AN EXPLORERS GUIDE TO THE SIMPLE DELIGHTS OF SIMON’S TOWN AND THE SOUTH PENINSULA

PENGUINS AT BOULDERS BEACH

It is well over a half century since I first set foot on Boulders beach in Simon’s Town when, as a young man on holiday from Johannesburg, I was exposed to the scenic wonders of the Western Cape for the very first time…

It was a transformational experience beckoning a return to engage more fully with so much on offer in Simon’s Town, as and when the future opportunity presented itself, as it eventually did by way of a corporate transfer to Cape Town very soon thereafter…

Since then I have engaged with virtually every aspect of this historical navy town and immediate  surrounds extending to the scenic south western tip of the African continent and beyond on pelagic birding trips to the rich trawling grounds at the point of convergence between the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

Cape point trawler pelagic bird trip simonstown

Historically, dating back to the late 17th century, the town owes its existence to the safe anchorage afforded by Simon’s Bay during the north westerly gale force winds, when ships under sail were totally exposed to the elements and the risk of being swept ashore in Table Bay during the stormy winter months…

As such the town established itself as a significant entity in its own right amongst seafaring men long before track access was possible due to the impassable nature of the rocky shoreline and flooded wetlands making overland transportation an impractical proposition for wagons and ox carts of the day…

Eventually the obstacles were overcome and the ‘Old Cape Road’ traversing diagonally across the face of Constantiaberg provided regular access and development opportunity and with it the establishment of the naval base as an important victualling station for vessels rounding the Cape of Good Hope in times of peace and war.

So much for the past! What in essence does Simon’s Town and the South Peninsula in general have to offer the visitor wishing to spend time on holiday in this semi-urban setting far away from the city lights and commercial hustle and bustle of Cape Town residing in the shadow of Table Mountain?

First off Simon’s Town’s relative isolation and lack of essential services for large scale industrial development, due to a lack of adequate and reliable water supplies and level terrain, has effectively ensured its prevailing isolation as a haven for holiday makers and retirees seeking rural solitude in scenic surroundings, within an active community committed to maintaining the charm and tradition of the coastal town.

As a consequence of this commitment Simon’s Town has retained much of its historical character reflected in the range of late 19th century and Victorian architectural styles of several buildings along St George’s street from the railway station and Admiral House southwards past the palm tree lined  cobbled square in the centre of town and beyond to the old burial ground at the end of the historical mile.

Start out point for a self-guided town walk should ideally commence in good photographic morning light from the town square where a life size bronze of ‘Just Nuisance’, a Great Dane with affectionate origins dating back to ‘ensign’ status as a navy mascot during WW2, is located above a flight of steps leading to the water’s edge below.

A short walk either along the town wharf or through the complex of coffee and curio shops below the hotel leads on to the old jetty extending out towards the yacht club. Here you will find a variety of marine related activities on offer, including whale watching trips in season, and guided kayaking and scuba diving  excursions in the bay, subject to the weather on the day.

Heading back to St George’s street and turning right takes you past a series of wall mounted photographic panels illustrating Simon’s Town scenes from yesteryear, along with explanatory text , ahead of the dockyard and navy museum as further points of historical interest for those so inclined.

Opposite and along this stretch are some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture outwardly maintained by the Simon’s Town historical society to ensure the character and charm of Simon’s Town is aesthetically preserved for all to enjoy as an ongoing restoration and preservation initiative by the members involved.

Throughout the town a multitude of weathered and precipitous steps leading to the upper housing levels will be found tucked between the shops providing pedestrian access to Runciman Drive as the uppermost road servicing the more recent housing developments overlooking Simon’s Bay and the navy dockyard from the heights above.

From here the more energetic explorer can seek out the long procession of historical sand stone steps below the defunct cable way leading up the mountain to ‘Just Nuisance’s’ grave at the old wireless station, no longer in use today due to modern day communication. Views stretching to infinity across the full extent of False Bay and Simon’s Town itself are the scenic reward at the top of the steps…

Returning to the foot of the steps and continuing left along waterfall road takes you to the foot path above the naval barracks to the lookout point above the town waterfall itself. Depending on time of year the flow can vary from a gentle trickle in summer to a spectacular cascade in winter following heavy rain. So well worth visiting if conditions are conducive…

Returning to Runciman Drive and following this contoured road south, overlooking  the full extent of the working dockyard below, takes you past several semi-concealed  flights of steps leading back to St George’s street for a well-earned coffee break, before proceeding south along the old hospital terrace, of Anglo Boer War days at the turn of the 20th century. A short distance further on you will find the left turn to the Martello Tower just short of the lower steps leading upwards into the old burial ground on the right of the road. Visiting the historical graveyard is an optional opportunity but nonetheless interesting given the date related ages and deep etched accounts of the circumstances relating to death and the war memorial plaques in honour of those who perished at sea.

Cape Town Tour Simons Town Penguins boulders beach birding tour

Returning to the Martello Tower turn leads through the navy sports ground to Seaforth beach and the Boulders Coastal Park entrance a short distance further along beyond the many curio sellers offering a wide variety of African art and beadwork adjacent to the parking lot.

Here you can choose to either pay to join the crowds viewing the African penguins and cormorants below the board walk or opt to follow the wooden bridle path above the penguin reserve to the entrance of Boulders beach where I first sat in serious contemplation of this very special area of conservation significance all those years ago before the park was proclaimed a restricted marine area.

Returning the way you came back to the Martello Tower turnoff and on to where you have parked will have taken two to four hours of town exploration and photographic time before a short drive south takes you to the entrance to the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve at the south western tip of the African continent …

From the point of entry above Smitswinkel Bay the views in all directions are awesome to say the very least. Towering mountains rise-up in perpendicular formation to the left of the road while sea views extend way across the expanse of False Bay to the haze of Cape Hangklip in the far distance…

There are many options for what to do within the reserve, with a drive to the far end of the tapering  peninsula the first choice for visitors keen on the less than strenuous climb to the old lighthouse on the conical peak of  Cape Point itself as the main objective, given the spectacular wraparound views on offer and the possibility of a whale sighting far below, as well as a good variety of special birds .…

For those less energetic, a funicular service exists as well as the ‘Two Oceans’ restaurant for lunch, complemented by a fast-food takeaway and well-stocked curio shop selling a variety of memorabilia and postcards.

cape point tours cape town south africa

From here a ramble in the sign-posted direction of Dias Beach and the headland known as Cape MacLear, named after the royal astronomer, is a ‘must do’ for the hikers amongst us, but for most the preferred option is the short drive to the Cape of Good Hope for the mandatory photo shoot in front of the signboard depicting the geographic co-ordinates for the south western tip of the African continent.

This section of coast is good for ostrich and eland, Africa’s largest antelope, as well as excellent sightings of a variety of seabirds as well as fur seals from the shore.

bontebok grazing at Cape Point Tour

Returning in the direction back towards the main gate offers scenic stops at Platboom beach, adjacent to a popular surfing spot, on the Atlantic coast as well as Buffels Bay beach on the False Bay side for a possible swim in the tidal pool, followed by a visit to Black Rocks to view the lime kiln open museum exhibit. From here the access road gives way to a footpath along the base of the cliffs leading to a tidal pool rich in a variety of marine life known as Venus Pool.

Yet the day is not done with the best for last kept for the end as you turn left ahead of the exit gate for Olifantsbosch to take in the beach walk to the ‘Thomas T. Tucker’ shipwreck and floral surrounds above the dune line as an added attraction for those following the well-marked circular route that leads back to the car park.

On the way there is every chance of a Bontebok sighting, a once highly endangered antelope that has been successfully rescued from possible extinction through over hunting, as well as a baboon troop foraging and socialising in the company of ostrich and grey rhebuck to bring proceedings to a close as the sun prepares to set over the Atlantic to bring a perfect day in the South Peninsula to a memorable end…   

CONTACT US

Patrick and Marie-Louise Cardwell
PO Box 74, Simons Town 7995 South Africa
Ph/Fax: +27 21 786 1414
Mobile: +27 83 272 2455
Skype: mlcardwell
Email: enquiries@avianleisure.com

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