The southern hemisphere summer months of December to February are the best times to go to the beach and Cape Town is the place to do it. Whether you are into baring everything or keeping your clothes firmly on, retreating behind a rock or strutting your stuff, there is a beach along the Cape Peninsula to suit you.
You can ride a horse, fly a kite, watch penguins, sail a hobie-cat, walk your dog, surf the waves, explore a shipwreck, snorkel in the shallows, dive in the deep or just lie in the sun.
Your choice of beach will depend not only on the activity you want to do but on which way the wind blows. A howling south-easter can make sunbathing a misery on an exposed eastern beach but might be just the thing for an exhilarating windsurf.
West Coast - Atlantic Ocean Beaches
Cape Town lies on the Atlantic west where a dip in the water leaves you zizzing like a mentholated mint. The water may be icy but the sand is hot and the beaches are more sheltered from the renowned south-easter than those on the east.
The drive from Cape Town along Victoria Road to the western beaches of Clifton, Camps Bay, Llandudno and Sandy Bay provides magnificent views of the jagged peaks of the twelve apostles.
But for one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world continue onto Chapmans Peak Drive which skirts the Atlantic 600 metres above sea level (at the time of publication this road is closed due to rock falls). The popular resort of Hout Bay lies at the start of this drive while at the southern end is a breathtaking view of Noordhoek's long white beach caressed by an unnaturally blue sea.
Less accessible and consequently very appealing are the beaches in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which are surrounded by more indigenous plant species per square meter than anywhere else in the world.
Best Western Beaches (from north to south):
Blouberg - Big Bay and Little Bay:
Best for: swimming, windsurfing, hobie cats, paddle skiing, family outings and Table Mountain views. It is from these popular long sandy swimming beaches 20 km north of central Cape Town that you can photograph the classic view of Table Mountain.
A strong south-easter gives the wave-jumping windsurfers and colourful hobie cats a chance to show off. Beyond the breakers Robben Island - Nelson Mandela's island prison - can be seen 13 kms offshore.
Best for: seeing and being seen, sunbathing and watching paragliders land. The glamour of beautiful bodies and the romance of cruising yachts moored in the shallows attracts a lot of visitors here.
Granite boulders divide the four white sandy beaches of Clifton sheltering them from the south easter and offering safe bathing with a somewhat strong undertow. Do not be surprised to see rainbow-striped paragliders floating down towards you. They take off from the top of Lions Head and catch a few thermal updrafts before coming in to land on the lawns of the popular beach bar, La Med.
Best for: sunbathing, beach volleyball, strolling and meeting your friends. The long stretch of fine sand and palm dotted lawn looks just like the South of France. There are loads of cool bars and café restaurantsspilling onto the pavements giving Camp's Bay a great vibe.
Parking can be frustrating but cruise around and you will always find a spot. The beach is a little exposed during a persistent south-easter but experienced surfers and windsurfers love the hard-breaking waves near the rocks at the northern end of the beach.
There is no resident lifeguard and the strong backwash means care must be taken when swimming - if you can bear the water temperature! Scuba-diving amongst inquisitive seals in Justin Caves on the road to Llandudno, is superb and can be arranged from various dive schools.
Best for: body boarding, sheltered sunbathing, sandcastles and sunset picnics. 20 km south of Cape Town this is the perfect romantic spot for a sheltered sunset picnic after some serious sunbathing. A narrow road winds its way down through a concealed hillside suburb. The charming spotless beach is tucked between huge granite boulders and is beautiful from any angle.
There is a resident lifesaving club but beware of the strong surf and backwash. There is only one way in and out of Llandudno, which keeps the area private and exclusive. Be warned that when the tide comes in there is only a small patch of beach left to sit on.
Best for: getting an all-over tan. This unofficial nudist beach is backed by steep dunes and mountain slopes and the only way to get to it is to walk from the top of the dunes in Hout Bay or a clamber over rocks from the southern end of Llandudno. Narrow paths lead off the track, seaward to favourite sunbathing spots or inland to high sand dunes.
Best for: swimming, paddle skiing, sea kayaking, surfing, seafood and families. This leafy resort town with its 1 km safe swimming beach and large fishing harbour offers everything you could want from a day by the sea. Take a launch to Seal Island to see thousands of the jovial seals cavorting around the boat. A San Franciso-style 'Mariners Wharf' houses gift and curio shops and restaurants who buy their fish straight from the harbour.
However, even though it is the headquarters of the crayfishing (rock lobster) and tuna fleets, much of the catch goes for export. But you can still find enough on sale for your fresh fish supper.
Best for: horseriding, kite flying, long walks and surfing. This gorgeous 8-km horseshoe curve of fine white sparkling sand is quite unspoilt and deserted. It is the Cape's widest beach with plenty of room for kite flying, horseriding, jogging or just strolling barefoot with the dog.
About half way along are the remains of 'The Kakapo' shipwreck preserved in the sand since 1900 when the captain, confused by deceiving coastline, ran so far up onto Noordhoek beach that the crew hardly got their feet wet as they stepped off the stranded ship.
A dip in the cold Atlantic is probably all you will want to cool off because there is a strong backwash. There is sometimes weird wobbly quicksand near the edge of the lagoon but it is unlikely to swallow you up. Beware of muggers on isolated stretches so stay around other people.
Platboombay, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
Best for: unique flora and fauna, rock pools, beachcombing and birds. This long unspoilt beach is great for exploring rock pools and beachcoming. The surrounding dunes and rocky slopes are covered with fynbos of which there are 600 species of Erica's and 368 types of Protea including South Africa's National flower the King Protea.
Bird watchers will not be disappointed - black Oystercatchers, Avocets and brilliant coloured Sunbirds are common. Watch out for sly baboons who lurk around the car park to steal tasty morsels out of open cars.
East Coast - False Bay, Indian Ocean
The eastern shores of the Cape Peninsula are lapped by the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean. However, the beaches of False Bay take the full force of the summertime 'Cape Doctor' south-easterly wind which keeps Cape Town's air clean but can ruin your hairdo. Fringed by long stretches of sandy beaches and seaside towns False Bay is linked with the centre of Cape Town by a scenic railway.
The track reaches the coast at Muizenberg, the start of Sunrise Beach where the sand runs for 40 km east all the way round False Bay to Gordon's Bay. There is a wonderful view of Muizenberg beach with Gordon's Bay and the Hottentots Holland Mountains in the distance from Boyes Drive running high along the coastal hills between Muizenberg and the fishing village of Kalk Bay.
Best Eastern Beaches (from north to south):
Muizenberg Sunset Beach And Surfers Corner:
Best for: swimming and novice surfers. Popular with young or novice surfers the long gentle waves are perfect to learn on and to swim in. Characterised by a parade of brightly coloured bathing boxes, there is also a beach pavilion and children's play area. The area is a little run down but has lots of character.
Fish Hoek Beach:
Best for: safe swimming, sailing, sunbathing and family fun. The warmer waters of False Bay and the safest swimming beach in the Cape make Fish Hoek beach very popular. At one end is a café, restaurant and play area and there are also nimble little hobie-cats with colourful sails lined up for hire.
Fishing boats can often be seen rowing out and dropping their nets in a horseshoe, whereupon all hands on the beach start to pull in the catch, which takes about an hour. It is only a short walk from the station and the bustling little town has everything you might need - except off-sale booze! Fish Hoek has been 'dry' since 1810 and remains so except for a few restaurants that have recently been granted licences.
Boulders Beach, Simonstown:
Best for: penguin watching, sheltered swimming and learning to snorkle. Simonstown is a delightful quaint old navy seaport at the terminus of the railway and is the last town before Cape Point Nature Reserve. Boulders beach is a few kilometres on from the station and buses are frequent. Giant granite boulders form several little beach coves and as you walk along the path towards Foxy Beach you may be forgiven for thinking that a donkey is being massacred in the bushes.
It is in fact a African (Jackass) penguin living up to its name. About 1,000 of these little dinner-suited birds watch you while you watch them and will not hesitate to give you a nasty nip if you get too close. This is the most accessible breeding colony of jackass penguins in the world and a sight not to be missed.
When the south-easter is taking a break, scuba-divers should explore Castle Rock a few kilometres on from Boulders, to see spectacular drop offs, lots of corals and colourful fish.
Copyright © 2002 Carrie Hampton. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.