just a dirt path that the cheetahs are trained to run on), and the cheetahs are supposed to chase the chicken. The idea is training them to hunt for food before they can be released back into the wild. The female cheetah was able to capture her food, but the male cheetah grew lazy of the chase (typical men. . . jusstttt kidding). The rangers threw his chicken to him, so that he could enjoy dinner too. They only get fed once a day, but it was pretty neat to see them run at their top speeds!
The next group of animals we saw were the Cape buffalo - one of the Big Five in South Africa. The Big Five refers to the top five animals that are most difficult to hunt and the degree of danger involved - Cape buffalo, rhino, leopard, the elephant and the lion. This guy pictured here is the leader of the herd, indicated by his horns. The thicker the horns, the older they are, making this guy the dominant bull.
We also saw Zebra quite a bit on our safari, both in the evening and the next morning when we set out again. They travel in herds and communicate with high pitched barks and whining, which we heard. We were told no two Zebras have the same striped pattern much like no two snowflakes are the same. Our guide also showed us how Zebras "see." They can't see individual shapes. Rather they see things as one huge mass like our jeep and all of us in it, so when our guide got out of the jeep and stepped a couple feet away from it, the zebras looked up, stared for a second, and then all took off and ran away while still looking back at this "shape" aka our guide. It was funny to see!
Anyone that knows me knows this next animal that we saw is my favorite! Giraffes! Eek! It was so cool to see them in their natural environment, and the baby giraffes are even cuter! We saw a handful of giraffes the next morning on our safari too just walking along. One of these days another bucket list item of mine is to stay at Giraffe Manor, which is like a hotel in Nairobi I believe, where the Giraffes come right up to your hotel window or door and stick their head in so you can feed them!
After the giraffes we stopped at a little outdoor patio for hot chocolate and some snacks. The sun was setting, and it was just absolutely breathtaking. All of us girls were taking lots of pictures and having fun talking about the trip and hanging out with each other. Lots of mini photoshoots going on as you can imagine!
We also got to see hippo, on our way back to the site where we all would be spending the night, however it was too dark for any of us to get a picture, as they only come out at dusk and tend to stay in the water during the daytime. It's crazy to think they can run up to about 40 km which is about 25 miles. Yikes!
Back at the site we had an amazing dinner set up for us by the staff. There were a few appetizers to munch on beforehand such as cucumbers with hummus, little pizza-like sandwiches and biscuits. For dinner you could either choose to have fresh salmon or ostrich. A lot of the girls opted for Ostrich to try something different, and it was pretty good.
The meat was very tender! For dessert we had a cheesecake like pastry but it was more light and fluffy than a regular piece of cheesecake. Casey, Jess and I also split a bottle or rose for drinks! After dinner, it was bedtime as we had our next safari at 6:00 am in the morning the next day!
Six am came pretty quick, but we set out by 7:00 to try and see the rest of the animals that we didn't see the night prior. The first animal we saw, that we came upon kinda unexpectedly was the King himself, the Lion! Our guide drove past some bushes and he came out of nowhere and charged the jeep for a couple seconds, and then stopped and just stared at us. Our guide said we must've startled him. It was scary for a moment, but it was incredible to see him so close to us! There were also two lionesses nearby in the brush, but look how magnificent he is! Wow! My friend Kerry actually took this amazing shot.
Previously, I stated anyone that knows me knows my favorite animal, likewise for anyone that knows my sister knows that her favorite animal is the elephant! We saw two, an older male and a younger male. Our guide said both were rescued from other camps and needed a place to go so they ended up on this reserve. The younger male, we were told, looks up to the older male kind of like a mentor. Cute!
After the elephants we saw wilderbeast and springbok and impala roaming around until we came upon a family of Rhinos. There was a baby with two parents. The father and the baby boy are the lighter colors. At one point the father and the baby were about to get into a mini fight, more like play fight and the mom walked up and basically told them to "knock it off." Typical haha. The dad went and laid down and then the son went and laid right down next to him. Aweee!! We also saw a family of Ostriches, on our way back to our "camp" site. I didn't get a picture of the baby ostriches, but they were only a few days old! (pictured below are Ostrich from the farm on the camp site).
The safari ended what was an incredible trip. It has been my favorite place I have visited as of yet, and it might be safe to say it will always be one of my favorites. My sister and I actually got matching tattoos in South Africa, after we went shark cage diving. One of the local guys we befriended gave us the place of his tattoo artist, so we set up an appointment and the rest is history. We got the same tattoo, but on opposite sides of our body - mine in on my right ankle, and Casey's is on the left side. We added the SA to stand for South Africa. The anchor represents stability, and staying grounded and never forgetting your values or where you came from. We added the heart at the top of the anchor to also stand for "A piece of our hearts will be forever anchored in South Africa." It's probably my favorite tattoo and even more special that we both have one, the same one, together! (Love you seester!)
I can feel sad to come back to reality i.e. work and responsibilities 😛 after such an amazing trip but that's what vacations are for, to escape, experience, enjoy and live! And while we didn't get to do everything we set out to do such as a couple of the hikes we had planned (Mother Nature wasn't always on our side), I can bet that all of us girls crossed a thing or two or three off our bucket lists. This trip was one for the books, and it taught me a lot about myself and made me appreciate this beautiful life I get to live and share with you all. I'll say it once again, I'm truly blessed to have had the chance to explore this amazing country, and you can bet I will return, but for now I am excited to see what the future holds and what the next adventure will bring! Cheers to you South Africa. One beautiful country. Wow.