• Cape Town drought - risk and opportunity

    by Gareth Hardres-Williams

Cape Town drought – risk and opportunity

by Gareth Hardres-Williams, 26th January 2018

Cape Town is oversubscribed – Gareth Hardres-Williams explores why the inevitable slow down in tourism associated with the drought in Cape Town represents an opportunity for the tourist as well as the tourism industry.

To in no way make light of the drastic issue of drought in Cape Town and the surrounding areas, another issue the city is currently facing is that of the oversubscription of many of its iconic tourist destinations.  Based on recent conversations with hotel managers, rental agents and tour operators, it would appear that we are about to experience a significant reduction in visitors to Cape Town as a result of the water crisis, and whilst this is not good for business, there is opportunity in this unplanned slow down – both for the tourist and tourism.

Having spent much of the early part of the summer season shuttling Mammoth Safaris guests around the hotspots of Cape Town, I am left with the overriding realisation that a lot of our tourism infrastructure in the city is properly oversubscribed and somewhat bursting at the seams.  This is no doubt a phenomenon that we associate with major tourist attractions in cities the world over and the problem is in many ways a good one to have.  As the water crisis bites however, and is deepened largely as a result of poor planning, it is perhaps worth reminding the powers that be who manage the tourism infrastructure that planning for growth is something that needs to be done as a matter of urgency.  One up side to the drought is that nature is giving us the chance to address these issues sooner rather than later…

The 5 hot spots, their associated issues and some suggested solutions…

  1. Cape Point…

This iconic journey to the tip of the Cape Peninsula, to engage in debate as to where two oceans may in fact meet, to take “that” photograph from the lighthouse view point and to dodge the odd baboon chasing after your sandwich, offers another challenge today and that is simply to get in to the National Park in the very first place.  Long snaking queues, dominated by humungous tour buses often extend well beyond the access road and out onto the main road nearby, with waiting times before getting the gates sometimes stretching for hours.  A recent frustration here has been the poor connectivity of the the mobile credit card machines, with staff often having to take short strolls around the payment kiosk, wafting the little units in the air in the vain search for a connection and frustrating many a confused visitor in the lengthy queue.  Surely there is a service provider that can join with SANParks and a mobile phone network to find a solution to this problem?  As loathe as we are to encourage more roads in a National Park, perhaps now is the time to add a few more lanes to the entrance road leading to the gate?

Mammoth Safaris tips for Cape Point…

  • Go early – try and get there before 10am or arrive in the late afternoon.
  • Pay in cash at the gate.
  • Skip the oversubscribed Cape of Good Hope view point – rather find one of the quiet beaches, which you will have almost entirely to yourself.

The iconic view of the point of the Cape Peninsula as it juts out to sea.  Seen here are the two lighthouses.  Escape the crowds and take a stroll towards the lower of the two lighthouses along a gorgeous cliff path.

Photo credit: Cape Town Tourism

2. Shark Cage Diving

Thanks to the Orca’s nibbling on the Great White Sharks liver and kidneys, the apex predator of the ocean has now swum, tail between its legs, off into the deep deep blue yonder, far from the prying eyes of cage divers and the jaws of Killer whales.  The consequence for the shark cage diving industry is rather dire at the minute.  The more innovative and cash positive businesses are able to offer tours that offer punters an experience, but the days of many Great White sharks milling around the cages, sometimes even breaching in full view of the open-mouthed visitors, are all but gone for the moment.  Natural systems, as we know, are incredibly fluid and the big fish will no doubt return to the waters off our Cape coast, but at the moment, the sharks are not prolific to say the very least.  We continue to use a few service providers in the cage diving business, and they have largely shifted their offering to looking at other marine species – from Brydes Whales, to Cape Fur Seals, Copper Sharks and varied pelagic bird life.  Whilst this is less a problem of overcrowding and oversubscription, the shark cage diving is being presented with an opportunity to plan and prepare for when things pick up again.

Mammoth Safaris tips for Shark Cage Diving…

  • Know what to expect these days and be clear of your objectives – thrilling cage experiences aren’t happening at the moment.
  • Make more than a day out of it and consider overnighting near the dive site – otherwise your day is a very long one of travel to and from the harbour and all can feel a little exhausting.

The adrenalin pumping shark cage diving experience has currently changed, but there are still interesting options to be explored.  Just be aware that this fella – the Great White Shark – might not be on show at the moment.

Photo credits: Geoff Spiby

3. Robben Island

Robben Island has the potential to offer the visitor such a fascinating experience, and as South Africans and global citizens we at Mammoth Safaris are very bullish about this destination.  Most well known as the prison that housed Nelson Mandela for the bulk of his 27 years behind bars, the island does also offer unique insights into South Africa’s colonial past as well as some superb views of the mainland and Table Mountain. Unfortunately, the management of the island can very often leave a lot to be desired, and unguided trips here can be rather hit and miss.  Robben Island is busy, but due to the ferry boat capacity and the limited number of daily trips (3 scheduled departures) the crowds are managed by this limited supply.  That said though, the crowds can get quite overwhelming at times.  The island’s tourism operation is run by the national government’s Department of Arts and Culture and bureaucracy has scuppered the quality of the offering here. 

Mammoth Safaris tips for Robben Island…

  • If you have a large enough group, then consider a “specialised tour”.  This takes you on different routes in a 10 seater van and will provide you with a dedicated guide for your group with a much more intimate experience of the island.  It is significantly more expensive than the regular tour, but money well spent – particularly if Robben Island is an important destination for the visitor.
  • Take the early ferry to the island (book well in advance for this option)
  • Don’t forget your hat and water – the island can get very hot

The key to enjoying Robben Island lies in planning.  For an intimate experience that will unlock doors to areas certainly not available to those on the regular tour – consider the specialised tour.  Pictured here is the open door of the cell that was home to Nelson Mandela.

Image credit: Mammoth Safaris

4. Boulders Beach

The walkways that guide visitors to the beach areas where the little African penguins stand statue-like or waddle down to the waters edge for a quick splash absolutely heave on a busy day at Boulders.  The neighbouring Seaforth Square car park will be crammed full of buses and cars and the vendors make hay whilst the sun shines here.  One does get the sense that the Boulders Beach infrastructure needs expanding, but it can also be seen that the geographical limitations of this area are such that there is not too much else that can be done.  Perhaps expanding the boardwalk areas somewhat at the focal Foxy Beach viewpoint would be a good place to start, but it is clear that a balance between providing a viable tourist product and maintaining a safe and ecologically suitable breeding ground for the penguins is a delicate one. 

Mammoth Safaris tips for Boulders…

  • Avoid the midday rush and rather get there earlier or later in the day – tour buses tend not to do the late afternoon here.
  • Access the area via Bellevue Road (avoid the Seaforth road access)
  • Bring your swimming costume – your ticket will provide you with access to the gorgeous Boulders Beach within the reserve area where you can swim alongside the birds.

Get a great view of the little African Penguin, but don’t rush – stroll on over in the later afternoon for a bit of quiet time with these noisy birds.

Photo credit: Cape Town Tourism

5. Table Mountain

The queue for the cable car at the lower cable station can sometimes bring a tear to the would-be queuer’s eye.  Again, this is a tricky one to manage as supply (one car up at any given time) will almost always be hugely outstripped by demand (who can come to Cape Town and not want to get to the top of the mountain).  To be fair to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, they do a good job managing the queues and the infrastructure at both the lower and upper cable stations is world class.

Mammoth Safaris tips for Table Mountain…

  • Consider skipping the queues for the up ride in the cable car and rather walk up the mountain and take the car down.  The most popular route up is via Platteklip Gorge and takes about 2 hours to complete.  Do bare in mind though that you are climbing a mountain and correct footwear, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water are all vital.  Also be aware that the weather can change quickly on the mountain, so pack a jumper no matter how warm it may be at the base.  Also know that adverse weather conditions often stop the cable car from running so you may have to also walk down too.
  • Book tickets online.
  • Go up the cable car in the late afternoon (last car up at 19h30, last down at 20h30)

Another way up and down!  Join many a local and tourist alike who chose to climb up the mountain via Platteklip gorge.  When we have rain, it can be slippery, but even in the dryness caution and preparation is key to enjoying this route up safely.

Image credit: Cape Town Tourism

How to arrange the Cape Town safari of a lifetime…
For more information on how to book your African adventure and your waterwise Cape Town expedition, twinned with a search for wilderness, adventure and a safari, please contact a member of our sales team by sending an email to info@mammothsafaris.com and visit www.mammothsafaris.com for more destinations and journey ideas.