Wine and Sharks
by Derek Fedak -- July 25th, 2010
After leaving the Cape of Good Hope, we headed into Simon’s Town Wednesday night (7/21). Simon’s Town is just north from the Cape of Good Hope and a little southwest of Cape Town. We grabbed dinner at a restaurant that served different game meat, including springbok curry, which was delicious. We stayed at a decent backpacker’s hostel that night, woke up early the following morning (7/22) and headed to Boulders Beach. This is the activity that most excited me. Boulders Beach is home to ~3,000 penguins, all of which descended from two breeding pairs of penguins that washed ashore in 1982. It is near Simon’s Town, so the penguins were actually the invaders here because humans were already established. To solve this issue and manage the wildlife, South Africa National Parks fenced in the majority of the colony and built a boardwalk that overlooks the colony. We saw many birds, which made me miss my days working with penguins at the New England Aquarium. The penguins established a few areas outside the enclosure along the beaches, so we could walk among them there, though they generally scurried away. One penguin got on the boardwalk and became pretty stressed because people crowded around it. Thankfully, one of the workers came and put the bird back over the fence. I was about to wrap my hands in my shirt and move the bird back over since I had handled penguins before, but it is better that an actual park worker stepped in so other tourists didn’t get any funky ideas. Seeing every species of penguin in the wild is one of my Life Goals, so I am now 1/17 – 1/18 closer to realizing that goal.
After Boulders Beach (7/22), we headed back into Cape Town to return the smaller car and pick up a literal van (2 bucket chairs up front, and 2 full rows of seats that can fit a total of 10 people). We then headed to wine country and grabbed a late lunch in Stellenbosch, one of the towns within wine country. This area is not typical Africa. It looks like a mix between areas of California and Europe and is best described as “posh.” Stellenbosch especially, which contained a shopping center, many trendy stores and restaurants, etc. It looks similar to a small wealthy New England town.
We headed from there to Franschoek, which we really enjoyed and would make for quite the romantic setting. We rented two small cottages at La Bourgogne Farms among the vineyards. We had a hearty dinner of crackers, cheese, and avocados before playing some games. The vineyard had the best dog, after my Griffen of course, which napped on the floor of Jay and my room. On Friday (7/23), we drove around Franschoek to taste wines at different vineyards. We went to four different vineyards, two of which were free to taste and two of which cost R50, or ~$7 (R7 = ~$1). We all ended up buying a few bottles to bring back to the U.S., my favorite of which actually smelled like coffee After grabbing dinner in Franschoek, we drove along the coast east to Gansbaai, considered the great white shark capital of the world! We spent the night in a hostel and woke up early the next day (7/24) for our next adventure: Cage diving with great whites! What a unique experience! We saw four different great whites that were between 2.5 – 4 m long. They can grow >6m, but the guides said the biggest sharks that swim up for the bait are ~5m. For each meter, they tend to double in size, so the 4m looked infinitely larger than the 3m. Either way, we all could not wait to get in the water with great white sharks! They glided gracefully through the water and you could see them observing you as they swam by with those great black eyes. That is one of the things that I will remember the most: their black eyes. The sharks had the ability to maneuver their huge bodies and turn on a dime, which often made us jump. The cage was big enough for five people, so we all had plenty of time in the water.
The sharks were mostly calm. They did thrash around and slam into our cage a few times, causing Megan to scream out when its tail hit her, for which she immediately apologized. The great whites went after the bait, but mostly just swam by and checked it out. The first time one of the sharks thrashed around, it smacked the cage with its tail. The whole cage shook and let out a great rattle. Jay, Andrew, and I all looked at one another and let out shouts of joy. We only saw one shark at a time, so the guide would tell us to go down and look right, left, or in front of us as the shark would make a pass. It was a great experience and we ended up buying the DVD of our dive. So, if you would like to see what it is like to cage dive with great whites, ask us back in Durham.
After our thrill-dive, we drove east to Cape d’Agulhis, the southernmost point in Africa where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. The National Park contains a lighthouse and an intertidal zone with jagged rocks and rough surf. We can now say that we have been to the southern tip of Africa. After that, we drove for a few hours and had dinner in Mosselbai before reaching Plettenberg Bay for the night (7/24).
Learn what it is like to freefall at >70 mph in the following blog!