Cape Town is known for vibrant city life and a cultural mix that reflects the South African rainbow nation at its best. It was my home for many years and will always hold a special place in my heart not only for its people and its city landscape but also for the spectacular surrounding scenery. Capetonians love to run along the promenade – guys usually topless if you get lucky, surf, hike and are rightfully proud of their beaches, mountains and nature reserves. You don’t have to go very far from town to see a sign saying ‘SANParks – South African National Parks’, after all Table Mountain is right there looking down on locals and eager tourists alike. See such a sign and you know, you are in for a treat of nature. In case you get overwhelmed with all the choices I have put together my favorite getaways if you need some green (or turquoise) energy.
1. The Boomslang
If Cape Town wanted to call something its green lung it would be Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. It is the perfect place for picnics, field trips and botanical explorations and during summer time the famous open air concerts. The garden’s newest edition is adequately named after the tree hugging South African snake Boomslang. It’s a tree top walk that winds its way through the greenery and seems almost organic, just like the namesake snake in its natural habitat. It will move with your steps, so don’t be surprised if some kids or thirty-somethings…ahem, jump up and down and try to use it as a bird swing.
Tip: If you are not coming for the concert, avoid Sundays as it gets very crowded and parking is a hassle.
2. Kraal Bay
Whichever coast you look at, the one thing Cape Town beaches can’t provide is warm and turquoise water. That is not to say that they are not worth a visit, but sometimes a girl wants to swim without a wetsuit or goosebumps. For that, drive up north to the West Coast National Park as here lies Kraal Bay, the one warm and turquoise bay there is in the Western Cape. The water is shallow and crystal clear and if you want to make the drive worth your while, rent a houseboat and stay the night.
Tip: Take drinks and snacks with you as there is nothing in the vicinity. Drive slowly to spot bokkies, ostriches and if you see a turtle on the road – stop, pick it up and bring it back to the roadside. Repeat if necessary.
3. Silvermine Nature Reserve
Connecting Constantiaberg and Noordhoek, Ou Kaapse Weg is a panoramic drive of note and worth getting into a car all on its own. But take the turn off once you get to the very top and follow the sign for Silvermine and you find yourself in a nature reserve of striking beauty. Hike to your heart’s content or take a tip in the dam. Botanists will get their kick out of the wide array of Fynbos and Proteas and rock climbers will find challenging cracks for all levels.
Tip: Check gate times with SANParks as summer and winter hours differ.
4. Atlantis Dunes
A little drive north of Cape Town, you will find the Atlantis Dunes which are basically a miniature desert. Powdery sand dunes make for a spectacular if surreal backdrop and are a mecca for the film industry, as well as sand-boarders, quad bikers and 4x4s. Sneak a bottle of bubbly in, enjoy the view from the top of a dune and feel like a princess from Arabian Nights.
Tip: You will need a ticket from the municipality beforehand as well as special permission for vehicles. Check out Tracks 4 Africa for more information.
5. Lion’s Head
One of Cape Town’s most classic and iconic activities is the hike of Lion’s Head during a full moon. So popular with locals and visitors alike that it tends to get quite crowded on the steep and small path circling up during that evening of the month. If hiking is not your cup of tea, pass Lion’s Head to get to Signal Hill, an excellent starting point for paragliding over the Atlantic Seaboard. Either way, you will have a view to behold.
Tip: Do take a torch as even full moon light is usually not sufficient for visibility. And as stars like Alexander Skarsgård, filming in the city, have been seen on Lion’s Head, you really do want to be able to see whom you may stumble into.
6. Platbos Forest
Want to get your hands dirty, be in nature and do something good? Join Greenpop for their annual Reforestfest at Platbos Forest. Take a 1.5 hour drive from Cape Town to spend the weekend planting trees, doing yoga and dancing the night away under the 1000-year-old Milkwood tree. They offer a friends and a family friendly fest both taking place in May before the rainy winter (little saplings love rain!). For the rest of the year, Platbos still offers great camping options and Greenpop frequent planting days in and around Cape Town.
Tip: Arrive early Friday afternoon, because setting up tents in the dark is never fun. Either way – bring a head torch.
7. Boulders Beach
With quite a few Jackass Penguins around, it’s simply too loud to call Boulders Beach tranquil. Also, the water is definitely more “refreshing”, but who cares about either when you can swim with actual penguins next, over and under you? A boardwalk leads through the dunes from where you can also watch them prance along, dive and make ruckus – after all they are not called Jackass for nothing. If you want to skip the cover fee and the crowds go to adjacent Windmill Beach to have some more alone time with your penguin friends.
Tip: This should go without saying, but do not touch the penguins – for their sake and your own.
Meet the Author
This post was contributed by travel blogger, Annika Ziehen, of The Midnight Blue Elephant. Annika is a German with a Yankee accent and South African slang, Annika works as a freelance photo producer and writer so she has more time for the one thing that she loves more than drink wingine and doing yoga– travel. The Midnight Blue Elephant is her curation of souvenirs from all over the world: stories, visuals, souvenirs and the odd elephant for good luck.
It’s your turn! Have you been to South Africa? Share you favorite memories, stories and tips in the comment section below!