Navigation Content
University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
You are here:
  1. Home > 
  2. News > 
  3. News archive > 
  4. 2008 > 

Student news: Up close and personal with African wildlife on the Cape Peninsula

Sunday morning in Cape Town, South Africa, did not look promising for the coastal tour planned for UW-Madison students participating in the 2008 LeaderShape Institute. The day dawned windy, rainy and chilly enough for a jacket, and even those hopeful enough to wear a swimming suit under their clothes were not optimistic about the day along the beaches of the Cape Peninsula.

Cape Town, though it is certainly the largest city, is not the only attraction along the 40 kilometer stretch of land jutting south from the South African mainland into the Atlantic Ocean. Though many people assume the furthermost tip of the peninsula, Cape Point, is the boundary between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, this isn’t actually true. The peninsula is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Point is a mere 6,000 kilometers from the South Pole.

The guided bus tour took off late morning, with a quick stop at Maiden’s Cove, a rocky beach with tidal pools. Some students found anemones, urchins and mussels in the pools.

The tour continued, winding through Cape Town with the guide pointing out buildings and neighborhoods. Of note: The world’s first successful heart transplant occurred at the University of Cape Town (UCT) teaching hospital and the new soccer stadium will host the semifinal rounds of the 2010 World Cup.

The bus hugged the coast as it wound along the path out of Cape Town and into Hout Bay, a fishing center whose name loosely translates to English as Wooded Bay. Students stopped at Mariner’s Wharf, which looked gray under the overcast sky. A few students ventured onto a boat tour out to Seal Island, a small cluster of rocks where hundreds of large seals gather.

Exploring the Cape Town waterfront

Exploring the Cape Town waterfront (large image)

Those left on the shore, however, wandered the few shops and saw the shack-like fish stalls. Just behind a small building next to harbor, a large group of people had assembled, and when the Madison students peered into the center of the circle, they saw a massive seal taking small fish out of an old man’s mouth.

Excited, many students took the man’s offer to pet the seal, named Pity Boy. The nonchalant seal, whose head came up to the average student’s chest and had a mouth wide enough to fit an arm, simply rolled his head around as endless tourists petted and photographed him.

Pity Boy was not the only actor in the bunch. Three or four seals were swimming in the harbor, putting on a good show for the people peering into the water.

The seals set a new tone for the trip: The students chattered more excitedly on the bus and even the weather had started to clear by noon. It was bright and sunny as the bus rounded the rest of Hout Bay and drove along Chapman Road, known for rock falls and stunning views of the bay from Chapman’s Point. Called “a surfer’s paradise” by the tour guide and “awesome” by one student, the bay from above had multiple shades of blue and white-capped waves rolling in over the rocks.

The students continued down along the peninsula, driving past tourist towns and poor areas. Atlantic Heights is typical of the poor communities: shacks made of mish-mash materials and often a tin roof are pressed together in one cluster just down the road from a community with large pastel-colored condos or apartments where people pose for pictures on the backs of camels.

After driving past an ostrich farm, the bus entered Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, the natural park at the end of the peninsula. The park was full of fynbos (underbrush) and, much to the students’ excitement, Chacma baboons. The park has the only protected group of this species in Africa, and sure enough, cries of “Baboon!” broke out as students spotted one in the middle of the road, jumping onto the windshield of a car traveling in the opposite direction. Another baboon sat along the side of the road.

Exploring Cape Town
Exploring the Cape Town waterfront

Warned that baboons can be powerfully violent and very attracted by food, students shut the bus windows and the bus crept past the grayish monkeys with long faces and padded behinds, and shortly the bus arrived at the base of the lighthouse of Cape Point, the southernmost tip of the peninsula (but, contrary to popular belief, not the southernmost tip of South Africa). Several steps later, the group looked at the ocean and the mountains across False Bay.

The students’ final stop of the day was again to view African wildlife. On the opposite side of the peninsula from Cape Town, the South African naval base, Simon’s Town, is home to African penguins. The wobbly birds wander the white beaches of Boulder Park, and students followed a wooden boardwalk to see huge groups of them sitting happily on the rocks and occasionally popping out of the water.

The group then headed back to Cape Town and UCT to prepare for an evening more focused on human interaction. The UCT LeaderShape participants would be arriving and the whole group would meet and have dinner for the first time.