Cape Town’s stunning rugged coastline is studded with great beaches, but they can get very busy. In the first of a new series on hidden beaches, here are 10 the locals head for to avoid the crowds.
The seaside 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 swimming pool, it’s a five-minute stroll to this quiet, wind-free beach. Its 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 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.”
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) at 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 looming backdrop.
Vendors sell refreshments by singing decades-old jingles (“Iced-lollies to make you jolly” and “ice-creams to make you dream!”) or it’s a 10-minute stroll over the sand dune to Camps Bay and its takeaways, restaurants, bars and buzz.
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, sunsets are superb and Camps Bay has many restaurants and bars for sundowners and dinner.
Beta beach is actually a series of picture-perfect, tiny beaches and coves of white sand and azure water, beneath small, 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.
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 (the dramatic coastal route from Camps Bay) 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 ravines of the Twelve Apostles, above the beach, provided seclusion and safety and allowed spiritual leaders to continue teaching Islam to their disciples.
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 braai (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 for adults and 15 rand for children (around £1.70/85p) is payable upon entry.
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 in the morning. Anyone who arrives around 9am is almost guaranteed the gorgeous white sand and aqua sea to themselves for at least a couple of hours.
A wide sweep of white sand surrounded by boulders and pristine fynbos (the indigenous shrubland of the Cape), Sandy Bay is one of Cape Town’s most unspoiled beaches. Sheltered and secluded, it is also its only nudist beach. More popular with men than women, it is obviously not for everyone. Like at the other Atlantic Seaboard beaches, the water is chilly.
Drive out of Camps Bay on Victoria Road. Follow the signs for Llandudno and then the signs down to Sandy Bay. From the parking area, an easy 15-minute amble along the path takes you to the beach.
When to go:
During the day, only and always go in groups as there have been muggings along the path. Take care.
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 and surfing. Nearby St James is home to the iconic multi-coloured beach shacks so popular on Cape Town postcards. Muizenberg, just beyond Danger Beach, is where everyone learns to surf, but Dalebrook is the tidal pool and beach locals keep to themselves. Visitors duck under a little subway under the railway line to access it.
Never crowded (most people prefer the sociable St James tidal pool) and sheltered, the Dalebrook tidal pool’s manmade concrete retaining walls allow waves to break over its edge, keeping the water clean and the swimming experience both safe and exciting. There is a shower and changing room on the beach and plenty of golden sand.
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 little seaside suburb of Kalk Bay.
The adventurous should go by train, alighting at Dalebrook station. But be aware that trains are not the safest form of transport in Cape Town, 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 side of the road.
There are no 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. It also has starfish- and anemone-filled rock pools and crystal clear, warm water, which is perfect for snorkelling.
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 the follow the path down to the beach.
When to go:
Any time. There is a restaurant at Seaforth, where you can grab an unpretentious plate of fish or seafood, as well as use the ablution facilities.
Seeing the penguin colony at Boulders Beach is almost obligatory for any visitor to Cape Town. Boulders itself is a beautiful beach, but in season it gets overrun with tourists – and penguins smell, something most tour guides fail to mention. Once you’ve seen them, I’d suggest returning to the parking space at the bottom of Links Road and following the signs to Windmill Beach.
Windmill is just as beautiful as Boulders, with the same distinctive giant granite boulders and turquoise water, but no penguins. The cove is shallow and safe, and although there are no lifeguards on duty, swimming is safe for small children – though of course they should always be watched. The sand is white, the beach is sheltered from the wind and the rocky, inland reef is an excellent dive site. This is also a perfect beach from which to kayak.
Drive on the M4 through Simonstown to Froggy Pond. Take the Bellevue Road down past the golf course and park at the bottom of the road. Be sure not to leave any valuables in your car.
When to go:
Morning and early afternoon. The wind can sometimes pick up in late afternoon.
Down a steep cliff, just before the entrance to the Cape Point nature reserve, Smits, as it is affectionately known, is reached by a 20-minute hike down a zigzag path. The beautiful, white, sandy beach is protected from the prevailing south-easterly wind and is an excellent spot for a picnic. (Visitors have to take everything they need for a day on the beach, as there are a few privately owned shacks on the beach, but nothing else.) Smits is beloved by locals for its excellent swimming, angling, snorkelling and diving (there are five wrecks, teeming with fish, starfish and other marine life, in the bay). There are rock pools and caves at the south side of the beach to explore at low tide. Visitors should be warned not to feed or fraternise with the baboon troop that calls the mountains above Smits their home.
Drive. Look out for signs on the M44, just before the entrance to the Cape Point nature reserve. Parkin the parking space at the top of the path, but be careful not to leave any valuables or food in your car.
When to go:
Stay all day! No point in all that effort going up and down the track for anything shorter.
There are many beaches to choose from in the Cape Point nature reserve, on the southerly point of the Cape peninsula (such as Diaz, Buffels, Oliphants and Maclear), but Platboom (meaning flat tree) beach in the extreme south of the reserve is particularly spectacular. It’s wild and unspoiled and more popular with birds than humans – terns, gulls, kiewietes (plovers) and sandpipers proliferate. There are large sand dunes to surf down (beg or borrow aboogie board), rock pools to explore at low tide and the conditions are excellent for kite- and windsurfing. Wild animals such as baboons, antelope and even ostrich are often spotted on the beach. However, you swim here at your own risk – the waves are large and there are no lifeguards. Entry to the reserve costs 105 adult and 50 Rand child.
By car to Cape Point nature reserve.
When to go:
It’s easy to spend a whole day here, picnicking and exploring, but there are no facilities on the beach, so take every thing you need.