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|Cunard Queen Mary 2
World Cruise 2013 - part 5
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Port Elizabeth is also a popular resort with sandy beaches and is the gateway to a large number of game reserves and National Parks, including the Addo Elephant National Park. It was a Maiden visit as the Queen Mary 2 had never been before. After visiting Durban we wondered what to expect because some South Africans on board had explained that they would not be going ashore. The local people welcomed us with music and dancing and provided a shuttle bus to The Boardwalk although the Cunard map did not mark its location.
After collecting maps and discussing plans we found The Boardwalk was a large tourist oriented area complete with Casino, alongside Hobie Beach, perhaps the best of the swimming beaches in the sweep of several miles of beaches starting at the end of the harbour. The shuttle bus drove the South Bay Museum and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University which was next door to The Boardwalk. It was a good starting place for the morning and we found it much better laid out and pleasant than many such complexes and set round a large lake. Nelson Mandela was born in the Eastern Cape, and Port Elizabeth has Nelson Mandela Bay, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.We tried once more to change money but found the minimum commision was huge in most banks and exchanges ranging from 65 to 115 rand (10) so credit cards and ATMs are the only practical way other than changing on the ship where the rates were reletively good but only from dollars.
We walked through the Boardwalk complex and onto Shark Rock Pier and then Pete had a swim at Hobie Beach almost alongside the pier - the temperature of the water was not high and several of the small number of swimmers were in wet suits so it was short. At least surf was not too bad and one could easily get past it. After a lounge on the beach to warm up and dry off we set off along the promenade past dunes and lots of places to watch the wild life as well as swimming and surfing areas. There was to be an Ironman competition the following weeekend and most of the grass areas alongside the promenade were sprouting grandstand seating and marquees. Security needs for all the electronic equipment reminded us of the Reading festival.
After about half and hour we reached the Summerstrand Village shopping centre which looked as if "Pick n Pay" might be a source of wine and local produce. We continued along the promenade onto what we later found was a well known walk, especially for nature watching. On the way back we went into the shopping centre and bought a couple of bottles of wine to see us through to Cape Town without risk to the nice bottles which were destined for the UK. They were a mid range Wolftrap Syrah, Mourvedre Viognier 2011 which looked unusual and looking ahead turned out to be interesting and very drinkable - the bottle had a label saying they had won the SA Wine Guide Winery of the Year award. The other was a Robertson Pinotage. Pinotage is almost exclusive to South Africa so was a natural choice and the Robertson wines, which come from 'an extended family of 35 contributing farms in the town of Robertson most of them 7th generation', have turned out to be quite reliable in the past.
We then set off back to the Boardwalk, now with a somewhat heavier pack so an ice-cream was called for on our arrival and we discovered two friends from the ship having lunch at the same restaurant. We decided to head back on the shuttle for a brief snack before exploring town as, to our surprise, the information staff on the ship had told us it was quite safe to walk from the ship and into the city. The local guides were proud of their security. Such a contrast to Durban where they marked the maps with big no go areas and dire warnings about going anywhere other than the beach front or city centre and then only by public transport.
In the afternoon the shuttle bus dropped us at the harbour entrance, near the Campanile. It was erected to commemorate the landing of the 1820 British Settlers, led by Sir Rufane Donkin who named the city after his wife Elizabeth. It contains a chiming clock and the largest carillon of bells in the country. The observation room is at the top of a 204 step staircase, but we had too little time for the climb. Our intention was simply to spend an hour and see the main public buildings and the shopping streets, and compare walking around Port Elizabeth with our experience in Durban. The main buildings, including the Port Elizabeth Harbour Building and the Old Post Office date, from the 19th century. The Donkin Heritage trail covers the most interesting landmarks and buildings.
Straight ahead we climbed up Whites Road, passing the Cathedral, in search of the Donkin Reserve Lighthouse. We expected the lighthouse to be visible as we climbed and eventually we reached it only to find a Cunard tour walking round. The lighthouse was built in 1861 and the stone pyramid monument was erected by Sir Rufane Donkin in memory of his wife. The views were good and there was a fascinating mosaic artwork, "Mosaic Moments" around the pyramid and the lighthouse. There was an interesting path downhill called Route 67 - an Arts Cultural Heritage Route depicting 67 public art works symbolizing Nelson Mandelas 67 years of dedication to the Freedom of South Africa. We walked down the serpentine path with its series of named crosses until we reached the Savage Memorial Hall and the Main Library. This was one side of the Market Square, with the substantial buildings of the Reserve Bank and City Hall. The shopping street was a contrast, with large substantial buildings mixed with pavement stalls and everywhere there were local people with bags and shopping, and no sign of Cunard tour groups or security.
Cape Town would be our longest stop on this cruise with two overnights. Because we were coming from Port Elizabeth we were due to arrive late in the afternoon and in daylight rather than early in the morning as we had done on QE2 in 2002 and 2007 when Durban was the previous port.
This gave us excellent views as we approached and we could pick out the Cape of Good Hope, False Bay and the Table Mountain with the 12 Apostles to the side - actually there are 17 ridges or 'gables' as they are known. We could also see Lion Head and below it the Signal Hill. We passed inside of Robben Island and had excellent views of the town as we approached the port. Unfortunately we were not moored close in to the Victoria and Alfred waterfront but were way out on what looked like a refueling wharf with a twenty or more minute shuttle bus ride to the V&A waterfront where the HopOn HopOff buses were accessed as well as the huge shopping, eating and drinking complex round the working port itself.
Pauline had put in a lot of preparation for the visit and we had advanced internet bookings for a trip to Robben Island on the second (full) day and a two day ticket for the second and third day on the double decker open topped HopOn HopOff Buses which gave us unlimited travel on their two routes and included a wine tour, a night tour stopping for a picnic on Signal Hill to watch the sunset and a canal trip through the city. The bus ticket could not be activated until 0900 the first day of use but we decided to take the shuttle into the V&A waterfront to see what had changed and get our bearings. The Alfred is not a typing error, Prince Alfred was Queen Victoria's second son who had considerable involvement with Cape Town and laid the foundation stone for the V&A. We were almost first off the ship and caught the first shuttle so we arrived on the waterfront in time for sunset - not as good as we hope for on Signal Hill but a pleasant start to the evening. We looked round the waterfront area which seemed even more developed than we remember but still with areas with boats in a huge dry dock and with big fishing boats hauled out. We also located the Robben Island Terminal and Museum and the HopOnHopOff Bus terminal at the Aquarium.
Most of the big Malls were still busy but the smaller market areas such as the Red Shed and craft and food markets were closed. The Victoria Wharf has expanded and now included a supermarket, Pick n Pay, with a good selection of food and wine which would be perfect for our sunset picnic, and our bunch of Protea flowers cost only 40 rand - the protea is the national flower of South Africa. The Mitchells Brewery which has a big selection of its own ales from a micro-brewery was still alive and we had a look inside and were seduced by the selection - Pauline had a 90 shilling ale (5%) and Pete had a super brew called Milk and Honey which just slipped down so one could understand the name but it was definitely not a session beer at 6.7% ! The prices were very reasonable for such a hostelry at 18 and 19.5 rand for 330 ml glasses - well under £3.00 a pint so cheaper than the UK.
We were too late for dinner in the Britannia so we had a light meal in the Kings Court and an early night in preparation for an early start the next day.
We anticipated that the shuttle buses would start earlier than publicised and got off the ship at 0820 and straight on to a shuttle so we were almost exactly 0900 at the HopOnHopOff stand to change our internet print out for the two day ticket, 220 rand each, and pick up our free headphones for the commentaries. There are two routes, the Red and Blue routes and we took the slightly shorter Red route as we wanted to be back in plenty of time to catch the boat at 1300 to Robben Island.
The 0915 bus was not full and we chose seats upstairs, in the first row in the open air. This had the advantages of being clear of windows for photos, and being sheltered from the wind. The Red route is two circles, one around the city and then off past the cable car to the beaches. The city circuit showed us the grain silos near the clock tower - until recently the second highest building in Africa after the pyramids, crossing the canal to the International Convention Centre, then along Heerengracht passing the Railway Station where departs the famous trains - Rovos Rail and the Blue Train. The bus stopped at St Georges Cathedral, then passed the Company Gardens, the oldest gardens in South Africa which were established in 1652 to supply fresh produce to passing ships, and passed the High Court building with the two benches outside - one marked for whites and the other for the others. Further along was the South Africa Museum and Planetarium which was founded in 1825 and is the oldest and largest museum in the country. This Government area is the centre of political life and includes the expensive Mount Nelson Hotel, and the Houses of Parliament.
The bus stopped at the Jewish Museum and Holocaust Centre and the District Six Museum, before driving around District Six. This was once a cosmopolitan neighbourhood with some 60,000 predominantly coloured inhabitants, when in 1966 it was designated a White Group Area, and all non-whites were evicted and moved to the townships. The buildings were reduced to rubble, and today the land still remains largely undeveloped. The District Six Museum, based in Buitenkant Methodist Church, describes the devastating impact of apartheid. The next stop was at the Castle of Good Hope - built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679 and the oldest colonial building in South Africa. It is pentagonal and has been very well preserved. We stopped by the moat at the main entrance. Three museum collections are housed here: the Military Museum, Secunde's House, and the William Fehr Collection in the Governor's Residence.
After passing the City Hall this completed the first circle, then onwards to Buitengracht and the Gold Museum and Bo-Kaap, the residential district of the Cape Malay population. The Kloof Nek Road ended at the juction with the road up Signal Hill, Camps Bay Drive and Table Mountain Road which led to the Lower Cable Station. It was 1025, having taken over an hour from the V&A, and there was a scheduled 5 minute halt.
From the Lower Cable Station the bus went along the coast to Camps Bay, with an excellent view of the Twelve Apostles, then to Clifton, Bantry Bay, Sea Point, Three Anchor Bay and the striped lighthouse at Green Point which is the oldest in South Africa, built in 1824. It then passed the 2010 FIFA Stadium and Somerset Hospital before completing the circle at the V&A Waterfront. The overall trip on the Red Route lasted 2 hours.
We arrived back at the V&A Waterfront at 11.30 and strolled down to the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island. A sign declared that there were no tours because of a technical problem, and the ferry boat was waiting quietly at the wharf and was presumed broken. The booking office gave us the choice of a refund or a ticket for the next tour, on Sunday. Today was Wednesday so we were forced to take the refund - at considerable expense as we will lose two currency transfer fees on the transactions from and to sterling on the credit card. After the defeat of apartheid, the last political prisoners were released from Robben Island in 1991 and in 1996 Robben Island was declared a National Monument and a National Museum. Entry to the site is strictly controlled and access is only possible by taking the Robben Island tour. This includes a return boat trip across Table Bay, a visit to the Maximum Security Prison, interaction with an ex-political prisoner who acts as a guide, a 45 minute bus tour with a guide, and the opportunity to explore the Murray's Bay Harbour precinct attractions, including the African penguin boardwalk and hide and the museum shop. Nelson Mandela's cell, a national shrine, is the centrepiece. Updating, Nelson Mandela had been ill and had been allowed to go back home from hospital just a few days earlier.
The afternoon was now free, and there was plenty of time for the Blue Mini Peninsula Bus tour, which also went through the city, then to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and the Wine Bus. The gardens at Kirstenbosch are beautiful and due to timing we had to decide whether it was wine or gardens today. The gardens won. Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 by Professor Henry Pearson on land bequeathed to the nation by Cecil Rhodes, in order to conserve and promote the indigenous flora of southern Africa. Pearson's grave is within the garden, as well as Matthew's rockery in memory of the first curator, J W Matthews. Their mission now is to promote the sustainable use, conservation, appreciation and enjoyment of the exceptionally rich plant life of South Africa, for the benefit of all people. A small entrance fee is charged - 42 rand (3.00) each plus 4 rand for a map. The entire estate is 528 hectares, and even limiting the visit to the cultivated Garden (36 hectares) means that a whole day could easily be spent here. We were deposited at Gate 2, and after an ice-cream at the tea rooms we strode uphill to reach the Protea Garden. These were at the furthest point of the map, and gave us a good idea for how far we could walk in our limited visit. It is not the right time for proteas, but there were still a few of the glorious flowers. We had plenty of time and ambled slowly downhill, through the Dell. Here there were a few picnic groups sitting on the grass and enjoying their day out in the sunshine.
The Blue route then took us to Constantia Nek restaurant where a winebus was waiting for the connection to Beau Constantia, Eagles Nest and Groot Constantia Wine Estates. Constantia was the birthplace of the wine industry in South Africa, with the Governor Simon van der Stel planting the first vines on his estate in 1685. This estate was later divided into Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting. They are all wineries. In 2002 we visited Groot Constantia, which is the largest estate, as might be expected from its name, and includes Van der Stel's original manor house. It stopped at the World of Birds and the Monkey Park instead, then at Kronendal for joining the Imizamo Yethu "Walking township tour", an extra 65 rand but we decided it would be a must on another visit.From there, the Blue Route goes along the M63 to Hout Bay. When we boarded the Blue Route bus we had each been given a Passport to enter the Republic of Hout Bay. We smiled; it reminded us of Whangamomona in New Zealand, where they have also declared a Republic. Hout Bay is a fishing town, centred on the Mariner's Wharf complex. Our bus went further down to turn which allows a short stop. After leaving Hout Bay we joined the Red Route at Camps Bay and continued in common with the Red Route back to the V&A. We had plenty of time to go and buy our cheese at the Pumphouse and the rest of our picnic at Pick n Pay before joining the line to wait for the evening Night Tour which departs at 1730 in April.
The bus was completely full so we were glad we had got there early and queued. The outward route to Signal Hill was the reverse of the Red and Blue routes, along the coast to Clifton, passing the Twelve Apostles, then inland and along the spine of the hill to Signal Hill. Sunset was about 1835 and we sat on the grass with our picnic, drinking our pinotage out of paper cups and enjoying the local South African cheese and Biltong. We had expected to have half an hour, perhaps more, at the summit, but it was very cold and as soon as the sun had set everyone rushed back to the bus to find warm seats inside. As we left, some other groups were just opening their second bottle of bubbles and putting on their wooly jumpers, including a tour group who were probably from the QM2. We toasted them with a little more pinotage! The views down onto the city in the evening light were spectacular and the bus drive stopped a couple of times for photographs. The route back was through the city, and many people got off when we passed their hotels until finally we were back at the V&A.
It was only 1930 and the V & A shops are open until 2100 and we thought about buying some South African wine and walked over to Woolworths, a clothes and food store similar to those of the same name in Australia. Locals say it is like M&S in the UK, which it isn't, but it did have a wine area which was gated. Apparently wine is not allowed to be sold after 1800 now. We bought some local delicacies - smoked snoek fish and snoek terrine, as well as 2012 Silver Prize Brie de Roche (made from Jersey and goat milk) and 2012 Gold Prize De Leeuwen (semi soft washed rind cheese with blue viens made from Jersey milk) It is all in our fridge for pre-dinner snacks. On our last visit Pauline bought some wine from Vaughan Johnson's Wine Shop. We searched but did not find it and later heard it was reduced in size and hiding inside a restaurant.
The last shuttle bus was at 2240 so there was plenty of time for another beer at the Mitchells Brewery, both of us having the Milk and Honey and sitting outside to avoid the smoke. Unlike the UK, smoking is permitted inside, but not outside.
The following morning Table Mountain was clear, the sky was blue, and it was a perfect day to go walking. We knew that the shuttle bus, followed by the HopOnHopOff bus would mean we would not reach the Lower Cable Car Station at 1025 by which time there would be big queues so we caught a taxi from the berth which was 150 rand and meant we were early and, as expected, there were no queues for the cable car. If one is really fit it is possible to walk up to the top of Table Mountain: the recommended route which is to get dropped 2 kms further along Tafelberg Road, near the plaque proclaiming Table Mountain as a National Monument, and climb Platteklip Gorge. It takes a fit person two and a half hours. The first recorded climb up Platteklip was in 1503. An alternative, and more exciting climb starts with a long line of steps cut into the rock directly under the path of the cable car. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is part of Table Mountain National Park, which was created in 1998 to conserve the unspoilt area of the Peninsula. The original cableway was opened in 1929 and some old cable cars are on display, including one which has been transformed into an ice cream stall. The larger modern cars were made in Switzerland in 1997, and the floor rotates through 360 degress on the way up. Everyone has the chance to get a view, and to take pictures in the gaps between the windows. The approach to the Upper Cable Station is almost vertical, arriving at a height of 1067 metres on Western Table.
There are three suggested walks on the top, Dassie (15 minutes), Agama (30 minutes) and Klipspringer (45 minutes). They are all described as very easy, and the first two are nice flat paths, suitable for wheelchairs, which give good views. The original stone cottage houses a Shop, restaurant and toilets and most visitors seemed content to go no further. There were warnings about feeding the birds and the Dassies, and we saw several of the inquisitive animals. About the size of a rabbit, it is the closest known relative to the elephant according to DNA matching, for example it has matching feet with three and four toes. On a clear day it is possible to see Cape Point and Hout Bay, and the views towards Camps Bay and Clifton Bay were good. Young men were taking the quick route down the mountain, abseiling. We wanted a longer walk, and started on the Klipspringer Walk. It was popular and looked flat and well marked. Although it was late summer, there were still a few of the King Protea flowers, the national flower of South Africa.
There is a branch off the Klipspringer Walk to Maclear's Beacon which is supposed to take one hour each way, and is about 3 kms. It involves a height gain of just 19 metres, to reach the actual summit of Table Mountain at 1087 metres. There are signs at junctions and yellow footprints are painted on the rocks to make sure the path is clear. The walk was easy and pleasant, on uneven ground and boardwalks, and the only effort is in climbing down to Platteklip Gorge, then up the other side. In dry weather it would be easy but is more challenging in the wet. There was a sturdy chain handrail which we needed to use on the way down. We only had walking sandals, not proper boots, and needed to be very careful. We completed this walk in 2007, but abandonned it part way down the chain handrail this time because it was damp and slippy and we only had sandals. We climbed back up but missed the junction to continue anti-clockwise with the Klipspringer Walk, so did a complete circle clockwise.This gave good views towards Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island, and then a view down Platteklip Gorge.
By now it tour arrival time, and as we ate our icecream we saw Cunard badges emerging from the cable car. It was getting busy so we caught the next cable car back down and walked straight onto a Red Route bus. We still had a little time spare on our schedule so we decided to get off at Sea Point and walk along the promenade for a couple of miles and catch a later bus at Green Point lighthouse.
When we got back into town we did not get off at the V&A but continued two more stops to the conference centre and walked around it to the canal basin where one of the boats was just pulling in - perfect timing as they run every twenty minutes. The trip on the canal gives quite a different view of the city and the canal and surroundings are all beautifully maintained - to be recommended.
It was now time for a final hour around the V & A, starting with the nearby SAS Somerset, the only boom defence vessel remaining in the world. Nobel Square pays tribute to South Africas four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Nikosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. It was now getting time for final shopping for the wine we were unable to buy the previous evening. We ended up with two bottles of the Graham Beck NV Rose Cap Classique (= methode champenoise) which we had enjoyed so much at the Todd English Wine tasting dinner. The Pink was 115 rand and the white 109 rand. The web site shows that last time in 2007 we also bought Graham Beck NV at 84 rand. The label said it was imported by Graham Beck Wines (Europe) at St Alphage House, 2 Fore Street, London EC2Y 5DH. We also bought a Robinson's Chenin Blanc 2012 at 39.99 Rand which we are drinking as we write this up - very nice and good value. This left us with under 20 rand so Pauline bought a few postcards to use for watercolour painting as we walked back to the Shuttle bus with under an hour to spare. Once back on board we had to go for the departure formalities.
By this time the winds had risen considerably so we went up to see how we got on leaving the berth and turning to exit through a narrow channel. We had the help of two tugs and got off the berth sideways but it proved impossible to rotate the ship and line up for the channel with winds gusting to 45 knots. The band kept playing and playing on the shore but eventually we had to come back alongside at 1815 to wait for the winds to drop - very embarrasing and probably expensive. It must be our shortest journey yet. In the end we slipped away quietly at close to midnight without ceremony.
In the next part the journey continues to Walvis Bay, Namibia and on to Las Pamas in the Canary Islands after 7 days at sea.
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