Driving the Cape Peninsula – Cape Town, Africa
One of Cape Town’s “must do’s” is exploring the Cape Peninsula. I decided to dedicate an entire day to exploring the popular Cape Peninsula road trip. I had many stops planned along the way but we encountered a different problem that limited our stops – the South Easter wind. The wind started the previous night and we swore the house would fall down – the wind was so strong and loud! When we asked people if this was normal, we got a mixed bag of answers but we did learn that it is a legit thing that happens – “the arrival of the South Easter”. When I looked up when phenomenon, it is indeed a real thing and even has a nickname – Cape Doctor because this strong wind clears up the foul air of smog and pollution.
The first stop I had marked was Muizenberg Beach, famous for surfing. Since it was not beach weather and surfing was not permitted due to the wind, we skipped this stop and continued to Kalk Bay where we got breakfast at Olympia Cafe. Here was our first encounter with those parking attendants – let me explain.
There is this interesting phenomena where unofficial people declare ownership (in one capacity or another) of a parking area claiming they will take care of your car when you are gone. The parking spots themselves are typically free but the expectation is that you tip the unofficial parking attendant for their “service”. Now, tipping is extremely small, like 1 – 2 Rand an hour. Some people do not tip at all but I do not know what the consequences of such a thing are. When we parked in Kalk Bay, we were immediately greeted by a gentleman stating he oversees this parking area and will see us when we return. And sure enough when we were done and getting into our car, he sprinted over to us, we gave him some small change rand, and off he went. Is it annoying? Yes, but at the same time if the parking is free, 1 Rand in USD is $0.07 so honestly it was not something to fight or get testy over.
Our food at Olympia Cafe was good – my stomach was still off from the drive so I simply ordered a chocolate croissant which actually settled out my stomach very well. Kevin ordered a coffee and a breakfast sandwich which he really enjoyed.
The second stop was the famous Boulders Beach to spend time with the residential African penguin colony. Originally, we had booked a kayak to see the penguins but the wind canceled that activity. Instead, we paid the admission (changes each year but for 2021 it was 170 Rand or $11.57 USD) to walk along the boardwalk and spot the penguins.
It is hilarious looking back because I was making a big fuss over the first and singular penguin along the boardwalk because when you get to the viewing platform at the end of the boardwalk, there are hundreds of penguins!
We watched these guys for a while – some coming out for the hill above waddling their way to the ocean for a swim and some breakfast. Then like an alarm going off, they would all get out of the ocean at the exact same time. Most of the penguins were huddled together – that dang wind – and cuddling with some of the baby penguins (just adorable). We could have spent all day just sitting with these penguins but we knew there was another boardwalk to explore as well.
The second boardwalk area goes through what we presumed to be their living quarters and boy did it smell like such – a bit overpowering but the cuteness overload of the penguins made up for the intense petting zoo smell.
This boardwalk ended at a platform that looked out at the first viewing area and really gave an idea of just how many penguins were there. The colony has over 3,000 penguins so even what we were viewing was just a percentage of the entire penguin crew.
There was a third boardwalk that did not seem to be a part of the admission so we decided to check it out. We did spot a few penguins along this boardwalk so if you wanted to stop for penguins but did not want to pay the admission, you may have some luck spotting a sleeping penguin or two by this boardwalk.
At the end of this boardwalk was the actual Boulders Beach and it certainly lived up to the name. Access to the beach did require admission but our ticket included this entrance as well. Here there were a few people enjoying the water and it looked like a great time. We walked around to the other side and I recalled reading that there was access to penguins in a more exclusive way at this beach. While we did not notice any penguins, we did notice some footprints (human ones!) in between two rocks that we decided to follow.
We found people whose footsteps we discovered and they instructed us on the order at which to climb the rocks to make it to the other side. We found a high rock to put our shoes on and made our way down to the beach. This area was just paradise! And after walking for a few feet, we found more penguins.
These guys were all just hanging out and they must have been used to people as they were curious and not bothered by our presence. We were able to get such great photos and even watch them swim for a while – simply the coolest! I think if I knew better or the weather was nicer / not the South Easter wind, we could have grabbed our bathing suits and spent time just hanging out in this secluded area. Such a beautiful beach with the cutest residents.
We headed back to the car, tipped the parking attendant, and headed along the road again. The next stop would have been the Cape of Good Hope – the most southern tip of Africa and a spot where you could see the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet (but do not mix) and even the opportunity for some whale watching (June to October). However, we had a few things at our disadvantage – including a hour drive each way to get there and the South Easter wind in a spot that is historically extremely windy. I also read that the price of the admission here has gone up dramatically (even before COVID) and was not worth the value (in 2021 was R340 which was over $23 a person). It would also be impossible to spot whales since the entire ocean was rocking with waves everywhere. So we decided to skip this stop in hopes that a return trip would bring us back here to see the Cape of Good Hope.
But I did not want to leave without driving Chapman’s Peak Drive for fantastic views of the coast line and often named one of the world’s most scenic drives. It is said to be a tricky road to drive but I think tricky is variable as we found the Road to Hana to still hold the title of most ridiculous and scary drive. This one was not bad at all – you just need to pay attention and not get distracted by the views.
There are plenty of pull out spots for the driver to get the opportunity to see everything so take advantage to enjoy the sweeping views. Of note, traveling on this road does have a toll of R54 ($3.63 USD) though I did not know this ahead of time – good thing we still had some cash!)
Since we were not in a rush, we stopped at several pull outs to enjoy the view, including the Chapman’s Peak Lookout which was beautiful and extremely windy.
After the lookout, we continued along the winding road and noticed those Twelve Apostles peaks we could not see the day before were still covered in the “Table Cloth” – I can only imagine what they look like on a clear day!
This drive is definitely a must do on your Cape Town trip and do not be nervous about the driving portion – pay attention, pull off frequently to enjoy the view, and remember the drive is always in the middle of the road.
We could have made more stops but with weather the way it was and a dinner reservation waiting for us, we decided to drive back to the Airbnb to freshen up before making our way to the Observatory neighborhood of Cape Town for dinner.
For a future trip when the South Easter wind is not present, I would make the following road trip:
- Muizenberg Beach
- Kalk Bay (Olympia Cafe) – 30 min
- Boulders Beach – 20 min
- Simon’s Town Kayak
- Cape of Good Hope (1 hour)
- Slangkop Lighthouse (30 min)
- Chapman’s Peak (20 min)
- Hout Bay / Snoekies (15 min)
- Camps Bay / Clifton Beach (20 min)
If you are visiting Cape Town, I highly recommend taking time to drive the Cape Peninsula. If you are short on time, at least make a stop to Boulders Beach and if you have more time, plan on spending longer at Boulder Beach with beach gear and snacks. The entire drive is beautiful and well worth the time out of the city to enjoy one of the world’s best coastal drives.