Cape Town is as cosmopolitan is at comes and can hold its own in terms of sophistication with any other metropolis in the world. But it’s still situated at the foot of Africa, and if you scratch at the thin veneer of urban life, you’ll discover its wild side.
And you don’t have to go far… Just a trip to the most cosmopolitan spots in the city, the V&A Waterfront, will bring you face to face with wildlife, in the form of the Cape Fur Seals that lull around in the working harbour. Their favourite sleeping place is in the curve of the gigantic tyres that line the harbour walls to cushion the boats anchored there. Or you’ll find them next to a fishing boat that’s just come back with its bounty, floating on their backs, fins in the air, begging for the bits and pieces the crew throw overboard when they clean the fish.
On top of Table Mountain you’ll be charmed by the Cape Hyrax, called ‘dassies’ in South Africa. These fat little rock climbers love the sun, and they take full advantage of the tourists who feed them while they’re basking in the rays.
On a drive along the Atlantic seaboard, there’s a good chance that you may be delighted by a pod of passing dolphins churning up the water. Or the sight of a northern right whale breaching. Or, on the False Bay side, from Boys’ Drive, the ominous shadows of sharks sharing the waves with surfers.
Just a little further on, past Simon’s Town, you’ll find the protected colony of jackass penguins, re-dubbed the African penguin. Two penguins started breeding here in the 80s, and were soon followed by others. These days the colony is over 2 000 penguins strong, and is managed by the Cape Peninsula Park. Wooden boardwalks take you up close and personal with these comic birds that seem so clumsy on terra firma, yet so sleek and agile in the water. You can even take to the water and swim with them at Boulders Beach. They are remarkably tolerant of people, but don’t get too fresh with them – they have a nasty bite.
Continue on your journey to Cape Point, where many people believe the Indian and Atlantic and Atlantic Oceans meet in tumultuous embrace. The views here are spectacular, and on the way there you’ll drive through the nature reserve declared a Natural World Heritage Site, and encounter zebra, antelope, ostrich and… baboons. It’s the baboons you have to keep a sharp eye on, because they’re the world’s most opportunistic pickpockets. They’ll climb into your car in their quest for your snacks, they’ll grab your ice cream right out of your hands and even rummage through your handbag in search of something to eat. So keep your distance, and marvel at their human-like antics from afar. And whatever you do, NEVER feed them!
Even in the more built-up areas of Cape Town, you will get glimpses of her wild side: guinea fowl scuttling over lawns chicks in tow; mongoose darting across streets, and in the quieter outlying towns, porcupines clattering their quills in the middle of the night.