26 January 2012

Cape of Good Hope

We made a day tour from Capetown down the Cape peninsula into Table Mountain National Park.  We were keen to see that huge headlands that for hundreds of years has given weary sailors hope of a safe harbor.  Cape of Good Hope was a key landmark on the sea trade route between Europe and Asia. We tried to imagine trading ships like the great Indiamen of the Dutch East India Company rounding the Cape laden with spices and silks.

The Cape of Good is where, according to the park brochure, "two of earth's most contrasting water massses - the cold Benguela current on the West Coast and the warm Agulhas current on the East Coast" meet.  It is not, as we were taught in school, the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Geographically, the Indian Ocean joins the Atlantic at Cape Agulhas", the most southerly point of the African continent. 

For a gardener, the Cape is a spectacular landscape.  It lies within the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the smallest but richest of the world's six floral kingdoms. Again from the park brochure, there are "1,100 species of indigenous plants, of which a number are endemic (occur naturally nowhere else on earth). Two types of fynbos ("fine bush"), coastal fynbos on alkaline sands and inland fynbos on acidic soils, are found."

Fynbos plants include proteas, ericas (heath) and restos (reeds). There are 24 species of proteas, including King Protea (see above), Sugarbush, Tree Pincushion and Golden Cone Bush.  These are all so exotic sounding, but you are more familiar with fynbos than you think; pelargoniums (regular garden geraniums), freesias, daisies, lilies and irises all originate from fynbos.

On Cape Point there is a lighthouse to which we took a funicular partway and then climbed up to admire the view.  In actuality, the lighthouse was more often than not shrouded in mist and proved to be ineffective for navigation. Another beacon was erected farther down the rock face.

This is the view of the Cape of Good Hope, that mythical place in our imaginations, from the lighthouse.  It was worth the climb.

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