If visiting Cape Town on your South Africa vacation, I am guessing there are three things you will want to see on your bucket list – Table Mountain, Robben Island (of Nelson Mandela fame), and the Cape of Good Hope, a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula. The third item is something you definitely should not miss. First of all, there is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost tip of Africa. In fact, the southernmost point is Cape Agulhas, about 150 kilometres/90 miles to the east-southeast. The currents of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet at the point where the warm water, Agulhas current meets the cold water, Benguela current – a point that fluctuates between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point, just east of the Cape of Good Hope.
The Cape of Good Hope has long been of special significance to sailors, many of whom refer to it simply as “The Cape.”
Our Journey begins from North to South
The Cape Peninsula is 52 kilometres/32 miles in length and has two main routes to cover all the outstanding attractions. Whether you take an organized tour or drive on your own, make sure to include these stops where possible. You are going to experience amazing scenery, deserted beaches, rugged cliffs, and great bird watching. Some 250 species of birds have been spotted here, including penguins and ostriches.
Starting in Cape Town, you will first travel through the affluent districts of Green Point and Sea Point. Green Point is known as the “Soho of Cape Town,” with its restaurants and nightclubs. Green Point Lighthouse is South Africa’s oldest, dating back to 1824. As you travel along the seaboard, you will take in the stunning views of the sea on one side and Lion’s Head on the other. Sea Point is characterized by luxury high-rise apartments as you drive along the promenade. It also has many restaurants and bars plus a vibrant nightlife. Notice the number of locals cycling, running, and skateboarding by the sea.
You will then pass through Clifton, home to some of the most expensive real estate in the country, and offering four pure-white sand beaches, which you will probably see on the way. With the Twelve Apostles mountain range and Lion’s Head, behind it, Camps Bay is a chic suburb sporting some of the trendiest places in Cape Town, including restaurants and pubs. This is complimented by a palm-fringed white sandy beach.
The last stop before leaving the precincts of Cape Town and its suburbs, is scenic Hout Bay, a lively coastal town with an excellent beach for swimming, and a picturesque harbour. Here you’ll find busy craft markets and antique shops, surfers, and a thriving fishing community. Locals once attempted to get it declared an independent state.
Now we are on our way into the wilder part of our journey and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The road twists and turns around Chapman’s Peak Drive, which hugs its namesake with a towering cliff with a sheer drop above it. It is renowned for its spectacular 180° views of the Cape Peninsula as well as its 114 twists and turns.
Now we reach Cape Point Nature Reserve. The rich diversity of this reserve, part of the Table Mountain National Park, is home to a variety of animal and plant life. You can encounter buck, baboons, Cape mountain zebra, and the over 250 species of birds mentioned earlier. Considered one of the largest breeding grounds for tortoises in the world, the area also offers terrific vantage points for whale watching. The southern right whale is the species most likely to be seen. Other species are the humpback whale and Bryde’s whale. Seals, dolphins, and killer whales have also been seen.
Finally, we reach the tip of the peninsula which is a stunning view point… and I do mean stunning. Walk down to the Cape Point Lighthouse and take in the view – it’s as if you are standing on the edge of the world as you are surrounded by rugged rocks and sheer cliffs towering more than 200 metres/650 feet above the sea. You will probably be sure to take a picture of yourself standing next to the large prominent sign that says, “Cape of Good Hope – The Most South Western Point of the African Continent.”
The Turn Around
Dragging yourself away from this beauty spot, it’s time to head back north but on the eastern side of the peninsula. Arrive shortly at Boulders Beach, a sheltered beach made up of a number of inlets sandwiched between granite boulders. Its major claim to fame is the colony of African penguins which makes its home on the beach in the town centre. You can get up close and personal with these birds who wander freely, albeit, in a protected natural environment. There are as many as 3000 penguins here. This large number is partly due to the reduction in commercial trawling which has increased the supply of fish such as pilchards and anchovy – part of the penguins’ diet. My favourite sight here was to observe the odd penguin that strayed into the town. Whenever this happens, the local residents, who are equipped with nets, run after them and ensnare them with their net and return the delinquent penguin back to the beach.
Close by is Simon’s Town, also known as Simonstown, one of only three or four seaside towns in Africa facing north. It is a picturesque resort with a pleasant mountain backdrop.
Next up is the seaside village of Fish Hoek, which is surrounded by rugged mountains and offers one of the safest beaches in Cape Town for swimming. Fish Hoek is home to an early Stone Age historic site where the remains of the 12,000 year old Fish Hoek man were found.
You will then arrive at Muizenberg Beach, which is not as dramatic as Clifton and Camps Bay, and has a more laid-back atmosphere. Muizenberg is the start of a vast white sand beach that stretches all the way around the bay for about 40 kilometres/25 miles.
Your final stop will be at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, one of the great botanical gardens of the world. It is set against the lower slopes of Table Mountain and has an exhibit of the incredibly rich flora of Southern Africa. There is an enormous variety of indigenous species.
Well, we have now come full circle back to Cape Town, but with an awful lot accomplished for a single day’s outing!
Suggested Day Trip:
Full Day Peninsula Tour