Cape Town: Beaches
There are some 30 beaches accessible from the main Cape Town metropolitan area, situated in either the Table Bay area, or on the Atlantic or Indian Ocean seaboards.
For the beach junkie this is a paradise found, with every conceivable aquatic activity available somewhere, and in some form. In theory the strict delineation between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans is set by the 20º East Meridian, making the point of separation Cape Agulhas, 100km east of Cape Town, but those beaches on the Indian Ocean side of the Cape of Good Hope tend to be on average 4ºC warmer than those on the Atlantic side. The Indian Ocean is influenced by the warm Moçambique Current flowing south from the equator while the Atlantic Ocean is influenced by the cold Benguela Current moving north from the Antarctic. It is this fact among others that contribute to some of the peculiarities of Cape weather.
As a rule of thumb it is the beaches situated on the west of the peninsular that are the more upmarket and trendy, reflecting the surrounding suburbs and the see and be seen sensibility that tends to accompany wealth. More or less from the V& A Waterfront to Hout Bay is regarded as the Cape Riviera, with perhaps the most high profile venue being Clifton Beach situated west of the City Bowl. Follow Main Road, Kloof Road and then Victoria Road west out of downtown Cape Town, after which the location of the beach is not hard to find. Parking is usually easy to secure with the obligatory barrage of parking vendors and fly boys who will help you park and mind your car. A steep series of steps ply a passage down to the beach, which is an inescapable fact no matter which of the beaches you visit.
With four to choose from there is a variety of sights and sounds, with the 3rd beach having a distinctly gay flavour that is overt but not exclusive, with the other three shared out between the yuppies, the students and bohemians. All four are flanked by some of the best hotels in Cape Town, and some of the priciest and most sought after real estate.
Continuing the Riviera theme, a little further down Victoria Road is Camps Bay, another hang out for the rich, trendy and beautiful, which is hardly surprising considering the extraordinary backdrop of the Cape bergs, the Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles. Once again hotels and real estate are not cheap, and although the rich and the beautiful are much in evidence, there is more of a down to earth, real life quality about the area, making it a bit more accessible to the layman than Clifton Beach. It is on the Atlantic shoreline, so the water can be cold, and from time to time the notorious southeaster blows in, whipping up the water and stirring up miniature sandstorms.
The beach is rimmed by a boulevard packed with bars and restaurants, that although tending to be pricey, are so superbly situated that they can hardly be blamed. If the beach gets crowded, as it sometimes does, make your way to a secluded beachlet over the boulders at the north end of the bay, while at the south end is a tidal pool for kids and wallowers.
Drifting down the scale somewhat, Hout Bay (Wood Bay in the Afrikaans) takes itself a great deal less serious than its uptown cousins, and has beside an interesting history. Situated about 20km south of Camps Bay, Hout Bay is out of the city, and if you are not staying in the town of Hout Bay itself, then public transport might be tricky and taxis expensive. If you have your own transport, however, then the drive in and out is worthwhile even if you don’t set foot on the beach.
The Cape is not famed for its forests and timber reserves, thus Hout Bay acquired its name because, thanks to its relatively high rainfall situation, of the fact that it was one of the only locations on the peninsular where any viable reserves of indigenous timber were to be found. It originally consisted of two farms that have since been subdivided and turned into what is nowadays a bustling and sought after settlement of some 12 000 residents.
Hout Bay is not an excellent swimming or hanging out beach thanks to the fact that the water is cold and not always clean, and a high wind is frequent. There is also very little shade to be had. It is the usual vistas and backdrop, however, and selection of shops, bars and restaurants, that distinguish the location, with above all the road out, the famous Chapman’s Peak Road, being one of the great sights and experiences of the Cape Peninsular. The road continues south out of Hout Bay and clings to the edge of a cliff, turning in and out, and from a variety of points offering precipitous but unparalleled views.
Chapman’s Peak road swings inland across the peninsular towards False Bay, skirting another of Cape Towns well known beaches, Noordhoek Beach. Noordhoek is a long expanse of sandy beach with a shipwreck at the southern end near the village of Kommetjie. Here the atmosphere is bohemian in a more productive way, and is a favourite nesting ledge for artists and writers of a practical cut. Thanks to the long swathe of open beach it is a perfect location for horse riding, long walks and surfing. The location is quite isolated, and bearing in mind the high rates of crime in South Africa, this is probably one of the places you least want to wander alone between dusk and dawn.
Sandy Bay & Llandudno
The last of the notable beaches on the Atlantic seaboard are Llandudno Beach and Sandy Bay. Llandudno is perhaps one of the most picturesque of the Cape beaches, with groves of milkwood leading down to a small and intimate expanse of sand. Nearby Sandy Bay is even more secluded, which is why it is the unofficial nudist beach of Cape Town, trying hard to show off the libertarian side of a city already oozing liberty. The clothed are welcome, of course, but there would be little reason to drop in without a desire to shed your clothes and let it all hang out.
False Bay is situated on the east side of the peninsular, and is a wide, sweeping inlet protected to the west by the peninsular itself and to the east by the mainland. Its name derives from the tendency of early sailors approaching the peninsular to confuse the wide inlet with Table Bay. There are several of the Cape’s principal towns located in the bay, Simon’s Town being perhaps the largest and most important since it is the principal South African naval base. It is a largish beach town with the same bohemian slant as many of the small settlements hereabouts, and with a distinctive boulder beach that, although not a perfect swimming location, is calm, warm and attractive. Other largish settlements are Fishoek further north, and Muizenberg more or less at the head of the bay.
Muizenberg is the most well known and popular of the False Bay beaches that all have low key and family orientated appeal thanks mainly to the fact that the water in the bay is a few degrees warmer than on the west side of the peninsular, this coupled with the fact that the peninsular itself acts as a bit of wind barrier which helps resist the southeaster that can be notorious spoiler on the Atlantic seaboard. The beach is again a wide swathe of open sand with calm waters and affordable facilities. It is the first, in fact, of a number of beaches that line the bay, including Fishoek, Kalk Bay, Smitwinkle, Strand and Gordon’s Bay, all picturesque as would be expected, and each with a slightly different appeal.
Fishing & Sharks
Fishing is good in the bay, with snoek being the most prolific catch, while sailing and scuba diving is also popular in the relatively sheltered waters. There is a small granite outcrop in the bay that is one of the main breeding areas of the Cape Fur Seal. The seals unfortunately have a tendency to attract sharks, and although paddlers need not be concerned, surfers and deep water swimmer need definitely be aware. Some of the biggest Great Whites Sharks ever seen have been spotted in these waters.
More Cape Town: