With beaches, fynbos, penguins and whales there’s loads to see in Betty’s Bay. But, there’s only one place to be for sundowners – your stoep.
The insider: Nick Dall has been going to Betty’s Bay since before he was born. About 15 years ago he even wrote a novel set there.
On a windless day, Betty’s Bay is perfect. The beach is white and the sea is blue. If you go out beyond the breakers and float on your back, you can see only the variegated tweed of the fynbos on the Kogelberg. But there aren’t that many windless days in Betty’s. In summer the Southeaster turns the ocean icy for weeks on end and in winter the Northwester funnels through the kloof, bringing with it rain, warmer water and galjoen. To love Betty’s Bay is to accept the elements.
My parents met in Betty’s Bay in 1960, when they were both six. My dad was playing with dinky cars in a pile of sand next to the house his parents were building, my mom and her family were camping nearby. Both clans have been going there ever since. When I was three my parents built their own place, a one-minute walk through the veld from both sets of grandparents. On a good day I could have three breakfasts. Now, decades later, I’m helping my own kids catch tadpoles in the sloot at the bottom of the driveway.
Obviously, things have changed since the old days. There are more houses, of course, and there’s a smattering of shops and restaurants too. Penguins arrived from Dyer Island in 1982 and electricity came to Betty’s in 1987 (many locals, my folks included, took several years to grudgingly make the switch from gas). If the old couple who used to walk kaalgat down the long gravel road to the beach were still around, they would probably have been forced to put some clothes on.
But Betty’s hasn’t changed nearly as much as Pringle Bay, Kleinmond or, heaven forbid, Hermanus. The things that everyone moans about – the wind, the paucity of decent restaurants and the fact that there’s no discernible town centre – are also its biggest saviours. In the words of Helena Chislett, who’s been living here since the 80s, ‘You can be yourself in Betty’s Bay.’
The fynbos is equally tolerant of difference. Tucked between the sea and the mountains, Harold Porter National Botanical Garden protects the most biodiverse plant habitat on the planet. Put simply, the Cape Floral Kingdom has 5 800 endemic species while the British Isles has 47. Unless you’re a botany buff, you’ll have a hard time fully appreciating this cornucopia, but the garden’s well-laid-out sections, arranged according to biome and criss-crossed by boardwalks, provide a pretty good crash course.
It’s also a great place to stretch your legs. The Disa Kloof Waterfall, reached via a 20-minute stroll along the banks of a shaded river, is the kind of place where shampoo adverts are filmed (seriously), and in midsummer, the wow factor is ramped up a notch by the appearance of ravishing disas among the moss and rivulets. Even better is Leopard’s Kloof, reached via a steepish hike and a handful of ladders.
The penguin colony at Stony Point offers a chance to see the Cape’s cutest birds in a much more relaxed setting than Boulders near Simon’s Town. In spite of the attentions of a couple of marauding leopards (there was an attack in the 80s and another a couple of years back), the penguins have thrived to the point where they make their nests under the stoeps of the nearby houses and the veld is splattered with guano.
At the turn of the last century, Stony Point was a whaling station where crews of Norwegians slaughtered around 300 whales every year. The penguins have colonised the vats where the blubber was boiled and out in the bay you can still see the wreck of the Una, a wooden steam trawler scuppered in the 1920s.
Much like that ship, my role at Betty’s Bay has changed. I spent my adolescence diving for kreef and fishing for kabeljou, but these days you’re more likely to find me at Bass Lake making mud pies with my kids or braaiing at home as the sun sets behind the Blesberg.
Which seems like the perfect way to bring this little ode to a close. It’s hard to get the locals to agree on anything, but they are all emphatic about one rule: whatever you do with your day (and you don’t have to do much), make sure you’re sitting down, preferably with a drink in hand, to enjoy the sunset. No two Betty’s sunsets are the same (location, time of year and weather all play their part) and each local thinks the one from their stoep is best.
But, really, they’re all brilliant. Not even the Southeaster can change that.
Best beaches & swimming holes
1. Shelly Beach – It’s great for little kids and protected from the Northwester.
2. Main Beach – You’ll get the best surfing here – swimming is safer to the right of the lifeguard’s chair. The beach is opposite the parking lot.
3. Silversands Beach – For long dog walks it doesn’t get better than this beautiful stretch. Just keep Fido out of the oystercatcher nests.
4. Bass Lake – After swimming in the sea, it’s a lovely place to rinse off.
5. Palmiet River – The only place worth swimming at when the Southeaster’s pumping.
Where do the locals go?
1. Julia Young-Pugh – lifelong holidaymaker
‘If you want to walk dogs on the mountain, Rod’s Trail is your best bet.’
2. Valnay Smith – waitress
‘To clear my head I like to sit on the bench next to the slipway and stare at the sea.’
3. Raoul van den Berg – Guest-house owner
‘The Palmiet River Trail in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve is gorgeous and easier on old knees than some of the other hikes in the area.’
4. John Ferreira – estate agent
‘The lamb burger and the seafood bisque at Jack’s (0835547789) are both delicious, and the views are great too.’
5. Ebraime Hull nursery propagator
‘Visit Harold Porter garden in August and September when proteas, ericas and mimetes are in flower.’
Plan your trip
Driving on the N2 from Cape Town, take the Gordon’s Bay turn-off just before Sir Lowry’s Pass. The R44, an attraction in itself, hugs the precipitous False Bay coastline zealously. It’s also an excellent stretch of road to spot whales from June through to November.
Need to know
Penguin Place, on Clarence Drive, is the best place for groceries. There’s also a big Spar in Kleinmond about 11km away. Betty’s has one petrol station next to Centre Shop Superette and an ATM. Cards are accepted at most shops and restaurants.
Van den Berg’s Guesthouse and B&B is a swish establishment near the rugged coastline. It has spotless suites with showers, kitchenettes and full DSTV. The breakfast is great, and hosts Era and Raoul van den Berg join all guests each evening for a complimentary drink on the balcony to appreciate the magnificent sunset. R1360 for two sharing B&B.
The Trail House, built in the 1940s, has great sea and mountain views. Some of the rooms are a bit tired but they are all en-suite and their own stoep. The mountain-facing room has a private garden and built-in braai. Rooms from R550 (sleep two), breakfast is R55 per person.
Kapensis Guesthouse, in the valley between Betty’s and Pringle Bay, is an elegant spot built around a magnificent swimming pool. Double room from R1400 B&B.
See the penguins at Stony Point Nature Reserve. The colony’s doing so well that you’ll find loads of birds beyond the official reserve but it’s worth paying the entrance fee (from R20 per person) to appreciate the views from the end of the point. Open from 8:00 to 16:00. Tel 0282729829
Visit Harold Porter National Botanical Garden. The best way to really appreciate the fynbos (there are 10 hectares of cultivated fynbos and 191 hectares of natural) is on a guided tour with Jane Forrester (0282729311) but you’ll have to book this two weeks in advance.
Walking to Leopard’s Kloof is another must. Go early as numbers are restricted. The key is issued from 8:00 to 13:00 (R50 deposit). Entrance fee to the garden is from R25 per person. Tel. 0282729311
Hike the six-kilometre Oudebosch Trail, which starts at the Kogelberg Nature Reserve to the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, taking in some incredible indigenous forests and great views along the way. Permits are issued between 7.30 to 16:00 and cost from R40 per person (it’s free if you have a Wild Card); to get to the Kogelberg, look for the sign off the R44 just before Kleinmond. Tel 0872880499
The Tides has recently changed owners and is still the most sophisticated dining experience in town. The steaks are a firm favourite, the prawns excellent and salads exceptional. Huge portions. Mains from R110. Tel 0282729835
On The Edge Restaurant at Stony Point Nature Reserve is a community project run by women from the hamlet of Mooi Uitsig. Breakfasts are hearty (R65) and the hake and chips (R95) very popular. Don’t miss the fascinating display on the history of the whaling station in the adjoining room. Tel 0607207885
This story first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
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