Yachties are granted a three month visa on arrival into South Africa. As we spent so long in Richard’s Bay getting things repaired, our stay in South Africa’s oldest and scenic town was limited to only a couple of weeks. But it was a busy couple of weeks catching up with friends for happy hour at the FBYC each night, or perhaps joining the locals for a quiz night on Thursdays. Hiring a car gave us the freedom to visit all the places we’d always wanted to see so we filled the rest of our time playing tourist. Here’s where we went:
With our wheels we drove 20kms south of Simon’s Town into the Table Mountain National Park to the Cape of Good Hope. This is the most south-westerly point of Africa and often mistaken as the most southerly and the division of the two oceans. Of course at this point we hadn’t sailed around this cape but would when we sail to Cape Town. It’s not often we get to visit places we sail by.
For us the voyage around Africa is a huge milestone. Cape Agulhas – the southernmost point in South Africa – is 250kms east of Simon’s Town and is a good days drive away to get the obligatory photo at the designation between the two oceans – Indian and Atlantic – at Cape Agulhas. Seems a little silly driving all that way, since sailing around Africa is more impressive than standing next to a sign. But the drive to Cape Agulhas is pleasant enough along the coast and through very pretty towns then back along the main highway to return home for the day.
The town of Stellenbosch is well known for its University and surrounding wineries and only an hour and a half drive from Simon’s Town. Young, studious people fill the sidewalk cafes creating a refreshing vibe. Huge oak trees planted over three hundred years ago line the roads of the town. Banks, cafes, and shops that sell souvenirs or ‘stuff’ for the home provide plenty of browsing for tourists.
We visited the Tokara winery located beyond the town about 5kms looking over the town of Stellenbosch. I am skipper nowadays so while I sniffed the wine, Wayne tasted a few reds, one succinctly described, “with an inky heady character on the nose reminiscent of dark chocolate, cardamom spice and roasted fennel bulb” or perhaps their popular Shiraz that “has a hint of fynbos* and dry herbs”. Wayne was just happy that the tastings were free! Although there’s a fine dining restaurant near the tasting room, we had a delicious lunch at the Deli-CAT-Essen located further inside the vineyard (*Fynbos is Afrikaan for the natural bush or vegetation of this area ‘fine bush’).
Driving west from Simon’s Town takes you over the cape hills to the fancy beachside suburbs on the western coast. Extravagant homes perched on hillsides with magnificent views of the cold Atlantic Ocean and less than an hour from Cape Town. The Chapman Peak Drive skirts 9kms around the cliffs of the western coast to Hout Bay. This is truly one of the most scenic coastal roads I’ve driven along. A toll fare of R38 is needed but worth the money for the views. (If you fancy a yummy feast of succulent calamari stop for lunch at the Chapman Peak Hotel). The road, cut out of the rock, commenced in 1915 and finished in 1922 and takes you along the western side of the Table Mountain National Park.
For so long we’ve wanted to visit Cape Town to see Table Mountain! Alas the day we went it was closed due to bad weather, but the tickets bought online are valid for two weeks so we would go up the mountain another day. Instead we drove up Lions Head with views of Signal Mountain and Table Mountain towering above.
It’s easy to get the most out of your car hire, but there are plenty of things to see around the township by foot. Beautifully renovated buildings, antique stores bursting with memorabilia and restaurants line the main street of Simon’s Town.
Twenty minutes walk south along the coast you’ll find a colony of African Penguins. This place is only one of three places where you’ll find a colony of penguins on the coast. It’s free to sit on the rocks and watch them sunning themselves and making penguin faces at each other.
Twenty minutes walk north of the marina is the railway station where you can catch a train to Cape Town for around A$1.50 one way. The trip takes over an hour, although driving can take just as long. A Sunday train trip to Kalk Bay for lunch at one of the many restaurants followed by a walk up to St James to watch the swimmers freezing in the Atlantic waters in the man-made rock pool.
Nearby brightly coloured beach boxes remind me of Brighton on Melbourne’s bayside. On the way back you can stop at Fish Hoek’s Pick & Pay store for groceries or have dinner at one of the many eateries in Simon’s Town. Eating out in South Africa is very affordable!
One of the most famous characters in Simon’s Town is the Great Dane ‘Just Nuisance‘. Famous for rounding up the sailors for the last train from Cape Town, he was enlisted as an Able Seaman and was the only recruit that didn’t have to wear a cap! Apparently he didn’t like officers or women! His grave is high on the hill above Simon’s Town and the twenty minute steep walk is worth it just for the views. I love dog stories so I bought the book from the museum to read all about his mischief!
The local Museum houses memorabilia from the 1600s including Simon van der Stel’s (of Stellenbosch fame) survey of Simon’s Town in 1687 and information on the Anglo Boer War including the Battle of Muizenberg. The museum is in the old residency of the Governor of the Dutch East India Company and located next to the St Francis of Assisi Church – the oldest Anglican Church in South Africa. The photos and artifacts are quite good for such a small museum. There’s a display just for Just Nuisance too!
But the local history is tarnished by treatment of non-whites in the area. As a result of the Group Areas Act of 1950, the Forced Removal of black and coloured people in the 1960s saw thousands removed from certain areas, including Simon’s Town, and relocated to government specified locations while their homes were bulldozed to make this area for whites only.
On the northern side of False Bay are the regions of Mitchell’s Plains and Cape Flats where blacks, coloured and any non-white person were relocated to in the 1960s and 70s. Although alternative ‘housing’ was provided, the inflow of people from other parts of Africa swelled the area with shanty dwellings made from corrugated iron sheets. A mass of these dwellings can be seen as you drive east along the northern coast of False Bay on your way to Stellenbosch. The Simon’s Town museum has an excellent collection of photos before, during and after the forced removal.
There’s no denying the landscape is rough and rugged, as is the history of this fascinating country. Leaving Simon’s Town behind we sailed to Cape Town, 55nm around the Cape of Good Hope, where we will see a few more sights and conclude our visit to South Africa.