Cape Town - The reality of a Cape winter is howling north-westerly winds, rain and flooding, freezing temperatures and even snow, which may or may not excite you depending on your location, altitude and, for that matter, your attitude.
But the Cape is blessed with some glorious days despite the season, those “Indian Summer” afternoons when the sun shines, the temperatures rise and the breeze is negligible. On such days, you can experience some natural wonders without the crowds of summer.
There is reason enough to get out of the house and experience something of nature. Some of the things on my winter bucket list are only available during the colder months and a few offer a chance to escape even on the coldest and wettest days.
Go bird watching: Much easier than you might think, even for those lacking in ornithological abilities. The World of Birds in Hout Bay will give you and the kids plenty to see on a bright day and without the crowds of the summer months. Not only birds, but guinea pigs, monkeys and more, it makes for a wonderful day out of the house. See www.worldofbirds.org.za.
Watch butterflies hatch: Butterfly World in Klapmuts provides an extraordinary experience even on a chilly winter’s day. No matter the weather, you can be transported into a tropical paradise of humidity and warmth while surrounded by rainbow clouds of butterflies. See www.butterflyworld.co.za.
Hike to the top of the mountain: There are lots of routes up Table Mountain and yet most locals have never walked them. The easiest hike is up Platteklip Gorge which provides for safe, if strenuous, clambering even after wet weather. There are numerous other routes for the more seasoned walker. On a nice winter’s day the temperatures are far better for taking a hike to the top than during the heat of summer. If you want to ride instead of walk you can take the kids (two children under the age of 18) for free until the end of October. If you plan to hike up and ride down, check that the cableway is operating. It is closed for maintenance from Monday until August 10. See www.tablemountain.net.
Say hello to a visiting Southern Right Whale: The whales are in the bay, and when the north-westerly breezes blow and the sea flattens off you have the perfect opportunity to find them. A car ride along Boyes Drive will give you good options of seeing some, or the longer trek out to Hermanus, where the whales frequently come very close to shore. Consider a boat trip with Simonstown Boat Company. They will put you close enough for you to blow the whales a kiss and hear them blow one back. See www.boatcompany.co.za.
Hug a penguin: I am not sure it would be advisable to actually attempt a hug, but you can get up close with the penguins on Boulder’s Beach. I have a real soft spot for the penguins, as do many who fought so hard to help them after The Treasure disaster. Boulders offers a great spot to enjoy a picnic in the company of these amazing birds. See www.capetown.travel/attractions/entry/Boulders_penguin_colony.
Get some flower power: The Postberg section of the West Coast National Park is generally closed to visitors, but for a brief period in spring the gates are opened and you can hike through the most incredible floral display on Earth. The only way to experience this is to book a day on the hiking trail. Far more psychedelic than anything the hippies of the flower power era ever saw. See www.sanparks.co.za/parks/west_coast.
Visit a coral reef: The Two Oceans Aquarium still has to be one of the premier venues to see some colour on a drab day. With a fantastic display of both warm and cold ocean environments, massive predators, colourful trigger fish, weird crabs and killer jellyfish. Still a favourite venue of mine but particularly one for a wet afternoon when you need to escape the house and experience some colour. See www.aquarium.co.za.
Build a snowman: You will probably have to wait for the next big cold front to set the scene, but there will almost certainly be some snow in the highlands again before winter is out. A trip towards Ceres should put you in a position to build a snowman or slide a sled, particularly if you take a hike or a 4x4 trip up on to the Matroosberg, the highest point in the Boland. People from other climes don’t entirely understand our fascination with snow, but it is almost a rite of passage that Cape Town kids experience the chance to make a “snow angel” when the conditions are right. See /www.matroosberg.com/site.
Travel back in time: I wrote a piece on the “Fossil Park” near Langebaan some time ago and it still represents one of those oddities which perhaps remain unfamiliar to most Capetonians. Back in the mists of time when Table Mountain was just poking out of the sea and the Berg River flowed a rather different course than it does today, some catastrophic event deposited the corpses of hundreds of animals in the perfect spot to be fossilised. A trip to the fossil park will transport you back in time and make you re-think a lot of what you thought you knew about the history of the Cape. See www.fossilpark.org.za.
We have wonderful opportunities to commune with nature, even in winter. It’s time to ditch the remote, turn off the computer games and get out there, because there is a lot more to see than you might imagine.