A very good year
From here, you’ll need a car to cover more of the western Cape region. Cast away your fear of getting lost in a foreign place and of driving on the right hand side of the car, step into an inexpensive economy-car rental delivered to your hotel or fetched from the airport, and head out for a trio of fantastic natural excursions easily reached from Cape Town— wine country, beaches, and the Cape of Good Hope.
The Mediterranean climate of the Western Cape has spawned a wine industry in South Africa that rivals California ’s in breadth and quality. So it’s no great surprise that the twin wine-country towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, for all the world, resemble the stretches of California outside Santa Barbara .
Highway 1 fingers the way out of Cape Town into the mountains surrounding the university town of Stellenbosch. About an hour’s drive from the V&A Waterfront, Stellenbosch is host to a handful of wineries like Lanzerac, where no visit is complete without figuring out how much UPS would charge to ship a half-case of the vibrant merlots back to the States. It’s outrageous; plan ahead and conserve space in your carry-on luggage. Lanzerac, and most of the area wineries offers tours of its property and cellars, as well as accommodations for a night or two among the grapes.
Beached and blanched
Suitably vined, head back south through town and aim for the end of the Cape peninsula. But be prepared—with sunscreen and swimsuits. A string of pearly beaches rims the Cape peninsula, each its own pocket of solitude, even in the heat of the January summer. Scenic Houts Bay and Llandudno perch near each other, the second one being a dead end off a housing subdivision. If you want to scramble over the rocks for a bit, a nude-only section of rocks allows sunning and toe-dipping in the utterly frigid Atlantic waters and a simultaneous warming on the rocky shore.
From here you can slash west toward a short but memorable drive up Chapmans Peak Road . It’s merely 4 kilometers of slow-going hairpins, but the extreme drop-offs and dramatic crests of beach seem more like Hawaii or St. Lucia than the far edge of Africa . The road deposits you near Sea Point and Camps Bay , the big public beach area on the eastern edge of Cape Town , which has swimming pools and is easily reached by taxi from town if you choose not to rent a car.
From baboons to penguins
But there’s no reason to stop there—after all, you’ve flown 18 hours, and who wouldn’t press on to the very tip of the world? The Cape Peninsula is tipped by the Cape of Good Hope you read about in elementary school geography, and its preserved natural beauty is reason enough to explore by car—even if the Atlantic and Indian oceans don’t actually meet at the Cape, but instead at a point about 150 kilometers to the east.
Plan for a stop halfway down the peninsula at Boulders Beach , where you can stand inches away from Jackass penguins. The beach is home to the only colony of the birds on the continent—and there are hundreds crawling the protected beach, laying eggs and nesting and being observed from wooden decks at picture-perfect distance.
And when you get to the Cape, leave lunch behind. That’s right—leave it at home or in the car. You see, the Cape beaches at the very tip of the peninsula have become home to Chacma baboons who know that gym bags and backpacks have yummy insides. The monkeys will jump on cars and ride for a few kilometers – then jump off and do the same in the opposite direction for a thrill ride. Or they might make off with your backpack as we saw happen to a German couple on vacation, rip it open and mash your potato chips into their fanged mouths. You can laugh about it all the way back to town—and file it away in a stack of unforgettable mental snapshots that Cape Town shutters away in a constant blur.