Cape Town – I left the house as dawn was little more than a vaguely glowing promise on the horizon. It was chilly, too, cold enough for my breath to condense in the still air. There wasn’t so much as a hint of a breeze and it promised to be a spectacular morning for a walk. As I drove to the coast, the beacon atop Muizenberg peak caught the first of the sun’s rays, glinting and glimmering in apparent invitation to head into the mountains.

I had planned to hike up Bailey’s Kloof and walk a circuitous route that would provide a moderate amount of exercise and still afford, for the most part, a good view of False Bay. I had in mind that the whales should be here by now and it is always a special moment each winter when I spot my first one. Certainly Dave Hurwitz and his crew at the Simon’s Town Boat Company have been posting superb pictures of the early arrivals – a remarkable number of humpbacks as well as southern rights – and I had high hopes of catching a glimpse of a breaching monster during my travels.

As I climbed out of the car on Boyes Drive a thin, low mist, no doubt caused by the chill early morning air, hung over the Cape Flats and drifted gently out to sea, driven by the lightest of north-westerly breezes. The scene was suggestive of some smouldering Middle Earth landscape from a Tolkien novel – it made for a surreal start to what promised to be a gorgeous winter’s morning.

The first part of the hike – isn’t it all too often the case? – was straight up a steep trail that meanders only slightly towards Mimetes Valley, and I stopped regularly to check the flat, calm bay for signs of a whale. Well, I stopped because I was out of breath and my legs were tiring rapidly after too many days of sitting at home avoiding the worst of the winter weather, but I did use the rest breaks to scan the horizon in search of a visiting leviathan.

It was a perfect day for walking, the sun was climbing higher in the sky and the protea bushes seemed to light up with a near-incandescent glow as the day brightened.

In Mimetes Valley, as the first warming rays peaked over the rocky outcrops and pushed back the night’s chill, the birds sang for all they were worth to welcome the new day. Grass birds, high on their perches, chattered joyously and I couldn’t help but wonder if I wouldn’t also be moved to song having spent a frigid night in the mountains.

Simon's Town Nature AttractionsA thin, low mist hangs over the Cape Flats and drifts gently out to sea, driven by the lightest of north-westerly breezes.Picture: Tim Rolston

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For the small creatures that inhabit these vales the arrival of the sun must feel like winning the lottery, and more than likely proves to be a real and metaphorical life saver.

By now I was growing more and more appreciative that I had risen early. There was barely a sound, no wind to rattle the restios and no traffic noise in the background. Just the quiet tinkling of running water, the remnants of last week’s heavy rains, and all about the chirping and fluttering of birds, flitting from bush to bush, defining territories and searching for breakfast.

It is easy to imagine that winter is a dull time but the amount of life in the mountains is quite remarkable.

I reached Muizenberg cave and took the obligatory crawl through a wormhole to the other side, a childish pleasure perhaps, but still something that needs to be done, at least to my mind.

Then I headed up onto St James’ Peak and once more scanned for a whale. For a moment I thought that I had spotted one, but alas, it turned out to be a mat of kelp, ripped loose from the shore during the previous week’s storms.

Heading down a meandering path towards the coast again I could see all of the bay laid out before me and I kept my eyes peeled for signs of movement, to no avail.

In a protected dip the flora changed and there were black-bearded proteas just beginning to flower and a variety of different ericas adding colour to the landscape. It is these micro-habitats which create the remarkable diversity of the Cape floral kingdom. Where previously I had hardly seen a flower, now there were proteas bursting forth all around.

Orange-breasted and double-collared sunbirds were everywhere – they seem to like these protected pockets of fynbos.

Having had high hopes of spotting my first whale of the season and not expecting a lot else, once again nature surprised with her bounty, and although I never did spot a southern right, I did enjoy a lovely walk, filled with wonderful flowers and dozens of brightly coloured birds. I suppose it is simply that one has to get out there and see what Mother Nature has on her programme. It may be unpredictable but it is rarely disappointing. – Weekend Argus

Whales Simon's TownThe general misconception is that Hermanus is the only place to view the Whales coming past our beautiful coast, but Simon’s Town has some of the most spectacular views around and it just over the mountain from Cape Town. Add our lovely accommodation to the mix and you have the perfect holiday.

The best area to spot whales in Cape Town is on the warmer False Bay side, and Simon’s Town is a prime location for whale watching during the whale season. Whale Season runs from mid-August to mid-October when the Southern Right Whales return to these warm waters. Good points of view include Boyes Drive; which runs along the mountainside between Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay; the main coastal road running from Fish Hoek to Simons Town. There are plenty of view points and restaurant along the main road, where you can observe the whales, with good off road parking.

Simon's TownThe revised schedule for the Main Road Rehabilitation now has the end of Phase 2, the current Phase, listed as being June 2013 – it is already running several months late. Funding has now been obtained for Phase 3 – Kalk Bay Harbour to Clovelly Road and Atlantic Road to Casa Labia.

Whist the concept design has been completed, a contractor has yet to be appointed. Phase 3 is anticipated to be a 3-year project. It is hoped that a contractor could be on site to commence with Phase 3 in September 2013. However, the City’s procurement and appeal process could delay the commencement.

Simon's Town Spring FestivalOur annual Simons’ Town Spring Festival takes place over the long weekend from the 21st September through to Heritage Day on Tuesday the 24th of September. This is very much a showcase of the people and passions of Simon’s Town, with all our favourite activities featured. The Spring Regatta in the cornerstone event, with open gardens, running and fitness events, markets, art, Music events all through the town and Navy and historic tours – but we need more!

Do you have an expertise or passion that you are willing to showcase – is it “a how to session? cooking, paintng, potting, playing an instrument? Is it dance, fitness or maybe a beautiful garden? If you think you couldl put together an event based on your idea then send a proposal to margaret@paddlers.co.za.

Heritage Day – Tuesday the 24th of September

“Simonites” who live in this unique and attractive town will affirm that the best times of the year in Simon’s Town are the early and late winter months. These are the months when the rest of the Cape Peninsula is cold, wet and windy!

The secret lies in the fact that Simon’s Town is one of only three or four sea-side towns in South Africa that are north-facing, and Simon’s Bay is also sheltered from the strong north-west winter winds by the Cape Peninsula mountain chain on its northern and western aspects.

The climatic advantages of this sheltered bay, compared to the storm ravaged Table Bay, were appreciated by Simon van der Stel when in 1687 he personally surveyed and named Simon’s Bay. His recommendation to the Dutch East India Company (VOC), that Simon’s Bay become the winter harbour for their ships, was only implemented in 1744 after many sailing ships had been storm-wrecked in Table Bay. The Royal Navy also appreciated the safe shelter of Simon’s Bay and moved the headquarters of the Cape Fleet there in 1814. Simon’s Town has remained the main South African Naval Base ever since.

Simons TownThe historic village faces the sheltered bay with its placid waters which change colour with the tides and temperatures of the sea, or reflect the pale pink and silver shades of sunset. In winter the sun rises in splendid morning colours over the Hottentots-Holland Mountains across False Bay, and bathes Simon’s Town in warm winter sunshine for a far longer day than in most other places in the Cape Peninsula.

Of course it does rain occasionally in winter, but the long, cold and dreary days, associated with the Cape in winter are few. Even the strong, sometimes gale-force, north-west winds do not cause the havoc and damage seen along the Atlantic coast and in Table Bay.

The residents of Simon’s Town therefore seldom find it necessary to light a home fire or indoor heater in winter. In the mornings they sit on their sun-filled balconies overlooking the calm waters of Simon’s Bay, the busy harbour and the yacht basin. When the rain does come, it is usually very welcome!

The town centre is quiet in winter and parking is not a problem! Some residents may appreciate the absence of tourists, but most are happy to share this secret season and to welcome our visitors all year round.

What is there to do in Simon’s Town in the so-called off-season? For a start, Simon’s Town offers a large selection of restaurants and places to stay. There are two excellent hotels in Simon’s Town and a third in Glencairn, while numerous B&B or self-catering establishments offer a wide choice of alternative accommodation. Most are listed on this website. The town also offers a wide selection of excellent restaurantsfrom five-star establishments to casual dining at smaller eateries, or “fish and chips” on the town jetty.

Simons TownWinter is a time for walking, and from Simon’s Town you can walk south along the sea shore towards Cape Point, or north towards Fish Hoek and Muizenberg. The more energetic can walk up the Red Hill road, or via mountain steps, to the signal station and Just Nuisance’s grave on the plateau above the town. Long Beach provides a wonderful walk at sunset or the early morning, and a walk along Willis Way will take you past the Penguins, Boulders Beach and the Golf Course, with changing views across False Bay.

The Historic Mile, extending from the railway station to the Old Burying Ground, is a gentle one and a half kilometre walk. It passes many historic buildings such as Admiralty House and the newly-restored Palace Barracks, the ornate dockyard gates, the British Hotel and Jubilee Square, the centre of the town with a wonderful view over the yacht basin, and the life-size statue of that famous dog, Just Nuisance!

Simons Town AccommodationAlong the way you will find inviting places to enjoy a cup of coffee, or a pancake, and perhaps take time to browse in several antique and curio shops. From Jubilee Square the road ascends slightly to pass the Dutch Reformed Church, where the music of the original South African Anthem, “Die Stem” was composed. The Historic Mile ends at the Old Burying Ground on the right with a fine view of the Harbour and the Martello Tower on the left. The Old Burying Ground which dates from 1813 has many graves of historic interest, including those of Boer Prisoners of War, some of those who perished in the Birkenhead tragedy, and of many young seamen lost at sea. A little further on Seaforth road leads down to the penguin colony.

The South African Navy is an integral part of Simon’s Town and although the harbour and dockyard are closed to visitors, the comings and goings of our own ships and visiting vessels are visible from almost anywhere in the town, and dockyard tours are arranged from time to time. The colourful yacht basin, home of the False Bay Yacht Club, lies alongside the harbour and the old Cable Restorer, docked on the outer harbour wall with its restaurant, “The Roaring Forties”, is available for special functions.
Simons Town Activities
Should inclement weather occur, this is an ideal time to visit one of our several museums. The Simon’s Town Museum in Court Road is one of the best small museums in the country and the Naval Museum alongside it is of special interest. There are also the Toy Museum and the Heritage Museum nearer the centre of the town. The Bronze Age Foundry has a superb gallery, where bronze castings of international standard are on exhibition and for sale, and there is also a permanent Art Gallery in the Quayside Centre. The Simon’s Town Public Library, situated on the main road opposite the Police station, has attractive reading rooms and a large collection of books and magazines.

For the more adventurous, what better than a trip on the Bay? The Spirit of Just Nuisance operating from the town jetty offers cruises with an excellent commentary around the inner bay and harbour. Boat trips to Seal Island, Cape Point & whale watching (June-November) leave from the same jetty. A guided kayaking excursion to visit the penguins by sea is also highly recommended. Visitors are always welcome at the Simon’s Town Country Club which offers bowls and squash and has a formidable golf links. There are several safe beaches where some intrepid Simonites swim all year round, despite the cold water!
Simons Town Activities
Close to the town several interesting and scenic routes explore the “Deep South”. Red Hill road provides spectacular views over False Bay, and of Simon’s Town and the harbour lying in the shelter of the Simon’s Berg. At the top of Red Hill a road turns off to the signal station and the grave of Just Nuisance, and then winds down towards the Atlantic Ocean. An impressive array of very large stone sculptures for sale stands alongside the first T-junction and is well worth a visit.

From here one road leads straight on to the entrance of theCape Point Nature Reserve and Cape Point, while the right hand fork brings you to the picturesque village of Scarborough and then along the seaboard, with the huge Atlantic rollers breaking below, to Kommetjie. Here it is worth visiting the impressively tall Slangkop Lighthouse, open to visitors, and also the famous Kommetjie surfers’ beach. The road continues in a north-westerly direction towards Fish Hoek, but you can turn right at the crossroads, and return to Simon’s Town via Glencairn.

Simons Town AccommodationCape Point and the Nature Reserve can also be reached by simply continuing along the Simon’s Town main road passing the golf course and Miller’s Point, after which the road ascends to the Park entrance. Baboons are almost always encountered along this road. Enjoy their antics, but please do not feed or tease them!

The friendly people of Simon’s Town will be happy to share their secret season with you, whether it is as a day visitor or a longer stay. We know that you will be back, or perhaps even wish to join the many who have been fortunate enough to make Simon’s Town their home.

Selection of photographs taken from the recently published book
Simon’s Town – Views from the Bay by Boet Dommisse and Dave Hurwitz