If the Atlantic seaboard is Cape Town’s Riviera, the Indian Ocean suburbs along the False Bay coast (Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, St James, Danger Beach and St James) are its bohemian, shabby-chic relation. But the Indian Ocean coast has one asset the billionaires of Clifton can never buy: warm sea water.
Beachgoers along this stretch of coastline are spoiled for choice: for the bold, the pretty and popular Danger Beach (which gets its off-putting name from its rip current and large waves ) offers lifeguards, charm, rock pools and exhilarating swimming.
When to go: In the morning, as the False Bay coast is close to the mountains and loses the sun early. Spend the afternoon exploring the delightful suburb of Kalk Bay.
Getting there: The adventurous should go by train, alighting at Dalebrook station. But be aware that trains are not the safest form of transport, so take care if you choose this option. Or it’s 45 minutes’ drive from central Cape Town, along the M25 highway to Muizenberg and St James. Park in one of the many designated parking areas, around the sign for Dalebrook, or on the roadside.
The suburb of Sea Point has many beaches (Sea Point itself, Rocklands, Granger Bay and Saunders beach) that are always busy. But tucked away off its famous promenade is the lovely but forgotten Queens Beach. From the beautifully situated Sea Point public pool, it’s a five-minute stroll to this quiet, wind-free beach.
It’s overlooked by hotels and apartment blocks – but unbelievably it is also overlooked by most beachgoers. It is only ever really crowded on New Year’s Day, when every beach in South Africa is pretty much bursting at the gills.
Queens Beach boasts what the locals call a ‘big and mushy’ break for surfers, plus white sand to laze on and, for families, starfish in rock pools, interesting shells and rocks for children to clamber over.
While there are no lifeguards, the swimming is generally safe. Like all Atlantic seaboard beaches, however, the Benguela current means the water temperature is what can only politely be called cold. Although in summer, when temperatures can hit the upper 30s, locals prefer to call Atlantic seaboard swims ‘refreshing’ rather than ‘refrigerating.’
Getting there: Take the MyCiti bus and alight at the Queens Beach stop, or drive, cycle or walk along the Sea Point Promenade.
When to go: Mid- to late-afternoon, after a morning of shopping in town or at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. Linger to watch the glorious sunsets.
While Camps Bay is one of the world’s most famous and glitzy beaches, in season (December and January) it’s very busy, both on the sand and along its strip. On such days, beachgoers looking for something less ‘pumping’ should consider the relative peace and quiet (and also refuge from the wind) of its more laid-back neighbour, Glen Beach.
Tucked away behind sand dunes and granite boulders, it’s a spot where local surfers guard its ‘wedgy right’ and, out of season, take their dogs to chase frisbees and socialise. It is surrounded only by small bungalows, and the majestic Twelve Apostles mountains are its backdrop. Vendors sell refreshments by singing decades-old jingles, or it’s a 10-minute stroll over the sand dune to Camps Bay.
Getting there: Take the MyCiti bus, or drive the winding road down from Kloof Nek, through The Glen, towards Camps Bay. Glen Beach is badly signposted, but you will see parking spaces on the side of Victoria Road, before turning left to Camps Bay or right to Clifton. Look out for the two sets of steps either side of the beach.
When to go: Late morning or late afternoon. This side of the mountain gets sun later in the morning, while sunsets are superb.
There are few private beaches in South Africa but Water’s Edge, near Simonstown(a beautiful hour’s drive south-east from central Cape Town), certainly looks and feels like one. Visitors access the beach through what looks exactly like someone’s garden gate. This is what discourages many people from exploring further and what makes this perfect spot a jealously guarded secret. Don’t be discouraged.
The protected little cove has sweeping views of False Bay and the Hottentots Holland mountain range in the distance. It is perfect for children and safe for swimming, with lovely big boulders to jump off.
Getting there: Drive through Simonstown and look for signposts for Seaforth beach and park in front of Seaforth restaurant. Set off in a southerly direction, downhill. Take a sharp right, with the sea on your left. The path will continue: look out for a large slatted gate and then follow the path down to the beach.
When to go: Any time. At Seaforth restaurant you can grab an unpretentious plate of fish or seafood, as well as use the toilets.
Beta beach is actually a series of picture-perfect, tiny beaches and coves of white sand and azure water, beneath luxury bungalows. The beach has a perfect view of Camps Bay and Lion’s Head and offers peace, fantastic sunsets and safe, though of course chilly, swimming.
Getting there: Follow Victoria Road through Camps Bay, turn right on to Beta Road, park as far along the road in the direction of the beach as possible, then follow the walkway through the bungalows to the beach.
When to go: At low tide; at high tide the beach can be very small and cramped. Check the tides on a reliable site such as Magic Seaweed.
A 10-minute drive along Victoria Road towards the better-known and busier Llandudno, Oudekraal is an exceptionally beautiful little beach, completely off the average tourist’s radar. The surroundings have historical and spiritual significance to the peninsula’s Muslim community, as, at the turn of the 18th century, it was used as a refuge for escaped slaves, among them Muslim spiritual leaders.
The beach is now best known as a launch spot for scuba divers, but it also offers safe, wave-free swimming and interesting and varied snorkelling, if you can handle cold water.
There are picnic and barbecue areas above the perfect cove, which is shady and protected, both by massive granite boulders and Milkwood trees. As the beach is part of Table Mountain national park, a conservation fee of 30 rand (around Dh7) for adults and 15 rand for children is payable on entry.
Getting there: Drive 6km along Victoria Road, the coastal road out of Camps Bay, and look out for signs once you pass the 12 Apostles Hotel.
When to go: Go early. Anyone who arrives around 9am is sure to get some alone time for at least a few hours.