Outside Cape Town is a station called False Bay. Near this station is a bike store. Inside the bike store are bikes. Each one holds the promise of adventure.
For those who’ve seen enough of Cape Town, with its famed mountains, hiking trails, spectacular beaches and lavish wine estates, a bike is the perfect getaway vehicle. The road outside is a squiggly line hugging the coast. It leads out towards the south-westernmost point on the continent: Cape Point. And it’s a way to take in the seaside outposts of the Western Cape, along the inlet of the Atlantic known as False Bay
Two Bikes, one mind
My friend Kim and I start at False Bay station one Sunday morning. Just down the road is Muizenberg beach, suburb of multicoloured bath houses and surfing-perfect waves.
Got a minute? Or, say, a couple of hours? Stop, rent a costume, take a lesson. At the end of two hours, I wasn’t riding the waves like a coastal conquistador, but at least I managed to stand up on the board a few times. Later, we stop for some coffee and milkshake before buckling up for the road again.
Surfing checked off the list. What’s next? The road is dotted with delightful stopovers. A little way down from Muizenberg, Kim and I stop at Kalk Bay, a fishing spot with an informal fish market set up alongside. Fishermen slice up the innards of fish and then coo performatively to the milling seals, who come rushing to the surface to snap up the fare.
If the seals are enjoying their lunch, why should we be left behind? We settle down at a tapas joint overlooking the promenade, order some white wine and olive-oil-garlicy calamari for our second pit stop.
The road winds its way along the ocean; we keep going, dragging our bikes across the pedestrian-only path of the Fish Hoek beach. More colourful bathhouses, more scenes of seaside revelry. The road undulates now, the sun is gaining on us, and the foamy ocean beside us looks tempting.
Sand and satisfaction
Twenty minutes later we are at the next suburb: Glencairn. The town is testing new shark-repelling equipment and has a sign notifying prospective swimmers to get into the ocean at their own risk.
Peeling down to our swimming costumes, we enter the water anyway. Bravery lies less in taking on sharks, and more in taking on cold temperatures! Before winter sets in, the water can be as cold as 14 degrees. But after a sweaty bike ride, and the sun blazing overhead, it eventually becomes easy to overcome the cold.
Glencairn isn’t the most spectacular beach, but it happens to be the least crowded. Beaches along the entire stretch are each marvellous in their own way. Forty-five minutes later, we are back on our bikes, this time, speeding further and further south down what is called the Cape Peninsula. The road is narrow, but for the most part empty and largely easy to navigate.
By the time we reach Glencairn, we’ve already been cycling for two hours. But just further off lies Simon’s Town, another village and a major naval base. It’s other national treasure is also commemorated here – a statue erected in honour of Just Nuisance, the only canine to be officially enlisted in the royal navy. This Great Dane’s services included boosting the sailors’ morale.
Seals seen, sharks avoided, and squid in our bellies, which part of the marine world is left to conquer? Penguins of course.
Down the road is Boulders, home to a colony of African penguins. It’s both beach and breeding ground. Swimmers and sunbathers share this patch of ocean with the tuxedoed birds, who swarm, swim and generally swan around the area acting like they own it. They are indeed emperors here; warnings inform revellers that “Penguins will bite, Please do not touch, feed or disturb the penguins”. (Entry is Rand 60 as the area is also part of a national park.) The penguins are endangered, visitors can see them from fenced walkways.
How do you top off that humdinger of a ride? If you’re near Simon’s Town, with fish and chips of course. So we wend our way to that old establishment: Salty Sea Dog, a bargain eatery among upscale joints. The battered calamari rings are perfect. The fried, locally fished hake is a golden slab of joy. We scarf down our ciders alongside.
There is a long way to cycle back – give or take three hours. But that journey lies some minutes into the future. In this present moment we have our cheap and tasty seafood, a system full of endorphins and a perfect sunny day.
From HT Brunch, September 27
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