July 3, 2019, officially earned the title of “best day of my life so far”. A bold statement, but let me explain…a road-trip along a coastal highway to visit a National Park, catch a sunset, and visit some penguins. Throw in great company who, despite hailing from different countries and speaking with various accents, become fluent in a secret language of inside jokes and nostalgia by the day’s end.
Our plan was hatched only a few days earlier, when a new friend, Tom, drew us a makeshift map of the Cape Peninsula to explain how to get to Chapman’s Peak. It didn’t take much convincing for him to agree to join us for the trip, and he kindly offered to drive. Niel (Namibia), Dominic (Austria), Anda (Romania), Tom (South Africa) and myself (Canada) schemed up what would constitute the “perfect” Cape Peninsula adventure. Embracing our “tourists” status, we set out on our self-designed tour after class on Wednesday afternoon. Our first stop? Kalk Bay for Kalky’s Fish and Chips, followed by a visit to the seals down at the harbour. We were thoroughly entertained as they thrashed about, enjoying their own lunch while seagulls circled hungrily overhead.
The seals were reminiscent of those that would swim past the family cabin on quiet afternoons, much less invasive than the sea otter family that once took over the garage! Growing up, spotting marine mammals passing through Lambert Channel was an experience that never lost its thrill (and was the reason I sported the pair of binoculars mentioned here); calling out “Whale” and waiting impatiently to see whether it was a humpback or an orca was joy-inducing. I had doubts such joy could ever be replicated, until we arrived at Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town.
While a typical African Penguin, at three kilograms, is roughly 0.11 percent the size of an orca (2,700kg), I was just as excited to see the Boulder Beach Penguin Colony as I had been to spot my first killer whale at five years old. We walked along the boardwalk towards the main beach, and, as it is currently moulting season, many of the little guys were tucked sleeping under branches in the forest, their tuxedoes shedded. The boardwalk at the main beach was packed with fellow tourists snapping photos of the colony, and while I followed suit taking my own photographs, I spent more of my time simply staring in awe at the magnificence of the Spheniscus demersus. Or, by another name, the Jackass Penguin, which they have been dubbed due to their donkey-like cry.
I could have stayed there all day long, basking in the pure joy of being surrounded by penguins. However, we were racing the clock in the hopes of catching the sunset later, and didn’t want to press our luck. We left Boulders Beach and headed toward Table Mountain National Park.
Cognizant of time, we raced up to the old lighthouse at the Cape of Good Hope, overlooking the waters where Portugal’s Lusitania was shipwrecked in 1911 (I did a project about this particular wreck in the eighth grade, and thus began my fascination with maritime traffic!) No matter what direction one looked, the view was absolutely picturesque. Once again playing tourists, we leveraged the opportunity to get some great group pictures.
Driving back through the National Park, I was amazed at the rich biodiversity of the flora around us, and we even got the chance to spot some fauna too; while we missed seeing the baboon reported to be in the bushes near the parking lot, we did drive past an ostrich!
It was crunch time; could we make it to Chapman’s Peak in time for sunset? We chanced it, and reaped the reward of arriving at the main lookout point just moments before the sun began to sink under the horizon. The bar has been set high for this summer’s adventures.