Everyone knows Cape Town is right up there with the most outdoorsy cities in the world, but for the most part tourists – and many locals – end up going to the same spots time and again. For the beach it’s Clifton or Fish Hoek, while hikers head for Platteklip Gorge or Lion’s Head. Want to picnic? Silvermine is where it’s at. Keen for a drive? Look no further than Chapman’s Peak.
As a born-and-raised Capetonian who’s more than a little wary of crowds, I’ve wrestled my conscience for days and have finally decided that I’m duty bound to share some of my hard-earned local knowledge for the benefit of likeminded individuals from other parts of the globe. Whatever you do, please don’t tell too many people – the last thing we want is for these little gems to hit the map!
For me the beaches on the Atlantic side of the Southern tip of the peninsula can’t be beaten. The sand is white, the water is blue (and ice-cold!), and there are more baboons than there are humans. Kommetjie, Misty Cliffs, Scarborough and even Dias Beach right next to Cape Point are all favourites of mine.
But my favourite favourite has to be Witsand. A perfect toenail-shaped slice of white powder between Kommetjie and Misty Cliffs, it’s popular among diehard surfers and kite-surfers (the famed Crayfish Factory break is just to the right if you’re sitting on the beach) but virtually unknown to beachgoers.
Walk the dogs, play Frisbee or even braai a snoek – safe in the knowledge that the other people on the beach don’t mind…because there aren’t any other people!
Don’t get me wrong. Chapman’s Peak is the most scenic drive on the Cape Peninsula. But it costs R36 rand a pop and is often closed in the rainy season. For pure unadulterated driving pleasure there’s nothing better than the succession of hairpin bends as Red Hill Road ascends from Simon’s Town towards Scarborough.
Red Hill Road is only 7km long (or about 12km if you continue all the way to Scarborough), but it affords fantastic views of Simon’s Town, False Bay and Hangklip beyond, and there’s hardly ever very much traffic. If your calves are up to it you could cycle Red Hill, but for most of us the view from the car window will have to do.
There are so many hikes on Table Mountain, but my all-time favourite takes you to the almost mystical Tranquility Cracks above Oudekraal. The walk starts and ends in Camps Bay, and it really does showcase the very best the mountain has to offer. Great views of Lion’s Head, Clifton and Camps Bay, the chance to explore a magnificent yellowwood forest, and of course the soulful experience which is a visit to the Cracks. The entrance can be tricky to locate, but once you’re inside the cracks you can explore the seemingly endless maze of corridors and dead-ends to your heart’s content. Mystics have noted a special energy or aura to this spot, but even if you’re as matter-of-fact as I am it’s hard not to be moved by it.
I always remind visitors to Cape Town that Table Mountain really is a mountain, and this applies more than ever for this route which is remote and, depending on your fitness levels, pretty darned strenuous. Add this to the fact that the cracks themselves are notoriously difficult to find and you have a recipe for disaster if the correct precautions aren’t followed. Make sure you bring all the important stuff: hat, sun block, first aid kit and a change of warm clothing (even if it’s balmy when you set out) and wear a decent pair of boots. Most vitally, make sure you have a map – or even better download the route to your smartphone or GPS. I’ve downloaded this route and use it conjunction with the EveryTrail app on my iPhone, with great success.
Silvermine Valley, unlike its more famous sibling is only visited by those in the know. The reserve is just off Ou Kaapse Weg on the Clovelly Road, and apart from a few rangers’ houses there is very little infrastructure. A one hour loop takes you alongside a river which is a torrent in winter and a trickle in summer, while a three hour round trip gets you to the Silvermine Waterfall which can also be accessed (far more easily, I might add) from Silvermire proper. You can bring your dog along if you have a Level 1 My Activity Permit, which costs R 175 for the year.
Why haul the wicker basket and real glassware to Kirstenbosch when you could think outside the box and make your way to the Deep South?
Just behind the beach at Scarborough lies Schusterskraal; a grassy picnic area in amongst the milkwood trees. There are braai facilities, running water and plenty of shade beneath the trees. Whether you’re planning a sneaky boerie roll for two or a long languorous Sunday afternoon braai for the whole family, you can count on having Schusterskraal pretty much to yourself. You can even bring your dogs, and the kids can hit the beach while you’re getting the fire going.
Best quaint seaside town
Forget Kalk Bay and its mad traffic, poser jazz bands and overpriced rooibos cappuccinos. Drive 10 minutes further south and you’ll be exploring Simon’s Town long before you would even have found a parking bay in Kalk Bay – let alone managed to parallel park your Hilux.
Admittedly, Boulders is always thronged with penguin-seekers, but this only serves to lessen the pressure on Simon’s Town itself. Wander the main street and enjoy the colonial buildings; check out the Just Nuisance statue and then pop into Salty Sea Dog for some fish and chips. Fancy a swim? Smitswinkel Bay is just a few kays further down the road, and if you can be bothered to walk down the steep steps you’ll almost certainly be the only person on the beach.