Atmosphere & Food
The Lighthouse Cafe - Simon's Town Restaurant. Mariner Guest House - holiday accommodation in Simon's Town.The New Year arrival of restaurateur Brett Rathbone and his wife Heleen to Simon’s Town, has brought the sleepy naval enclave of Simon’s Town to life. Since The Lighthouse Café opened its doors on the 6th of January 2013, locals and foreigners alike have been thronging to eat at this light and character-filled eatery, where the only thing matching the fabulous food and décor is the warmth of the welcome from its hosts. Brett’s experience cooking in the south of France underpins his menu, with oodles of fresh fare bursting with flavour and style. He cooks everything from scratch, from his own aioli to the pizza bases, and his calamari is talk of the town.
Previously a longstanding owner of the landmark late-night restaurant Questionmark in Gauteng’s trendy Melville, Brett brings savoir-faire and style to his seasideThe Lighthouse Cafe - Simon's Town Restaurant. Mariner Guest House - holiday accommodation in Simon's Town. haven, where a passion for food and people imbues every meal. The Lighthouse Café is a very inviting space; light & airy with a distinct French Provencial and coastal feel to it. The 30 seater restaurant is generally referred to as the “prettiest little Café in the Southern Peninsula”.
Brett and Heleen as owners and hosts have truly created a “home from home” experience for their customers.

Breakfast, lunch & dinner is served at The Lighthouse Café and customers’ reviews would describe the food best: “the best croissant I’ve had outside of Paris” “the best pork belly I’ve had in many years” “this is the best hamburger I’ve eaten in my life” and from 3 Italian customers: “we musThe Lighthouse Cafe - Simon's Town Restaurant. Mariner Guest House - holiday accommodation in Simon's Town.t have the recipe for this pizza base, it is the best pizza we’ve eaten outside of Italy!”

What to expect

You can expect to be greeted at the door with warmth and to be made feel welcome, the service is excellent and the food heartwarming. One must make a special mention of the coffee, the Italian roasted beans were hand selected for this restaurant and their staff are all barista trained which makes that cup of strong caramel coffee one of the popular attractions of The Lighthouse Café.

A breaching great white shark

Everyone knows South Africa is a premier destination for wildlife photography: full of predator and prey dramas played out between lions, wild dogs, cheetahs, and countless other beasts. The drama continues underwater in Simon’s Town  with the famous breaching great white sharks of seal island, African penguins, and cow sharks: the ancient  predator of the kelp forests.  Unique in all the world, this  is the best place to observe the thrilling natural predatory hunting behaviors of the great white shark.  A giant shark launching out of the water to catch a seal is an unforgettable wild experience. I traveled down to the Cape Peninsula after a leading our series of photo safaris in hopes of experiencing this behavior and capturing some topside and underwater images.

Simon's Town from the harborArriving at Seal Island at sunrise

Simon’s Town is a unique and appealing seaside town on the Cape Peninsula south of Cape Town.   Historic and modern houses are built up the hillside and a main road lined with charming storefronts hugs the coast and continues past beaches, harbors, and penguin colonies. The fine old buildings of the town center house restaurants, shops, and cafes.  The food is outstanding with terrific fish and chips, smoked fish, and other South African favorites. The north facing orientation of the town and False Bay affords it some protection from the wind, but it can still be subject to the famously changeable Cape weather.  The former British Naval base is now an active South African Naval Base.

Flying Sharks

Seal Island

Just as Simon’s Town is an attraction for human visitors, Seal Island,  a 800m granite island protruding six meters above the waves of  False Bay,  is a seasonal attraction for great white sharks.  Large numbers of Cape fur seals occupy the island and the great whites are here to prey upon the young seals that will be heading out on their first foraging expeditions.  It is thought that the sharks target the young seals because they are less skilled at the avoidance techniques learned and practiced by older seals. The great whites that visit Seal Island have adapted their hunting strategy especially for this area. Their ambush at full speed from below results in the spectacular full breaches out of the water that make this area famous.

A predation event great white vs sealOn this day in early June we assemble at the boat before sun up and get settled in.  The 8 nautical mile ride out to Seal Island is shorter than I expected and quite smooth.  The stern of the boat is dominated by the shark cage and crates of chum, but we have plenty of room to move about and a cabin for shelter and storage of topside gear.  Once we have Seal Island in sight the mood among the crew changes to anticipation and concentration.  We are now just off shore of “the launch pad”; the  shallow area from which seals  embark to go fishing or steer toward upon their return.  The crew is spotting for seals swimming on the surface.  We give special attention to small groups or individual seals returning to the island as these are more often targeted by the sharks since they may be tired, full, or less attentive. Crew members shout out at each seal sighting and we all position ourselves to watch the seal. Watching through the camera I do not loose my lock on the seal.  Just as I am ready to move to new target off the stern, the water erupts in a white foam and the great white hurls himself out of the water.  I can see a full profile, jaws to tail, as his belly rolls towards us and he falls with a splash back into the water.


great white shark as seen from the cage

The whole event is over in seconds and I collect only a few frames of the incredible sight.  On this occasion the seal seems to have escaped the jaws.  Others are not so lucky and fall victim to attacks from underwater executed without a breach but the blood in the water testifies that it was a success. We counted over 10 incidents of natural predation including that great breach.  All events that we spot are recorded and added to the boat’s detailed records.  Next we deployed the decoy seal behind our boat.  The rubber seal is constructed out of a child’s wetsuit  and is towed a short distance behind the boat.  The photographers take up positions in the stern and it was not long before “(Justin) Bieber” the decoy fell victim to a massive strike and a full breach.

I have packed two cameras to use:

My Canon 5D Mark II with a EF 70–200mm f/2.8 IS with and without the +1.4x teleconverter  for use topside  capturing the  breaching, predation, and seal island.

Underwater I used my Canon 5D Mark III in a Nauticam housing  fitted with a EF 16-35mm f/2.8  lens

A cold but exciting ride in the cage

As the morning faded and the pace of the hunt typically slows, we prepared the cage and chummed the water to attract a great white to the cage for underwater observation.  After a time a monstrous female gave us some wonderful close encounters.  Luring the shark to the cage

Crew member and the seal decoy

The excellent crew with their knowledge of the sharks and the area made this a truly unique and exciting experience.  To see the predators breach from the water is a magnificent sight .  These excursions and our photographs give great white sharks a value alive where previously their only value was their fins, jaws, and as fishing prizes.  The 3 companies running the shark boats do so with the greatest amount of respect for the sharks and are contributing to our knowledge of the sharks and their ecosystem.

Tuxedos on the Beach

Penguins amble up the beach to their nests

A much calmer but still exciting attraction in Simon’s Town is the penguin colony at Boulders Beach.  In 1985 a colony of African penguins established a rare land-based breeding site at Boulders Beach just a few kilometers to the south of Simon’s Town.  Small coves  with white sand beach and calm shallow water are interspersed between huge boulders of smooth weather-worn Cape granite.  There is no record of the birds having lived here prior to 1985 so their decision to settle in an area already well utilized by humans is remarkable and a very happy occurrence for numerous photographers.  Their nesting season peaks from March to May so when coming for the Great White action in June, nesting is still active and the penguins are easy to locate and photograph.

African Penguin vocalizes

The park has been modified to protect the nesting and allow easy viewing. A long walkway leads from a visitor’s center down to a large platform with a view of a nesting beach then traverses along the hillside over to the swimming beach. Many nest sites can be spotted from the walkway.  Down on the swimming beach it is easy to encounter groups of 1 – 4 penguins emerging from the water then walking across the sand, right past me, under a boulder arch, and up the hillside to their nest under foliage.  Even the parking lot has great views of traveling penguins, nests, and their water access points.   To photograph the penguins I used  my EF 70–200 lens  and added the 1.4x teleconverter when photographing from the viewing platform.

Penguins are all around town in the evenings.  Going to a bayside restaurant you will often see them outside in the parking lot, under the cars, crossing the roads, and even ambling  up the steps and into the restaurant.

Ancient  Predators

After a morning of flying great white action, the perfect activities for the afternoon are a  nice plate of fish and chips followed by a shore dive with the seven-gilled cow shark.  Several dive operators in town take guests to a beautiful cove just  5 minutes out of town.  Here the wave action is gentle and the kelp undulates on the surface between rocks. Seven-gill cow shark or spotted cow shark is a prehistoric apex predator and king of the kelp forest Little is known about cow sharks because they spend most of their lives in the deep, cold oceans beyond the reach of divers.   This site is one of the few places in the world where you have a great chance  (85% as stated by the local diver operators) of diving with this rarely seen shark.

I am rigged with my Canon 5D MKIII in a Nauticam housing with a fisheye lens and just one strobe, for a pop of light only if the visibility is good. No chumming or baiting is needed due to the shark’s natural confidence and curiosity. The sharks readily approach me to get a closer look and pass at arms length before turning at the last moment and continuing to glide through the channel. Ready access to this marine reserve and the beautiful underwater setting make this dive a special event.

Colorful beach houses outside of Simons Town An unusual sight

I have enjoyed several days of wildlife and thrills in Simon’s Town between the penguins, great white sharks, and the cow sharks of the kelp forests.  The many accommodations in town are top notch and there are many fine restaurants to choose from. Exploring the Cape of Good Hope and the nearby wineries yielded spectacular views, ostriches on the beach, character villages, and much more.  This was the perfect end to a wonderfully exciting and wildlife filled trip to South Africa and is not to be missed by any photographer.  I am putting together an exciting trip to couple with my Photography Safari in May 2014.

See more at:

Simons Town’s rescue boat, Spirit of Safmarine III is undergoing a complete refit at Tree Tops Marine that will give her another 20 years of life. The ex-RNLI boat has served at the Table Bay rescue base, as well as Simons Town and is due for a little tender love and care. She is going to be fitted with new props, new engines, a complete re-wire and of course a complete respray.

Spirit of Safmarine III at Tree Tops. Simon's Town

The strip of land hugging the coastline between the shores of Muizenberg and Simons Town is some of the most visually beautiful land in Cape Town. There are a few ways to explore this: rent a car, a scooter, and bicycle or use the Metrorail train which runs along the coast.

If you are coming from the CBD then head towards Cape Town Central and book a ticket along the Simons Town line. They are cheap and have stations at the heart of every suburb you wish to explore.

In the summer months a steam train runs on Sundays which is loads of fun for the family and train enthusiasts – prices can be a little steep in comparison at R220 for adults and R150 for kids aged (3-12) But this may prove a once in a lifetime experience as the coaches date from 1922 -1938 and even has a lounge car with a cash bar.

For those of you who prefer to take their time and meander along the coast, I suggest stopping at Muizenberg, St James, Kalk Bay and Simons Town.


Muizenberg next to Simon's TownRenowned for its long beach and friendly waves Muizenberg has a long history that history buffs will find fascinating. With sites such as Rhodes Cottage, seaside home of Cecil John Rhodes, the site of The Battle of Muizenberg and Het Posthuys (The Post House)- one the oldest buildings in South Africa which was built by the Dutch East India Company. The waves are great for surfing, body boarding and swimming. There are also lifeguards on duty and shark spotters who look out for any sharks swimming anywhere near to shore.

St James

The next stop along is the seaside St James, here you will be able to swim in the sea-pool and sunbathe on the beach in front of the famous colourful beach huts. St James has many stairways leading up the mountain to Boyes Drive a road that lends a stunning perspective to your trip along the coast. This is a great beach for moms and their kids to catch some sun and enjoy the ocean.

Kalk Bay

The seaside fishing village of Kalk Bay is a must-see. Tucked out of the way of the often vicious South Easterly wind and nestled at the foot of the mountain, it is a truly magnificent place. With the aroma of rich espresso emanating from the many coffee shops mingled with the incense burning in others combined with the shades of sunlight in the hours just before it sets. Ask people about Kalk Bay and the adjectives fly; picturesque; quaint; vibrant; gypsy to name a few. The harbour sells fresh fish brought in on a daily basis. Kalk Bay is an article on its own. A walk along the harbour’s pier to the lighthouse is lovely whether it’s raining or shining.

Simons Town

Simon's TownThe train slows and stops before your eyes are ready to leave the majestic ocean, you have reached the final stop – Simons Town. Dotted with aqua-marine coves between large grey granite boulders and with powder, white sand beaches Simons Town is a truly beautiful place. With places of interest such as Boulders Beach with its penguin sanctuary, the Scratch Patch, a gemstone treasure hunt and the South African Naval Base, be sure to set aside enough time to explore at leisure. Don’t worry about packed lunches either, all along this route are coffee shops, restaurants and confectionaries all enticing you in with their inviting smells and friendly staff.

Simon's Town Penguins Holiday Cape Town

Boulders Beach in Simonstown is home to some 2500 penguins, these penguins are known as jackass penguins because of the braying sounds they make. They look so awkward the way they waddle and hop around but you will be amazed at how they can jump, they have even been known to climb fences that were erected to keep them out of private gardens.

Boulders Beach is probably one of the only places in the world where you can swim with penguins. These penguins have become quite habituated to people, just a word of warning though they can inflict a really nasty bite so best not to get too close to them.

Jackass Penguins  with chicks in Simons Town Cape Town Holiday

Jackass penguins usually start breeding at about four years old, they keep the same partner for many years and return to the same nests each breeding season. Nests are usually burrowed into the ground or under the undergrowth to protect them from the sun. Normally penguins produce between two or three eggs per season. Parents share the nesting duties with one staying on the nest whilst the other goes out in search of food. The partner left on the nest will stay without food or drink for about two and a half days until the partner returns. Chicks are closely watched over by the parents until they are two months or a little older if they have not had sufficient food.

Jackass Penguins juvies moulting Simon's Town Western Cape

The penguin chick are born with fluffy grey feathers which they slowly lose as they get older until they get their adult black and white coat. There is a calendar of activity for the Jackass Penguins at boulders that comprises as follows:

January – Juveniles are moulting and adults are feeding up for the breeding season
February to August – The breeding season
September to October – The penguins are feeding up for moulting
November to December – the moulting season

Boulders beach is within easy reach of Cape Town being a 45 minute drive, they have walkways and viewing decks where the penguins can be seen swimming and nesting, it is amazing to see them with their chicks during the breeding season. We highly recommend a visit to Boulders Beach to observe these funny little creatures.