As terrific as Capetown is, we wanted to spend a day exploring the Penisula.
What is Cape Peninsula? It is the rocky peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean at the southwestern extremity of the African continent just below Capetown. At the southern tip of the peninsula are Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Most of the peninsula is part of the Table Mountain National Park. The peninsula is 52 km long from Mouille point in the north to Cape Point in the south. One day wasn’t enough to see everything and do everything but we certainly tried!
Here’s a map for a reference of our day trip.
Our starting point was our rented apartment in Cape Town City Center. We first needed to fuel ourselves for the day and heading to Kalk Bay for breakfast at Olympia Café and Diner. The guidebooks did not fail with this recommendation. It was situated on the main road with public parking just down the street and across from the water. As we descended into Kalk Bay, we saw the beautiful coastal views we would enjoy for nearly the entire day. We dined on croissant sandwiches and omelets complete with hot chocolate and coffee. Our 12 yo son really enjoyed the hostess quote of the meal “its OK to make a mess; if you enjoy the food.” The menu was on a blackboard and changes daily but featured light meals, full meals, and pastry snacks. We were tempted to wait until lunch was served since the mussels are supposedly a specialty; but breakfast it was.
By this point in the journey, we were hugging the coastline and had left the city far behind us and with less than an hour of driving. We were approaching Simon’s Town (our next destination) and noticed a fair amount of cars parked along the road. We had read that whales frequent this area and that it was migration season; but we weren’t’ anticipating a whale sighting. We were actually more focused on baboon sightings with the signs posted on the road!
We joined the cars pulled over and saw at least 4 whales just off the shore (two different sets of two whales). We weren’t on a whale watching tour…we just pulled over from the road and walked onto the rocks jutting into the bay! There are several varieties of whales that frequent False Bay (Bryde’s Whale, the Humpback Whale, Orca Whale, and the Southern Right Whale). I have no idea which whale we actually saw but I am pretty sure it wasn’t an orca (from the coloring) and we didn’t hear singing of the humpback. The most common whale in these waters is the Southern Right Whale. It turns out that September and October is prime whale-watching period and a great bonus for us!
We had read that South Africa’s Naval museum was in Simon’s Town and decided to make a quick stop. It was a treasure trove of collection pieces showcasing the history of SA Navy. The museum started in 1967 (but at another location) and moved to Simon’s Town in 1983. It is located next to an operational navy facility but is on public grounds. It was a nice balance of educational dialogue and historical presentation. The naval museum is filled with model ships, old navigational equipment, old South African Navy divers’ equipment, life-size boats and a helicopter. We were able to climb to the top of the building’s clock tower. It was jam-packed with items illustrating the Navy’s origin, progression, culture, and major battles but we were on a time crunch and just barely brushed the surface. Our 15 yo daughter did quickly become bored with the museum but the rest of us enjoyed our short time.
From Simon’s Town, it was a short drive to Boulder’s Bay and that meant PENGUINS! And penguins in a natural habitat…not in a zoo! The beach is located in a residential neighborhood that meant a short walk past several houses (that sold various snacks and souvenirs). This family is crazy for penguins; so this may have been the highlight of our trip (and I mean the WHOLE trip). Boulder’s Bay is an entire ecosystem in one small area. It is a protected area within the greater Table National Park. Granite boulders surround this small area of water, which provides the perfect environment for these wonderful birds. The boulders shelter sandy coves from the African turbulent waters. South African penguins have been on the extinction list for years and this colony started with just TWO breeding pairs! Concerted efforts at repopulation have succeeded with protected beaches and a reduction in fishing. The colony has increased to 2100-3000 birds. Even with an increasing population, the penguin remains under protection. There are two elevated boardwalks that protect the penguins from humans and allow viewing. Some of the birds walked right up to the boardwalk and you could almost touch them (but we didn’t!). Within a few minutes, one can see countless birds enjoying the beach and surf. While walking the boardwalk, you can see nests scattered amongst the sand vegetation. Every spot on the boardwalk shows the penguins (in the water, on the beach, in the nests). Our favorite was watching the penguins climb out of the water back onto the beach.
The SANBI provides excellent information on African Penguins and its conservation efforts. Unfortunately the SANBI “bird hospital” was closed for renovations during our stay.
After a quick stop for ice cream, we continued towards the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point (the very tip of the peninsula) in the Table Mountain National Park. We headed to the lighthouse on Cape Point. The lighthouse stands at 238 meters above sea level on the highest section of the peak and is still in use. Although there is a funicular to the lighthouse, we cajoled the kids into walking up the lighthouse. They humored us to the base of the lighthouse and then stayed behind while Stephen and I climbed the last bit upwards. We had huge vistas as our reward. A short walk away, a second, revolving lighthouse looks out over the jagged rock face below. Having usurped the responsibilities initially delegated to its older counterpart, this structure was built later – in 1914 – to resolve problems brought on by rising mist, and is still currently functional.
We were quickly losing daylight and decided to head back towards Capetown. We headed back to Capetown through Hout Bay, which meant Chapman’s Peak. While leaving the park, we were surprised to spot two zebras. Zebra sightings are not common in this region. The first one bounded across the road in front of us with a second close behind. By the time we managed to pull over, just the zebra’s backside remained.
At this point, we had seen whales, penguins, and zebras. We would soon add ostrich and camel (in farms). As we drove towards Hout Bay, we were hugging the mountainous coastline and enjoyed the views. The mountain cliffs quickly rose from the crashing Atlantic Ocean and the serene beaches of the morning seemed very distant. The 5.5 mile drive of Chapman’s Peak is regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the world. I wasn’t counting, but there are 114 curves along the 5.5 miles! And each curve revealed stunning views of the cliffs and coastline. In a short span of 30 minutes, the temperatures plummeted and the wind picked up. The early evening fog was started to roll in and we appeared to be driving through the cloud layer.