A nature pro’s tips on exploring Cape Town’s natural attractions

Table Mountain is just one of Cape Town’s natural wonders. Home to penguins, big game and astonishing flora, the Cape peninsula offers hiking, birding, whale watching and shark-cage diving, all set against a backdrop of mountains and blue oceans. Dominic Chadbon — also known as The Fynbos Guy — offers some advice on how to tick the best natural attractions off your list.

Most big cities around the world are recognisable by their skyscraper skyline; very few are synonymous with a natural landmark. Table Mountain not only defines Cape Town, but heralds the start of a 70-kilometre peninsula crammed with such natural biodiversity that it almost defies belief.

This is a destination where you can enjoy dazzling displays of flowers and see baboons and antelope foraging next to unspoilt beaches; you can also go diving with seals or slip into the water and watch sharks from the safety of a steel cage. There are endemic birds, honking penguin colonies and hiking trails ranging from half-day strolls to multi-day adventures.

The trick is to know where to go, when to go and how to do it all. The good news is that Cape Town’s most popular natural attractions are all-year-round affairs and easy to get to by yourself. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Table Mountain, Boulders Beach penguin colony and Cape Point at the tip of the Cape Peninsula are all good examples. Simply hire a car or jump on a tour – you can even catch the big red sightseeing bus to some of them.

Make sure you do a bit of research if you’re hoping to see a lot of flowers, whales or great white sharks leaping out of the water: several of Cape Town’s natural attractions are seasonal. And try to be flexible with your itinerary too – you may need to chop and change days to suit the weather, especially if you are doing ocean-based activities.

As for iconic Table Mountain — the first sighting of which used to earn a 17th century Dutch sailor 10 guilders and six bottles of wine — if you want to really maximise your experience, consider using a guide. For example, there are only a handful of self-guided trails up Table Mountain; a guide will know other routes far from the crowds as well as what to do if the weather’s not so good.

Beachfront elegance and luxury at 17 Geneva Drive

The luxury house and apartments at 17 Geneva Drive are in the heart of Cape Town’s most beautiful beachfront suburb, Camps Bay, a mere 15-minute drive from the city centre.

17 Geneva is open-plan living at its finest. The rooms are so light and airy that you might as well have been transported into a fairytale.

Furnishings are tasteful and reserved, pairing shades of white with personal touches of warm wood and stone. The endless sea and mountain views are eye-catching from almost every room. This must be paradise – lying on an ultra-comfy, queen-sized bed and looking out to sea, listening to waves crashing on the shore.

The view is just as breathtaking from the sizeable lounge, with its custom-made couches and sleek furniture. The lounge flows onto a private balcony, where you can relax at the poolside in the sunshine. The balcony also has a private sauna, perfect for a little pampering at any time of day.

And for budding chefs, prepare your meals in style in the apartment’s gourmet-styled kitchen. Meals can be eaten al fresco at the outdoor wooden table. There is nothing quite like dining with the fresh scent of the sea and the late sun bathing the land in a pink and orange glow. Enjoy with a couple of friends and good bottle of wine.

After dinner, why not nip down to the beachfront and grab a cocktail or two at one of the many fine boutique bars, lounges and world-class restaurants on offer? Remember home is only a few minutes’ walk away, so when the mood takes you, you can wind your way back to your beautiful apartment by the sea.

Cape Town Shark Spotters lead the way in protecting people…and sharks

Great white sharks, which are present all year around in Cape waters, play an essential role in the health of marine systems. However, sometimes they get a little too close to the shore for comfort, and that’s when Cape Town’s Shark Spotters become indispensable.

The waters around South Africa have incredible variety when it comes to sharks — there are up to 100 different types of shark swimming around the South African coastline! Cape waters are home to great white sharks, as well as bronze whaler, ragged tooth, broadnose sevengill, maco and blue sharks.

Great whites, which are a protected species in South Africa, tend to use different habitats depending on the season. From April to September, they usually hang out around the seal colonies, but in the summer months — which happen to coincide with the period humans are most likely to be in the water — they move closer to the shores to prey on smaller sharks, mate or give birth.

Since 1960, 25 shark attacks have occurred around the Cape Peninsula, four of which have been fatal. Although most sharks are not dangerous to people and even great whites don’t intentionally prey on humans, a spate of shark bite incidents in 2004 led to the establishment of the Shark Spotters programme.

The shark spotters, who are armed with polarised sunglasses and binoculars, are situated at strategic elevated points along the False Bay coastline. If they spot a shark in the bay, they radio the information to another spotter situated on one of the beaches. This spotter will then sound a siren and raise a white flag with a black shark on it, signalling to those in the water that they need to get out. A system of flags tells beach goers about shark activity in the water and if visibility is too poor to ascertain whether sharks are around. The shark spotters are on duty every day of the year from 8am to 6pm.

While shark attacks are very rare, it is sensible to only swim at beaches that use shark spotters and to obey any instructions to exit the water. If you do happen to encounter the ocean’s largest predatory fish, try — against all instincts — to stay calm, as this increases you chances of survival. If you are swimming with others, remain in or create a group, and get out of the water as calmly and quickly as possible.

Could this be the best beach in Cape Town?

Cape Town’s beautiful beaches are some of the city’s most alluring natural attractions. Clifton is not only the best in Cape Town, according to Fiona McIntosh, it’s one of the best in the world.

Surrounded by ocean, Cape Town has an array of beautiful golden beaches, including eight top standard Blue Flag beaches (beaches that conform to a range of strict social, educational and environmental standards). Five of these — Bikini Beach, Clifton 4th, Llandudno, Camps Bay and Silwerstroomstrand — are on the western, Atlantic seaboard. The remaining three — Mnandi, Muizenberg and Strandfontein — are on the eastern, False Bay coastline.

But which is the best beach in Cape Town? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but my favourite beach in Cape Town is Clifton, which has Table Mountain and Lion’s Head as a spectacular backdrop . Flanked by dramatic granite boulders and with good protection from the summer wind, Clfiton is one of the world’s finest beaches. It attract crowds of scantily-clad locals and tourists onto its white sands and (less frequently) into its freezing waters every year.

Though occupying one bay on Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard, Clifton is, in fact, divided into four distinct beaches separated by rocky outcrops and called Clifton 1st, 2cnd, 3rd and 4th.

In typical Cape Town style, each of Clifton’s beaches has its own distinct personality: Clifton 4th, the most southerly of the lot, is the popular strip. The largest and most accessible of the four beaches, it has Blue Flag status and attracts the biggest crowds; on sizzling summer days there’s barely room to move as bodies, towels and umbrellas cover the sand.

Clifton 3rd is where the beautiful people hang out, while Clifton 1st, which is secluded and well-protected from the wind but the least accessible of the four, is generally frequented only by Cape Town residents and those in the know. Clifton 2nd is the greatest beach of them all: small enough for atmosphere and large enough to handle a few bodies, it is perfectly sized for frisbee throwing and other beach games. It is also perfectly positioned, enjoying the best wind protection when the southeaster (the dominant wind in the Cape Town summer) really pumps.

Five of the best picnic spots in Cape Town

If you go down to the beach today, you might get a big surprise. Because today’s the day Capetonians have their picnic… Any day, really. If the sun is shining, Cape Town locals will find an excuse to whip out that picnic blanket. Here are five favourite spots…

1. Oudekraal beach

Part of the Table Mountain National Park, Oudekraal beach is one of Cape Town’s best kept secrets. Situated in a sheltered cove between Camps Bay and Llandudno, this pretty little beach is nicely protected from the wind. In addition to a lovely swimming area and its own colony of seals, Oudekraal also features a grassy picnic and braai area between the beach and the parking lot. The Milkwood trees dotted across the lawn ensure some degree of privacy.

Because it forms part of a conservation area, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee (R35 per adult and R20 per child) unless you possess a WILD Card or TMNP MY Green Card. It really is a nominal fee for so much beauty and tranquillity! One point worth noting is that there is a strict no-alcohol policy.

2. Le Pique Nique at Boschendal

One of the oldest farms in South Africa, Boschendal in the Drakenstein Valley offers up not one, but two picnic destinations. Choose between the classic Boschendal picnic on the lawns of the Rhone Homestead or the more casual ambiance of the Werf Garden picnic spot.

Rhone picnics can be enjoyed at carefully laid picnic tables or on blankets under the shady oak trees. Picnic baskets (R440, serves two) include a selection of pâtés, breads, salads, cold meats, artisan cheeses and preserves and delicious farm-made ice-cream.

The picnic baskets on offer at the Werf Garden are slightly less extravagant (for a more modest price of R350/basket) and the picnic area is only partially serviced. This is a great option if you have kids as there is a jungle gym, plenty of space for them to frolic and hammocks and beanbags for lounging. You can also order a kiddies’ picnic basket for R85. This venue also has live music on the first Sunday of every month.

3. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

Picnics at Kirstenbosch are many things: treasured memories from childhood, lazy afternoons with friends, a prelude to your favourite summer concert, or a quick fix of nature 10 minutes from the city centre.

One of the best botanical gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch offers up 36 hectares of pristine garden, which means that you’ll always find that perfect spot for your picnic. Bring you own – no tables, chairs, or umbrellas allowed – or pick up a picnic hamper at the Kirstenbosch Tea Room or moyo restaurant.

Kirstenbosch is open between 08h00 and 19h00 in summer, and entry fees range from R15 (kids) to R55 (adults) per person.

4. Cape Point Vineyards

It’s hard to beat the view from Cape Point Vineyards in Noordhoek: vineyards, mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. The lawn next to the dam is a great place to drink while away a lazy afternoon. Picnic baskets (R395, serves two), which need to be booked at least 24 hours in advance, include ciabatta, a selection of charcuterie, local cheeses, salads and chocolate, salted caramel and brownie trifle! Your booking also includes a picnic blanket and pillows, so all you need to do is pitch up.

The wine farm is well known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines. Beverages aren’t included in the basket, so you’ll want to bring along a little extra cash to buy a bottle… or two.

5. Vergelegen

Forget about plastic cutlery and soggy sandwiches. If you want to do a picnic in style, head to Vergelegen in Somerset West. From November to April, you can indulge in a sophisticated picnic – at a table, of course – in the Camphor Forest. If it’s romance you’re after, ask them to put you at a table deep in the forest away from the other guests.

Picnic baskets, which exclude beverages and gratuity, will set you back R215 per person (or R95 for kids). You can expect breads and pâtés, smoked salmon wraps, Moroccan beef kebabs, spinach and feta quiches, coronation chicken, a selection of cheeses, and whatever dessert the chef is cooking up that day.

From beach to bar: Camps Bay’s coastal clubbing experience

After a day languishing in the sun and sea Camps Bay beach, head over to one of these venues for a sundowner and relaxed entertainment before changing gears into full party mode.

The Grand Café & Room boasts a breath-taking view mere metres from the beach, featuring ambient electronic music from a variety of guest DJs. You’re guaranteed a mood-appropriate playlist as you sip on fancy cocktails and enjoy a delicious dinner. The party winds up the further the sun sets below the horizon and the venue features a private penthouse suite if you’re keen for an overnight stay. There is an air of sophistication to the space without losing the relaxed nature of the beach aesthetic.

Café Caprice is the trendy, popular, not-to-be-missed venue in Camps Bay. The clientele are accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle and this venue reflects that. Signature cocktails and premium liquor are the drinks of choice, with VIP tables and bottle service upon request. The venue is open from Monday to Sunday with DJs spinning house, lounge and commercial music on weekend nights.

If you want to party like a local without any pretence or dress code, Dizzy’s Café is the answer. Dizzy’s is well-known for their pizzas and they  have a fully licensed restaurant, pub and non-smoking lounge, making it the perfect place to eat, drink and play. You can live out your pop star dreams on karaoke nights or attend one of their themed parties (minimal cover charge).

Get up close to Cape Town’s colony of African penguins at Boulders

Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, which is roughly 40-kilometres from Cape Town’s city centre, is the perfect spot to meet Africa’s tuxedoed aquatic bird, the African penguin. Boardwalks take you within metres of these delightful penguins.

Formerly known as the jackass penguin because of its distinctive braying, the African penguin is — as the name suggests — the only type of penguin that breeds in Africa. Colonies of African Penguins can be found from southern Namibia’s west coast all the way around the Cape peninsula and up to Port Elizabeth on the east coast. These colonies are, however, dwindling.

In 1910, it was estimated that there were 1.5 million African penguins, but by 2009 there were only 26 000 breeding pairs left in the world. In 2010, the African penguin was classified as endangered.

Every year, roughly 60 000 visitors make their way to Simon’s Town to visit the penguins at Boulders Beach. Because the beach a Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, you have to pay a small entrance fee. However, the fact that it is part of a conservation area means that the number of visitors is limited on any given day and the area — which is made up of three beaches, a penguin viewing area, and three boardwalks — is patrolled by park rangers.

When the penguins first came from Dyer Island (near Gansbaai) to False Bay in 1983, the bay was closed to commercial fishing and there was plenty for the penguins to eat, therefore the size of the colony grew rapidly. Boulders, which is named after the huge ancient granite boulders scattered across the beach, provides a protective little cove. In recent years, because of habitat destruction, reduced fish stocks and the effects of oil spills and marine pollution, the size of the colony — now roughly 2100 birds — has decreased.

While the penguins are at Boulders all year round, they spend much of their time at sea feeding during the months of September and October, so the number of birds on the beach is lower. The best time to photograph them is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. And be warned: while these penguins look adorable, they can do some real damage with their razor-sharp beaks, so give them space.

Muizenberg’s the perfect learn to surf beach

Welcome to beginner’s paradise, also known as Muizenberg beach in Cape Town. Muizenberg offers a long stretch of sandy beach with slow-rolling waves, a number of surf schools and a cool beachfront vibe that make it the perfect location to learn how to surf.

The magic ingredient that makes Muizenberg’s waves ideal for beginners starts far out to sea. This is where the gently sloping continental shelf slows the swell down and makes the waves break relatively far out, then reform a number of times before they finally hit the sand, giving you ample chance to find your feet.

Muizenberg can hold a big crowd, but most surfers tend to congregate on the southern end of the beach at the world famous Surfers Corner. It’s believed this is where the fist waves were ever ridden in South Africa when two American marines stationed in Cape Town after World War I brought their wooden ‘Hawaiian style’ surfboards with them.

Surfers Corner can get really congested, especially on weekends, but it’s easy to spread out down the beach. Despite the crowds, the vibe in the water is usually very friendly with all kinds of surfers riding all kinds of craft. There are always people learning to surf, so you will never feel alone or out of your depth.

The beach is well serviced by a number of Learn to Surf schools, including the original Gary’s Surf School, the Surfshack Surfschool, Roxy Surf School and Learn2Surf.  All these surf schools offer surf lessons as well as surfboard and wetsuit hire. The Shark Spotters are also on duty every day to give you extra piece of mind.

Ten years ago Muizenberg was a bit down and out, but since then the neighbourhood has undergone a massive facelift, thanks in no small part to the learn-to-surf boom. There are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants to relax at after a session while keeping an eye on the waves.

My favourite running trails in and around Cape Town

Long-distance trail runner Andre Gie has won — and set records for — some of the toughest trail races Cape Town has to offer. He lets you in on a few of his favourite places to run.

The unique thing about Cape Town is that you have this big mountain in the middle of the city. The mountain has a special feel to it, with rock formations and vegetation like no where else. You can start running in the city and in a couple of minutes be in a wild environment without anyone else in sight. And you can run from Table Mountain to the beach to the city — all in one morning!

If we expand the parameters outside of Cape Town just a bit, two of my favourite places on earth are the Garden Route and the Cederberg, so it’s not surprising that trails there make it into my selection.

Robberg Peninsula near Plettenberg Bay (a six to seven-hour drive from Cape Town) must be one of the most beautiful seven-kilometre runs on the planet. It is the perfect combination of rocky trails, running along the beach and along cliff-tops above the ocean. You often run along the cliffs above massive great white sharks as they cruise next to the peninsula! There isn’t a boring step on this run and it’s a must-do for any trail runner.

In Cape Town itself, the loop around Lion’s Head should not be missed.

In terms of a medium distance, there is a combination of trails that link together to create a loop around Table Mountain. Start at the cableway and run the contour paths to Kirstenbosch. Then climb up Skeleton Gorge — which looks and feels like Jurassic Park — to the top of Table Mountain. Run past the dams and down Kasteelspoort to the pipetrack and back to your car. This great run gives you the opportunity to see both sides of the mountain, some awesome trails, and a lot of variety.

If you are looking to do a longer distance, anything in the Cederberg (around three hour’s drive from Cape Town) will do. My current favourite is to run from Algeria up Uitkyk Pass, around the back of Sneeuberg, then through the Duiwelsgat ravine, past the Maltese Cross to Sanddrif. It is beautiful and remote running in some big mountains. The bonus is that you end up at Cederberg Wines, which is a great wine farm with fantastic red wines and beer, and a cold river to jump in at the Sanddrif campsite!

Sea views for days at this Cape Town penthouse

Pack your swimsuit and sunscreen for a romantic weekend away in one of Camps Bay’s most exclusive penthouse suites.

Romance is in the air and it’s only 8 km from the centre of Cape Town. The first thing you’ll notice when you step into this fabulous apartment is that natural vistas greet you wherever you look.

From the palm-lined Camps Bay Beach to the Atlantic Ocean to the awe-inspiring 12 Apostles mountains, 15 Views is a visual feast. The interior is just as beautiful, blending bold designs with marble, glass and steel elements to capitalise on sun and space.

From the entrance hall, be swept through the open-plan layout to the bedroom, resplendent with its glass walls and unique free-standing bathtub. Take a soak before bedtime and let the sights and sounds of the seaside wash away all your troubles.

The gourmet eat-in kitchen has everything you could need for a culinary masterpiece, although with all the fine restaurants, cocktail bars and eateries right on your doorstep, you could just go out too. After a meal, you could always bring the party home to your own personal jacuzzi, built right into the balcony.

The balcony also comes complete with a chaise lounge, and is perfect for sunbathing and reading on sunny afternoons. 15 Views also offers a separate three-bedroom house for families.