Saturday, 19 July 2014

Cape Town Bucket List

According to US news and World Report, Cape Town is the number one destination to visit in 2014. After exploring this great city for two months, I can definitely understand why it tops travel lists. Cape Town has a very diverse terrain between the mountains, ocean views and native animal species, which makes it the perfect city to explore. My Cape Town bucket list is a list of my top five favorite activities that we experienced during our time here, including: hiking table mountain, paragliding off Signal Hill, great white shark cage diving, petting baby (and adult) cheetahs and wine tasting through Stellenbosch wineries. These five activities not only offered excitement and lots of adrenaline, but they also exposed me to the many different regions of the Western Cape.

#1: Table Mountain
            Even from the airplane windows on my flight into Cape Town, everyone was gawking at the first sights of Table Mountain. No matter where you are in Cape Town, Table Mountain always stands tall in the background, making for an amazing panoramic view. Recently, Table Mountain was named one of the seven natural wonders of nature making is a staple activity in any tourist's itinerary. There is a cable car that runs from a platform at the base of the mountain and can take you up to top in only four minutes; however, although it is not for the faint of heart, it is a mission for many to hike all the way to the top. As a group we hiked a route called Plateklip Gorge which is one of the fastest routes to the top; within two hours we had all made our way to the top! Even though the hike was tiring, as we came closer to the peak Megan and I got an extra burst of energy and sprinted to finish. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking. I was truly speechless as I took in the aerial views of the city and surrounding coastline. Pictures don't do the view justice, but these are images that I will keep in the back of my mind forever.
Panoramic view from the top of Table Mountain

#2: Paragliding
             On some windy days towards the beginning of the trip while down at the V&A Waterfront, I could see small colorful parachutes soaring through the blue skies. I knew from here on out that paragliding was going to be the first item on my Cape Town bucket list.  Because paragliding is weather sensitive, we had to reschedule a few times if the wind was sub par, but this made the flight all the more worthwhile when we were finally able to go. The day that we went was probably one of the nicest weather days we experienced during this temperamental Cape Town winter-- it was almost 75 degrees Fahrenheit and there was not a single cloud in the sky. We made our way to the top of Signal Hill for launch and in no time, I signed my life away and got strapped in. My “pilot” carefully laid out the bright purple and green parachute and soon we were air borne! I am afraid of flying, but the ride was so smooth and the views of the city are unbelievable that I wasn’t the least bit nervous. As we began our descent, we did some tricks known as the "roller coaster" over the ocean waves. Even as we spiraled closer the ground, the parachute remained in control and I absolutely loved every minute. Paragliding over Cape Town is definitely the perfect way to see all the different parts of the city!
Paragliding over Cape Town!

#3: Great White Shark Cage Diving
            In my opinion, the great white shark is one of the most terrifying animals that roam the oceans of the Western Cape, but after hearing about the thrill of cage diving, I knew that I had to experience it for myself. Megan and I decided to go diving off the coast of a town called Gansbaai, a small fishing town that is famous for whales and great white sharks. After a twenty-minute boat ride out to sea, we anchored off and the large metal cage was lowered into the water and secured to the side of the boat. The dive masters began throwing chum into the water and although the birds quickly began circulating the nearby waters, no sharks were in sight. Just as everyone was getting impatient and worried that we wouldn't see anything, a giant shadow appeared in the water. As it came closer, the shark's dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water. All of us in the first group grabbed our masks, zipped our wetsuits, and nervously climbed into the cage. As I dunked my head under for the first time, I saw a shark about 3-4 meters in length swimming right in front of the cage. Even though I had visions of them trying to gnaw at the metal bars of the cage, this shark didn't seem phased at all. He just continued towards the fish bait about ten feet out from us and when he got close enough, took it all for himself. To say shark diving was a thrill is quite an understatement. Cape Town is said to be the great white shark capital of the world so it’s definitely something not to miss during a visit!

#4: Cheetah Outreach Reserve
            The Cheetah Outreach center is an area in Somerset West that works to protect the endangered cheetah population in South Africa. Currently, it is a common issue for farmers to shoot cheetahs that roam agricultural properties in order to protect their land, crops and herds. In response to the concern for the declining cheetah population, the Cheetah Outreach Center breeds Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs and places them on South African farms to guard livestock in an effort to reduce conflict between farmers and predators. All admissions into the center benefit a program that breeds these guard dogs and include personal encounters with both cubs and adult cheetahs. We were lucky to see cubs at this time of year since spring is usually the most common breeding time. There were two cubs that were both three months old in one enclosed, protective area that loved playing together. I was surprised that such small cubs already had such quick speed! It was difficult to calm the rambunctious cubs down but luckily they were easily distracted by a chew toy made from tree bark and we were able to kneel down and stroke their fuzzy outer coats. After playing with the tiny cubs, this one seemed huge and pretty intimidating. For an up close and personal experience, this animal encounter was one of the best, and certainly one of my most memorable experiences in Cape Town.

#5: Stellenbosch Wine Route

            The wine lands in the Western Cape are known far and wide for world-class vineyards. Wine is one of the largest exports of South Africa and Stellenbosch is one of the most renowned regions for high quality wine. Our group first visited Fairview wine estate where we learned about a type of red wine called pinotage which is unique to South Africa. The pinotage grape is a cross between a pinot noir and a cinsaut grape and makes for a bold, earthy flavor. At Fairview, we also did cheese tasting which consisted of all fresh, locally made cheese from milk produced on the vineyard's farms. Next, we continued to the Spice Route where all of us girls went chocolate tasting. We tasted a total of five chocolates that were made from cocoa beans from around the world including Uganda, Madagascar, Venezuela, São Tomé and Trinidad. It was really interesting learning about the many different favors of the cocoa bean, as well as the different flavors that are infused into the chocolate. To finish the day, we went to the Spier Wine Estate. The Spier property was stunning and very well maintained. It was a little bigger than Fairview and there was even a wedding on the grounds while we were there. The wine tasting was very educational—we learned the proper etiquette for sipping and swirling. The wine was excellent, the company was great, and the Stellenbosch region as a whole is so beautiful, making it the final item on my Cape Town Bucket List.
Fairview Vineyard!

- Carolyn Drogt

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