Having been an avid traveller, writer and photographer for some years, I like to think, perhaps presumptuously, that I have a fairly keen interest in and thus heightened awareness of the wider world around me; a good eye for detail and difference. Yet it seems that in constantly trying to explore and discover what is ‘out there’ one runs the risk of failing to see what is right beneath one’s nose.
A recent trip to the beautiful and amazingly unspoilt Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park drove this home rather emphatically. I moved to Kalk Bay, on the Western Cape’s pristine False Bay coastline, in late 2008. Cape Point is a comfortable half hour drive along the coastal road from my house. Yet until a few days ago I had only made it there once, back when I first arrived in the area and still felt like a tourist. Even then I just took a few quick snaps with the droves of tourists at the lighthouse where the land runs out, and then went back home having largely overlooked the rest of the park. Shame on me.
So having been sent on a photography job by one of my employers, I had already decided that this time around I would leave no stone unturned, no path un-trodden. What a rewarding trip it would turn out to be. And what better time to experience the beauty of the place than the promise-filled beginnings of summer.
It was a perfectly sunny and near windless Wednesday morning as I came through the main gates and into the park. It is always advisable to arrive at the park as early as possible to beat the majority of the tourists to the lighthouse at the point and the sign below the cliffs that marks the Cape of Good Hope and the most South-Westerly point of the entire African continent, with nothing but the vast expanse of the Atlantic stretching away behind it. By 11am, these areas tend to be swarming with tourists, many of whom, like me on my first trip, remain oblivious to the rest of the park’s delights.
So having got this final stop out of the way early, I decided to take my time working my way back through the park towards the entrance. I explored some of the myriad walking trails that criss-cross the undulating scrubland and bush of the park, punctuated by colourful flora and ancient granite rock formations. Then once back in my car I took any side roads I came across, snaking down to either side of the peninsula away from the main drag. Having left the crowds behind me at the lighthouse I think I could count the number of vehicles I saw throughout the rest of the day on my hands.
There was plenty of wildlife to be seen throughout the day. A pair of Gemsbok grazed quietly on the plains to my right as I walked the wooden boardwalk from the main car park down towards the Cape of Good Hope, with the waves crashing on the secluded Dias Beach below away to my left. The beach was named after the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Dias, who was the first European to round the Cape in 1488, originally calling it the Cape of Storms.
At Buffels Bay, back towards the main entrance, I saw a family of Ostriches peacefully wandering along the coastline. They looked a little alarmed to see me. The long stretch of the bay was otherwise entirely deserted, the only sound a sprinkler hissing quietly in the background as it watered the grass picnic area. I took a relaxing swim in the tidal pool. Whilst looking across to the jagged mountains on the other side of False Bay a Southern Right whale breached in the near distance, a rare treat so late in the year, one reserved for me alone.
I eventually left the park just as the gates were closing and the soft evening sun setting behind me. But I wasn’t ready to go home and back to reality yet. So I checked into the Moonglow Guesthouse on the way out of Simon’s Town, with a spectacular view from the balcony over the water, and tried to think up a plan for convincing my employer to let me go back into the park again the next day. Throughout the day I had felt so far away from the rest of the world that lay just along the bay, and now I could think of nothing else but drawing out this feeling a little longer.