With the global wonder of Table Mountain as its icon, the Western Cape is also the centre of the Cape Floristic Kingdom that is one of the world’s richest biodiversity and scenic hotspots. The coastline and marine environments are amongst the most diverse on the planet as a result of the mixing of the Agulhas and Benguela currents. All of this provides the ideal platform for amazingly diverse and excellent photographic destinations.
1. De Hoop Nature Reserve & Marine Protected Area.
De Hoop Nature Reserve is perhaps best known for its incredible shore-based Southern Right Whale sightings. The sheltered bays are a global breeding hotspot for this species, with as many as 300 – 400 whales being found close to shore during the winter and spring months. De Hoop is also home to numerous other rare bird and mammal species and the ability to walk anywhere provides excellent opportunities to explore and photograph the smaller floral and invertebrate diversity.
2: Goukamma Marine Protected Area.
Lying between the towns of Sedgefield and Knysna in the southern Cape, Goukamma Marine Protected Area is set against the backdrop of the Outeniqua Mountains. The Goukamma estuary and the intertidal rock-platforms that are exposed at low tide provide stunning seascape photographic opportunities while numerous seabird species may also be seen and photographed.
3: Robberg Nature Reserve.
Robberg Nature Reserve, situated in the southern Cape town and adjacent to Plettenberg Bay, forms a long narrow peninsula that stretches out for approximately 4kms into the sea. The terrestrial nature reserve is bordered by a productive and critically important marine protected area that host’s whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and numerous critically endangered line-fish species. Birdlife is prolific and a number of fynbos endemics can be found on the reserve. Numerous well-maintained trails circuit the reserve and allow views of the scenery, Cape Fur Seal colony and archaeological sites.
4: De Mond Nature Reserve.
The relatively unknown De Mond Nature Reserve is another of CapeNature’s natural gems and lies on the coastline between Arniston and Struisbaai. The scenically beautiful Heuningness Estuary bisects the reserve and flows into the sea. This provides rich feeding grounds for numerous seabird species including the rare Damara Tern and Caspian Tern. The 7km Sterna Trail is the best way to experience the De Mond.
5: Struisbaai Fishing Harbour.
The small fishing harbour at Struisbaai near the southernmost tip of Africa offers excellent opportunities for photographing the fish catches that are landed by the small-scale fishers using their small wooden “Chukkie” boats that were built in the mid 1960’s. The harbour is also well known for the Short-tailed Sting-rays that come to feed in the shallow waters on any fish offal that is discarded by the fishers.
6: Agulhas National Park.
Most visitors consider the historic lighthouse, the plinth depicting the splitting of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and perhaps also the wreck of the “Myshu Meru” as all that the Agulhas National Park has to offer from a photographic perspective. The 21000 hectares that actually comprises the Park, provides a gateway to endless opportunities for exploring this extremely diverse, historic and scenic landscape.
7: Dyer Island & Kleinbaai.
Great White Sharks are perhaps the most supreme of ocean apex predators and Kleinbaai is without a doubt one of the best global hotspots to view and photograph this iconic species. Marine Dynamics offers daily trips to sea to view and dive with the Great White Sharks from the safety of a cage. The boat trip also offers the chance of viewing the other marine mammals that inhabit the bay, including Southern Right Whales, dolphins and Cape fur seals. Dyer Island that is home to some 750 pairs of African Penguins is also viewed from the boat.
8: Stony Point Penguin Colony & Harold Porter Botanical Gardens.
The Harold Porter National Botanical Garden located between mountain and sea, lies in the heart of the Cape Fynbos Kingdom where the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, is home to about 1,600 plant species. The larger area contains a floral diversity per unit area that is greater than anywhere else in the world. The Garden consists of 10 hectares of cultivated gardens and 190.5 hectares of pristine natural fynbos. Nearby lies the Stony Point African Penguin colony that may be visited along a raised wooden boardwalk that careful transects through the colony.
9: Strandfontein Trek-Net Fishers.
During the early mornings, Trek-net fishers launch their small wooden rowing boats into the sea along the Strandfontein beach in False Bay. The small crew battles the waves, laying out a large circular trek-net that is then brought back to shore and drawn in ever-tighter, catching shoals of fish. This catch often holds exciting species and even large sharks are caught on occasion. The fishers know which fish species they may target and they then release any undersize or non-target species back into the ocean. This haul, together with the numerous onlookers makes for some exciting photographic opportunities. Remember to always request permission before photographing the fishers.
10: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens serves as a very important refuge to many of the Cape Peninsula's faunal species and especially to endemic birds. It is undoubtedly one of the top destinations in Cape Town to visit and is a great location for wildlife photography as well as general outdoor photography. The gardens change with the seasons and when the Proteas are in flower it is a great time for bird photography, with the Cape Sugarbirds and sunbirds being a firm favourite.
11: Pelagic Birding.
For any enthusiastic birdwatcher or photographer, the deep sea trawling grounds that lie between 40 and 60 nautical miles off the waters of Cape Town are an absolute must visit. Large aggregations of pelagic seabirds follow the large commercial purse-sein trawlers and birds will often number in there thousands. Albatross, petrels and shearwaters of many species are usually found and there is always the additional chance of finding rare birds and a variety of sea mammals. Species vary between the summer and winter months with the rough seas of winter usually being the most productive for seabirds.
12: Table Mountain National Park - Cape Point.
Cape Point situated in the Table Mountain National Park, is the most south-westerly tip of Africa. It is home to coastal and mountain fynbos and the spectacular coastline offers endless landscape photographic opportunities. A variety of game species such as eland, Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok also occur alongside smaller Cape Grysbok, Grey Duiker and Chacma Baboon. Numerous bird species including the best of the endemic fynbos birds and a variety of coastal seabird species may also be photographed.
13: Paternoster West-Coast Rock Lobster Fishers.
The quaint West Coast town of Paternoster is home to a small community of small-scale fishers that target West Coast Rock Lobsters during the summer months. These fishers, head out to sea in small colorful wooden boats at dawn and then return once they have filled their quota. The ensuing landing of the “crayfish” as they are locally known, brings much excitement on the beach allowing for unusual photographic opportunities. Always remember to first obtain permission before photographing the fishers.
14: West Coast National Park.
Picturesque landscapes, diverse waterbirds, rare migrant waders and vast fields of spring flowers make the West Coast National Park and Langebaan Lagoon a must see destination. The 27 600 hectare West Coast National Park is one of South Africa’s Important Bird Areas and the Langebaan Lagoon, which forms the centre of this ecologically diverse area, proudly and rightfully holds Ramsar wetland status, which is only allocated to sites of international importance. The park is a hotspot for endemism and is probably best known for its vast fields of spring flowers and for the huge numbers of Palearctic waders that it attracts during the northern hemispheres winter.
15: Lamberts Bay – Bird Island.
Lamberts Bay - Bird Island is home to several seabird species and even at night, you can easily hear the flocks of calling gannets, gulls and terns that are on nearby Bird Island. Driving into the harbour at sunrise, huge flocks in their thousands, of Hartlaubs Gulls and Swift, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns adorn the factories or wheel in the skies above. Cape Cormorants build their nests on platforms that have been provided for them or nest amongst the masts of abandoned fishing vessels. After having paid your entrance fee to the CapeNature official and having wandered across the harbour breakwater to the island you will be entranced for several hours watching the Cape Gannet colony. Cape Gannets wheel into land and then shuffle forward to their designated spaces, where they settle and preen. Any deviation from the set path results in angry pecks from territory holding birds. It is worth scanning out to sea to watch the flocks of Cape Cormorant heading off to the feeding grounds with the hope of a lucky sighting of the endemic Heaviside’s Dolphin, which is regularly seen in the area.