Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Friday, September 23, 2011

9/23/11: Arrive Cape Town, South Africa

We awoke shortly after 0600 to the ship appearing to circle around outside Cape Town, presumably waiting for the pilot to get onboard. The view of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head was stunning, every bit as impressive as I’d imagined. Table Mountain rises more than 1000m (5000’) above Cape Town, shooting nearly straight up in an amazing cliff of sedimentary rock, towering above the city. As we approached the extremely narrow entry to the port, it became immediately clear that this port would not be industrial, and in fact we berthed only dozens of yards from Victoria Mall, a very touristy attraction of the V&A Waterfront area, which was recently purchased (yes, in its entirety) and re-vamped by someone from Dubai.

After our first face-to-face customs and immigration inspection of the voyage, we hopped off the MV Explorer to check out the waterfront, finding lunch at a Paulaner café. Believe it nor not, Heidi and I ordered the same thing, a hamburger on a pretzel roll. The only thing was, the hamburger was, quite literally, a ham-burger; basically a big fat slice of big fat hot dog meat, prepared like a burger. It was good, and Heidi actually ate most of it, a testament to how hungry she was, considering how few hot dogs make it down her gullet.

The ham-burger.
Cape Town reminds me very much of the San Francisco Bay Area in many ways; climate, maritime geography, architecture, diversity. A stunningly beautiful place, I could see living here in a different lifetime, though the remnants of the apartheid era are still quite apparent all around. Although it seems like only yesterday my college friends and I were demonstrating against apartheid amongst the mock shanty towns built on the lawns of the Hall of Languages at Syracuse University back in the mid-eighties, one might not realize at first glance that much has changed here in South Africa. And little has changed, for many. I’ll have to return to that rather lofty subject at a later date.

What's wrong with this picture?

Anyway, instead of a city tour for our first day, we had booked a sunset picnic hike up Lion’s Head, the prominent conical hill that sits below Table Mountain, separating Cape Town from Camps Bay Beach. The tour group that brought us up used a few college exchange students from the U.S., so they quizzed us about SAS, we quizzed them about life in Cape Town. The 1.2-mile trail started in a small grove of eucalyptus (just like the Berkeley hills), and wound 360 degrees clockwise around Lion’s Head, in and out of the late afternoon sun, until it ended at the base of a cliff 300 or so feet beneath the summit. At this point we had to scale some chains, ladders, and stainless steel hand/footholds, installed to facilitate the common man getting to the top. Not so bad while it’s light, though we all wondered about climbing down in the dark. 

The path up the sunny side of Lion's Head, Camps Bay Beach below, the Twelve Apostles in the center background.

Tate ascends the hand/footholds to the chains above.

Reade and Tate did great, and we scaled the final spine to the summit well before the sun dropped into the vast ocean to the west. We ate sandwiches, had smoked beef flavored chips (surprisingly good), and drank water on this pinnacle, watching the sun change the colors of the cap cloud cresting and quickly descending the ridgeline of Table Mountain to the north (they informally refer to this cap cloud as its ‘tablecloth’). In anticipation of late dusk light conditions I had hauled a tripod up with me, but it became obvious that our guide was going to get us to depart a mere 15 to 20 minutes prior to ‘magic hour’, the brief 5 or 10 minutes during which the light of the deep azure blue sky is balanced with the light of the land and lights below. Oh well.

The F-Stop Guru daypack is working out well for daytrips.

Taterbug contemplates the amazing terrain before us.

People meander around the summit before departing.

We packed up and departed while there was still some light to see by; descending the upper spine wasn’t so bad, though backing down onto the top of a ladder is never a completely comfortable experience. When we got to the bottleneck at the chains and hand/footholds, the light was nearly gone, and I tried to get down as soon as possible to free the tripod and 7D from my F-Stop Guru backpack, which was working out great for these day trips. Tate was really cute, and despite his clearly being nervous, he kept asking Heidi how she was doing, telling her it would be OK. Such an enigmatic little critter, he is!

The 'Bug, loving every minute of it!

Tate descends off the summit spine, looming in the darkness above.

The Southern Cross sits over the right side of Camps Bay Beach, not a constellation we'd ever be able to view from the northern hemisphere.

I was able to get a few images of ‘Crux’--the Southern Cross constellation--to the south of Table Mountain above Camps Bay Beach, while there was still just a bit of light in the sky to reveal the cirrus clouds in the upper atmosphere.  Camps Bay Beach below looks positively stunning even at night, its white sand, gentle waves, cafes lit up all along the roadway along the beach. Tate hung at the back with me while I took pictures, quizzing me all along about why I was doing this or that, determined to get his little Canon point-and-shoot camera to get something that wasn’t blurry in the very low ambient lighting conditions.

Table Mountain, with the Cape Flats in the left background.

Table Mountain as viewed from Lion's Head.

Just before Tate and I arrived back at the bus, I looked up to see the headlamps of more people descending the chains and ladders of Lion's Head.

Tate and I were the last back to the bus, and the trip guide rewarded Reade and Tate with a chocolate bar each, spoils for getting up and down Lion’s Head on our first day in Cape Town.

Yes, I think I’m going to like this town.


  1. Absolutely beautiful photos Jeff, love them! South Africa has been on our list of places to go but I think it just moved up a couple of notches.

  2. Amazing photos, amazing experience!

  3. What a beautiful place - it does remind me of the Bay Area too. Tate mentioned the climb down the mountain in the dark being a little scary -- glad you all made it safe and sound. Love, Mom

  4. I can't wait to show this to Katy. Her daughter Siobhan spent a semester in Cape Town last winter. Kate and family traveled to see Siobhan and loved Cape Town sooo much. Kate and I have it on our bucket list. Your photography is so amazing Jeff, I enjoy seeing it very much.

  5. Thanks Michele, so glad to see you are checking in! I hope you read through the following 5 days of our time there, as it's definitely a town of polarized differences. An amazing place, to be sure.


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