The Cape Peninsula lies just to the south of Cape Town extending from Table Mountain to Cape Point, a distance of 40km (25 miles). The Peninsula is bounded in the west by the Atlantic Ocean and in the east by False Bay. Main towns in the Peninsula include Hout Bay, Noordhoek, Kommetjie and Scarborough on the Atlantic side and Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simons Town on the False Bay side. False Bay is so called because early navigators sailing east to west mistook Cape Hangklip for Cape Point. Most of the undeveloped land of this area is owned and controlled by Table Mountain National Park, one of South Africa’s National Parks (SANP).
Bartolemu Dias (Diaz), a Portuguese explorer, was the first European to round the Cape in 1488 in an attempt to find a sea route to India and the Far East. On the outward journey he rounded the Cape without knowing it as his route took him well clear of land, however, it was on the return voyage that he actually discovered and named the Cape of Storms. It was later renamed the Cape of Good Hope by King John II of Portugal because of the optimism it generated by being an opening of a route to the riches of the East. Diaz Cross, a monument to commemorate the explorer was erected in Cape Point National park by the Portuguese government.
Geographically the Cape of Good Hope is not the most southerly point on the African mainland. That accolade belongs to Cape Aghulas which is 150 km round the coast to the east. However, the merging of two major ocean currents at the Peninsula means that there is a rich diversity of marine life, and there is a marked difference both in sea temperatures and sea life on either side of the Peninsula. The cold Benguela Current originates in the southern oceans and is a northward travelling current which passes the Peninsula on it’s western coastline. The Benguela Current is very rich in nutrients making the area a magnet for larger sea creatures and marine birds. The warm Aguhlas Current originates in the tropical part of the Indian Ocean and passes south and westwards along the eastern and southern coasts of Africa.
Over the years the Cape Peninsula coast has been littered by the wrecks of unfortunate ships trying to round the Cape and being blown to their doom by treacherous storms. Cape Point, slightly north and to the east of the Cape of Good Hope is the site of a lighthouse, commanding a view towards the southern oceans.
There is a large car park, toilets, a restaurant, shops and a funicular which can transport less able visitors part way up to the lighthouse. For those that appreciate outstanding views, climbing the steps up to the lighthouse is well worth the effort. There is a visitor information centre part way up explaining the history of the lighthouse as well as the legend of ‘The Flying Dutchman’.
June to November is the ‘whale season’. Whales, mainly Southern Right Whales, migrate from the cold southern oceans to calf and breed before returning to the rich feeding around Antarctica. On occasion they come very close to land and are easily seen from the coast, various viewpoints around Cape Point provide an excellent vantage point for this event. Whales are also regularly seen at many points around the Peninsula particularly those overlooking False Bay.
The natural vegetation of the Cape Peninsula is fynbos (fine bush). Fynbos plants include proteas, ericas and restios. At first glance the vegetation may appear dry or drab especially in the hot summer months, however, the Peninsula is part of one of the world’s six floral kingdoms – the Cape Floristic Kingdom. It is the smallest but regarded as the richest of the six Kingdoms, with many endemic plant species.
As fynbos soils are low in nutrients this makes for very poor grazing and therefore cannot support large herds of big game species. However, within the National Park may be found large antelope such as eland, bontebok and red hartebeest as well as cape mountain zebra and ostrich. Smaller mammals such as grey rhebok, cape grysbok, klipspringer and small predators such as caracal, mongoose and genet are present though sometimes difficult to spot.
The Cape Peninsula supports several troupes of Chacma Baboons which may be encountered as you drive on any of the roads at the southern end of the Peninsula. Some of them have a unique feeding habit, they are the only baboons in Africa which regularly forage on the shoreline for foods such as shellfish. They are fascinating to watch but keep your car doors locked and food hidden out of sight as they are adept at opening car doors and stealing food.
Boat trips from Hout Bay on the Atlantic Coast and from Simons Town on the False Bay coast take visitors to fur seal colonies and in the case of Simons Town on whale spotting or shark cage diving trips.
There is an ostrich farm close to the park entrance, here for a small fee you can have a tour and learn about the stages in the life of an ostrich or you can browse through the exquisite items of ostrich leather available in the shop.
Among the most popular visitor activities is a trip to the penguin colony just south of Simons Town. The African Penguin first began breeding here in 1984 and the area is now managed by Table Mountain National Park who have built a visitor centre and boardwalks to allow visitors close access to the colony at Foxy Beach. At Boulders Beach which can be accessed by a boardwalk from the main entrance (remember to retain your ticket) you can actually enter the water with the penguins, a quite unique experience.
Accommodation on the Peninsula
An ideal location as a base to explore the Peninsula is Makapa Lodge which is just about as near to the centre of the Cape Peninsula as you can get, we are mid way between Cape Town City Centre and Cape Point north to south and midway between False Bay in the east and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
Greater Cape Town encompasses seven regions: the City Bowl, Atlantic Seaboard, Southern Suburbs, Hout Bay, Southern Peninsula, Helderberg Basin and the Northern Region. One could easily spend months in the Cape taking in the sights and unique experiences associated with each region, as there is so much on offer!
However, on a tight schedule, the five 'must-sees' recommended are: Table Mountain, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years), the V & A Waterfront, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and Cape Point. Cape Town's moderate Mediterranean climate makes touring the area a pleasure and encourages outdoor activities like hiking, exploring wildlife reserves, surfing, visiting beaches, taking boat trips and touring the winelands.
If you are caught out on a rare rainy day, your list of options remains extensive: museums, galleries, theatres, shopping malls, live music venues, pubs, restaurants, clubs, lounges, pool halls, jazz cafes and comedy houses keep locals entertained all year long. Each of the seven regions has its own distinctive 'flavour', but it is recommended that you try to experience aspects of each of the regions to get a full understanding and appreciation of the city as a whole.
Wine tasting should definitely be a part of your experience of the region, as South African wine continues to rack up accolades within the international industry. Local vineyards are particularly beautiful as many sit at the base of our mountain ranges, providing a striking contrast with the purple mountains.