I never thought of Betty’s Bay as being much more than a drive-by town. A sliver of houses wedged between the imposing Kogelberg Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean; a town on the scenic route from Cape Town to Hermanus.
Even the houses themselves are unremarkable; randomly strewn between stands of indigenous fynbos and ranging in style from Spanish villas to bland face-brick structures. Some are bright, some are boring; there just doesn’t seem to be anything distinctive about the place. That is, until you look closer.
Then you notice that each house, no matter the shape, has a patio or a balcony. And it dawns on you that it’s not the town that’s special, but what goes on around it. It was the surroundings that filled my days: hiking, swimming, beach-lazing and ambling over mountains and along the ocean’s edge. But I am getting ahead of myself. First I had to settle the important matter of dinner.
In a town where the only bright light after dark is the petrol station, I didn’t have much hope for a restaurant. I’d been advised to try Tides, but it was completely dark from the outside with no windows to reassure me that this was, in fact, the right place. Entering through a simple wooden door, I half expected to find myself in someone’s kitchen. But once inside, I was enveloped by warmth and friendliness. It was packed, not an empty table in sight and I sat at the bar until a spot in a cosy corner became available. Somewhere between the smoked salmon pasta and the promise of the next day’s adventures, I fell in love with Betty’s Bay.
Into the light
It’s always nice arriving in a new place after dark because you’re treated to fresh, unexpected views in the morning. Flinging open the French doors of my room at Buçaco Sud, a family-run guest house against the mountain, the morning light glistened on the sea and reflected on roofs, making even the simplest of houses appear magical.
After breakfast, I explored the sandy coastline that stretches along the front of town. Individual beaches aren’t signposted, but follow the green ‘beach’ sign through town to a parking lot and you’ll be at the main beach. This area is watched over by lifeguards and is where most locals and visitors spend the summer days.
I headed west towards Rooi Els and Pringle Bay, and found the last beach before the edge of town. It’s called Silversands (I only know this because a local told me). It’s a favourite among fishermen and they created a striking silhouette, perched on the sandbank waiting for galjoen and steenbras to bite. Silversands is also one of the best places in town to dive for crayfish (this year’s season opens again in November).
My last seaside stop for the day was Stony Point. It was late afternoon when I arrived, but this is the best time of day to visit the African penguin colony returning to the rocks from fishing expeditions. I couldn’t help but smile at the awkward pose in which they stood to dry off. Wings slightly spread, necks skewed to the one side and beaks turned up towards the fading sun.
Where to eat in Betty’s Bay
You won’t find gourmet fare here, but the fairy lights on the porch, the friendly service and the ocean crashing in the distance turn simple seafood dishes into a memorable evening. Be sure to book, especially on weekends.
Tel: 028 272 9835.
2. The Whaling Station
Betty’s Bay originated because of a whaling station operating near Stony Point in the 1900s. The aptly named restaurant is the only place where you can see original pictures of this structure while tucking into Greek food and cheesy pizzas.
Tel: 028 272 9238.
Things to do in Betty’s Bay
1. Stony Point
Home to one of two land-based penguin colonies in the Cape (the other is Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town). Unlike Boulders, you have to stay on the boardwalks and watch the penguins from a distance. It’s open to visitors between 8am and 5pm every day and entrance costs R10 a person.
2. Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve
Your best bet for a beautiful hike in the fynbos-covered mountains. Permits are R40 a person and it’s open from 7:30am to 7pm daily. Permits are issued at the gate until 4pm.
Tel: 028 271 5138, www.capenature.co.za
These aren’t signposted and there are many paths leading between the houses, over the dunes and onto the sand. If you feel like swimming, walk to the section protected by lifeguards as the waves and currents can be strong.
4. Harold Porter Botanical Gardens
A local favourite and a great place for a leisurely stroll, followed by cake at Disa Kloof Restaurant. Open from 8am to 4:30pm daily. Entrance is R20 an adult and R10 a child.
Tel: 028 272 9311, www.sanbi.org
Getting to Betty’s Bay
Half the fun of a holiday in Betty’s Bay is the 95-kilometre drive it takes to get there from Cape Town. Once you’ve left the N2 highway and skirted the edge of Gordon’s Bay, the R44 winds all along the coast, with the Hottentots Holland Mountains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean stretching out to the horizon on the other side. There are viewing points strung all along this stretch, which is called Clarence Drive, so pull off at a couple and make a road trip of it.