Best Things to Do While Volunteering in Cape Town
Volunteering is a great way to do something meaningful, integrate into the local culture and also soak up the local sights. Shelby Jan from Canada recently went to volunteer in Cape Town, South Africa and enjoyed the time of her life. Here she shares the best places she visited and things she did in Cape Town - hopefully this article will give you some ideas if you are considering a similar experience.
Recommendations Around Cape Town
I participated on a volunteer program with the Save Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to enrich, educate, and empower various township and settlement communities, as well as protect and rehabilitate wildlife in Cape Town and other locations in Africa. With this project, there was ample free time available, and in Cape Town and the surrounding areas, there are endless possibilities. Here are some of my highlights and some essential things to do if you are also going to volunteer in Cape Town:
Muizenberg is a famous beach known for surfing, and the environment accurately describes South Africa. There are the well-known coloured huts on the beach, often featured in magazines and calendars. The water here is also about 10 degrees Celsius warmer than the area volunteers reside in, as this is the Indian Ocean as opposed to the Atlantic Ocean. Along the boardwalk there are lots of bars, restaurants, ice cream shops, and things to check out. Be sure to visit Muizenberg, and it is often a surf location that volunteers go to for lessons when the beach close to the volunteer house does not have the best waves.
One of my first first weekends in Cape Town I had the weekend free, so myself and a girl from the USA and one from Sweden made our way up Table Mountain, where the views were beyond breath taking. If there is ever the opportunity to go up Table Mountain, do it. There is the option of the cable car, or it can be hiked (be sure to do this in the morning to avoid the heat, and pack plenty of water) in approximately 1.5-2 hours, depending on your fitness level.
I would highly recommend spending a day at Camps Bay, one of the best and most popular beach areas of Camp Town. If you visit during the evening you will get to enjoy a spectacular sunset and also choose from various tasty restaurants. I had a delicious meal at Umi (definitely be sure to try the teriyaki chicken!)
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a great place to spend a Saturday evening. The restaurants are anything ranging from Italian food, to authentic South African cuisine (Karibu), to seafood, McDonalds, and anything else imaginable. The possibilities are endless, and it is attached to a massive mall which is excellent for shopping. I went there on a Saturday evening with some friends, and once we ate our delicious (and cheap) steaks, we enjoyed some live music before heading downtown on Long Street.
Long Street cannot be described unless you have been there, but it is an entire strip of night clubs, bars, and restaurants, which is the place to be on a Saturday night. Lively vibes, colourful heritage, and the entire street is dripping with energy. There are so many places to go in, but be cautious and careful in the clubs since we saw some girls have things popped into their drinks.
Bright and early the next Sunday morning, my friend from Sweden and I went on a whale watching tour, which was definitely worth it. We were picked up at 5:00am from the volunteer house, and went on a scenic three-hour drive through Hermanus, on-route to Gansbaai. Once there, we were all fitted for life jackets, had a brief orientation, then went out to sea. The goal was to see “The South African Aquatic Big 5”, which we thankfully did. We saw a Southern Hemisphere Right Whale and her cub, two dolphins jumping in the sea (honestly, it felt like a movie), seals on their own island, penguins on their own island and some approached the boat, and lastly, a Great White Shark.
Stellenboch Wine Tour
I participated in wine tour, which took us through the gorgeous rolling hills of Stellenboch. We met up with some people that were not volunteers, so it was nice to socialize with those outside of the volunteer project. We went to four wineries, learned the history of the families that ran the winery, how the grapes were processed, and of course, drank plenty of wine and ate a ton of cheese. Overall, the day was magnificent and everyone was feeling good by the end.
South Africa is famous for wildlife and I went on a safari at Aquila Private Game Reserve, which is something I cannot recommend enough. I was picked up at 2:00am, and went into Cape Town to pick up others, then headed for the reserve. It was a long morning, but we arrived at around 8:00am, where we had a buffet breakfast. The food here was so delicious, my mouth waters now at the thought of it. Pancakes, waffles, cereals, chicken strips, potatoes, ice cream, unlimited mimosas. You name it, it was available. After everyone enjoyed the food for two hours, the game drive began. You go into a large 4x4 off-road safari style vehicle, and into the back woods of South Africa you go.
The journey began with the sighting of elephants, which were very friends towards people being so close. Thereafter we saw a buffalo, giraffes, a male lion and his four lady friends, emu, ostrich, zebras, deer, hippos, and rhinoceros. The experience was amazing to see these animals in a candid setting, rather than behind bars at a zoo. After the drive was complete, we headed back in for a late lunch, which was just as delicious as breakfast. At this reserve, we had three hours of spare time to do what we wish. They had a beautiful pool with cool water, a spa where services were offered, a lot of educational material, a gift shop, and many other things to do.
Shark Cage Diving
The day that I was leaving was my final “hooray”, and the experience I loved the most and would recommend. I went shark cage diving with my good friend from the USA, and it did not fall short of my expectations. I took my suitcase with me, and we were picked up at 5:00am for the excursion. It was pouring rain the entire three-hour drive there (the same location as the whale diving), and cleared up once we arrived. They had a mini-breakfast available for us (which consisted of coffee, toast, some fruit, and yogurt), and we ate as we watched the briefing video on the efforts to save Great White Sharks and safety of the boat.
Once out on the water and in the spot we were supposed to be at, everyone felt extremely sick. I among others, were violently ill due to the swells. That day had exceptionally rough waters, and we spend a total of three hours on the boat. However, I cannot begin to explain how incredible one particular crew member was about it. She was from Switzerland and had pretty blue hair in braids, but she was the reason the experience was so memorable.
Honestly, I spent about two solid hours throwing up on the boat. I had my airplane style barf-bag, and it was used non-stop. There were about seven others in the same position. The girl was giving me mints, was actually rubbing my back when I cried, and did everything she could to comfort me.
When it was my turn to go in the cage, the nausea immediately retracted, and I felt great. We were all in wet suits (the water was 10 degrees Celsius), and the rolling of the waves and the cool water made me feel a lot less sick. Once in the cage, we were surrounded by four Great White Sharks within seconds. We had about 30 minutes in the cage, and I absorbed every minute. The sharks were so fascinating, as they came up to the cage and often even slammed into it. My connection with nature was beyond words, and I would do that again in a second if given the opportunity.
The boat headed to shore, and we all disembarked and were greeted with warm vegetable soup, which hit the spot. After that I was dropped off at the airport, were my incredible journey in South Africa came to an end.
By Shelby Jan
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