120 seconds. In 2008, that’s how long it took Erin Lavoie from the USA to chop down 27 Christmas trees and become a new Guinness World Record holder. It’s also how long it takes to drive through the historical and evolving suburb of Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula. Sam Botes paid a visit.
This once quiet suburb, home to the South African Naval Base, is Cape Town’s secret gem. Overlooking the calm waters of False Bay, most people simply drive straight through Simon’s Town to reach the world-renowned Boulders Beach, home to the famous African Penguin colony, and are blissfully unaware of the incredible activities they are missing out on.
The history of the suburb is reflected in the old buildings which hug the Main Road. The top floors of these buildings are lined with wrought iron balconies and beautiful Cape gables depicting their existence since the 1800’s. On street level you find yourself in a different time period as brightly coloured cafés spill out onto the sidewalks and European millennials chat boisterously over their cappuccinos and lattes. While no-one was looking, quaint shops have become trendy and attract a hip crowd who enjoy rummaging for that perfect antiquity, or shopping for fresh foods and ingredients void of any plastic packaging, or even selecting hand-made pearl jewelry. This is not a place of chain stores, but rather a road of uniqueness.
In the centre of Simon’s Town is Jubilee Square where you will find a statue of Just Nuisance, the only dog ever to be officially enlisted into the Royal Navy. Originally this was called Market Square, where farmers would come to trade their produce, but today the traders are out selling a variety of bright African curios. Shoppers are treated to traditional music which wafts through the air from hidden speakers as these skilled craftsmen continue to bead their wire creations, polish their stone work and prepare for their day.
But the biggest change that’s happened in Simon’s Town is the number of activities available to visitors. You can experience the ocean in a way that suits you, whether it’s stand-up paddeling, harbour site-seeing, swimming at the beautiful beaches or taking a high-powered ride out into the middle of the bay.
The harbour here is the perfect spot for stand-up paddling, and Surfshack is SUP central here. Bronwyn is well experienced and leads groups on the ocean, and whether you are a novice or an experienced SUP user, small groups are well looked after and once up on your board it is possible to spot sea life below in the clear waters. You can choose to explore the harbour, passing by the beautiful yachts bobbing gently in the water, or take pleasure in a longer trip which leads you out past the huge navy ships and along the coast towards sheltered Boulders Beach. It is here that you can take a leisurely stroll along the well-maintained wooden boardwalk that runs from Foxy Beach to Boulders Beach and view the penguins amongst large granite boulders and watch them waddling along the sand.
Just before Boulders is Seaforth Beach which is another gorgeous swimming beach and where the kayak trips with Shark Warriors Adventure Centre begin. For those wanting peace and calm, you will most certainly find it here as you glide along the open ocean with your oar silently cutting through the water as you witness the beauty of Cape Town from a completely different angle.
For those who want to venture under the water and tour among sharks, seals, wrecks and reefs, Simon’s Town also has top facilities at which you can enroll yourself into a diving course. Pisces Divers has excellent training facilities for those wanting to learn to dive and proudly qualify with their PADI licence. They have a variety of courses available as well as an onsite pool for those who just want to test out what SCUBA diving is all about. Once your course is complete you’re able to experience the underwater life of False Bay with Pisces Divers on a kelp dive, Blue and Mako Shark dive, wreck dives and more.
False Bay is also one of the few places in the world where Great White Sharks can be seen breaching. These apex predators surprise their prey by swimming down to the depths of the ocean and then barrel up and launch a surprise attack on an unsuspecting seal. African Shark Eco-Tourism has been operating here for many years and are well experienced to take you out for a fascinating breaching trip, or a cage-diving experience. In addition, they also offer trips to search for Mako and Blue Sharks, two pelagic shark breeds found in these waters. Spotting sharks is a bucket list item for many traveller’s, so make sure that you reserve your space well in advance. If you don’t want to get wet, the experience from the boat is just as thrilling as you watch the silent approach of the sharks and appreciate how agile they truly are.
The water activities in the harbour vie for space and are becoming more and more experiential. Cape Town Water Bikes is the latest floating addition and proving to be extremely popular – and it’s loads of fun. From the elevated seat on these eco-friendly bicycles you’ll stay dry, and as you peddle, the silent prop gently propels you along the surface of the ocean. This is a perfect outdoor activity for families, couples and solo travellers – and allows you some chill time in beautiful surroundings.
Back on land, Top Stones Mineral World is a place where you can enjoy a fun time with the whole family. In the Scratch Patch, visitors of all ages enjoy searching through the cool, polished gemstones for their favourites, selecting only the best ones to take home. The 18-hole Cave Golf course is also hugely popular. The well-designed holes lead players along ancient relics, past an underground waterfall and into a special UV lit section. The Rock Shop gift shop has unique souvenirs, jewelry and gifts for both the professional collector as well as for the visitor looking for a memento to take home.
This versatile little town offers a great variety of accommodation options too – from high-end boutique hotels like Tintswalo at Boulders or Whaleview Manor, to backpacker inns for the more adventurous.
Whaleview Manor is a beautiful boutique guest house situated on a rise offering guests unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean and is also well located across the road from a secluded, pristine beach. Every one of the eleven rooms are individually decorated and designed to make for a relaxing getaway. Watch the orange hues of sunrise over breakfast in the dining room, and then pamper yourself with a massage in their wellness centre.
Tintswalo at Boulders Beach Villa is the latest addition to the Tintswalo Collection and has a glamorous location above the wooden boardwalk that spans Boulders Beach. The surrounding fynbos and views of the ocean fronted by large granite boulders encompass the real meaning of escapism.
So when next in Cape Town, take yourself off to Simon’s Town for an adventure filled stay. It’s about an hour’s drive from Cape Town CBD and also makes for an ideal location from where to explore Cape Point. And don’t forget to enjoy a taste sensation at one of the many off-the-wall culinary gems found here in the deep south.
SUGGESTED THREE NIGHT ITINERARY
Day 1: Arrive in Simon’s Town and enjoy a delicious lunch at one of the local restaurants. Take a brief stroll around Jubilee Square and then head back to the harbour to enjoy a cycle across the ocean with Cape Town Water Bikes. Stay overnight in Simon’s Town.
Day 2: Enjoy a morning Great White Shark Cage Diving or a similar experience out at sea with ASEC. On your return, head to one of the local restaurants for lunch. Work off your lunch by taking a stroll down to the penguins at Boulders Beach, then spend the afternoon enjoying a kayak paddle in the ocean. Overnight in Simon’s Town.
Day 3: After breakfast, wander along the Main Road exploring the shops and visit the Toy Museum which has antique dolls, cars and other collectible items. Book yourself a SUP lesson and afterwards visit Top Stones Mineral World. Play a round of Cave Golf, shop for souvenirs and gifts and enjoying scratching for stones in the Scratch Patch. Have lunch over the road at the new Harbour Bay Mall. In the afternoon, relax with a massage treatment and enjoy a third night in Simon’s Town, with the sounds and smell of the sea just ooutside your bedroom.