The South-Easter is at once Betty’s Bay’s worst enemy and its biggest friend. The wind which can rip through this coastal haven has put many a potential buyer off Betty’s Bay, with the result that it is not nearly as developed as the more popular neighbouring towns of Kleinmond and Hermanus. When the wind doesn’t blow, Betty’s is idyllic and even when it does there’s always something to do. From beachy activities such as tanning, swimming and surfing to more mountainous pursuits like fly-fishing, hiking and bird-watching, there really is something for everyone.
Betty’s Bay is situated about 95km from Cape Town, and is the first settlement East of False Bay. The drive there, along Clarence Drive is an attraction in itself: the smooth surfaced road which snakes sinuously between ocean and mountain is popular among cyclists and motor-bikers on breakfast runs, and during whale season (from about July to October) it’s almost as good as Hermanus for spotting these enormous mammals. I was once lucky enough to see a pod of orcas (killer whales) from one of the lookout points near Rooi Els.
Where Mountains Meet Ocean
Betty’s Bay’s most conventional attraction is probably the beach. The rocky coastline around Stony Point gives way to superfine powdery white sand and for about 2km MainBeach curves next to the ocean before it gets rocky again at Dawidskraal – a popular fishing spot with a great picnic site under milkwoods. On a calm day you can swim out beyond the breakers and – floating on your back – see only the mountains. The beach is also great for surfing, fishing (galjoen in winter and kob in summer) and long lonely dog-walks.
But for all the beach’s loveliness, the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens are what Betty’s Bay is most well known for. Betty’s boasts the highest concentration of plant species in the world (there are more species in one km² in Betty’s than there are in the whole of the UK!) and the gardens showcase this staggering variety. A short stroll through the area nearest the entrance gate will give you a good idea of the different biomes in the Fynbos floral kingdom, but if you have the time and the inclination I’d recommend spending a bit more time and embarking on a longer walk to one of the two waterfalls in the reserve.
The closer of the two is Disakloof – a flattish 30 minute walk from the gate – where, in January and February beautiful red disas cling to the rock faces. The other waterfall, in Leopard’s Kloof, is a much longer and more strenuous walk (it’s quite steep and there are even ladders at some points) but if you think you can handle the hour and a half uphill struggle, I’d really recommend giving it a go. The path wends its way through pristine indigenous forest, and the succession of teardrop plunge pools and waterfalls at the top really is the Western Cape at its best. Just make sure you get a key (R50 deposit) at reception: if not you’ll find yourself stuck at the gate halfway up!
If Leopard’s Kloof leaves you wanting more, why not try the Oudebos trail? This is a four or five hour walk which takes you over up the mountains behind Leopard’s Kloof and onwards to the PalmietRiver near Kleinmond. Here you can experience untouched fynbos and wide-angle views over the Indian Ocean, all set to a soundtrack of chirruping sugarbirds and witogies. Once you’ve reached the Palmiet you can swim, tan and picnic in and around the picturesque river. Just make sure you leave a car (or arrange for someone to pick you up) here…unless you want to walk the five hours back to Betty’s Bay.
Another highlight of any Betty’s holiday is a visit to the Stony Point Penguin Colony. This was actually the first place on the mainland that penguins returned to in 1982 (they retreated to offshore islands soon after Europeans arrived in the Cape!) and it offers a much more relaxed viewing experience than that at the exceedingly popular Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. Scores of African (aka Jackass!) Penguins huddle on the rocky promontories while their mates hunt for pilchards and maasbankers in the crystalline, turbulent ocean.
There’s bass fishing to be had in Betty’s Bay too. Hardly anyone knows about it, but the two vleis – Rondevlei and Grootwitvlei – near the entrance of the town harbour healthy populations of largemouth bass and bluegill sunfish. I usually fly-fish in Grootwitvlei, the larger of the two lakes, throwing big poppers or clousers into gaps in the weed-beds behind the island. There are actually some pretty big fish in here (up to about 3kg) and on a good day the action can be fast and furious: the best time of the year is usually around Easter…not least because the water is warm and pleasant to wade in.
A Square Meal
Betty’s Bay is a refreshingly rugged town and almost all of its main attractions involve nature and the elements. But no-one ever refused a hot plate of grub and a cold beer after a day enjoying the outdoors, now did they?
The two most popular spots are both within a stone’s throw of the BP Service Station. Camelot (028 2729424) is a pretty rough small town joint where you can expect to rub shoulders with perlemoen poachers while you jostle for a seat which allows you to keep an eye on the rugby and be near enough to the bar to for regular refills of brandy and Coke.
Tides (028 2729835), on the other hand, is about as sophisticated as Betty’s gets: excellent fresh fish and seafood dishes, an extensive wine-list and a chef who has over 20 years’ experience in big city restaurants make it the only place in town which can justifiably say ‘reservations essential’.
The Low Down
Betty’s Bay really is so much more than a boring old beach town. Whatever you’re into and whatever the weather, you’ll always find something to keep you busy. And to make things even better it’s only an hour and a quarter from Cape Town!