Considering the number of years during which I lived in Cape Town plus numerous visits since, it is surprising that I have only ever been on top of Table Mountain on three previous occasions and then only once was a bright and beautiful day when you could see for miles. The thing you have to remember about this particular mountain is that it often gets covered in cloud (the ‘Tablecloth’) blown in from the Atlantic by a wind known to locals as the ‘Cape Doctor‘, especially in the summer months. And if it is windy then the cable car does not operate – so don’t rely on it to get you back down.
If you intend to visit the Mother City and want to go up the iconic mountain then my advice is that you keep your eye on the weather forecasts and get up there as soon as you can. Don’t wait for tomorrow because tomorrow may be raining or windy and if you do get up then make sure you allow sufficient time to explore as there is a surprisingly large area up there.
Many things have changed on the top since the 1980s – but not the 360° views of Cape Town, the ocean and the neighbouring peaks. There is now a large self-serve restaurant and deli and an ice-cream shop and walled, paved courtyards and pathways which makes it a much safer pleasure to walk around taking in the views and there is even a route suitable for wheelchair users. You can of course still wander off on hiking trails and indeed there is the Hoerikwaggo Trail (Hoerikwaggo meaning ‘Mountains of the sea’ in the original Khoekhoe language), a five day trek for serious hikers linking Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope.
As neither my husband nor I are in the flush of youth we took the cable car up and down. (I once attempted climbing to the top via Skeleton Gorge on my first visit to Cape Town back in 1973, but I was thwarted by the weather closing in suddenly and having to retreat below the clouds. I did come away with a rather splendid spider bite though, so have an everlasting reminder on my forearm.) The recommended route for the walk hike up is via Platteklip Gorge to the Upper Cable Station which, at 3 km, is not long but it is fairly strenuous and can take between one and three hours to complete.
The weather was perfect, the bluest of African skies and not a breath of wind. It seemed as though everyone else had the same idea though and we ended up parking half way down the mountain slope so we were quite breathless before we’d even reached the lower cable station. When stepping out at the top I felt very emotional seeing the wonderful panorama spread beneath my feet. I was home.
There simply aren’t words apt enough to describe the stunning vistas. South to Hout Bay and Kommetjie along the spine of the Table range all the way down to Cape Point you can even see the curvature of the earth.
North you have the Lions Head and Signal Hill looking like a slumbering dragon on the shores of Table Bay, with the Cape Town Stadium, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and Robben Island in the distance. (header photo)
There are three signposted walks and several viewpoints from which you can view Clifton and Sea Point, the Cape Flats and the Cape Peninsula.
The Table Mountain National Park is also a World Heritage Site. There is a lot of Fynbos vegetation on the mountain, with over 1 460 different species of plants and populations of Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), commonly known as Dassies, are plentiful on the mountain.
You may also see porcupines, mongooses, girdled lizards, agamas, snakes and butterflies. Several indigenous bird species can be seen, including Redwinged Starlings, Cape Verreaux’s Eagles, Rock Kestrels and Sunbirds.
A couple of hours later and armed with hundreds of photos we reluctantly went back down and I drove over to the R27, the west coast road, through the western suburbs of Milnerton (a former home) and north towards Tableview, Sunset Beach, Bloubergstrand (blue mountain) and Melkbosstrand (milkwood trees) to take that infamous photo of Table Mountain across Table Bay.
I was not surprised at how much this area has changed over the years with so many new housing developments, but so unattractive in my opinion, just dreary looking little boxes and some pretty ugly high-rises. But with exceptional views.
This is a place where I spent a lot of time dune walking with my first-born in my arms and usually trying to get out of the wind which whips the sand across your legs with painful accuracy. Not today though. Scarcely a breeze.
Sitting, hugging my knees on that powder-soft white sand I stared at Cape Town, snuggled at the head of Table Bay, with its incredible back-drop, and remembered the happy days I had spent there.
Eventually we returned to Constantia and spent another couple of hours in Kirstenbosch before driving down to Hout Bay to dine at the Mariners Wharf – this time more Kingklip, chips and tartare sauce followed by Cape Brandy tart and ice cream for him and a Fruit Pavlova with berries, raspberry coulis and granadilla sauce for me. A bottle of sparkling Nederburg Cuvee Brut accompanied to celebrate our last night in Cape Town. Total cost £34
Have you been on top of Table Mountain? Or another mountain which stirs the soul?
“Addo Elephant National Park is set deep within the dense valley bushveld of the Sundays River region of the Eastern Cape. The original Elephant section of the Park was proclaimed in 1931, a time when just eleven Elephant roamed the area.
Today, however, over 450 Elephant makes the Park its home, as well as Cape Buffalo, Black Rhino, a variety of antelope species and the unique flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo.
The evenings are punctuated by the howls of the black backed jackal and the grey Cape Francolins (pheasant) call cackalac-cackalac-cackalac welcome the dawn.”
Going to Addo We left Knysna at around 10 am after another delicious breakfast and set off on the N2 towards Port Elizabeth. An uneventful journey apart from a heavy rainstorm near Jeffrey’s Bay and a 20 minute wait at road works. We followed the brown sign route to Addo Elephant National Park which was a bit of a strange route leading to the R335 as it took us through a township on the outskirts of PE and not a route I would have chosen myself. The sky was still heavy and we saw some dramatic lightning on the horizon, but it stayed fine. We reached the park at 2.30 pm and drove to our pre-booked little rondavel overlooking the main entrance Nyati water hole which is floodlit at night.
The rondavel was quite sweet – a queen sized bed, some drawers, a separate toilet and shower complete with flatty (a very large spider who eats mozzies so we left him alone) and a wash basin. There was a fridge on the stoep and a table and chairs and braai facilities nearby plus a communal kitchen. The view was idyllic – from the stoep we had a feast of kudu, warthog families, ostriches and Egyptian geese around the waterhole; there was lots of evidence that elephant went there, but sadly we never saw any visiting. That’s not to say we didn’t see any ellies though. Far from it.
We took a short drive around the park before dark and saw warthogs, kudu and elephants. Sitting only feet away from two large, though young, elephants and watching them drink from the waterhole and greet each other by linking trunks was amazing – I have been fortunate to see elephants close up before, but this was a first for my husband and he was entirely mesmerised by the experience. There were times to come, when that experience was a little too close for comfort. After all these are wild animals, and more than capable of overturning a car.
Dawn Game Drive
It was 5.30 am. It was dark, it was cold, it was cloudy and it was raining. We were up because we had booked to go on an early morning game drive. The best time of day to see all sorts of wild animals, or so we have been told. At that moment all I wanted to do was turn over, pull the duvet over my head and go back to sleep!
At 6.15 am we were off on a two-hour drive. We didn’t see very much to begin with – it was wet and cold and if I was an animal I’d still be hiding in my den or burrow or wherever it is they spend the night. My hands were becoming numb – at this rate even if we spotted anything I’d never be able to work the camera. Suddenly we stopped. Everyone held their breath and looked around. The guide pointed to a shape in the distance – we looked, we wondered, and then we saw a caracal come into sight, the small cat slowly strolling towards us, its characteristic dark tufts on the large pointed ears and the long tail swinging behind it. Suddenly it stopped and stared right at us, then turned around and walked away, the flash of its white undersides contrasting with the black backs of its very prominent ears.
Satisfied now that the pain of getting up so early was worth it, we forgot about the cold and eagerly awaited the next “spotting”. It was a black backed jackal trotting away into the bush. It too stopped and looked around towards the noise of the vehicle, they apparently have an acute and well-developed sense of smell and hearing. The black-backed jackal is a slender creature and its sides, head and legs are a sandy tan to reddish gold in colour. Their back has a saddle from head to tip of tail that is black and white mixed hairs. Often the edges of the saddle are framed in bright rust.
We next came upon a large herd (20+) of elephants making their way away from a water-hole into the bush – ranging from very large females to very small infants, then saw several ostriches, and in the very far distance, a lion.
On returning to the main gate we interrupted a mother elephant with her very young calf having breakfast. The infant snuggled under its mother for a drink as Mom stripped the leaves from the top of the trees, pulling down the branches to reach the tender tips. As the vehicle slowly approached them trying to persuade her to move out of the way, she suddenly became quite cross and turning from her destruction of the trees and bushes alongside the road she faced the vehicle, stood with legs splayed, shook her head and her large ears menacingly, swung her long trunk and mock charged us. It is widely known that elephant cows are very protective of their young and she was no exception.
The warning was just that though, and having made us aware of her displeasure of being disturbed at breakfast, she quietly shuffled off into the bush with baby following closely behind and within seconds the pair had disappeared. It never failed to amaze us how quickly these huge animals could vanish almost into thin air!
Not just Ellies
On a later drive on our own we managed to see some of the other inhabitants of the park including Burchell’s zebra, tortoise, the interesting dung beetle, kudu, red hartebeest, warthogs, the fiscal flycatcher, the fiscal shrike, ibis, bokmakierie, greater double collared sunbird, and a bushbuck.
We were amused by the sight of a campervan stuck at the side of the road because a tortoise had crawled underneath, to take advantage of the shade no doubt, whilst they had stopped to view a herd of elephants.
We were uncomfortably close to a large herd of rather muddy ellies returning from Harpoor Dam and had an even closer encounter with a huge bull elephant near Janwal Pan where fortunately we had just entered the gate at the lookout point and we were slightly higher than the giant. I prayed he didn’t step on my hire car which looked very white and very vulnerable all on its own. We then walked to the viewpoint overlooking the water hole which was void of any animals. Just as we were about to leave a cow arrived with three youngsters of varying sizes, right down to a tiny little thing which didn’t seem to know what to do with its trunk.
The youngsters played around in the water like young toddlers everywhere having such fun, whilst Mom drank her fill, spraying the water into her mouth providing us with the most beautiful photograph. Eventually they’d finished drinking and entertaining us and off they went again, so we returned to see if our car had survived the onslaught of the elephant walk.
That evening we sat outside our rondavel with a bottle of good South African red and watched the kudu and warthogs around the Nyati Water Hole for a couple of hours before going across to the restaurant for a meal.
The downside of Addo is the restaurant – it is very basic and the food is poor. No gourmet dinners and not much in the way of fresh fruit or vegetables. You are much better off taking your own food and cooking it on the braai or in the communal kitchen.
On day three it was time for us to leave and make our way back up the Garden Route towards Cape Town once more. We set off at 9.30 am after a rather meagre breakfast of fruit salad (mostly apple and very tart pineapple) with yoghurt and muesli, a stark contrast to the amazing breakfasts we’d been having in the B&Bs. We decided to leave the park by driving through to the southern access road and exiting at the Colchester Road gate which is on the N2 about 33 km west of Port Elizabeth. This took us along the early morning game drive route and once again we saw the kudu, ostrich and warthogs – disappointingly no cheeky meerkats on this visit.
Close to where we almost literally bumped into the herd of elephants yesterday, we found another group, though this time there were other cars with us, so the elephants didn’t feel quite so threatening – this group consisted of three females and their two babies – and although we were to go along the steep hill where the lone male lion was sighted in the distance, we did not expect to see lions at this time of the day.
Shortly after the spot where yesterday’s lion was seen, my husband thought he’d seen something at the side of the road ahead. We pulled up at the side of the road and I think both of us stopped breathing when a young male lion and 2 lionesses walked out of the bush onto the road in front of us.
We were completely alone and they really are much larger than you think this close up. Whilst I was trying to operate the camcorder they carried on walking right up to the car and several thoughts rushed through my mind as to whether I’d heard of lions attacking a car, whether they liked or disliked the colour white (the colour of my car) and whether my collision damage waiver covered me from a dent in the roof from a large cat leaping on top, until after approximately 30 seconds I lost my nerve and throwing the camcorder to my husband, quickly put the car into reverse and retreated some metres up the road.
The three lions sneered at me and calmly walked back into the bush. Considering that at that time there were only nine lions in the entire park we were incredibly lucky to see three of them together.
Continuing on into the Colchester section we were thinking how much nicer it was than the public road we had come in on when a kamikaze warthog leaped across the road practically in front of my wheels and a little further on a black bushbuck darted across. Fortunately neither was injured.
The landscape is fantastic, sweeping hills, large termite mounds, prickly pears and in the distance the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere.
On exiting the Colchester gate I reflected on our visit to Addo – it had been enthralling, slightly scary at times and certainly worth the drive there. As the price for a night at a private game park is way too expensive for us we went to Addo and we don’t regret it for a moment – and should you find yourself in the Eastern Cape, South Africa – nor will you.
Probably the most famous drive in South Africa, and certainly the Cape, the Garden Route offers beautiful stretches of coastline, lakes, mountains and giant trees. The route is sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and the Indian Ocean and although extremely busy in the peak summer season, is a lovely region to visit in the autumn when the weather is still warm enough for outdoors activities, especially hiking.
George to Knysna
We joined the route at George (see Road Trip: Route 62) and made our way through the traffic to connect with the N2 from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. After the tranquillity of the Klein Karoo, it was a bit of a shock to hit commuter traffic once again. Driving through the Kaaiman’s River Pass along the N2 to Wilderness and seeing the string of lakes I was already regretting my decision not to stay in this lovely area as it looked fantastic and an obvious spot for bird watching. Anyway, another excuse to return to South Africa. Sedgefield is the next village en route and another lovely place among the lakes and sand dunes. This whole area is quite sensational.
Knysna We arrived in Knysna at around 5:30 p.m. staying on the Leisure Isle on the edge of the lagoon with views to the Knysna Heads. OK, so maybe this wasn’t a bad decision after all!
If you have read my previous postings about this trip, (Cape Town Revisited and Route 62), you will have realised that I am no stranger to these parts of South Africa. Though saying that, I have also only ever stopped overnight once along the Garden Route and that was in Plettenberg Bay.
I travelled along this route many times during the 1970s and 1980s on account of us living on the Western Cape Peninsula and my in-laws in the Eastern Cape. Except for a coffee and a brief stretch of the legs Knysna has always been a town that we passed through, but I have always wanted to see more of this region hence the reason to stop here on this visit.
A town that has always attracted artists and hippies as well as bird watchers (Knysna Loerie, Woodpeckers etc) Knysna has been a popular tourist spot and has grown quite a lot since the 1980s with the addition of a new waterfront complex. I was determined on this visit to actually have a chance to look around the town, and I wasn’t disappointed. After settling into our lovely B&B on the edge of the lagoon we walked to the centre of the Leisure Isle to a restaurant called “The Tides” which had an extraordinary chef. Dinner was calamari, prawns and our first Dom Pedro! We were hooked. Forget Irish coffees from now on we wanted Dom Pedros (preferably the Amarula variety), which are basically grown-up milk shakes. Seriously you have to try one. Walking back from the restaurant we were struck by the fact that it was the first time on our holiday that we felt safe out walking at night, (this may have had something to do with the security guard at the entrance onto the island). It is not generally a good idea to walk anywhere in South Africa and especially not at night. The fantastically clear sky with millions of stars above us was stunning. A perfect end to a perfect day.
One other thing to add about South Africa is the load shedding, which means that on certain days and at specific times, there is no electricity. I can’t say that it affected us in any major way, but you have to get used to the idea that there may not be electricity when you want a shower, but hey, showering by candlelight is fun! Sometimes you may not get a cooked breakfast, and sometimes you will find traffic cops directing traffic through towns as the robots (traffic lights) aren’t operating, but on the whole it just adds to the fact that you are somewhere different. I am not sure how I’d feel if I was trying to run a business though!
A Lazy Day Around Knysna
After the effort of driving all day yesterday from Cape Town to Knysna, around 500 km, we decided to take it easy today. It started out fairly cloudy with a little bit of blue sky which disappeared over a perfect breakfast. We first took a stroll around Leisure Isle to walk off the impressive breakfast and also to see if we could spot any birds. We did manage to snap a couple including this lovely tiny Scarlet-chested sunbird right in the garden where we were staying. We then drove into the town and to the Waterfront. We first went to the station to see if we could get tickets for the Outeniqua Choo Tjooe, the steam train that runs between George and Knysna, but unfortunately all we could tell was that it didn’t appear to have been running for a while as there were no signs of a timetable or any notice saying when the next train would be and no-one in the ticket office.
We spotted a meter lady (lots of car parks in South Africa employ parking officers who take a fee for parking as there are no self-service machines) and asked her if she knew what was happening with the train; she told us that it had stopped running because of the flood.  Another reason to come back – I have always wanted to do this train journey as the rails cross over the lagoon, pretty spectacular!
We went for a stroll around the Waterfront instead, which has the usual souvenir shops and restaurants (but much, much smaller than the one at Cape Town) and by this time the sun had broken through the cloud and it was pretty hot.
 (We later discovered that it was not running due to heavy flooding which had happened seven months ago!)After taking some photos of the lagoon, a very noisy duck, a heron and the Waterfront, we drove to Brenton-on-Sea, a place I had never heard about, but never visited and I’m not sure I want to share it with you either! It is such a lovely place. To get there you go back along the N2 towards George, but immediately after the White Bridge turn off and go under the N2. Brenton has such a fantastic sandy beach with rock pools and unusual sandstone rock formations at one end (similar to Kenton-on-Sea, which is a lovely resort between the cities of Port Elizabeth and East London). You can walk along this beach to Buffalo Bay – which is a popular spot for surfers; it is around 7km return.
Since we were still feeling tired from yesterday’s driving we decided not to do the walk, but still ended up wandering leisurely along the beach for an hour or so and saw several oyster-catchers on the shoreline. Glimpsed lovely views over the lagoon on the way back to Knysna. (Food note: On the Brenton road look out for Pembrey, a lovely country restaurant)We returned to the lodge and whilst my husband had a rest, I went wandering in the lagoon which was now a sandy beach as the tide was out. This spot is fantastic for families and young children as it is so safe and the water is shallow and warm. I did get a bit wet when I waded through to the shoreline and hit a shelf: the water went from ankle to thigh deep!
We returned to the Waterfront for dinner at “The Dry Dock“. Food was OK, slightly “Nouvelle cuisine” so small portions, which was fine by us. I had a Wanton Vegetable Melangee to start with followed by Linefish, Aubergine, Avocado and Grapefruit, and my husband had mussels and calamari followed by Linefish with Prawns. We should really have had oysters as Knysna is famous for them, but unless they are cooked we actually don’t like them. Finished with Dom Pedro Amarula again – I told you, they can become addictive and I don’t even like ice cream! Oh, and did I mention the incredible sunset? The whole lagoon turned orange – beautiful! I just had to leave my meal to dash to the balcony edge and capture this scene.
We finished the day sitting outside our room in the warmth of the evening listening to the sound of cicadas and the gentle lapping of the waves in the lagoon – so peaceful, I could get used to this.
The “longest wine route in the world”, otherwise known as the Route 62 is known for its delicious wines and brandies. Route 62 meanders through incredible rock formations and narrow mountain passes
The second part of my trip to South Africa in 2008 was to drive along the Garden Route and visit Addo Elephant Park – well at least it used to be an elephant park, but there is so much more there now including lions. As I never like to do the same journey there and back I decided that on the outward journey we would drive through the Klein (Little) Karoo along Route 62 and then at Oudtshoorn make for George via the Outeniqua Pass. I always think that the Garden Route really only starts at George and ends at Storm River, although this is hotly disputed and some say it starts at Heidelberg. We would do that stretch twice, but stop in different areas on the way.
Leaving Cape Town
After another great breakfast and leaving the Cape Peninsula behind us we headed for the N1 towards Paarl, getting stuck in two traffic jams on the way. As we limped past Century City (don’t go there) I vaguely wondered about bypassing the Huguenot tunnel, a toll road through the Klein Drakenstein (Little Dragon Stone) mountains, and drive instead on the R301 up to Wellington and then across the R303 through Bain’s Kloof Pass to Breerivier and then the R43 back towards the N1 at Worcester.
This is a route that I have done several times before, including on my previous visit to the Cape in 2000 and it is one of the most picturesque passes in the Cape. I may be biased as I find most routes in the Cape to be pretty impressive, but this is undeniably scenic following the Witte River with rapids and rock pools where you can bathe and picnic by the side of waterfalls.
However, I had never driven through the tunnel before as this wasn’t built when I lived in the Cape and the usual way out was up and over Du Toitskloof Pass which was often very unstable with regular rockfalls and incredibly scary at night. Given the amount of driving that we had to do and the time already lost in the traffic jams, we decided to use the tunnel. It is a fine tunnel, as tunnels go, and we quickly emerged at the other side to some incredible views over the Breede River valley and the Hex River Mountains in the background.
(Apologies for the poor quality of some of these images, but they were taken through an increasingly dirty windscreen)
Valley of Wine and Roses
We stopped off at the Worcester Ultra City to fill up and then left the N1 (so unfortunately missed the Hex River Valley, another stunning area especially in the autumn for the colours of the vineyards) and followed the N15 to Robertson.
(One important fact about driving in South Africa is that you have to pay cash at filling stations – they do not take cards. A very nice aspect though is that you get excellent service, someone fills up the car, your windows get cleaned and they will even check oil and tyres for you! All for a few Rands as a tip. I must admit though that I was nervous about carrying large amounts of cash with us, so I tended to fill up quite often to avoid this.)
Driving to Robertson was a surprise as there are now a plethora of wineries, and it is known as the valley of wine and roses. I hadn’t realised that there were so many vineyards, including Graham Beck, as I remembered it as mainly for fruit-growing. Yes I know, grapes are fruit, but I was thinking of orchards.
Leaving Robertson towards Ashton and Montague we hit Route 62 and followed this to Ladismith at the foot of the Klein Swartberg range where we stopped for coffee. In fact as you drive into the town, you feel as though you are driving straight into the Towerkop (Bewitch Peak) which is famous for its cleft peak!
(Another driving fact – watch out for speed cameras! I never saw any on this trip, but there were many times when I wasn’t sure of the speed limit as signage is not always very prominent. On my return to the UK I had collected 3 speeding tickets! I have never had one in the UK so I was not expecting them in rural areas. According to ‘Seth Efrikan’ legend you generally pay more for the speeding tickets and toll roads than you do for your holiday!)
From Ladismith it is onwards to Zoar and Calitzdorp. There is lovely Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Calitzdorp and several wine cellars. Near Zoar is an interesting place called Ronnie’s Sex Shop –
Ronnie painted the name Ronnie’s Shop on a cottage next to the R62, planning to open a farm stall to sell fresh produce and fruit. His friends played a prank on him by changing the name to Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Initially angry about the involuntary name change, Ronnie left the name and continued fixing the dilapidated building. His friends would stop by for a chat, having a few beers and throwing a couple of chops on the fire. During one of these evenings, someone suggested: “Why don’t you just open a pub?”
Now it is a pitstop for visitors from all over the world as well as local farmers – to be honest there is very little else on this road to stop at! We were doing this drive in the South African autumn but it was still rather warm so thank goodness for air con! I have driven through here in the mid summer when temperatures rise to 40 C and no air con – and it does get extremely hot! Once, long ago, I went through here in a VW kombi (campervan) and being air-cooled – well, yes, you see the problem – hot air does not make a very efficient cooling system and we broke down several times en route having to wait (in baking heat) at the side of the road until the van had recovered sufficiently to carry on a bit further. Very annoying in the days when petrol stations closed at 6 pm because of the oil shortage.
After Calitzdorp comes Oudtshoorn, the largest town in the Klein Karoo and famous for Ostrich farms and the Cango Caves. Well, it is supposedly famous for ostrich, but we didn’t see a single one! Even when we passed the Safari show farm on the way out of town – not one ostrich to be seen. Oudtshoorn is completely surrounded by mountains so whichever way you approach it is quite stunning. Another place to stay overnight but not on this occasion. We continued along the R62 to Zebra (and annoyingly once again I didn’t manage to get a photo of the building on the side of the road which is painted with zebra stripes), in fact that is the only building I have ever seen in Zebra!
Finally we left the R62 (N12) and went into the Outeniqua mountains, still the N12 / N9, and through the Outeniqua Pass. Unfortunately for us, clouds and thick fog had formed over the mountains and the views were not as striking as they can be in clear weather, but dramatic all the same. We wound our way down the serpentine curves to the town of George and the coast, silenced by the breathtaking mountains surrounding us. Route 62 may not be the quickest way to reach the Garden Route, but it beats the N2 any day if you have the time. I just want to do it again only with time to linger longer in the towns of the Klein Karoo, so I guess I shall be back.
Distance: 280 km via Muizenberg, False Bay, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay, Hermanus, Botrivier and Sir Lowry’s Pass.Time: 4 hours without stopping
On our final day in Cape Town we decided to drive around the False Bay coast eastwards to Betty’s Bay and on to Hermanus (a good spot in the winter months for whale watching from land) and it turned out to be one of the best drives of the trip. Our first stop was in Muizenberg where I had lived for several years in the 1970s and 1980s well before it went through a period of crime and deprivation which almost ruined it. Now it appears to be on the up with lots of investment in the region including new housing developments around the village and the beach which is very popular with surfers and the longest and most spectacular in the peninsula.
Even the iconic Victorian beach huts have been spruced up and rearranged into uniform lines so hopefully tourists will be encouraged back here. And although it lacks the turquoise waters and dramatic boulders of Clifton or Llandudno it is one of the best beaches in the peninsula with its sugar soft white sand dunes to the eastern edge and child-friendly rock pools to the west and warm waters to swim or body-surf in. Wandering around this little village you will see examples of Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco architecture. The lovely Edwardian-era red-brick railway station which opened in 1913 with its arched sandstone entrances and beautiful teak clock tower is reminiscent of the golden days of Muizenberg. Begin the trip by driving eastwards along Baden-Powell Drive (the R310) towards the Strand following closely the shoreline of False Bay, another amazing drive as sea-spray and sand blow over the road you are that close to the ocean. One that is often overlooked by visitors, believing that Chapman’s Peak Drive is the only one to do.
Baden Powell Drive is one of those areas ‘highly vulnerable’ to a rise in sea level with the advent of climate change. Even now it is regularly blocked by blowing sand and the city may well decide in the near future that it can no longer afford to maintain the road, and to reinstate a dune system here. So drive it whilst you can.
Stop at Gordon’s Bay, which huddles beneath the sheer mountains of the Helderberg (formerly known as the Hottentots-Holland range) that provide shelter for the bay, to check the views back towards the other side. It is a busy summer destination with Bikini Beach popular with the younger population who want to play volleyball, sunbathe and surf. The sea temperature is warmer here and the main beach is safe for swimming and has sheltered rock pools for exploring.You’ll know when you’ve entered Beach Road – the sea will be on one side and the retro character of the town on the other. It’s lined with little shops and cafés – not the trendy sort you’ll find in Camps Bay, but old seaside-village types oozing home-grown character.
Continue along the R44 (Clarence Drive) where around the corner you will find Kogel Bay (Cool Bay) which is essentially a surfers beach but has a long stretch of white sand and a couple of exciting caves. This scenic coastal road meanders between Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay offering some of the best designated whale watching spots on the coast and magnificent views over the bay to Cape Point. Pass through tiny Rooiels and Pringle Bay, a little seaside village nestled at the foot of the Hangklip Mountain, which is very secluded and unspoilt. The Hangklip marks the south-eastern point of False Bay and is about an hours drive from Cape Town. There are also many hiking trails through the Kogelberg Nature Reserve.
At Betty’s Bay, another picturesque village positioned in a narrow strip of land between the Kogelberg Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, you will find the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. From October to February you will find a glorious array of gladioli, watsonias and rare red disas on display. There is another smaller colony of African penguins at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay and the remnants of an old whaling station.
Further on you come to Kleinmond which lies on a lagoon at the small mouth of the Bot River between the Palmiet Mountains and the Atlantic. It is another quiet place offering good walking, hiking and bird-watching activities. Now take the R43 through Vermont, to Hermanus our destination. We parked in the Square in Hermanus and had a wander around this lovely little town which is quite charming though no longer the quiet fisherman’s village it once was. Hermanus is often described as the ‘Riviera of the South’ with its mild climate and is a popular weekend destination for the residents of Cape Town.
Make sure you get a parking ticket from the meter inspector, who you will find walking about somewhere in the area, to avoid a parking fine. There are no self-ticket machines.
The Old Harbour complex offers an insight into its past and where you will find Bientang’s Cave, a restaurant on the shores of Walker Bay serving seafood only. It really is in a cave. July is the best time to see the Southern Right Whale as they frolic in Walker Bay in easy view of the cliff path and during the summer months the white sandy beaches, such as Grotto beach, are filled with holiday makers enjoying the sunny weather. And if you want to partake in white shark cage diving then carry on to Gansbaai around the bay.
Further on is Cape Agulhas the most southerly point of Africa and officially the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. This point is about a 2 hours direct drive from Cape Town.
We headed back along the R43 from Hermanus up to Botrivier, a small picturesque village with a lagoon and wetlands; then we joined the N2 over the Helderberg (Clear Mountain) back to Cape Town. Stop off at the viewpoint at the summit of ‘Sir Lowry’s Pass’ (420m) for a bird’s eye view of False Bay and across the Cape Flats to Table Mountain, but keep an eye out for the sign as you have to turn left off the road almost immediately, it is very easy to miss the turn-off.
You may see baboons here, but whatever you do, do not feed them, and it’s also used as a paragliding jump point. Watch them drift languorously to the coast below you.
You can continue along the N2 past the international airport all the way to the city, but we returned along the Baden-Powell Drive to make one last stop at Sunrise Beach near Muizenberg to watch people kite-surfing in the late evening sunlight. From here you can easily return to Cape Town along the M3.