A guide to Betty’s Bay

Posted by Adel Groenewald on 29 September 2014

What makes Betty’s Bay the perfect holiday destination? All you need to find the answer is a pair of comfortable shoes. (Scroll to the bottom for our recommendations on where to stay and eat in Betty’s Bay).

Penguins at Stony Point

Penguins at Stony Point. Photo by Hougaard Malan.


Guide to Betty’s Bay

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.


One of the beaches in Betty's Bay

One of the beaches in Betty’s Bay. Photo by Hougaard Malan.

Marvellous mountains

Having sated my appetite for the beach, the next morning I tied my laces and set off to explore the mountains of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve that rise behind the town. Little did I know that my laces would be the biggest burden on a trail dotted with swimming holes.

There are two relatively challenging trails into the mountains, but I chose to stay low and swim. The Palmiet River Trail is an easy, level path (you could walk it in slops) that winds along the river with mountains on either side. It’s great for families with kids and most people amble along the five kilometres armed with coolboxes, beach bats, flotation devices and colourful buckets and spades, stopping at a swimming hole or two on the way.

Having grown attached to this clear, cool river, I followed it to its end. Dodging at least one big spider in its web, I picked through an increasingly overgrown trail (this section is less popular than the upper reaches) until I got to the mouth, where the vegetation opens up to reveal a quiet beach as perfectly sandy as the main beach but without the people.

That evening I found myself on a typical Betty’s Bay porch, watching the sky slowly catch fire before fading to pink. And it struck me: it doesn’t matter what your holiday house looks like on the inside – it’s the beauty beyond the walls that makes this drive-by town a destination.


Leopard's Kloof Trail

Leopard’s Kloof Trail. Photo by Hougaard Malan.

Accommodation in Betty’s Bay

1. Natanya

Not just any self-catering house left behind by the owners, it’s beautifully decorated and a bunch of flowers welcomes you on arrival. Three pairs of French doors open up onto the rocks with the ocean beyond and a gully between which is safe for swimming when the water is calm. Once lived in by the owners, it’s fully equipped to self-cater. From R3 500 a night for the house.
Tel: 083 382 7989, www.natanya.co.za

2. Bucaco Sud Guest House

It has the best of both views, with the Kogelberg Mountains towering behind the swimming pool and the ocean visible from the balconies of the front rooms. A hearty breakfast is accompanied by recommendations for dinner and things to do. B&B from R360 a person a night sharing.
Tel: 028 272 9750, www.bucacosud.co.za

3. Seascape Cottage

Perched on the rocks of a farm on the very edge of town, you can’t even see the rest of Betty’s Bay from the cosy, two-bedroom flat. The only other building on the property is the owner’s house in the distance. Take in a beautiful sunset from the boma, which is along a path through the rocks. From R1 000 a night for the cottage.
Tel: 028 272 9261.


Where to eat in Betty’s Bay

1. Tides

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

3. Beaches

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


When to go to Betty’s Bay

Betty’s is an outdoor destination, so summer is ideal. Don’t let the early-morning wind put you off; it usually dies down before lunch. Winter sees stormy seas and cold, rainy days, which are great for curling up in front of a fireplace. If you want to spot southern right whales from the shore, visit between June and December.


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.


hiking, kogelberg

Hiking into the Kogelberg Mountains. Photo by Hougaard Malan.

This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Getaway Magazine. 

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