Swim in a warm sea and walk in the mountains without having to get in your car – base yourself here in Fish Hoek and enjoy the best family location in Cape Town.
Also read: Southern charm – a guide to Muizenberg
The insider: Local resident Carolyn Fulton can’t wait to get back to her hood after work every day. She sails, surfskis, swims, jogs, and rides her motorbike if the weather’s good.
So strong is the lure of Fish Hoek that Smudj, a six-year-old cat and ex-resident, doggedly hikes over the mountain back there from her new home in Glencairn whenever she gets a chance. Her ‘owners’ Carolyn Fulton and her husband Peter have retrieved Smudj from her favourite haunts no fewer than 13 times. The primal pull to a place of comfort is well documented in the animal world and we know humans share this, so it’s not surprising that Fish Hoek is awash with people who are fiercely protective of what others consider to be the ugly stepsister of the south, sandwiched between Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town.
I’m eating delicious tom-yum soup at Shin Thai Asian Restaurant, getting the inside on the village from Carolyn who lived here for 17 years, and still immerses herself in the abundant outdoor life. ‘I feel like I’m falling in love with it all over again, just by talking about it,’ she says to Marjike Klaver who has joined us. Marjike, a relative newbie to Fish Hoek (five years), is an ex-Harfield resident and would never leave. ‘Fish Hoek has a rep for being for newly-weds and nearly deads – I am neither,’ she laughs.
As I listen to their chat it’s clear that the beach is Fish Hoek’s main attraction. Enjoyed for its warm sea, locals spend idyllic hours wallowing in its waters or skimming its surface on any manner of water-sport vehicles from boogie boards, SUPs and surfskis to hobies, kayaks and canoes. Carolyn sails and surfskis in the bay. She’s had encounters with leaping seals and was once tailed by a shark, and tells me about surfskiers who drop into the water at Miller’s Point (five kilometres south) and race back to Fish Hoek beach, although she hasn’t done this yet.
‘It’s wild here,’ she enthuses, her eyes bright with excitement. ‘And on land too – violin spiders are prolific, lots of scorpions, porcupines, puff adders, cobras. I see francolins, small buck; oystercatchers on the rocks at the beach.’ What makes this valley so special is that it is surrounded by fantastic geography.
‘If you have time, hike up Elsie’s Peak,’ she encourages me. The mountain looms up to the south overlooking the bay and is a regular walk for her – invasive plants have been cleared to make way for the return of proteas, watsonias and gladioli; from here if you look east you’ll have marvellous views of Seal Island, the Hottentots Holland Mountains and Hangklip. Turn to the north for Kalk Bay and Muizenberg and the south for Glencairn and Simon’s Town. There’s also a walk to Peers Cave (Skildergat), where nine 12000-year-old skeletons, one known as Fish Hoek Man, were discovered by Bertie Peers and his father in 1927. Bertie’s enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits ultimately cost him his life when he was bitten by a puff adder.
There isn’t a bed to be had here. ‘You’re too late – sold out for your date,’ comes up time and time again, so I’m lucky to get a night at The Cove – a heavenly location overlooking the beach. Carolyn tells me to get there early so I’m up at dawn and already on Jager’s Walk (‘the catwalk’) by 6:30. There are locals on the footpath that hugs the southern section of the seashore. How wonderful it must be to walk this every day before work, what peace for the soul. I come down off the path onto the flat sand, which stretches ahead for over a kilometre. The sea moves in and out, gently cleansing my feet; fat seagulls squabbling over a fish head don’t move out of my way; dogs greet each other and a tall man looks down at the sand, his metal detector blinking.
There’s a young girl jogging and to my right a fully clothed man dunking himself in the sea. I get to the end and touch the abandoned railway sleepers tarnished from decades of salty seawater and abrasive sand. Walking back, I see the trek-fishermen boats ready to be launched; they’re hoping to net skipjack tuna or yellowtail today. And then I get nearer to early-morning swimmers walking towards the shoreline. Nonchalantly, they plunge into the sea. I’m too scared to swim – the shark exclusion net is not up yet! Instead I order a coffee at the beach cafe; it’s steaming hot and served with real cream.
Fish Hoek is a mix of old traditions and 21st-century living. Family-run shops such as AP Jones and Wakefords are landmarks having survived for decades; and the Defenders of Fish Hoek have succeeded in keeping the village free of bottle stores – a condition of the 1818 grant of land which was sold off as plots from 1918, heralding the start of the town. It’s about 8:00 now and the beach is filling up. The shark-net swimmers have done their job – like dolphins they’re now playing in the waves in their wetsuits. I walk towards them and dive in.
Where do locals go?
Michaela Daniels, waitress
‘Locals come to the beach of course. I’m so lucky, it’s where I work every day.’
Matthew Landsdale, shop manager
‘Peers Cave is a short hike with amazing views. Go from Silver-glades sports fields.’
Valentino Simmerie, shark spotter
‘Locals hang out at the beach and sit on the benches along Jager’s Walk.’
Grace Njoroge, waitress
‘For the best coffee and freshly baked croissants, locals go to C’est La Vie.’
Marijke Klaver, travel consultant
‘I go to the beach via Silvermine River wetlands – it’s an easy walk right on my doorstep.’
3 things to include during your stay
Take a train ride. The train runs along the coastline. Hop on at Fish Hoek station and get off at Kalk Bay for a browse (R21 return). You can walk back to Fish Hoek along the main road – about 15 minutes.
Spot a shark. Visibility into the water from the shark-spotters’ hut (off Contour Way) is remarkable. Also, a trek-fisherman waves a white flag from here to direct boats to the shoals. Summer 7:00 – 18:45.
Book at Reto HQ. Go for some pampering. The hair salon is in a prime position with a view over the bay, and its owner, Reto, is a fabulous world- famous stylist who loves False Bay. Tel 0217824234
Plan your trip to Fish Hoek
There are a few scenic routes to Fish Hoek which start on Cape Town’s M3; for sea views along the coast road from the M3 turn left onto the M42, then right onto the M4, which brings you into Fish Hoek’s main road; for the route through Silvermine Nature Reserve turn right onto the M42, then take the M64 over Ou Kaapse Weg, then turn left onto the M65 which takes you into the town from the back end.
The Cove has two beautiful apartments overlooking False Bay. You won’t want to leave here – the views and level of comfort are outstanding. From R1800 (sleeps up to six).
Whale Watchers’ Studio Apartment is perfect for romance and lovely sea views. From R1090 (sleeps two).
Dolphin Place is a very affordable pad in the centre of town. There’s a slice of mountain view from your bed. From R378, plus R150 cleaning fee (sleeps two).
C’est La Vie serves excellent food. Locals pop in to buy the bread and pastries. R18 for a coffee. 4 Recreation Road, tel 0836767430.
Bhandaris serves the best curry – I ordered the lamb rogan for R129. 25 Main Road, tel 0217821525.
Fish Hoek Fisheries is your go-to. People up the line come here because the fish is so fresh. Try the calamari and hake. From R32 a portion.43 Main Road, tel 0217822314.
The Beachcomber Bistro is on the beach. There is a takeaway section or sit at a table outside – you can’t beat the location. Meals from R29,95. 3 Peter Creese Way, tel 0217823354.
Swim at the famous beach. The increased presence of sharks and fatalities compelled authorities to put up a shark-exclusion net in 2015. Life-savers are on duty over weekends in summer from 14:00 – 18:00 (Saturday) and 10:00 – 18:00 (Sunday). There is a lovely rock pool to explore called ‘Skellies’, accessed off Jager’s Walk – great for kids.
Stroll along Jager’s Walk. It starts at the southern end of the beach and ends near Sunny Cove train station. If you’re feeling energetic, walk the remaining 5km to Simon’s Town (there is pavement alongside the main road) and return on the train. R10,50 one-way ticket.
Hire a SUP board from Great White Sport & Surf. R150 for half day, R250 full day (with paddles and leash). 55 Main Road, tel 0217823360.
Aqua Trails rent out kayaks and canoes for R400 a day (paddles and PFDs included). 150 Main Road, tel 0217827982. Both outlets offer advice on water conditions. On Fridays at 18:00 there’s a Sea Dog surfski race, exciting to watch, but if you surfski and want to race, register at the lifesaving club on the beach at 17:00. Entry is R20. Tel 0825362160
Go fishing. Spin for yellowtail off Jager’s Walk in summer and also rock and surf angle from here. Great White Sport & Surf sells bait from R30, and a rod, reel and line combo from R240. Make sure to pick up your discarded line for recycling.
55 Main Road, tel 0217823360.
Visit Fish Hoek Valley Museum. It’s a well-kept record of local history, with lovely old photographs and displays of stone tools used by the San 150 000 years ago. Open from Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am – 12.30pm. Entry is R6. 59 Central Circle, tel 021782782.
Hike Elsie’s Peak. Described as a fairly energetic walk, allow about two hours with dawdles. Get directions at the museum. 59 Central Circle, 021-782-1752 Explore Peers Cave in the Skildergat Ridge overlooking Sun Valley. Allow for about an hour. Ask for directions at the museum. 59 Central Circle,tel 0217821752.
CAFDA is a second-hand charity bookshop selling light holiday reads to the classics, all dirt cheap. From R5. 34 Main Road, tel 0741499082.
AP Jones has been retailing since 1928 and is run by Jones’ grandsons. 98 Main Road, tel 0217826111.
Great White Sport & Surf sells everything you need for a beach holiday from buckets and spades (R25 a set) to bikinis and sunglasses (from R195). 55 Main Road, tel 0217823360.
Valyland Centre is in the heart of residential Fish Hoek where many locals shop. It’s quiet and parking is easy. Shops range from a pharmacy and health shop to a post office. Corner of Ivanhoe and Upper Recreation Road.
This story first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our April issue features a guide to the Otter Trail, the sunniest roadtrip in SA, and 12 awesome farmstays.