During the recent Football World Cup Cape Point National Park had to close its gates on an unprecedented three consecutive days.
That is an extreme event but visitors to the park will know this icon of South African tourism can be one of busiest locations on any Cape Town itinerary. Every single day 100s of coaches and tour buses stream down the Cape Peninsula and into Cape Point National Park. On a calm weekend when the sun shines the queue of traffic waiting to enter the park almost rivals the queues outside Cape Town’s fashionable shopping malls. Once through the gates the race is on to travel the 10 km to Cape Point itself. Each driver has one thing in mind – to get a prime parking place near the renowned Cape Point lighthouse at the foot of the peninsula. Only a resident baboon or ostrich casually wandering onto the road can slow down their mission and even then for only as long as a quick photograph requires.
After visiting the dramatic viewpoint and purchasing souvenirs it is back on the road to race out of the park and take in the nature and history that this narrow strip of land offers. How ironic that just a few 100 m from one of the most iconic and heavily visited locations on the African continent are some of its most deserted and beautifully wild beaches. Because the tourists have no time and the locals have to pay to enter the park, the coastline at places such as Platboom belongs to the wildlife. Anyone with the patience to spend some time here may be rewarded by sharing a stunning white sand beach with only antelope, ostrich and baboon for company.
Arriving at Platboom you can see the sunlight shining off the metal roofs of the vehicles that arrived too late for the Cape Point car park and now line the sides of the approach road. Ignore them, descend onto the sandy beach and turn northwards into the dunes. You quickly lose sight of any evidence that you are only a few kilometres from hordes of tourists. You are not alone however as the sand beneath your feet will testify. Everywhere are the V-shaped footprints of bontebok – a rare and endangered resident of the region. There is a small herd of the beautiful white faced antelopes inhabiting the dunes in this particular part of the park. They will likely see you long before you notice them however. The horned heads ducking up and down behind the grassy summits of the dunes eventually give their presence away.
Amongst the bontebok hoofmarks are signs of the park’s more infamous residents. The long hand-shaped prints left by baboons also trail up and down the sand dunes. Some days however the baboons themselves are nowhere to be seen. With so many tourists visiting the restaurant at Cape Point the troop often move on to the rich pickings that await them there.
Another sign of life you may well encounter are the tortoises who slowly forage through the grass. The Western Cape is considered a Mecca for wild tortoises, but sadly it is deserted places such as this that attract wildlife criminals. Once spotted by poachers tortoises are an easy picking. The Cape’s tortoises are worth fortunes in the exotic pet market and even end up on the dinner menu in parts of Asia. Fortunately for most tourist attention a quick retreat into their stunningly patterned shell is enough to keep safe.
Arriving onto the shoreline is a moment not to forget for anyone with more than a passing interest in wildlife. Immediately you are presented with the sight of at least dozen seabird species amongst the rocks and breaking waves. Some you will no doubt have seen elsewhere such as the ubiquitous Kelp Gull whilst others are less often spotted such as the sadly declining African Black Oystercatcher. Others defy identification amateurish eyes and also refuse to stay still long enough to be determined. Their short but speedy legs carry them away faster than fingers can skim through any bird identification book. By the time you have narrowed it down to a few possibilities their light plumage will blend their small bodies perfectly into the sandy shoreline.
Turning back and walking along the coastline a breathtaking vista of aquamarine sea and light cloudless sky opens up before you. It is almost tempting to finish with a quick dip into the sea itself but the lure of refreshment is deceptive. A cold Antarctic current runs along the coast bringing nutrients that sustain the abundant wildlife, but cruelly stinging any exposed skin that dares to brave the water. Better to head home and cool down with an afternoon breeze. First however it is necessary to join the snaking line of traffic heading away from Cape Point, always rushing and never stopping. Just a few more of the many 1,000’s of people who come so close, but never stop to appreciate this special place.