Biking into spring with breakfast and baboons on the Southern Peninsula
After a cold, wet winter and several lockdowns, the bike was neglected, dusty and its sump may have turned to sludge. But spring had arrived, so I rolled it out, gave it a good wash and check over. If a bike could smile, it would have.
I live on one of the most perfect ‘motorbikeable’ peninsulas in the world — I’m trying not to gloat — with sinuous roads that two wheels adore. It’s also startlingly beautiful. Was my friend Alison up for an adventure? She was — she always is. Southern Peninsula? “Sure.”
For staider types in the central city, the Southern Peninsula is considered to be beyond the lentil curtain. People there just seem more laid back with a work ethic that may, or may not, cover Mondays and Fridays. Veganism, hot yoga and micro-dosing magic mushrooms are socially acceptable topics of conversation.
Our meeting point early one cloudless morning was Harvest Cafe in Muizenberg just up from Surfer’s Corner. We ordered flat whites to go and steered them towards the sand past brightly coloured but decaying beach houses to watch beautiful people in wetsuits (very shape flattering kit) skimming frothy beginner waves.
Planning required little thought: clockwise or anti-clockwise? There’s really only one road, with sweet villages strung along it like hippie beads. First call after coffee? Breakfast of course, but first a visit to Alison’s favourite hole-in-the-wall bakery in Killarney Road.
The Real Bread company uses stone-ground flour and traditional sour-dough ferments to produce a range of loaves that are noticeably more nourishing. But only the early bird gets the bread, and it’s usually sold out and closed by noon.
Kalk Bay seemed the obvious brekkie choice, but it has so many distractions. Among the cobbled alleys and weather-beaten, turn-of-the-century buildings is a seafront ‘culture mile’, with galleries, craft showrooms, junk shops, antique stores and boutiques where you can acquire all manner of things including, of course, essentials like incense, diaphanous sarongs and CBD oil. Alison found an unused joint on the sidewalk. It seemed somehow appropriate.
There’s also a traditional harbour where you can buy fish off the boats and a choice of great restaurants. Though it’s virtually a Cape Town suburb, people from the city like Don have been known to go there on holiday. It’s that different.
First stop was Ohana Café for Alison’s compulsory cinnamon stick. (If you’re feeling especially self-indulgent, try the Ohana bun, a caramel and nut-packed super-pastry.)
Don disappeared into the post office that’s no longer one. Right now it’s the Kalk Bay Trading Post and filled to bursting with an indescribable cacophony of…stuff. All second, third, fifth hand. It was started by Tony Popplestone and Ian Walker 23 years ago and describes what it sells as antiques, collectables and bric-a-brac, with emphasis on the latter.
In the city, shops come and go, but in Kalk Bay they’re enduring. Whatnot & China Town has been going for 35 years and is even more overwhelming than the Trading Post. Beautiful items of china cover the walls and are stacked on shelves but Ivan, who runs the place, says he’s never counted how many pieces there are. A hundred thousand would be an underestimate.
Kwagga Books, opened by George Curtis 25 years ago, could be a stand-in for a shop 100 years older. Antiquarian volumes in and out of glass cabinets intersperse with ancient statuettes, old posters, a few whale bones and a footprint carved into marble. Gold lettering on leather book backs glitters in the gloom.
The Olympia Cafe (23 years old) is an institution known for fresh mussels in garlic sauce and the mixed aromas of bread, cakes and grilled fish emanating from ovens and grillers.
The Brass Bell (82 years old), started as a council tearoom and was built up by the village’s unofficial mayor, Tony White, to be one of the finest fish eateries in the Western Cape.
At Cape to Cuba (21 years old) we found owner Deona van Vuuren sitting where she always sits, cigarette in one hand and coffee in the other. The place began as a railway shed and these days at high tide — between trains passing two metres away from time to time — you can get splashed by every seventh wave. Apart from that, it’s thoroughly Cuban.
We eyed the ice cream in the Ice Café, but breakfast had priority. Spoiled for choice. “Not in Kalk Bay,” said Alison, “I have a better idea.”
Blended is the ‘Eat’ part of Eat Surf Yoga, just over the road from Glencairn beach. The menu is entirely vegetarian and so gosh-darned delicious that you won’t miss meat. The smoothie bowls are scrummy, but the Egg Me Up — garlicky fried mushrooms, fluffy scrambled eggs, and fresh avo on sweet potato toast — is possibly the best breakfast on the Peninsula.
Beside the sparkling water of Glencairn tidal pool, where Alison bemoaned her lack of a swimsuit, the sleek silhouette of the Navy’s valour-class frigate beckoned us on towards Simon’s Town.
The village was a British Royal Navy base for 143 years until 1957 and remains the South African Navy’s headquarters. It’s also the HQ of a waddle of African penguins, but we gave them a miss, having seen them anthropomorphised on Netflix.
Instead, we looked in at the new Celebration Café, lured by the aromas drifting down the stairs from Olivia Gain’s kitchen. It’s a restaurant-café-reading-lounge-second-hand-clothes-shop. The historical building it’s in is known as the stamp house because of its incredible hand-stamped wallpaper. It’s worth a visit on this account alone.
Fired into a shopping frenzy by her bargain find of a beautifully tailored vintage coat, Alison dragged Don through the rest of Simon’s Town’s tempting string of shops. Somehow, we managed not to buy an entire Scandinavian lounge suit from Maximalist (it wouldn’t fit on the bike), or any of the succulent tartlets from The Sweetest Thing patisserie (they wouldn’t fit in our stomachs).
Back on the bike, it’s a sinuous swish beside an achingly blue ocean and sculpted rock coves to secretive Smitswinkel Bay and the entrance to Cape Point National Park. Most visitors to this 7,750-hectare nature reserve go straight to the point of Africa’s southwestern tip, where a lighthouse surveys the open Atlantic Ocean.
But, there are plenty of side-routes to get side-tracked on. Buffels Bay, with its wide green lawns, calm sandy swimming beach and huge tidal pool is equally popular with humans and baboons. Families of both species were relaxing harmoniously together as we puttered past.
Surfers and walkers head for Olifantsbos, where there’s a consistently clean summer break and an easy trail past shipwrecks and a World War 2 radar station. Snorkellers and otters favour the area around Venus Pools. Loners and poets might choose the road past the Dias Cross to Platboom where the beautiful white dunes are mostly deserted.
It’s a lengthy, rather bumpy road to Scarborough, where the lentil curtain has its tracking motor and switch. The village has long attracted a free-spirited mix of artists, hippies, surfers, expats and creative professionals.
The city felt far away. The pace at Village Hub Café, where we dismounted for tea, was unhurried. On one side was a flower-clad mountain footed by cute cottages with near-vertical driveways. On the other was an almost empty beach patrolled by a couple of labradors. Waiters were serving lattes to people in joggers who didn’t look like they had any intention to jog.
Just up the road, tightly sandwiched between cliffs and beach, was Misty Cliffs which was, just then, misty. Destination Kommetjie, on a mission to buy a custom-made kite from Phil at Far Out Kites. There’s a fine coffee shop next door — Good Riddance — which just then filled with no-hurry patrons, some patiently untangling leads as their pooches nosed happily under chairs and tables seeking friends and tidbits.
By then it was definitely past lunchtime. So we pulled on our helmets and headed for the oddly named Aegir Projects in Noordhoek. Since it opened in 2015, this quirky experimental brewery has burst out of its small taproom to become a popular family- and dog-friendly brewery and restaurant. The atmosphere is lively and the pub food is excellent, but the real draw is the beer. There are new brews to try almost every week, with innovative flavours like watermelon wheat beer and marshmallow stout.
We sampled the Californian Common (toffee, toasted bread, mint undertones) and a Foggy Mosaic (fresh blueberry, ripe peach, nectarine) and sat sipping appreciatively in dappled sunlight under beguilingly climbable trees. Our food — a gourmet hotdog on a fresh pretzel bun with sauerkraut, and beer-battered fish and chips — arrived exactly on cue.
Thoroughly satisfied, we needed only one more thing to round off a perfect Peninsula ride: a quick whirl around Chapman’s peak. Careering around corners with sheer drops, past landslide nets, and through a tunnel cut into the cliff is fun in a car but one hell of a ride on a bike. At the high point, we stopped to look down at boats chugging along the vertiginous coastline and at rocky cliffs that tumble towards the surf. Then we passed out of the lentil curtain and headed home. DM/ ML
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