I’m back again. And again. And again.
The reserve really becomes fun when you return and drive all the back roads where tour buses aren’t allowed – the big buses are restricted to Cape Point Drive. There are multi-day hikes to do, day hikes, mountain-bike routes, lookout points, picnic spots, empty beaches where you can read and build sandcastles, swimming spots, places to scuba-dive, surf spots, fishing spots and even overnight accommodation.
1 Swim, braai, fish and have fun
If you’re keen on a social day with family and friends, stick to the False Bay side of the reserve where the sea is generally calmer and there are more facilities. You can swim in the tidal pools at Bordjiesrif (or slightly further south at Buffels Bay), spread your towel on a lawn and light a braai fire. To get to Bordjiesrif, drive 6,8 km from the entrance along Cape Point Drive and turn left just before the Buffelsfontein visitors centre. The Da Gama monument (pictured left) is situated here – it serves as a navigational beacon in conjunction with the Dias monument to the south-west, so that ships can avoid the notorious Whittle Rock in False Bay. You can walk (or drive) north from Bordjiesrif to Booi se Skerm, a popular surf spot. Buffels Bay is the biggest picnic and braai spot in the reserve and it can get busy during the summer months. Fortunately there’s plenty of space so you’re almost guaranteed to find some privacy. You can fish here, but if you’re a serious angler you’ll head straight to Rooikrans (see #6).
2 Explore Olifantsbos
Turn right onto Link Road about 2 km from the entrance. You’ll drive over the desolate Smitswinkel Flats, on your way to Olifantsbos on the western “wild coast” of the park. Along the way, about 2,7 km after the turn-off, there’s a parking area where mountain bikers often leave their cars. This is the entrance to a 5 km jeep track that heads south through fields of restios, past rock formations and herds of zebra to where it links up with the tar road again. If you carry on with Link Road, you’ll reach a T-junction. Turn left and drive to the picnic spot at Olifantsbos. This is also the start of the popular Shipwreck Trail (5,6 km there and back; about an hour). The coastline around Cape Point is littered with the wrecks of ships that met their demise on the reefs and rocks over centuries. The main culprit is a rock called Albatross, which lies about a kilometre off the beach at Olifantsbos. It’s named after the Albatross, which sank in 1863. It’s about a 2,8 km walk along the beach to the wreck of the Nolloth, a cargo ship that sank in 1965. Along the way you’ll hike past the most prominent wreck on this coastline, the Thomas T Tucker (1942), which is now home to screeching kelp gulls and cormorants. Once you’ve reached the Nolloth you can hike back along the beach, or head inland on a 7,5 km trail past Sirkelsvlei back to Olifantsbos. Sirkelsvlei is the biggest body of fresh water in the park, replenished by an underground source. It’s a great spot for birdwatching: Orange-breasted sunbirds and grey-backed cisticolas are plentiful and you might even startle a shy Hottentot buttonquail into revealing itself in the low bushes south of the vlei.
3 Drive (and hike) a circular route 4 Silence guaranteed
If you’re really not keen on company, drive along Cape Point Drive to the turn-off to Platboom (about 8 km from the entrance). As you drive down the hill you’ll see the Cape of Good Hope far in the distance. Platboom is possibly the most unspoilt and quietest beach along the whole peninsula. Ostriches, cocky baboons and a herd of eland hang out here, but not many humans. You can walk along the beach in either direction. Head south – after about half an hour you’ll see a ruin. This was once a cottage where the famous fynbos expert Hugh Taylor spent his childhood holidays, and where his love of the veld was kindled. From Cape Point Drive, turn onto Circular Drive – a 7 km tarred loop through the veld – and keep a lookout for signs pointing to Gifkommetjie and Hoek van Bobbejaan. At Gifkommetjie, the views are beautiful to the north over the Kommetjieberg and it’s where you’ll find the start of the Gifkommetjie hiking trail – a 5 km loop. This is a ruggedly beautiful section of the park, not visited by many people. You’ll walk along the coast with the wild, blue Atlantic on one side and dunefields on the other. The chance of seeing anyone else is remote – maybe an ostrich or three.
5 Cape of Good Hope day hike
Less than a kilometre from the entrance you’ll see a parking area on your left. This is the Smitswinkel lookout point, and the start of the two-day Cape of Good Hope Hiking Trail (see p 57). Day visitors can hike the first part of the trail along the coastal cliffs, around Paulsberg (368 m), the highest mountain in the reserve, until you reach the old cannon at Kanonkop. You’ll have views across False Bay the whole time. If it’s clear you’ll be able to see Hangklip on the far side of the bay. It’s about 11 km to Kanonkop and back and the hike should take no more than six hours.
6 Land a fish from the deep blue
Drive south along Cape Point Drive. At the traffic circle, follow signs left to Rooikrans. Park and walk down the narrow footpath through fynbos and along the cliffs. You might be lucky to see (and hear) southern right whales below you. This is holy ground if you’re a serious fisherman – one of only a few places in the world where you can catch deep-water species like yellowtail and galjoen from land. Make sure you have the right fishing permit before you cast. ( Visit daff.gov.za or contact 086 000 3474 – the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing – to find out what licence you need, and buy it at your nearest post office.) You don’t need to be an angler to visit Rooikrans. The view to the north, over Buffels Bay in the direction of Paulsberg, with Swartkop in the distance, presents yet another photo opportunity.