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The Western Cape is a province in the southwest of South Africa. It is one of the most popular provinces among travellers, not in the last place because of the splendid location of Cape Town and the nearby wine region at Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. To add, it has stunning coastlines and beaches, fantastic mountains and the wide open spaces of the Karoo to the north and the Cape Peninsula in the southwesternmost part. The mix of cities, relaxing and thrilling adventures makes this region a great start to visit South Africa.
The Western Cape Province is roughly L-shaped, extending north and east from the Cape of Good Hope, in the southwestern corner of South Africa. It stretches about 400 kilometres northwards along the Atlantic coast and about 500 kilometres eastwards along the South African south coast (Southern Indian Ocean). It is bordered on the north by the Northern Cape and on the east by the Eastern Cape. The total land area of the province is 129,462 square kilometres. The Western Cape is the southernmost region of the African continent with Cape Agulhas as its southernmost point, only 3, 800 kilometres from the Antarctic coastline. The coastline varies from sandy between capes, to rocky to steep and mountainous in places.
The province is topographically exceptionally diverse. Most of the province falls within the Cape Fold Belt, a set of nearly parallel ranges of sandstone folded mountains of Cambrian-Ordovician age that vary in height from 1,000 to 2300 metres. The valleys between ranges are generally very fertile as they contain the weathered loamy soils of the Bokkeveld mustones.
The far interior forms part of the Karoo. This region of the Province is generally arid and hilly with a prominent escarpment that runs close to the Province's most inland boundary.
The Escarpment marks the southwestern edge of South Africa's central plateau. It runs parallel to the entire South African coastline except in the very far northeast, where it is interrupted by the Limpopo River valley, and the far northwest, where it is interrupted by the Orange River valley. The 1,000-kilometre northeastern stretch of the escarpment is called the Drakensberg, which is geographically and geologically quite distinct from the Cape Fold Mountains, which originated much earlier and totally independently of the origin of the escarpment.
The vegetation is also extremely diverse, with one of the world's seven floral kingdoms almost exclusively endemic to the province, namely the Cape Floral Kingdom, most of which is covered by Fynbos (from the Afrikaans meaning "Fine Bush" (Dutch: Fijnbosch). These evergreen heathlands are extremely rich in species diversity, with at least as many plant species occurring on Table Mountain as in the entire United Kingdom.
The arid interior is dominated by Karoo drought-resistant shrubbery. The West Coast and Little Karoo are semi-arid regions and are typified by many species of succulents and drought-resistant shrubs and acacia trees. The Garden Route on the south coast (between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Southern Indian Ocean) is extremely lush, with temperate rainforest (or Afromontane Forest) covering many areas adjacent to the coast, in the deep river valleys and along the southern slopes of the Outeniqua mountain range. Typical species are hardwoods of exceptional height, such as Yellowwood, Stinkwood and Ironwood trees.
Boulders Beach is a sheltered sandy beach with large granite boulders that forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. The real pulling point however is the population of penguins that wander the beach and paths. The sea is a bit cool even in summer, but it's worth donning some goggles and jumping in for the opportunity of seeing these graceful swimmers in their natural environment. Access to Boulders Beach is from the town of Simon's Town, about one hour south of Cape Town and costs R45 (price November 2011) per adult. Swimming is an extra R45. The swimming is on Boulders Beach, but the boardwalks leading to most of the penguins is actually on Foxy Beach.
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The Garden Route is a popular scenic drive along a stretch of the southern coastline of South Africa. Although the Garden Route extends into the Western Cape, most of it is actually located in the Eastern Cape: a fantastic drive along the beautiful southern coastline, where ancient forests, surf spots, hiking and bungeejumping can all be combined within days. The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains are located inland of the coast. The Garden Route is in between the mountains and the Indian Ocean. The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma indigenous forests are a unique mixture of Cape fynbos and temperate forest and offer hiking trails and other activities. Nearly 300 species of bird life are to be found in a variety of habitats ranging from fynbos to forest to wetlands and 10 nature reserves protect these biodiverse ecosystems of the area as well as unique marine reserves, home to coral reefs, dolphins, seals and many other forms of aquactic life. Various bays along the Garden Route are breeding grounds of the endangered Southern Right Whale which come there to calve in the winter and spring (July to December).
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Robben Island, located just off the coast from Cape Town, is famous for being where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the apartheid period. Some of the tour guides were themselves political prisoners so they have plenty of insight about what went on there. Tours run several times a day, every day, from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (+27 (0)21 413-4200). Tickets can be purchased online as well at the above website. Trips leave at 9:00am, 11:00am and 1:00pm and tours take 3.5 hours including the ferry ride to and from the island. The cost is a rather steep R220.
Route 62 is a great alternative to the coastal route (N2) in South Africa's Western Cape. Better known as the Wine Route, it runs partly across some of the best wineries and most fantastic landscapes anywhere in the world. A visit to the wine areas of Wellington, Tulbagh, Worcester, Robertson and the Klein Karoo is possible and it's one of the longest wine routes in the world. Activities along Route 62 include wine tours, safari drives, tribal art, cultural tours, museums, hiking, mountain climbing, 4x4 routes, canoeing, horse riding, ostrich riding, fishing, and caving. The original regional Route 62 runs between Montagu and Humansdorp, but the total route spans a distance of 850 kilometres from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
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Table Mountain National Park is located in and near Cape Town, South Africa and was established in 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation. The most famous feature of course is the Table Mountain itself: like the 1,000 or so geysers on the world which are named after the Icelandic Geysir, Cape Town's Table Mountain is the grandfather of all table mountains in the world. It towers above the city, while Devil's Peak and Lion's Head tower above the mountain itself. The flat top is about 3 kilometres wide and offers tremendous views over the city and the ocean. There are only small differences in height on this flat, with the cable car station only 19 metres lower than the highest point. Although in 2 to 3 hours you are able to climb (walk) up to the top, the Table Mountain Cableway takes passengers up and down the mountain, ascending over 700 metres from Table Mountain Road.
The big upcoming international event on the South African horizon is the FIFA World Cup beginning on the 11th of June 2010. One of the most prestigious and popular world sporting events, the World Cup 2010 promises to bring throngs of passionate supporters from around the globe. Held once every four years, it's a football tournament (called soccer in South Africa) where 32 world nations vie for the famous golden trophy.
Cape Town International Airport (CPT) is the main gateway by air to the Western Cape.
South African Express flies between Cape Town and Walvisbaai and Windhoek in Namibia, Gaborone in Botswana and Maputo in Mozambique. KLM flies between Amsterdam and Cape Town directly. Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines fly from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Cape Town as well. The latter has flights onwards to Buenos Aires. Cape Town has flights to Istanbul, Düsseldorf and Munich and from June 2008 to New York as well and several African cities, mainly in the south of the continent.
South African Airways, Sout African Airlink andMango all fly to and from Cape Town from a number of South African cities as well, including Bloemfontein, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Johannesburg.
If you want to excess the Western Cape in the east, the George Airport (GRJ) has domestic flights to/from Johannesburg and Durban.
To/from the airport
Shosholoza Meyl is the national railway, with services between Cape Town and several major South African cities. Most of the connections are budget, but there is a Premier Class train between Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The main routes are:
If you are coming from Johannesburg or Bloemfontein, take the N1 all the way, those coming from Port Elizabeth along the Garden Route will probably be on the N2. If you are coming down from Namibia, you should take the N7 southbound.
Distances (on main N routes) to other cities to/from Cape Town include:
There are many companies offering services to and from Cape Town, but the main operators are Greyhound South Africa, Intercape and Translux. They serve both several international as well as many domestic destinations.
The Baz Bus is a bus where you can hop on and of and is mostly used by backpackers travelling on a budget. They are dropped off at hostels. There are three routes. One is running between Cape Town and Durban.
The Royal Mail Ship "Saint Helena" travels regularly between Saint Helena and Ascension Island, Walvis Bay and Cape Town. The schedule is primarily designed to meet the needs of locals and cargo for St. Helena, and thus follows a timetable but not a consistent routing. In general terms, the ship leaves Cape Town once a month, before heading to St. Helena, sometimes via Walvis Bay. From St. Helena it will then run 1 or 2 shuttles to Ascension Island, before returning to Cape Town, again sometimes via Walvis Bay. Occasionally, Cape Town is omitted, and the ship returns to St. Helena directly from Walvis Bay.
For travelling directly to Tristan da Cunha, there are only a few boats a year from Cape Town (and sometimes Namibia). If you are lucky enough though, the trip takes 5 or 6 days and will mean you have to spend months on the island. Tickets roughly cost about 1000 to 1200 US dollar for a return trip. It's best to check the Tristan da Cunha website for details.
The only noteworthy option is between Cape Town and George.
If you would like to travel around by car, there are numerous car rental companies available from the airports and downtown locations. Just make sure that you have sufficient insurance to cover you if the need arises. Some of them offer the possibility to reduce excess (the amount you pay when involved in an accident) for a daily fee. Car hire companies include Avis, Imperial, CABS Car Hire, First Car Rental as well as many other international and local ones. Usually, the local ones are cheaper but don't have the same standard as the international ones, which have more branches throughout the country and therefore are able to help you more quickly if needed.
If travelling by car, be sure to plan your routes carefully to insure that there are sufficient places to fill the tank with petrol as some towns are located quite a distance apart with no filling stations in between. It's a good idea to fill up with fuel when you have about half a tank left if possible.
The main bus companies offer regular services in the Western Cape (e.G. Intercape, Greyhound, Translux) as does the Baz Bus.
Boats go from Cape Town to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 20 years from 1964 to 1984.
Cape Town offers everything you want. Along the coast look-out for some fish and oysters, while in the Cape Winelands head for some of the countries finest dining experiences.
This is the region to taste South Africa`s best wine. Tour the cellars around Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek but check for a driver before. Recently the wine producing areas in the Overberg, Swartland and Robertson are gaining international recognition. Not only is the wine tasting in these areas for free. While the wine of the traditional wine producing areas of South Africa are moved to the lower shelves of the European supermarkets the ones from the upcoming areas can be found in top restaurants and special liquor stores and wine boutiques in Europe and North America as premium brands.
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