For those who visit this effortless coast that stretches in a glorious arc all the way from Hangklip, close to Pringle Bay, through to Cape Point on the peninsula, there are unlimited opportunities for safe swimming and dramatic beauty that incorporates white, sandy beaches, beautiful valleys and sweeping vistas.
For many, the False Bay coastline is preferable to the trendier Atlantic Seaboard – the waters of the Indian Ocean are warmer for one, and less inundated by sun worshipping wannabees.
False Bay, named such because early navigators mistook Hangklip for Cape Point, is the largest true bay in South Africa and one of the great bays of the world.
It is no surprise to learn that the distance across False Bay (33 kilometres from Rooiels to Miller’s Point) remains a rather daunting prospect for even the most primed marathon swimmers – it has eluded almost 90% of those who have tried – and has been attempted 20 times with only three successes.
The False Bay coast is a continuous collection of seaside villages and hamlets, their narrow avenues lined with quirky and quaint shops, hotels, restaurants and pubs. Implicit in the diversity is the promise of myriad picnic spots and lookout spots, particularly during the whale season when whales enter the bay to calve.
Some of the most popular of these in and around Cape Town include Muizenberg – popular amongst surfers and swimmers alike – Kalk Bay – a little character fishing village, with a vibrant day and night life – and Simon’s Town – the historical naval village. The wide stretches of beaches central to the bay – Monwabisi, Macassar and Mnandi – are favoured for fishing, whilst the villages of Rooiels, Hanglip and Pringle Bay all offer cosy getaways.
One can travel the short distance between Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town by water taxi, or try one of the many adventure companies’ trips out to Seal Island. This is known as the best place in the world to see a great white shark breaching in mid-air.
Possibly the most iconic wildlife picture anyone has of False Bay, however, is the series of African penguin clusters on Boulders Beach at Simon’s Town. These dauntless little ‘waddling tuxedos’ have become unofficial ambassadors for this part of the Cape and welcome hundreds of visitors along their special boardwalk each day.
Mention False Bay and the traveller’s mind’s eye will immediately conjure up images of the multi-coloured bathing boxes of Muizenberg, the after-dark delights of Kalk Bay’s restaurants and bars, and the unsurpassed view of Simon’s Town Harbour from the heights above.
Many visitors choose to come to False Bay via the train from Cape Town, alighting at Simon’s Town and spending the day along its Historical Mile. This is where one gets the true naval spirit of the Cape, in the guise of museums, crusty old pubs and droves of navy uniforms in the streets.
In the ‘old days’ of sail, Simon’s Town was where you would go to pick up tales of the sea, news of pirate shenanigans or British Navy arrivals. An hour spent in the Simon’s Town Museum will convince you that life here 200 years ago was colourful, dramatic and often quite short – especially if you were a buccaneer.
Hikers and overlanders gather at Cape Point and walk up to the old lighthouse before lunching at a nearby restaurant or having a braai (barbecue) at one of the designated spots along the way.
HOW TO GET HERE
You can get to various points on False Bay from Somerset West on the N2, beginning at the Strand, from Pringle Bay on the R44, or from Cape Town on Chapman’s Peak Drive, cutting in at Kommetjie, or come from Cape Town via Tokai and Muizenberg along the M3 and Boyes Drive.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Although the old British Navy ships liked to berth in False Bay in winter (June/July), the warmer months of September to April are best for travellers.
WHERE TO STAY
False Bay has wide and varied accommodation options – check the listed Cape Point Route and Cape Town Tourism websites.
WHAT TO EAT
From fresh snoek at a harbour to fine dining at a world-class restaurant, the villages of False Bay will feed you well. The specialty here is seafood.