By Malu Lambert
Photography: Marco Mendace | Cape Point Tourism | Constantia Valley Association
“Cape Point baboons have now learned to open car doors,” the newsreader on a local radio station is saying. “Any day now…” he goes on, and I imagine he is going to say, “Any day now a baboon is going to open a car door, start the engine and drive off.” But in fact it is, “Any day now someone is going to get hurt trying to stop a baboon from snatching a bag out of a car. Cape Point baboons know bags contain food…”
You see, it is not just pretty scenery you get in the Cape—there’s indigenous wild life too. Stay at BOULDERS BEACH LODGE, for example, and you will be woken at night by what sounds like braying donkeys. You can even hear the noise way past the witching hour. The source? A colony of African penguins. Why are they ‘braying’? Is it the breeding season—or is it their way of saying their habitats are being eroded? The penguins established themselves at Boulders Beach only in recent years and strict measures have been taken to protect them—but elsewhere they are losing out.
Wild life is just one aspect of an area that is at once a playground, a petting zoo and a beach resort. This wonderland is Africa’s favourite; it is, of course, the Cape Peninsula.
A Mix of Town and Country
Boulders Beach is in the little naval port of SIMON’S TOWN. Leaving the harbour’s jetty are boat tours, where by mid morning you can be WHALE WATCHING—or SHARK VIEWING at noisy, smelly Seal Island. If you prefer feathered friends, then the PELAGIC BIRDING TOUR is a must. Where else can you watch an albatross wheel through the air? After a day at sea, recuperate as Neptune himself would—guzzle down a plate of tentacles at the SALTY SEA DOG.
But before you go to Simon’s Town you must make a stop at KOMMETJIE and the township ofMASIPHUMELELE. Masiphumelele means successful and you can see why: there are clinics, a primary and a high school, fresh fruit and vegetable shops, a PJ Powers hair salon, as well as a strangely-named fish-and-chips shop, WAZI.COM.
Sally de Jager, a tourism co-ordinator, manages TOWNSHIP TOURS, where you can see and experience the community on second-hand Dutch bicycles. “Instead of sitting in an air-conditioned bus, staring out of a goldfish bowl, visitors feel like guests, not tourists,” she says. Just hope when you go that it doesn’t rain.
At IMHOFF FARM down the road, handmade cheese, snakes, medicinal plants, chocolate cats and hippies all share close proximity. A real mish-mash, but a stop with something for everyone; the kids can ride the camels, while the grown-ups can browse or relax.
NOORDHOEK FARM VILLAGE isn’t too far and it’s a great place to bring the kids and the dogs on the weekend. A tranquil, leafy green environment, Noordhoek is great for animal and nature lovers. Horse-riders have long been coming to the beaches; it’s also a great place for amateurs to learn to gallop, with plenty of riding schools in the area.
Then there’s SCARBOROUGH. There are two ways you can drive there from Kommetjie, both scenic routes. If you decide on the road that hugs the outline of the peninsula and takes in the icy blue waters of the Atlantic, then, round a corner, and dropping off the edge of the road, is a beach where you might find a thick mist floating above the pure white sand—even though it’s midday and already hot. It’s not hard to see why this place is called MISTY CLIFFS.
Not so much a hot spot, more a chill spot, Scarborough is a favourite with the more soulful type of surfer who prefers to get away from the busier beaches of Muizenberg and Fish Hoek. One thing all the surfers have in common, though, is a wetsuit to keep warm.
Locals are thankful the ocean is cold and the weather bad—otherwise, they say, everyone would want to live here.
In this fynbos-covered oasis—if you didn’t know it already, the Cape has the greatest concentration of natural plant species you will find anywhere in the world—is the CAPE FARMHOUSE restaurant, where they host live fortnightly music concerts showcasing South African bands.
After Scarborough the road becomes more deserted, and baboons sit by the roadside balefully eyeing cars making their way to Cape Point. If you stop, as we’ve pointed out, lock your doors. And pocket the ignition key too—just in case your baboon has learnt to drive.
On the way to what is not Africa’s southernmost tip (even Port Elizabeth is further south) is CAPE POINT VINEYARDS, a wine estate located on a narrow strip of land lodged between the cold Atlantic and the not-quite-so-cold currents of False Bay. Duncan Savage, its award-winning winemaker, uses this unique position to advantage. Sauvignon Blanc loves cold. His aim is to become one of the leading Sauvignon Blanc producers in the world.
FISH HOEK has one of the most active beaches in the country. Here you’ll find everything including kite surfing, body boarding, kayaking, and even simple pleasures that ordinary people pursue, such as building sandcastles or sunbathing.
In KALK BAY the sense of adventure subsides somewhat. This is more of a place to scour antique shops, swan around art galleries, or relax with a cigar while sipping a mojito.
While driving through the art-deco town of MUIZENBERG, you might spot swarms of surfers in the water, frolicking like so many brightly-coloured dolphins. Keen to try something unusual? Pop in at one of the many surf schools in the area. After a day’s lesson you might become hooked, aside from being half frozen.
For a more historical perspective on the peninsula, join a WHALE OF A HERITAGE ROUTE walk. The walk starts in Muizenberg and ends at Cape Point. But don’t worry about where to stay, there are many participating accommodation places along the way. That’s the fun of it; twisting your ankle, getting scratched and scraped by the rocks and bushes, and ending the day in a nice warm bath with a glass of port. You’ll also discover the oddities and eccentricities that make up the Cape Peninsula, from ghost stories to Stone Age relics. And, as the name suggests—in the right season—plenty of whale viewing, too.
WHERE TO EAT
The Foodbarn Restaurant & Deli: Good food in a relaxed setting—a place the kids, the dogs and grandma will love. Noordhoek Farm Village, 021-789-1390.
Bihari: The new 30-seater boutique restaurant in the heart of Fish Hoek serves up North Indian cuisine. Call 021-782-1525.
Rioja: Enjoy a Spanish-inspired menu in a ‘bush’ environment. Solole Private Game Reserve, Kommetjie, 021-785-5123.
WHERE TO STAY
Blue Tangerine Luxury Guesthouse: At the foot of Chapman’s Peak, this thatched property offers eight luxurious suites. Noordhoek, 021-785-3156.
Calders Hotel & Conference Centre: Stylish yet relaxed, with views of False Bay—centrally positioned, with the Cape Point Route at your fingertips. Fish Hoek, 021-784-2400.
Boulders Beach Lodge: 12 beach-style rooms overlooking the beach, home to a colony of African penguins. Simon’s Town, 021-786-1758.
How Green Is My Valley
“I’m inspired by what takes my fancy at the time. The nature around me has a lot of influence on the way I cook,” says Luke Dale-Roberts, executive chef of LA COLOMBE at Constantia Uitsig, a restaurant that pairs imaginative dishes with an elegant setting.
Constantia Valley is essentially a place where people come to sit under the oaks, drink good wine and eat gourmet food. It is an area that has long been famous for its wine, but it’s also fast garnering a reputation for its gastronomy. Dining out in Constantia is not for the indecisive. With so many restaurants to choose from, it can all seem a bit daunting.
Try something different at THE CELLARS-HOHENORT, where you can book a table for two in their wine cellar—separate from the main restaurant—just you, your date and the spider webs.
The wine route is intimate and diverse, with eight farms to visit: GROOT CONSTANTIA, KLEIN CONSTANTIA, BUITENVERWACHTING, CONSTANTIA UITSIG, STEENBERG, CONSTANTIA GLEN, EAGLES’ NEST and HIGH CONSTANTIA. Their proximity to each other means you can do the area in a day.
And ‘do the area’ you must. As the oldest winemaking region in the southern hemisphere, dating back to 1685, Constantia is the wine of legends, specifically, VIN DE CONSTANCE, Klein Constantia’s iconic sweet wine. A century after it disappeared it re-emerged, in 1980, staying true, as owner Lowell Jooste likes to say, to the famous Constantia wine of yore that was so loved by Napoleon, Jane Austen, et al.
“When I’m not making wine, or drinking it, I love to hike in the mountains surrounding the area. It’s so peaceful,” says Stuart Botha of Eagles’ Nest. And he’s right. Taking your focus off the wining and dining, Constantia is simply a beautiful, verdant area. With TOKAI FOREST around the corner, a walk to work off the gourmand’s lunch is highly recommended.
WHERE TO EAT
Catharina’s: Fine dining specialising in sophisticated contemporary South African cuisine. Steenberg Vineyards, 021-713-2222.
Buitenverwachting Restaurant: Overlooking the vineyards and the Constantiaberg Mountain, the menu changes to suit local produce. Buitenverwachting wine farm, 021-794-3522.
Wasabi: Simple, good food from Teriyaki chicken to deluxe sushi platters. Constantia Old Village, 021-794-6546.
WHERE TO STAY
The Alphen Hotel: A historic country house hotel that offers old Cape hospitality. Call 021-794-5011.
Steenberg Hotel: 5-star boutique hotel situated on Steenberg wine estate. When not drinking wine, guests can enjoy themselves on an 18-hole golf course. Call 021-713-2211.
The Republic of Hout Bay
Hout Bay has recently been awarded Wine of Origin status and is proud to showcase its wine farms—wine plots, actually: HOUT BAY VINEYARDS, KLING VINEYARDS, AMBELOUI, BAY FARM, VINEYARD ON VICTORIA andARAGONA.
VINEYARD ON VICTORIA lies on the Hout Bay side of the valley when driving towards Suikerbossie. “Our wine is called ‘Legend of Hout Bay’ and is dedicated to the free-roaming leopards of Hout Bay that were here before the town was developed,” says Sylvia Kaschik-Kazmaier. The last leopard was seen on their farm in 1936, hence the feline’s image on their label. “The Roeloffzes from Hout Bay Vineyards make our splendid Legend label Sauvignon Blanc, from only 2 000 vines,” she says.
It was Van Riebeeck who named Hout Bay (wood bay) when he visited for the first time in 1653. Dazzled by the forests, he immediately set about stripping them down and using their wood for building and furniture. Small pockets of timber still exist on the mountainsides, but these days Hout Bay is more famous for its fishing than its wood. And no place will this ring truer than at MARINER’S WHARF, a harbour-side emporium with something for every wallet and palate. You can buy harbour-fresh fish, oysters and crayfish at the FISHMARKET.
From the sea to the sky. WORLD OF BIRDS in Valley Road is Africa’s largest bird park and is said to have over 3 000 birds of 400 different species. They also have a community of squirrel monkeys roaming free through the aviaries.
The people of this area are so proud of its uniqueness that they call it the Republic of Hout Bay, and passports can be acquired at local shops.
WHERE TO STAY
Riverside Estates: 4-star cottages with a focus on comfort and tranquillity. Call 021-790-7475.
Marlinspike Guest Lodge: 4-star lodge with uninterrupted sea and mountain views from every room. Call 021-790-7757.
Kronendal Heritage Country Estate: Four 5-star suites in an Old Cape Dutch-style house. Beautiful landscaped gardens surround the property. Call 021-790-4564.
WHERE TO EAT
Wharfside Grill: Nautical themed seafood dining at Hout Bay’s Mariner’s Wharf. Call 021-790-1100.
Pure at Hout Bay Manor: Fine dining in elegant white surroundings. The philosophy of Chef Alexander Mueller is simply ‘a fusion of purity’. Call 021-791-9393.
Baboons in the Sun
Chris Jennings, our guide, motions us to follow. We’re a group of four people and we’re ‘Walking with Baboons’, a project started by Jenni Trethowan of BABOON MATTERS.
We clamber over the rocks to get to Kleinplaas Dam. “Ah,” says Chris, pointing, “it’s baboon day at the beach.” Sprawled along the rocky beach of the dam, the baboons do in fact look as if they’re sunbathing.
We inch closer. Then closer. Soon we’re only a couple of metres from them. “They’re chatting about us at the moment,” says Chris. There are a lot of grunts and moans—baboon talk. Some ‘teenage’ baboons carouse at the waters edge; two of them are swimming. “This is incredibly rare,” says Chris. But the wind picks up, which somehow signals the end to the baboon day at the beach, and the creatures disappear over the mountain.
Jenni Trethowan is a slight blonde woman with blue eyes—a bit like Dian Fossey, inspiration for the movie Gorillas in the Mist. She’s dedicated her life to the protection and preservation of the Cape Peninsula’s Chacma baboons. She started Baboon Matters in 1998 in order to raise awareness of these indigenous primates. Chacma numbers are rapidly diminishing, and the ongoing conflict between people and animals adds to their ever-growing mortality rate. Jenni believes that baboons are gentle creatures and not the inherent pests many people believe them to be. Walking with Baboons aims to show people why this is so. For more information call Baboon Matters on 021-782-2015.
Activities on the Peninsula
Boat Trips: Harbour tours, whale-watching tours, shark viewing, Seal Island tours, Cape Point tours and pelagic birding trips all leave from Simon’s Town jetty.
Farmhouse Rocks: Presents Saturday afternoon concerts and Thursday night gigs. Check the programme atwww.capefarmhouse.co.za/content/rocks
Gary’s Surf School: SA’s most popular surf school, at Muizenberg Beach since 1989. Offering professional surfing tuition and coaching. Call 021-788-9839.
Hiking: Spectacular walks from Boyes Drive. Tackle Boomsland, Tartarus or one of the many Kalk Bay caves. Call 082-319-6197.
Horse Riding: Experience the wind and waves of Noordhoek Beach from horseback. Call 082-774-1191.
Masiphumelele: Bike or walk through the township. Meet the locals in their shops, schools, streets, bars and homes. Call 021-782-9356.
Sea Kayaking: Guided trips to Boulders Beach penguin colony or Cape Point. Call 021-788-5814.
Whale of a Heritage Route: For historical walks and adventure races along Muizenberg, St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, Glencairn, Simon’s Town and Cape Point. Call 079-391-2105.