|Home||Pauline||Howto Articles||Uniquely NZ||Small Firms||Search|
|Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2007
Silver Jubilee World Cruise - Hong Kong to UK Part 3
On the day at sea before we were due to reach Mauritius CNN had reported a tropical cyclone, Jaya, which was going to pass close to our route. We were heading south, whereas Jaya was travelling west. At noon the Captain announced that he had planned a route which made sure that we were no closer than 200 nautical miles from the cyclone. Nevertheless, we heard that the portholes on 5 Deck had been covered, just in case of bad weather overnight. Our cabin is on 4 Deck, one deck above, and we were fine, except that our vase of flowers and other fragile items were placed on the floor.
We have now reached the point on the cruise where we are back on familiar ground - we did the 'liner run' down to Cape Town and on round to Mauritius on the QE2 in 2002. This year we were moored in the same place in Port Louis just across from the main town and waterfront. Port Louis, named after the french king Louis XV, is the capital and major port on the island of Mauritius, which has one of the highest population densities in the world and a total population of 1.2 million. The city was established by the French in 1735 and grew as a major deep water port between Europe and Asia until the Suez canal opened in 1869. It became independent in 1968. Mauritius drives on the English side of the road and English is the first language at school, although all the shops are labelled in french. Locals have to speak French and English, as well as their local dialect.
We took a short tour in the morning which we hoped would not overlap too much with our last visit. Our guide admitted to being french, although she also spoke some English and Spanish. The coach first took us on an interesting route through town itself before climbing up to the Citadel, a fortress built in 1838, and also known as Fort Adelaide. Strangely we did not go in but just stood outside and admired what one has to admit was a good view over the city and port with QE2 in the distance.
The next stop was at the Tamil Temple which we visited last time - it is very colourful and the highest in Africa. We got excellent pictures in 2002 but it was nice to go round again. Many of the group were suffering from temple overload and others could not reach their feet to take their shoes off so we did not stay very long. Our guide suggested we look for the carvings of peacocks on the roof, and we also noticed live peacocks in the bird coops with all the fowl.
It was then a drive north through the sugar cane fields to Grand Baie which has a lovely beach which we did not visit as we were only scheduled to go to what we hoped would be a local market. This was not quite the case as it was an area full of character but purely for the tourist full of designer name clothes, or possibly copies, saris etc at higher prices than previous ports and all sorts of other tourist souvenirs - the most interesting being the ship models for which Mauritius is famous although they looked a little lacking in detail as one would expect at the reasonable prices.
The next stop was for refreshments at a bar restaurant "Tutti Bene" at La Cuvette Beach at the end of Grand Baie. Two hotels in the area looked promising - Le Mauricia and Merville. Pete swallowed the sweet and sickly fruit juice and rushed down to the beach and flung himself into the water for most of the allocated 20 minutes, Rohan shorts designed for swimming and trunks which double as underwear have advantages! We offerred the use of our QE2 beach towel to others from our coach, but no-one was interested. We still got back in time to graze the nice snacks that had been put out before it actually turned out to be time to return to the coach - mostly these stops are an excuse to provide sensibly civilised facilities to desperate tourists on coaches. Unfortunately the facilities here were upstairs, which was a challenge for those with wheelchairs or who had already eaten too well during their holiday.
We then went on to what was probably the highlight, the simple but very tasteful and beautifully sited Notre Dame Auxilliatrice Catholic Church on the coast at Cap Malheureux. There were lovely views over a little harbour full of boats out to Round Island, Flat Island and the large Coin de Mire Island. Regrettably Pete did not realise that this stop would also have been long enough for a nice swim in amongst the rocks and fishing boats, and Pauline did not realise that just 3 minutes walk away was a local supermarket.
It was then time for the journey back. We got a good introduction to the bits of the island we had not seen before but at a considerable price - all the tours on Mauritius were ridiculously expensive compared to almost anywhere else on this cruise and our three and a half hour tour cost $79. We wondered whether the Seychelles or Mauritius would be most expensive for a beach holiday. In both places the full day tours with QE2 started at $139.
The other major must visit place on the island is the botanical gardens in the town of Pamplemousse - which translates as Grapefruit in English. We went there last time and we still remember it well, especially the giant water lilies so we will include some details from our 2002 report for our readers. Entry was free, but guides are extra. We spent 1.5 hours led through the gardens and looking at trees, finally reaching the famous giant waterlillies and their rare flowers. We were disappointed that the gardens had so few flowers when the rest of the island was so colourful. We also passed by the reproduction sugar mill, but didn't have the opportunity to explore.
After a quick lunch back on board, our afternoon was also interesting and much cheaper than the morning - we invested a dollar each way for a water taxi from next to QE2 to the Customs House and Le Caudan Waterfront area and walked round the town. We spent some time in the colourful market which was definitely for locals with a huge number of brightly coloured stalls of fruits and vegetables with their owners shouting the merits of their produce. The meat and fish areas were largely empty as it was late in the day but there were still a number of brightly coloured and interestingly shaped fish on display as well as lovely sections of tuna and other game fish. Mauritius has excellent game fishing and we saw a huge game fishing boat registered in Jersey later, when we were walking round the harbourside.
The market also had big areas of local and imported clothes and Pauline looked at the silk Saris and other Eastern clothes but they were asking so much higher prices than in Vietnam, Thailand or India and it did not look as if any bargaining was going to get them down to a similar price even if we left it till just before the ship left. The only flower stand had little bunches of tired roses.
We walked through to the edge of what the maps showed as Chinatown before returning back to the fancy new shopping areas and Malls on the waterfront which have become established since our last visit. Mauritius is famous for its stamps, and the Blue Penny Museum of Mauritius History and Art which is named after the famous two pence stamp, is at the end of the Mall. We walked to the end, admired the waterfront and the Le Labourdonnais and Le Suffren Hotels, before taking a picture of QE2 and returning to the Customs House and catching the water taxi back to the ship. The island was much nicer than we recalled and we enjoyed the visit apart from the ridiculous prices of the excursions - next time we will definitely do our own thing.
We had forgotten to carry a bottle of drinking water and as soon as we got back on the ferry we swallowed several glasses of orange juice and cold water from the supply at the dockside before going onboard. We followed up with several cups of coffee and listened to the harpist who is rather good at the tea ceremony whilst refraining from indulging in all the delicate sandwiches and cakes. Pete's good intentions of going down the gym evaporated and we wrote up and sorted out a few more pictures before going up on deck to the Funnel Bar for sailaway where we ended up talking for most of the time to Jeff and Joy. QE2 was still bunkering at our scheduled departure time, and eventually left one hour late, just as the music from the "SailAway" party ended.
Durban is the main town in Kwazulu-Natal, it was renamed from Natal to reflect the dominance of Zulu people and culture in the region. We were greeted by a Zulu band on the dockside which played for an hour. Last visit we saw little of Durban itself as we took a tour to one of the game reserves. The Tala game reserve visit was one of the highlights of the visit and was worth repeating but was already heavily booked with a wait list of over a hundred when we got on board.
The private Tala Game Reserve is between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. It is 7000 acres and the owner was hoping to purchase more land and expand. It is malaria-free, as you would expect from its location in the south. There are antelopes of several types, zebra, rhino, hippo and giraffes as well as 280 species of bird, but there are no no big cats or elephants. There are accommodation lodges scattered throughout the site. We went to the main reception area where there was a central lounge/restaurant, a few hotel rooms and an expensive souvenir shop.
We were organised into landrovers seating 10, or larger buses. We saw white rhinos, hippos, giraffes and zebras and lots of buffalos, antelopes and ostriches as well as many birds including fish eagles.
We had an excellent 2 hour safari. Much of our visit was on rough dusty tracks, with a few exciting detours across the rough scrubland to get closer to the animals. With dust-filled eyes we bid the place farewell and headed back directly to the ship.
This time we took the Cunard shuttle bus to the uShaka Marine World as the advice on board was that walking through downtown Durban was not without risk although the maps indicated we were not far from the waterfront area of the port with its marinas, restaurants, museums and Art Deco areas. Our observation of the groups on corners drinking clear liquid from coke bottles and people sleeping on the grass, combined with very few people walking around tended to confirm the advice that there was a region we did not wish to transit on foot. We had also been advised that ordinary shops would be closed on Good Friday, although tourist shops would not. The area around the port was shuttered and deserted, except for those who were sleeping rough, and small groups of uniformed security guards.
The uShaka Marine World was a complete contrast with shops in what was described as an "African Themed Village offering FREE ENTRANCE" which was far from anything a Zulu would recognise and a water based theme park which I suspect could have been anywhere in the world although we have to admit we have never had the urge to visit one anywhere in the world. We walked out past some young Zulu singers and musicians and out to a rather fine beach which is known as the Golden Mile although it is actually nearly 6 kms long. It has a number of piers and is a safe feeling area with lots of hotels overlooking it. It had areas marked out for swimming with lifeguards and long stretches marked for dedicated use by surfers.
We walked down a few kms to the first major pier where we found there was a national surfing competition and were amazed at what could be done in what looked to be comparative small surf. We walked back along the beach and Pete went for a swim although it was exhilarating in the surf and one ended up with a roller-coaster ride as the bigger ones came in and ended up spitting out mouthfuls of sand.
We walked back through the shops and had the statutory ice cream from a stall with even more flavours than one finds in NZ and at similar prices which was pleasant surprise. We looked at copies of Crocs made in RSA, at around 100 rand compared with 400 rand for the real thing, and later regretted not getting a pair as Pete found his sandals were showing signs of wear when we got back to the ship. By then it was too late and too far to go back. We also bought and got ground a couple of bags of coffee - we make our own in cafetiere mugs before going to the gym in the mornings as only a rather instant coffee is available from the machines at that time of morning. The smell is exquisite and permeating the cabin as I am writing up on the XDA while Pauline is putting the finishing touches on the journey so far ready to upload. It is however time to stop as it is time to go up to the Funnel Bar for sailaway although the video pointing forwards from the bridge (always on channel 3 on the TV) shows we have not yet moved.
I am taking up the story again the next morning. We are having the privilege on being on-board during an exceptionally high speed run, they are rare as she uses a lot of fuel when wound up and her service cruising speed is 27.5 knots which uses 5 of her nine engines. We woke up to find white water coming up to almost alongside our porthole and we are two decks above the water line when at rest - she was obviously running close to flat out to pull down the stern that much in the water. The GPS on the bride is relayed via the TV channel into the rooms and I have a picture of the screen showing 32.3 knots as she was surfing down one of the swells and the average looked to be about 31.5 knots. This is well above the speed of any other large passenger boat in existence including the Queen Mary and only one ship built for passenger service has ever bettered that speed and it unlike any will in the future. The ride was very smooth despite quite rough seas outside. We went down the gym and one could feel some movement but in the restaurants the flowers were still on the tables. An incredible performance for a 40 years old ship.
The propulsion system is diesel-electric with 9 diesels generators available to provide the power for two huge electric motors running at a consistent speed into the two variable pitch propellers. Normally one is used for auxiliary power and one is a spare or under routine maintenance. It is likely she was using 8 engines however to achieve that speed. We have only once been on-board during such a high speed run, in that case due to a medical emergency when we had to turn back towards Lisbon to chopper off a heart attack victim. This time we know there is an unusual bunkering forced into the schedule on our way into Cape Town which could be the cause or it could just be we have run short of caviar.
We moved gently across to our berth at Duncan Dock soon after 0800.Table Mountain was clear, the sky was blue, and it was a perfect day to go walking. It was also Easter Sunday. To go to the the top of Table Mountain there are two choices: it is possible to climb to the top or catch the cable car. As always, the tours were allowed off first. We had to wait until after 0900, set off at 0930, and caught the second shuttle bus to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. There were lots of new buildings since our last visit in 2002, and shuttle bus now stopped close to the clocktower and swing bridge, where there were taxis.
We thought of catching one of the "Hop On Hop Off" open topped tourist buses, which was waiting there, but if we joined the first one at 0945 then we would not arrive at the Lower Cable Station until 1100. So we took a taxi, just 8 rand per kilometre plus flagfall. The newer white taxis from QE2 were 10 or 11 rand per km. The meter read just under 60 rand at the cable station, and was good value. We joined the back of a long line and bought a map of the mountain, another 60 rand, and shuffled our way forward.
It was too hot to walk up, but the recommended route is to get dropped 2 kms further along Tafelberg Road, near the plaque proclaiming Table Mountain as a National Monument, and climb Platteklip Gorge. 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. We chatted to neighbours waiting in the queue, and as the "Hop On Hop Off - Red Route " bus arrived we had just got to the front of the line and were buying our ticket, 120 rand each return.
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 rotate through 360 degress on the way up, by turning the floor. 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 is a nice flat path, suitable for wheelchairs, which gives good views. The original stone cottage houses a Shop, restaurant and toilets and most visitors seemed content to go no further. 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. The walk from the Upper Cable Station to Maclear's Beacon 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 was in climbing down to Platteklip Gorge, then up the other side. In dry weather it was easy but would be a challenge 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. Although it was late summer, there were still a few of the King Protea flowers, the national flower of South Africa.
We saw from our map that we had completed the first part of the Hoerikwaggo Hiking Trail, which continued all the way to the gate at Constantia Nek. This is quite a long walk, with the part from Maclear's Beacon to Constantia Nek estimated at 4 hours, and a recommended day hike is to take the cable car and cross the Table, as we had done, and then continue down the mountain.
We could see our target in the distance. There is a plaque on the cliff in memory of J. C. Smuts, former Prime Minister, as well as the War Memorial of the Mountain Club of South Africa which has an orientation map. The views in all directions continued to be exceptional. It always seems quicker going back, and this hike was no exception. By now it was lunch time and the number of other walkers had increased, although most of them were on the other side of Platteklip Gorge. We joined the flat path so we could look at the views towards Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island. It was getting busy and we knew there was a "Hop On Hop Off - Red Route " bus due at 1445, so we caught the next cable car back down.
The bus was not full and we were able to sit on top deck, which gives a much better view and is easier for taking photographs. It cost 100 rand each for a ticket valid for the day. The extra height compared with our taxi made it clear that around the base of Table Mountain there had been a major fire, said to be caused by a careless smoker, and the bush had not yet regenerated. Our guide Tony was English and gave an excellent commentary. From the Lower Cable Station the bus went along the coast, from Camps Bay to the striped lighthouse at Mouille Point which is the oldest in South Africa, then to the V&A Waterfront.
Everyone got off and we moved to the front seat and the same bus did a complete circuit, showing us Company Gardens, St Georges Cathedral, the South Africa Museum, the Jewish Museum and the District Six Museum, before driving around District Six to the Castle of Good Hope, and then to the Gold Museum and arriving back again at the Lower Cable Station. We were content to sit and go along the coast once more to finally end our tour at the V&A Waterfront. The overall trip on the Red Route lasted 3 hours. There were no shops open in Cape Town, except for the V&A Waterfront, and only a few of the museums were open, so a bus trip around the main sights suited us well. We did not want to "Hop On" or "Hop Off".
Highlights of the trip included a short unscheduled stop by Company Gardens to admire the wedding dress of a young lady and her husband. They were getting out of their bridal car to get their photographs taken, and everyone clapped and cheered. It was also interesting to drive through District Six, south of the Castle of Good Hope. It 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. Unfortunately it was too late in the evening to visit the Museum. The Castle of Good Hope was built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679 and is 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.
Arriving back at the V&A Waterfront at 1740 on the last Red Route bus, the shops were still all open and the bars and restaurants seemed to be getting busy. Not having stopped for lunch we were tempted to go back to QE2 and the room service menu but then decided it was a waste to go back. Cape Town is very pretty in the early evening, and we stopped for a local beer or two by the clock tower looking out at the swing bridge and harbour. Pauline worried whether we had enough local money, so checked the prices before getting refills. No problem. It was only 15 rand per pint, and they would take US$ although at a low rate of change.
Before we arrived in Cape Town there were three trips planned. We wanted to go up Table Mountain. We wanted to go to Robben Island. And we wanted to spend some time visiting wineries. In the event, it was going to depend on the weather, and we were so lucky to have a sunny clear day. On our last visit some days were good whereas others were cloudy and the "tablecloth" cloud had arrived on top of Table Mountain. So we were very pleased with our first day ashore.
The second day we caught the shuttle bus and went to the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island, hoping to get a cancellation for the ferry. A sign declared that the next available booking was for the 1100 ferry on 16 April, 7 days ahead. We stood in line and waited to see what happened. The next ferry was scheduled to depart at 1000. Unfortunately only 5 people were taken from the waiting line, and we decided it was not going to be worthwhile to wait and see whether there were cancellations on the 1100 ferry. 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 3.5 hour 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, 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. We will make sure we well book in advance next time. It costs 150 rand, about US$23, which is comparable with the "Hop On Hop Off" bus.
Our next thought was South African wine and we 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 at Easter. On our last visit Pauline bought some wine from Vaughan Johnson's Wine Shop, and we were relieved to see it was open. We bought a copy of the Wine magazine, and read the articles about Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Staff were very helpful and quickly selected 6 bottles for us, at the cheaper end. We wanted to think, so took a photo of the selected bottles and then said we would come back later and make our choice, which we did. To be fair, our final selection was based on those suggested. It was mostly red wine although the original selection had been 3 red and 3 white. For reference for next time, we chose Glen Arlou Tortoise Hill Red at 53 rand, Beyerskloof Pinotage at 43 rand, Diemersfontein Carpe Diem Pinotage at 107 rand, Withington Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon at 30 rand and Brampton Cabernet Sauvignon at 52 rand. There was one white wine, Jordan Chardonnay at 91 rand, and one bottle of NV Cap Classique (= methode champenoise) from Graham Beck at 84 rand. We expect that the red wine will all go back home, and we have already drunk the fizzy, which is an excellent Pinot Noir 54% and Chardonnay 46% blend - very effective. The label said it was imported by Graham Beck Wines (Europe) at St Alphage House, 2 Fore Street, London EC2Y 5DH.
We tried to take a wine tour during the afternoon but it took some time to find the Wine Desk at the Waterfront, and the afternoon tours got back too late. We had to be back on board by 1730 and their tours returned at 1800. The morning tours departed at 0800 so we had missed them. We will know better next time and walk in earlier rather than use the shuttle bus. A full day tour, with lunch stop, was 545 rand, which although it sounds expensive at US$85 is much cheaper than a tour by coach with QE2, and visits more wineries. We had already been given a list of wineries open at Easter, which included Spier and others in Stellanbosch, Vergelegen in Somerset West and Groot Constantia in Constantia. Most of the smaller and more interesting places were closed.
The next option was to visit the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. We considered taking a taxi, but the gardens are on the eastern side of Table Mountain, near the town of Constantia. We estimated the cost based on 8 rand per km, plus waiting time, and decided to catch the "Hop On Hop Off" bus. The Red Route had been good yesterday, and there is a Blue Route which goes past Kirstenbosch. We left the V&A Waterfront at 1200, and arrived at Kirstenbosch at 1250. This was 10 minutes later than scheduled and meant we had only 45 minutes to get a quick appreciation of the gardens before catching the next Blue bus back to the V&A.
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; we think it was 27 rand each. The entire estate is 528 hectares, and even limiting the visit to the cultivated Garden (36 hectares) means that a whole day can easily be spent. We were deposited at Gate 2, and 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 hundreds of picnic groups sitting on the grass and enjoying their day out in the sunshine.
From Kirstenbosch, the Blue Route goes along the M63 to Hout Bay, passing through Constantia and Kronendal for tours of the townships. 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. Unfortunately the Blue Route by-passed the wineries, although we could see grape vines on the hills below us. It stopped at the World of Birds and the Monkey Park instead, then at Kronendal for joining the Imizamo Yethu "Walking township tour", a must on another visit.
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 had a 20 minute stop here, so we could look around, buy souvenirs, and purchase an ice cream. We had an extended stay while our driver made some phone calls. After leaving Hout Bay we joined the Red Route at Camps Bay, and found it was a very slow crawl along the beach. At one point we worried about getting back to QE2 on time, our last shuttle bus was at 1645, but it eventually cleared and we were only 20 minutes late back at the V&A Waterfront. There was just time to buy one final bottle of wine, some biltong and a few souvenirs.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Layout revised: 16th July, 2015