This is a city that rewards reflection, with a natural environment conducive to creativity. It is no surprise that good ideas tend to incubate in Cape Town and execute in Johannesburg. Jo’burg is a place that makes things happen, Cape Town is where they are dreamed up.
t helps that Table Mountain is a massive energy source, as well as fresh water source. (Talking of spring water, an absolute must-do is to visit the Newlands public spring water access point, and collect drinking water for your stay. The water is tested by South African Breweries, who use the water for their beer. And filtered as it is through the mountain’s rock structures, the minerality is rich. This is better than any bottled water).
Here then, are some tips for drawing inspiration from Cape Town’s outdoors:
Hike Table Mountain
Skeleton Gorge, ascending from the Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens side, is strenuous and beautiful and the sense of accomplishment superb. Work on 2-3 hours for reasonable level of fitness to get up. It’s steep though, hard going, but very, very satfisying.
Every Saturday, everywhere, in any number of different natural and or urban settings. Free. Just register online, but only if you want to be timed and have a record. This is a great immersion in the very local.
Take a hike with Karbonkelberg Hikers
Brent Thomas in the Hout Bay fishing village of Hangberg leads hikes from the Sentinel to Seal Island, along paths used pretty much exclusively by locals. The route takes you from the top of Hout Bay right down to a few rocks away from Seal Island, passing through some sacred San sites. The scenery is a magic mushroom trip; it’s otherworldly yet still like home. Stories of Hangberg’s fishing heritage, and insight into indigenous history and lifestyle, flow easily. A fresh seafood stew can be arranged to welcome you on the beach at the seashore. This is not a light hike – there are some really steep parts that require some careful footwork – but also it doesn’t require unreasonable levels of fitness. It’s about 2-3 hours long.
Hike Lion’s Head
For a quick mountain goof, hike up to Lion’s Head. It will take anything from 1-4 hours depending on your level of fitness. Great to do early in the day or toward sunset. The spiral staircase route winds you around the neck of the Lion and gives you wonderful views of the city and the ocean.
Cycle the Dwars River Valley
One of the coolest cycling experiences is offered in the Dwars River Valley, the centre of the winelands, between Franschoek and Stellenbosch. David Williams of Davoe Tours hosts a 5-hour cycle across about 20km of farm backroads, village streets and a little bit of busy main road, introducing guests to iconic street food, home-cooked winelands traditional fare, chisa nyama treats and stories of the people of The Valley.
The trip starts and ends at the Boschendal Wine Estate, and takes place on really comfortable mountain bikes. It’s a leisurely affair, with plenty of stops and a lot of food, with a great selection of locals sharing their stories over and about food. I particularly love the final stop at My Kitchen, the home barbecue restaurant of Esther and Chris in Lanquedoc, where they serve up tilapia fish and vegetable dishes with big local beers and bigger hearts.
Another great adventure is to take a canoe trip along the waterways of the Khayelitsha wetlands system. Siyanda Sopangisa and his team at the Khayelitsha Canoe Club offer guided trips, about 1.5 hours in duration, and they use the income generated by these trips to train kids in the area in canoeing. They also do a lot of work restoring the wetlands and keeping things clean. These guys are true local heroes, bringing together culture and the ecology.Combine this with a coffee at Siki’s Koffee Kafe in Ilitha Park, close by, and a meal at Four Roomed eKasi. You could also join Siyabonga Mbaba for a cycling tour that introduces guests to entrepreneurs in the area – another innovative example of using a tourism experience to fund entrepreneurial development.
Go veld and sea foraging
I can’t talk about outdoor activities without sharing the childlike joy that is joining Roushana Grey to forage for mountain fynbos (indigenous edible plants) or coastal seafood, and then together preparing a meal. These foraging experiences take place close to the entrance to the Cape Point Nature Reserve, are subject to the whims of the weather and are very, very popular. And because Roushana is so into the trip, it can never be a sausage factory and the experience is deep, and wonderful every time.
Rent a bike on the Sea Point promenade
Still one of my favourite jaunts is to rent a bike from Up Cycles next to the Sea Point Pool, and take a ride along this most popular and diverse of outdoor recreation areas in Cape Town. It’s 5km to the Waterfront, via the Green Point Park (stop in at the medicinal garden for some indigenous memorialisation). There’s public art along the promenade, but of most interest is the cultural dimension to the corridor: you’ll see our people in all her myriad incarnations here. There is a drop off station at the Waterfront, within the Silo District (you could drop the bike and then visit the Zeitz Mocaa). Another popular option is to follow the World Cup 2010 fan walk into the central business district, and drop the bike at the Up Cycles Breakaway Cafe, where you can finish with a freshly squeezed juice.
I used to train three times a week in the Sea Point Pool, an Olympic-size salt water public pool on the promenade, right next to the ocean. With a separate kiddies area and a diving pool, it is enjoyed by a mix of serious swimmers, kids, grannies, retired stockbrokers, seances and silver foxes. If you really want to pack in the physical activity, take a swim, rent a bike and ride the promenade and finish with a visit to the Mocaa.
By Iain Harris, first published in Travel Africa magazine, edition 86, April-June 2019. To purchase this edition, click here.