It was the crack of dawn on a Saturday and we were parked along Boyes Drive, a windy mountain road overlooking the ocean. As the sun rose, the water turned from black to dark blue until streaks of silver appeared where the morning light kissed the waves. We were starting our Cape Town day trip south from the heart of the city to the majestic Cape Point, Africa’s southernmost tip.
Updated May 2020
Karen Larsen, a reader who lives in Fish Hoek, a coastal town on False Bay, graciously offered to chauffeur me around. (Travel is really about the people you meet and Karen was a gem.)
Our adventure would take us through Kalk Bay and Boulders Beach before we’d arrive at the Cape of Good Hope Reserve. We had the whole day, and we were going to make good use of it.
The views were absolutely stunning, and when we were inspired, we stopped to take pictures. South Africa’s southern peninsula is one of those destinations where you stop and question what you’re doing with your life and wonder how you’ll be able to leave.
We left the city heading south on the M4, and remained on it for the majority of our journey because it cuts through the interior to Muizenberg where it skimmed the coastline, which is the view we wanted.
Our first stop was a bluff high above the town thought it was barely recognizable through the haze that covered the view like a blanket.
Muizenberg is the heart of surfing in South Africa as early as 1910, and it was the spot for the first stand-up surfing in South Africa in 1919. In September its the site for the Muizenberg Festival with music, dance, performances, food taking place in venues throughout the town.
From that height we could see for miles as the waves rolled towards the shore in layers, scalloped like the fabric of an ornate ball gown. Except for the few cars that occasionally drove past; they were all we could hear.
We headed southwest on M4 (Main Road), a long thoroughfare that hugs the southeast coast and delivers spectacular ocean and mountain views. Nearing Kalk Bay, we passed locals lounging in a spacious public tidal pool––one of many around the cape. (Here’s a list of the 10 best Tidal Pools to swim in).
Further along, a man practiced yoga on the rocks while the waves crashed beneath him. (Tip: For the tidal pool: The sunlight is best in the morning. By afternoon, the mountains on the opposite side of the road, cast the spot in shadow. )
Kalk Bay is a small, artsy, fishing village with a classic main street lined with cafes, coffee shops, and clothing shops with a bohemian air.
Our first stop was the long concrete jetty, jutting out into the ocean with a small red and white-striped lighthouse at the end rumored to take quite a beating when Mother Nature is acting up. It’s a good spot for photography and locals use it for fishing or to walk during a family outing. Occasionally you’ll see a sea lion or two in the water around the pier or if napping on the cement.
Afterward, we had a bite to eat at Olympia Cafe, an adorable eatery that reminded me of the charming little cafes in New York’s SoHo district. Their croissants (the size of your head) are delish as are their freshly baked pastries. The menu is updated every day and found on a chalkboard at the back of the restaurant. We were in town during the week and it was very busy, and I hear on the weekend, long queues are common, so stake your claim early.
Outside the restaurant, ladies selling handmade tchotchkes like carved and painted animals, dozens of styles of beaded bracelets and necklaces. If you need souvenirs to bring back to friends or family, these objects might fit the bill.
The Ice Cafe
Delicious homemade ice cream in flavors such as chocolate, peanut butter, strawberry, ginger, apple, black cherry and brandy, and cinnamon without the use of eggs or gelatin. It’s a favorite of the locals for good reason.
Because I was driving through Kalk Bay I didn’t have a chance to wander as much as I would like to in the future. Therefore, here’s a great article on what the village offers visitors.
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Boulders Beach (Simontown)
Continuing on the panoramic Main Road (M4) south, it wasn’t long before we passed downtown Simon’s town where the South African Navy is based.
Our next stop, Boulders Beach, was a smidge north of the city with ( you guessed it) hundreds of granite boulders of varying sizes, some larger than a house, estimated to be over 540 million years old.
It’s an ideal location for swimming, lounging, and exploring the formations and tidal pools, but what makes this place truly special is the colony of over 2000 endangered African (a.k.a Jackass) Penguins. (Why Jackass? When you hear them it’s obvious, they sound exactly like a donkey braying.)
Boulders Beach is the only place you can get close to African penguins. That said, they’re used to people milling about, but when people venture beyond their preferred personal space, you may get nipped. And it hurts. (If you’re wondering, a gentleman near me tried to pet a penguin, and it bit him. His face was a billboard for pain.)
Most importantly, do not touch or feed the penguins. Just enjoy the show.
How to Visit
To enter the beach there’s is a R65 (about $3.50) conservation fee (bring cash), which is great since it keeps the number of people down, relatively speaking. If you are driving, go early, parking is limited. If you stay in Simon’s Town, your hotel may offer a roundtrip shuttle.
Tip: If you’re on Boulders Beach, walk about 300 yards north along the shore to Foxy Beach. It’s less congested with people and there are penguins there too! P.S. You can’t reach it via the road.
Cape Point Nature Reserve
Back on Main Road, we continued south headed for Cape Point which is the Southernmost tip of Africa and a major tourist attraction. The land is part of the Cape Point Nature Reserve within the Table Mountain National Park system.
The only entry into the park is through the “Cape of Good Hope” gate which opens just before sunrise and closes at sunset. Note: If you leave after the gate closes they’ll charge you a fine, so keep track of the time.
Cape Point Lighthouse
Visiting the Cape Point Lighthouses alone are worth the trip in itself because of the bragging rights. Who doesn’t want to say they stood at the literal southern tip of Africa? There’s something surreal about looking out over the waves and knowing the water doesn’t stop until Antarctica. But there’s far more to the park than a single Instagrammable moment.
The scenery is stunning in epic proportions. At the tip, where the lighthouses sit, huge waves crash into storybook jagged cliffs and large seabirds cover the rocks below.
The oldest lighthouse (there are two) was built in 1859 and stands 780 feet above sea level. However, it wasn’t effective in misty conditions which led to the construction of a second lighthouse in 1914 at 286 feet above sea level.
There are stone steps available or you can take a 40-person funicular called the “Flying Dutchman” transports visitors through lush vegetation from a spot near the main parking lot up to the old lighthouse. We were there mid-afternoon and it was packed with people, (best to go early) so we opted to take a walk towards near the beach.
Cape Point Funicular Tickets
Adults round trip between 9 am – 12 pm R70 (~$3.70).
Adult round trip between 12 pm – 5:30 pm R80 (~$4.24);
Adult one way between 9 am – 12 pm R50 (~$2.65);
Adult one way between 12 pm – 5:30 pm R65 (~$3.45)
Kids round trip R35 (~$1.86) | Kids on way R25(~$1.33) Adult
Seniors is R40 (~$2.40) — for individuals 60+ with valid identification
Note: The only negative about visiting the lighthouses is the crowd. Be prepared for cars, buses, and bikes moving in and out. If a lot of people make you crazy, you might want to skip it or go early in the morning.
Cape Point Activities
- There are accessible beaches as well as the Bordjiesrif and Buffels Bay tidal pools for swimming and picnicking.
- Keep your eyes peeled for the 250 bird species variety of wildlife, Cape mountain zebra and elands, the world’s largest antelope, as well as other animals. However, this isn’t safari territory, so don’t expect that kind of density.
- There are a series of “Shipwreck Trails” that go passed, well, shipwrecks.
- Download one of two walking Audio Guides (The difference is one assumes you’re walking up the steps to the lighthouse, the other, that you’re taking the funicular.) Note: Download the tours prior to going as the internet connection is sketchy.
- Walk along the Cape Peninsula Wooden Walkway
Don’t forget to bring your camera
Two Oceans Restaurant
Large, airy, and with balconies overlooking the sea, Two Oceans is a chic sushi and seafood destination in the heart of the reserve, and a great place to stop for a meal. I didn’t eat there on this trip but did so on a previous stay; the food was excellent.
Our last stop was a sunset photoshoot of Table Mountain. Karen knew a spot called Lagoon Beach, north of Cape Town proper, that would make the perfect pic. How could we not go? We headed north along the west coast on M6. There are shorter routes back to the city but none quite as lovely.
We ran late and found ourselves at Lagoon Beach minutes before the sunset, but thankfully, we still had time for a few photos.
The Cape Town region is one of the most beautiful on the planet. Mountains, ocean, nature reserves, exceptional flora, and fauna. It has it all. In Cape Town proper, there are a variety of outstanding restaurants, the Two Oceans Aquarium (one of my favorites in the world), and the waterfront, which is an excellent place for family fun.
If you’re researching a Cape Town trip, which includes, small towns, vineyards, and the peninsula, I recommend you sign up for the Inside Guide newsletter. It is chock full of useful information about the area and future events. (You can always unsubscribe after your trip.)
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