I visit Kalk Bay every time I return home to Cape Town, and it has become one of my favourite places in the world. I sifted through several years of my own photographs of my adventures there, and decided to do a full-length article on this quirky, nostalgic, and magical corner of my home country.
I grew up in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, and frolicked on the beaches of the Eastern edge of the peninsula as a toddler (mostly along the beaches of False Bay). One of my absolute favourite summer haunts is Kalk Bay (click here to see its location in relation to the rest of Cape Town) – a tiny
town suburb of Cape Town sandwiched between the mountain and the sea. It’s known for its friendly, laid back atmosphere, surfer/hippie/hipster locals, tiny coffee shops and art galleries, the harbour, and its famous seafood restaurants.
I usually get there by train – the Southern Line runs from Cape Town city centre all the way to Simon’s Town, with Kalk Bay being towards the Simon’s Town side. From about Muizenberg train station, you can see the sea out of the train window if you sit on the left side in the direction of travel. Nothing beats a train journey along the coast! Kalk Bay is very small, but there is so much to do. I would recommend planning a whole day in Kalk Bay, starting with brunch and ending with cocktails – a perfect whimsical day by the sea in Cape Town!
Kalk Bay can seem claustrophobic at first, as it consists of many small buildings clustered on both sides of the main road. The residential houses sit atop the hill, closer to the mountain, and the paths leading up and down the mountain are lined with many interesting and quirky shops to explore. There is a lovely gardening shop (above) on the main road, complete with bathtub ponds and lily-pads, air-plants hanging in glass bubbles, and magical forest figurines for sale.
Then there is the Kalk Bay Trading Post (below), a dusty treasure trove filled to the ceiling with antiques, thingy-ma-bobs, old faded wedding photographs, flotsam and jetsam, and a whole lot of history. I have spent AGES in this store, it sucks you in, kind of like a voracious time capsule. I hardly ever buy anything, but experiencing it is enough to lift my mood.
My first stop of the day, on a proper day trip to Kalk Bay, is for brunch at Olympia Café. There is a separate bakery on the side of the building, where you can buy fresh baked goods over the counter, but I love settling into the coffee shop itself (a spot in the sun is ideal) and having coffee and pastries whilst catching up with good friends. The interior is both battered and charming – scuffed floor, rough finishings, mismatched chairs and tables, and the intermingling scents of brewing coffee and fresh croissants. It can get loud – the locals love gossiping over cappuccinos – and old friends often meet for an excitable reunion – but the atmosphere is always warm and accommodating. Take your time, get sucked into the lazy, laid-back Capetonian vibe, and just enjoy yourself.
Next, the Kalk Bay Modern art gallery is worth visiting if you are an art or crafts fan. The gallery houses both fine art and textiles, jewellery, and all kinds of typically South African handmade goods.
Kalk Bay harbour is our next stop. If you’re lucky, the fishermen will have made a good catch, and you can see their haul lying out on plastic sheets, glittering scales and glossy eyes. Many locals buy their fish here – a yellowtail or a snoek that gets wrapped in newspaper and taken home for a fresh fish dinner. Cape fur seals hang out in the harbour as they get the fish guts when the day is done, and some of them seem quite tame. But certainly don’t try to pet them, those goofy “water dogs” can give a nasty bite!
You can meet genuine “fish wives” here, local ladies who gut the fish as they come in. In their plastic aprons and gumboots, stained with blood, they have quite foul mouths and cackle away amongst themselves as they expertly eviscerate the fish. Definitely not for the squeamish! And the smell of fish and blood can be overpowering, so be warned. I enjoy seeing people making their living from the sea, owning their own boats and taking sustainable hauls of fish and crustaceans from the sea.
Crayfish, “kreef”, or rock lobster, is also a major gift from the sea that South Africans delight in eating. They are caught in traps, and transferred from small fishing vessels directly into cold storage trucks. I always have the urge to free them – throw them all back into the sea – but I would be destroying the livelihood of the fishermen who rely on catching these strange creatures to earn enough to feed their families. The harbour is always bustling with life – people fish off of the harbour wall, and in winter, massive waves sometimes pound the lighthouse and angry seawater explodes several metres into the air.
Shopping in Kalk Bay is also a treat. especially if you are into arts, crafts, and more esoteric goods. There is a bead shop, places selling woollen garments made from llama wool, surfer hangouts, antique and art shops, and many side-walk vendors. I usually end up buying bags, earrings, and art supplies on my visits!
There are many options for lunch, including the Brass Bell (seafood, burgers, chips, the lot), but I simply adore Satori in Kalk Bay. A small Italian place with wood-fired pizza, it certainly hits the spot for lunch. Add a glass or two of local South African wine for good measure 😉
Bellies full and feeling adventurous, we usually head over to Dalebrook beach (to the left of Kalk Bay train station) and poke about for sea creatures. This is truly one of my favourite things to do, as you never know what curious creature you may find. Spiky purple and red sea urchins, squishy cream, pink, and orange anemones, shy tube worms, klipvissies (rock fish, in Afrikaans), cushion starfish, all kinds of seaweed, and shells.
The rocky shoreline is very different to the powder-sandy beaches of Clifton, or the vast sandy pleasure beach of Camps Bay, but I love this side of the mountain. The sea life, sea birds, view across False Bay, and the craggy rocks make me so happy. I hope to take my kids rock-pool exploring here one day.
Finally, if you have the funds, a seafood dinner at Cape to Cuba is a fitting ending to a day in Kalk Bay. Prawns and crayfish (lobster) and mussels are musts, as well as oysters. The cocktails are also superb, and a mojito or a sex-on-the-beach is just what I need after a long day in the sun. If you came by train, it’s always fun to get a little tipsy knowing that you don’t have to drive. Leaving at sunset is a good plan, especially if you’re training it back. Safe, and cheaper than having to pay for a 30 minute taxi ride when drunk and broke. So, be responsible and enjoy! 😀
Some tourists are afraid to take the local trains, but the Southern line (Cape Town central station to Simon’s Town) is generally safe during daylight hours, provided you are aware and sensible about your safety. Keep your belongings close, don’t flash money, and pay attention to your surroundings. It’s a sad reality to be security-conscious on vacation, especially in such a beautiful place, but a little vigilance can save you unnecessary hassles (like being pick-pocketed or having your camera stolen) that could spoil your holiday.
Kalk Bay is a lovely day trip for locals and tourists alike, as you can set your own pace, enjoy being by the sea, and not have to travel great distances to have a good time. I can’t wait to visit again, whenever I find myself in Cape Town again. <3
All photographs are mine, feel free to use them but please give credit and link back to this blog as your source. Thank you!