Kalk Bay remains one of the Cape’s most colourful and authentic seaside villages. We chalk up some of the old and some of the new – the eclectic mix that makes this salty destination so ‘stroll-able’.
Words: Nicole Ludolph | Photos: Anton Crone
On a mild summer’s day, when the wind barely stirred – unusual for the Cape coast at this time of year – I took the opportunity to visit Kalk Bay. Taxi rides in South Africa don’t usually fit scenes of tranquility but my trip from Wynberg was remarkably uneventful and, after surprisingly excellent driving, I alighted near the small harbour that juts into the cool waters of False Bay.
As always, the first landmark to catch my eye was the train station. The blue and white sign over the entrance is standard Prasa issue but the pastel colours of the station building gave it a whimsical aesthetic. No one knows the exact date Kalk Bay was established but it’s easy to trace the early growth and development of the fishing village to the station’s opening in May 1883. Nine years later, Kalk Bay was supplying most of Cape Town’s domestic fish market, and it’s still a working harbour today.
Proper and thorough exploration is impossible on an empty stomach. Fortunately Kalk Bay has no shortage of dining experiences but, like any Capetonian familiar with the town, I headed to Kalky’s first. Established in the 1950s, this quay-side restaurant is arguably the best fish and chip shop on the coast. The experience is casual, offering alfresco dining on wooden tables right alongside the harbour – the perfect spot to while away hours watching the fishing boats return. The colourful vessels that are a Kalk Bay signature add to the charm of the area while seagulls make up the soundtrack as they circle overhead.
I was on the lookout for a definitive scene so headed towards the lighthouse. This beacon at the end of the pier is an icon of the village. Completed in 1919, it is one of a multitude of old structures that still stands in Kalk Bay. The lighthouse is irresistible to photographers and has become a famous photographic subject as mammoth winter waves envelop it, or when summer’s black south-easter spume pummels the harbour wall.
After a few dozen snaps around the lighthouse, I wandered back in the direction of Main Road. The pier was playing host to two giant seals lazing in the warm sun, unimpressed with my camera work or the crowd staring at them.
Anyone familiar with Kalk Bay knows the happy bustle of people on the pier and the main street, strolling between the shops and eateries. Many head to that legend of Kalk Bay, the Olympia Cafe which now vies with the relatively new Salt eatery next door. A little more polished, it vibrates with Wi-Fi and young patrons in cahoots with their phone screens.
Further along, a Boot-leggers Coffee Company is void of customers, a chain like this seemingly more at home on a city street, but it’s midweek and on weekends the cycling crowd descends on it en masse after pedaling along the beautiful coastal road. Further along is what was once a grocery store, then a cafe, then something ironically called ‘Something on Main’. It’s current phase is a surf shop in this strange Bermuda Zone for commerce.
The Covid pandemic had certainly caused some other changes in the area. One of those is the closure of the legendary Kalk Bay Theatre. Before May 2020, it was based in the old Dutch Reformed Church on Main Road. The company in charge of the playhouse was no longer able to fund the operating costs of the theatre and restaurant, and was forced to close.
It’s not bad news, though. A stroll past the Brass Bell revealed that the theatre has reopened and now forms part of that restaurant. A local institution, the ‘Bell’ spent its formative years as a council-run tea room. Today, it’s a large dining complex with nine venues offering various culinary experiences, a tidal pool out front and a grand view of the crashing surf.
To really get a feel for the place, there are certain things a visitor must experience. Firstly, a swim in one of the tidal pools. Like an ocean spa it clears your mind and leaves your skin tingling. Then there’s the multi-faceted art scene, and the other is Kalk Bay Books. But when I went looking for the store, I was surprised to find a vibrant little boutique called Miss Mrs and Friends in its place. A browse through the store revealed everything from pottery to handmade soaps and clothing. Sourced from about 60 designers, everything in the store is made locally.
When I asked owner, Vicky Vorster, what business had been like over the pandemic, she replied ‘We received a lot of support from the locals and people from all over the country have been shopping with us lately, particularly those from Joburg’. Vicky was particularly proud of their dog accessory stand. ‘We love our dogs here!’
I was disappointed that Kalk Bay Books wasn’t in its customary corner. However, strolling to the ‘Orange Building’, a few blocks down, I was delighted to find that the book store had relocated there into an open space filled with natural light… great for book nerds like me to rifle through the pages of the cleverly curated collection.
Kalk Bay is clearly an artist’s town. The stark black of the Artvark building is an arresting sight on Main Road, housing both classic and contemporary art. Quagga Rare Books and Art feels like a cross between a bone museum and an old-fashioned library. It wouldn’t be out of place on a movie set. At Kalk Bay Modern, an enormous collection of contemporary South African art can be found, and at the Kalk Bay Quarter, visitors can buy all kinds of handcrafted jewellery and décor. Outside the stores, people sell their art on mats and tables. Paintings of untamed vistas and beaded wild animals adorn small canvases. Back on the pier, an artist was selling on-the-spot sketches. She made for an enticing subject, but was far too camera shy to grant me a photo. When I asked her her name, she smiled and said ‘Elusive Artist On The Pier’ and I realised the atmosphere of this little town is as much about the colourful people it attracts as it is about the beautiful location.
Daewood drives this “piesang Surprise”, an old VW Passat, on the pier. ‘It’s not mine. I’m borrowing it. The owner’s had it for 25 years but he lets me use it, see, because the engine is mine: a 1300 Golf.’
Daewood’s engine has been powering this classic for 17 years. He’s here to do a spot of fishing for dinner. Any luck? ‘What? No, man. Only just arrived. Got to feed the kids.’
Sibusiso Matinyenya, a seamstress from Zimbabwe, sells handmade clothing and bags, alongside her husband’s art, in between the Olympia building and Portuguese restaurant Beira Mar. Her husband was selling the items door-to-door in Simon’s Town when he met the owner of Beira Mar, who offered him the space to sell his goods. They have been selling there for six years.
Hike in Echo Valley Above Kalk Bay, beginning from Boyes Drive, is a breathtaking trail overlooking False Bay. The trail branches off to the Boomslang Caves that you can just squeeze through into the belly of the mountain. It’s not for the claustrophobic.
Fishing If you like to spend relaxed afternoons gazing at the sea, grab a space on the pier wall and set up your fishing rod. You probably won’t catch anything but you’ll meet wonderful people.
Swim in the tidal pool in front of the Brass Bell, or head to neighbouring St James where the tidal pool, backed by the iconic beach huts, is a favourite for locals to take a dip in summer or winter.
Shop for antiques, fashionable clothing and decor The vast range of eclectic stores belies the small size of this town. Almost everything you can find here has an authenticity you won’t find in any mall, and the sea air, sun and cheerful people enhance the experience.
Cape to Cuba
Another Kalk Bay institution, this has the best cocktails in town. The outlandish decor never gets boring, and the friendliness of the staff is unrivalled.
021 788 1566
Offers an elegant dining experience. The seafood is excellent and the restaurant has incredible views over the harbour and the surf below.
021 788 4136
You cannot say you’ve visited Kalk Bay until you’ve eaten at this local institution. Hake and chips are the standard, or try the calamari and grilled linefish of the day.
021 788 1726
There’s more to Kalk Bay than fish and chips. Satori offers a great Italian menu and impeccable service. To add to the fun atmosphere, board games are provided so you can challenge your table mates while waiting for your meals.
021 788 1123
Get art and about
Kalk Bay Modern
Browse the work of some of South Africa’s best contemporary and emerging art talents. kalkbaymodern.co.za
As well as wonderful contemporary art, Artvark is renowned for its decorative steelwork. artvark.org
Kalk Bay Theatre
For great entertainment, check out this renowned theater in its new home. kalkbaytheatre.co.za