Cape Town’s ‘lentil curtain’
About 1.5km further south is another eco-hub, the green-fingered Good Hope Gardens. As well as organically grown plants including fynbos (indigenous vegetation) and subtropical trees, the enchanting complex features the magical Dream Sanctuary gardens and has a resident psychic, medium and astrologer. This is also where the imaginative Dream Weavers build everything from jungle gyms to furniture using invasive alien species like gum trees, which now have to be cut down by South African law.
The entrance to Cape Point is a few kilometres further south. The 7,750-hectare nature reserve’s empty beaches, fynbos and walking trails lead to Africa’s southwestern tip, where a lighthouse surveys the open Atlantic Ocean. European explorers called the headland the Cape of Storms for its treacherous weather; and after Vasco da Gama rounded it in 1497 -- opening up a new trade route to India and the Far East -- renamed it the Cape of Good Hope. Stretching away to the east is False Bay, one of South Africa’s largest bays at 33km-wide, named by mariners who confused it with Table Bay on the other side of the peninsula.
Returning 20km north along the peninsula’s eastern side, Simon’s Town was a British Royal Navy base for 143 years until 1957, and remains the South African Navy’s headquarters. At the harbour, stalls sell sculptures of Nelson Mandela and African wildlife wrought in beads, stone and wood, and tourist boats depart in search of whales and seals.
A sense of history lingers, with peeling colonial mansions and plaques recalling famous visitors such as Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson in 1776 (then a midshipman being invalided home from the East Indies to England) and The Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling (who visited several times between 1865 and 1936). Wrought-iron balconies adorn the British Hotel, a Victorian hotel dating back to 1871, and Union Jack flags hang in the window of local curio shop HMS Pickpocket (56 St George's Street; 021-786-3605). Perhaps thanks to its remote position near the southwestern tip of Africa, Simon’s Town still feels like a colonial outpost, with colourful gabled facades between its cobbled staircases and palm trees. With its sleepy, time-warp atmosphere, the town is less alternative than other parts of the peninsula, but gives a sepia-tinted snapshot of the area’s colonial and maritime history. As the Simon’s Town Museum, the South African Navy Museum and the Heritage Museum reveal, the town hosted a prison camp in the Second Anglo-Boer War between 1899 and1902, saw forced removals of Coloured people under apartheid in 1967 and even played a part in the American Civil War when a Confederate cruiser, the CSS Alabama, visited in 1863, evading the Yankee blockade off Cape Point.
Eight kilometres on, near the top of the peninsula, is the fishing village of Kalk Bay. This is a good place to see the creative results of the lentil curtain lifestyle. Among the cobbled alleys and weather-beaten, turn-of-the-century buildings is a seafront “culture mile”, with galleries, craft showrooms, junk shops, antique stores and boutiques. Look out for Artvark, which specialises in curvy, patterned cutlery and metalwork such as wall sculptures, candlesticks and chairs.
Kalk Bay’s artistic flair extends to the restaurants and bars catering to day-tripping Capetonians. Cape to Cuba is an atmospheric spot for a mojito. Its bohemian jumble of pot plants, chandeliers, antiques and Che insignia overlooks expansive False Bay and passing trains travelling between Simon’s Town and Cape Town. For something more substantial before heading back to the city, hit the harbour side Live Bait for a Greek-style seafood meal, or neighbouring Polana for tapas, live jazz and views of seals, cormorants and whales.