Another day, another adventure.
In 1488, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, making history by establishing direct trade relations between Europe and the Far East. The captain named it “The Cape of Storms”; it was later King John II of Portugal named it “the Cape of Good Hope” because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East.
While I was in Cape Town, one of the most important things to do on my itinerary was of course hop in a car, drive south, and had a day in this area. While the Cape of Good Hope offers breathtaking views and sceneries, find out what places you should visit, and on top of that, you will get to see some beautiful creatures along the way.
Where is the southernmost tip of Africa?
Today, the Cape of Good Hope (and the nearby Cape Point), is a popular attraction in South Africa, due to its dramatic scenery and proximity to Cape Town. Many people, though, had a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost tip of Africa. In fact, the southernmost tip is Cape Agulhas, a cape about 150 kilometers away from the Cape of Good Hope, where the warm-water Agulhas current meets the cold-water Benguela current and turns back to itself, dividing the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Technically, the oceanic meeting point fluctuates between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point; and the Cape of Good Hope, as I saw on their signpost, claimed itself to be the most south-western point of the African continent.
Anyway, enough with the geographical clarifications. We went there for the view, and I was so happy that a glorious sunny day was given to us. It took merely an hour and a half drive along the Victorica Drive from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope Natural Reserve, and we also planned to stop by Simon’s Town on our way back to Cape Town in the afternoon. Why did we stop there? You will see, please stay tuned.
Walking up to the Cape Point
The entire drive along the coast was scenic – as we were approaching Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope is already in view. First, we climbed up to the lighthouse of Cape Point. There are two ways to reach the lighthouse – either on foot (The Cape Point Lighthouse Walk) or by the Flying Dutchman funicular. We decided to walk as it was a short walk up the cape anyway – the scenery was amazing. The Cape of Good Hope is special to me because the 7,750 hectares of the natural reserve are relatively easy to hike, yet the landscape is generally diverse – with rich flora and fauna, rugged mountains, lighthouses, shipwrecks, and excellent vantage points for diving and whale watching. The Cape Peninsula is embraced by the oceans. As I stood on top of Cape Point, I had an unobstructed panoramic view of False Bay, Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. Besides, the Cape has an iconic and remarkable status connecting east and west (before the construction of the Suez Canal). In the past, Cape Point was a turning point for explorers as it was where the sailors from Europe began turning their course from heading south to east. Now, the Cape Point Lighthouse is still used as an outlook point and central monitoring point for all South African Lighthouses.
At the entrance of Cape Point, there was a curio shop and the Two Oceans Restaurant. The restaurant is the only restaurant in the area, but it stands in a perfect location if you want to enjoy a cup of tea, or even a good meal, looking at the False Bay with a warming breeze.
At the bottom the Cape of Good Hope
From Cape Point, we started to walk down the cliffs and reached the beaches. The hike was easy (and it’s possible to drive there) and anyone could have a great time going down to the shore from the high point.
The scenery changed traveling from high to low. The spectacular blues and greens of the ocean crash on cliff faces and lap lazily on stretches of beach along this beautiful part of the South African coastline. There are a number of short hiking trails in the area if you wish to have a full experience of the natural reserve. Obviously, not all of us could go to all of them, but it’s exciting to know that there are so many options.
Cape of Good Hope’s Scenic Trails
Sirkelsvlei Walk – a circular trail and it is an ideal walk to experience the ocean and the landscape around Cape Point.
Thomas T Tucker Shipwreck Hike – the highlight of the trail is definitely the Shipwreck – it was an American liberty ship, named Thomas T Tucker, which struck the Albatross Rock on her voyage during the war in 1942.
Gifkommetjie to Platboom Hike – the trail is 5km long and takes roughly 2 hours to complete.
Farmer’s Cliffs Trail – a fairly easy 8km trail that starts from Smitswinkel Viewpoint to Buffels Bay Beach.
Two Oceans Hike – Also known as the Sirkelsvlei Hike, starting from the gates of Cape Point Nature Reserve to Olifantsbos Beach.
Hoerikwaggo Hike – the trail takes off from Cape Town and it takes about 5 days to reach Cape Point. The full 5-day hiking experience is dedicated to advance hiking travelers.
In fact, there are several beaches (like Diaz Beach, Maclear Beach, and Buffels Bay Beach) along the coast worth exploring. More, go diving and whale watching, hop on a helicopter, and visit the nearby vineyards, ostrich farms, or Good Hope Nursery if you have more time (we saw a wild ostrich walking on the side of the road as we drove to the Cape of Good Hope).
After a few good hikes and taking thousands of pictures, we have one more place to go for the day.
We went to Cape Town in May, which technically is still a little bit chilly during nighttime, but I reckon it was perfect for a sunny day out. I heard September and October are also good months to visit Cape Town and I agree, that the warm and sunny weather is perfect for viewing Table Mountain.
Here, Simon’s Town is a small settlement in the south of Cape Town, with a number of intimate cafes, shops, and hostels that still retain the magical Victorian charm of colonial times.
I think it’s now clear that we went there for the adorable African penguins at Boulder’s Beach. but before we headed to the beach, we explored the town a little bit, and then we took a rest at the Lighthouse Cafe. Simon’s Town has many beautiful houses along the seaside. It is tranquil, speckled with dramatic rounded Boulders, lapped by the turquoise of the ocean.
We walked along the streets for a while and I looked for a mailbox to send a postcard back home; but honestly, it is a great place for a Cape Town weekend getaway (if you are staying the Cape Town for a longer time… like a week).
Boulder’s Beach is located offshore of Simon’s Town, and it is one of the few colonies in Africa for the African penguin (or, the “Jackass” penguin). The beach is not for tourists to go sunbathing or swimming, rather, it is a world-famous sanctuary for African Penguins in the magnificent wind-sheltered safe beaches to find shelter, food, and mate.
After our meal, and dropping off the postcards in the post office, we headed to Boulder’s Beach, and before we could see any penguins, we could already smell them 🙂 Once we got in, there were a lot of penguins and I was excited. The beach provides excellent shelter from big waves or excessive wind. This environment allows long, lazy days spent soaking up the sun/. The water here is calm, making them a tad warmer than those of the Atlantic Ocean just a little further on. Therefore, the beach is an ideal place for penguins, which prefer warmer and calmer waters.
Currently, about two thousand endangered penguins and another thousand bird species call this place home; and the beach is fenced off and protected as part of the Table Mountain National Park since 1998.
The population of penguins has improved as they breed in this colony. Today, thousands of tourists come here every day to observe the adorable penguin’s way of life, and they are only allowed to view them from three wooden boardwalks that are elevated above the beach, with the purpose to give space to the birds – The boardwalks separate humans from the penguins, and so they are free to play, swim and feed and care for their young. Having said that, you may still take a closer look at these birds, if one of them wanders off and stumble into the human path.
The penguin was once called the jackass penguin because of the sound it makes. They could be found all way from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape to Namibia, yet Boulder’s Beach is a great place to observe them with ease and proximity.
Something about African Penguins’ life:
Molting – old worn feathers are replaced during the annual molt. In this period, the birds lose their waterproofing and are confined to land for about 21 days. African Penguins “fatten up” before the molt, which is a period of starvation.
Desalination – Salt glands adjacent to the skull enable penguins to avoid the build-up of excess salt obtained through feeding on fish and drinking saltwater. Salt is expelled through the nostrils and they get rid of concentrated salt by flicking their beaks.
Foraging – African Penguins gather before setting off to hunt fish in groups. Ungainly and awkward on land, they are superbly designed for life at sea with an ability to swim at speeds of up to 20 km/hr when chasing fish.
Vulnerable – The African Penguin is the only penguin that breeds in Africa and is restricted to the coastline and seas of Southern Africa. Having undergone a massive decline during the 20th century, we have a global responsibility to take care of its future.
The scenic train ride to False Bay
Now that we visited the Cape of the Good Hope in a car. There is a scenic train ride that backpackers can consider from Foreshore in Cape Town to Simons Town.
What makes this journey so special, apart from the awesome view of the Atlantic, is a ride in the steam locomotive that was built in 1949. The coaches are vintage and the wooden-bodied interiors date back between 1922 and 1938.
Looking afar, the rugged and rocky mountains (that is an extension of Table Mountain) are an incredible sight and the beaches along the way are stunning. The train runs along the coastline you will also have a view of the waves smashing the rocks on one side. If you are lucky, you may also spot dolphins or whales out at sea depending on the season.
Finally, the train goes past quirky Kalk Bay, around to Fish Hoek, past Glencairn, and into Simons Town where you can get a sneak peek of the Naval Dockyard. It would have been another scenic journey for “that” weekend getaway I was talking about: where you could just visit the shops in the town, explore a museum, grab some lunch or laze on the beach before heading back to Cape Town.