Cape of Storms and Superlatives (4)

According to TV Bulpin, Hout Bay used to be the rock lobster capital of the world. Our foremost ichthyologist, Prof JLB Smith (who first identified the coelacanth), wrote in his book Our Fishes (1968): “. . . the seas about the  Cape hold possibly the greatest  concentration of fine game and eating fishes in any part of the world. For example it is the only area where all four species of marlin have been caught; the same applies to tunny”. He goes on to say: “Our annual catch of valuable food fishes is ten times that of the whole of Australia and New Zealand combined, and more than that of the mighty fishing fleets of Britain and Ireland together, even with their exploitation of seas adjoining other countries.”

Sadly we no longer have the abundance of old, when huge quantities of rock lobster, pilchard, round herring, anchovy, mackerel, snoek (a local delicacy), hake and kingklip were landed at Hout Bay harbour, not to mention the sought-after (and tasty) yellowtail, tunny (tuna), kabeljou, geelbek, red roman, white steenbras, white stumpnose, white mullet, dassie, elf, leervis, red steenbras, musselcracker and galjoen (our national fish) – which were all caught around Cape Town and further east. But conservation measures are in place and there are still enough fish to keep boats (commercial and sporting) from Hout Bay, Simon’s Town, Kalk Bay and Cape Town harbour busy, and many anglers from the shore willing to try their luck.

After leaving the harbour area with its fish market, fish factories, restaurants, tourist boats to see the seals, colourful wooden fishing boats and many curios we pass a line of milkwood trees along the shore, some hundreds of years old; then the wittily named curio shop Dolce and Banana and The Workshop, “The smallest pub in Africa”. Next is the piece de resistance, Chapman’s Peak Drive. This was built between 1915 and 1922, purely as a scenic drive. The reason was that many tourists from Europe used to go to Egypt, but few came as far south as our neck of the woods. Was the plan successful? I’m not sure, but it is certainly worth seeing.

Here is a quote from Karl-Ludwig Günsche, who was head of the Berlin office of the Stuttgarter Zeitung: “Most guidebooks will tell you that this is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastal road in the world. But could there possibly be a more beautiful one? No other road winds so uncompromisingly close to the water, rocks towering high above, waves breaking far below.”

There used to be a legend that if the crew of a fishing boat leaving the bay saw a leopard on the mountain slopes, they would have a good catch. The last leopard was seen here in 1930; but a local sculptor, Ivan Mitford-Barberton constructed a bronze leopard which was erected on top of a sheer granite boulder rising out of the sea in 1963. I guess we can blame him for all the good catches since then.

Tourists up a tree on Chapman's Peak

Tourists up a tree on Chapman's Peak

If you stand at the viewpoint opposite the statue you can look down on azure water where sometimes dolphins and whales frolic. And nearby, if you know where to look, you can often see a quaint animal, the rock hyrax, which looks a bit like a gopher with a fat body and short legs. Despite its ungainly appearance it can leap from rock to rock like a mountain goat. Microsoft Encarta assures us that their closest relatives are the elephant and horse. Their natural diet is plants and potato chips (rustle a chip packet to get one’s attention).

Karl-Ludwig Günsche tells us that after the Chapman’s Peak Drive was completed: “The passage along the new road was indeed dangerous. Time and time again, boulders came crashing down and, particularly in rainy weather, numerous cars came off the road, plummeting into the sea or smashing up on the rocks. In 1989 a helicopter patrol counted 22 car wrecks on the rocky crags of Chapman’s Peak. The accidents mounted up. Between 1987 and 1993 alone, five people were killed by falling rocks. In 1989 a businessman from East London, driving a Mercedes-Benz, came off the road in wet weather. His car plunged 100 metres down the cliff, but he emerged unscathed. The car makers were so impressed that they re-enacted the accident, filming a Mercedes, with cameras inside, going over the edge of the cliff. An actor, who had abseiled down, played the role of the businessman standing, happy and uninjured, next to the wreck. The advertising campaign caused a sensation.”

Sunset from Chapman's Peak Drive, 23 Feb 06

Sunset from Chapman's Peak Drive, 23 Feb 06

Ogilvy Cape Town hired Keith Rose, recognised internationally as one of the world’s most influential TV commercials directors and his Cape Town company Velocity Films, to do the ad. He subsequently won the Gold Lion statue for it at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.

The Mercedes ad ran on SA TV for about two weeks. Then BMW hit back: “A relaxed-looking BMW driver, on Chapman’s Peak Drive, wet from the rain, is shown rounding the exact same bend – unlike the Mercedes which had skidded off the road, the BMW manages expertly to negotiate the turn. ‘BMW beats the bends’ was the ambiguously-worded advertising slogan.”

This caused a lot of local mirth.

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Today’s quotes

Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark: you know what you are doing, but nobody else does. – E W Howe

I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. – Ogden Nash

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