We woke up earlier today, since we had a long drive ahead of us. At breakfast, Crystal got the porridge that came with brown sugar and a shot of whisky. She put in some of the sugar, but all of the whisky. We left the hotel at 7:30 , headed out the same direction as the day before on the N2. This time, however, the weather was not so nice – it was foggy. We also did not turn off at Somerset West – we kept heading east going out towards Hermanus.
We started heading up the hill at Lowry's Pass and got above the fog to get outstanding views of all the mountain ranges around us. The great mountain scenery remained for a good portion of the drive, but then got foggy again when we got near Hermanus. Near Hermanus, we turned off the highway and continued on surface streets heading out towards Gansbaai, before we made a turn into the Grootbos Nature Reserve.
Grootbos has a 1700 hectare reserve full of the local fynbos vegetation. Fynbos means "Fine bush" or "Fine leaves," which is descriptive of the local plants. Fynbos includes all of the proteas and ericas, plus several other families. The cape region is the most bio-diverse area in the entire planet, being home to more plants than several countries are. There were gorgeous views of Walker Bay and the far off mountains from the Grootbos Lodge. While waiting for our excursion to start, we walked around the lodge a bit and saw a "Mole Snake" that they had caught a day or two earlier.
We had thought we would be walking, we instead had an open top Land Rover that we had to climb into. The terrain was very up and down, as we generally went up the hills behind the lodge. Our guide, Phindile, was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about everything. He showed us one local plant, a sage of some sort, that got pollinated by bending its stamen to put pollen on the beak of a bird when the bird put its beak into reach for pollen. He showed us several fragrant plants, including Leucospermum prostatum. He told us some of the medicinal values for some of the plants, including one that was an appetite suppressant.
As we got higher on the hills, the soil changed, and so did the plants, but the view was still phenomenal. Towards the top we got more of the proteas, including Leucadendrons and Mimetes. Justin in particular was intrigued by the Mimetes, which he would like to grow at home but just cannot find a source. At one point the engine would not re-start, but fortunately there was another vehicle that came up right behind us after about 2 minutes. We then took a leisurely jaunt back to the lodge for lunch. At lunch we had yet another picturesque view with little other patrons. While eating we noted that the fog was actually getting worse, not better, below us, which didn't bode well for whale watching in the afternoon. Since we had already seen whales at Cape Point, however, we resigned ourselves to not seeing anything.
We headed off anyway, since Phindile wanted to show us some of the local caves where people had lived thousands of years ago. We drove around for a bit at the top of the cliffs above Walker Bay , looking for whales, and seeing nothing. We did see, however, some phenomenal rock formations jutting out of the water like teeth. We decided we would try the caves first and then try the whales again. We went into the Walker Bay nature reserve, and immediately upon entry a dog started following us. Phindile told us this dog comes down to see him every day he comes to the park. The dog announced itself by marking the front tire shortly after we got out of the car. We walked down the cliffs to the beach, which fortunately was at low tide. There were caves all around, some 15-20 feet tall if not more so, and 80,000 years ago people lived in these caves, no doubt hunting for seafood and staying out of the rain by sleeping in the caves.
Compared to the hills on Grootbos, not more than 2-3 miles away, however, the weather was markedly different, with a cold mist compared to a hot sun. We left the caves, walked back up the cliff, got back in the car, and went searching for whales again. This time we found some almost immediately, and stopped the car and got out. In this area, the Southern Right Whales come around this time of year to mate. We walked to the cliff edge and started taking photos and video.
Given the fog and the sunlight wanting to poke through, it was nearly impossible looking through the viewfinder to find the whales, especially when zoomed in. It was tough to tell, but we estimated there were about 4 whales, all in the same general vicinity. Two of them appeared to be together, which wouldn't be surprising since it was mating season. We kept missing shots by a second or two, or we were looking at the wrong whale, so we gave up trying to get photos and instead just watched. After awhile, we started up with the photos again, and used the brute force method – taking a ton in rapid succession and hoping one would turn out. We got one tail shot, but it was unfortunately just a little late. We did get a couple good shots of the head, however, including some with open mouths. We expected the mouths would be a bit larger, given the size of the whale. Our watching went on for some time, probably much longer than it seemed, before Phindile told us it was time to go. On the way out we saw these incredible caterpillars crawling all over one of the local shrubs – we were curious what sort of butterflies they would turn into.
We headed back to the Lodge, looked around a bit more at some of the plants, and then Sumaya picked us up. She had spent the day in Hermanus, the unofficial capital of whale watching, and apparently there had not been a sighting there all day, whereas we saw a bunch, including some that were remarkably close to shore. On the long ride home, we enjoyed more of the incredible scenery and natural beauty of the mountains around the Cape area. We also saw Gordon's Bay at sunset, which would have been more picturesque if not for the fog.
At the hotel, we got cleaned up, had a drink in the bar, and then headed off to dinner at Five Flies, which was in the same general vicinity as the Africa Café. They offered the option of a 2 course, 3 course, or 4 course meal, with appetizers, soups, salads, and desserts all counting the same. Thus, if one wanted, you could order one main course and 3 desserts. None of really wanted 4 courses, but after seeing the menu that's what we all ended up getting. Justin got an oxtail soup, then a veal cannelloni, then a t-bone steak, and then a chocolate mousse cake with cherries. Crystal got a kudu salad, then the oxtail soup, then ostrich, and had a chocolate tart for dessert. It was one of the best meals we had ever had, with the food being just as good as D'Vine. We probably should not live in Cape Town for fear of our waistline. With all the food and drink, it did not take us long to fall asleep.