the land of
The Cape Peninsula is a very small region, but is one of the top tourist attractions of South Africa. Nestled between the busy Cape Town suburbs, there is surprisingly a lot of natural beauty to be found here. Iconic places like Table Mountain, Chapman’s Peak Drive, Boulders Beach, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope can be found here.
But it doesn’t stop there, dozens of beaches, many mountain peaks and spectacular views, scenic drives, hundreds of hiking trails and a plant diversity that outranks many countries. Most of the natural area here is part of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) and the waters around the peninsula have been declared a marine protected area where some parts are an even further restricted ‘no take’ zone.
If you are on a tight schedule, a roundtrip by car would be a good way to explore this area. This way, you would get a good view of the peninsula and can get out of the car at the places you want. But you could easily spend days or even weeks here without having seen or done everything.
lions head & signal hill
Lion’s Head and Signal Hill marks the northernmost tip of the Table Mountain NP and is surrounded by the suburbs of Cape Town and Table Mountain. The shape of these two mountains resembles a lion who is lying down. Back in the day, Signal Hill was used to signal about incoming ships and weather information. Nowadays, these mountains are all about relaxation, hiking and paragliding.
There are a couple of hiking trails that go up and around these mountains and are very popular by locals and tourists. Some of them start in the neighboring suburbs and go up into the mountains, around the contour and to the summit of Lion’s Head. Most of these trails are excellent if you have some spare time. Just bring a picknick basket and enjoy some amazing views, or enjoy the sunset.
The most popular hike is the one to the top of the 669m high Lion’s Head. Its spirals around the peak, giving you some amazing views on the city, Table Mountain, Robben Island and the Cape Flats. Once on the top, you will have 360 degrees view of it all. This trail really comes to live around the full moon. Many hikers go up the peak around mid-afternoon, watch the sunset and hike down by moonlight.
Some flora to keep an eye out for are the Silver Trees (Leucadendron argenteum). They only grow on a couple of patches in the Table Mountain NP, in this case on the bottom half of Lion’s Head.
table mountain & back table
This is a large area between Cape Town and Hout Bay and houses multiple touristic attractions and mountains like Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch and the Twelve Apostles. You can spend days on end here with the abundance of hiking trails in this area.
To the north you will find Table Mountain, Maclear’s Beacon and Devil’s Peak. These are the highest mountains in the Peninsula with Maclear’s Beacon the highest at 1086m. To the west lies the Twelve Apostles mountain range, which actually consists of 18 peaks. Victoria Road (M6) lies between the mountain range and the ocean and gives a spectacular view on the Apostles. To the east you will find the Newlands Forest, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and Cecilia Forest. This is an area of forestry, natural vegetation and botanical vegetation. To the south you will find the Orange Kloof and the backside of the Apostles.
This area is a hiker’s paradise with the countless trails that can take you just about everywhere. Up and down Table Mountain, through the many gorges, around the contour of the mountains, up to the peaks and through the forests. These trails give you access to all the little waterfalls and caves in the mountains.
There is however a more relax way to get up to Table Mountain and that is by cable car. This cable car does one full rotation during the trip up (or down) ensuring 360 degrees view on your ride.
hout bay & constantia
Hout Bay lies in a valley surrounded by mountains. The peaks of these mountains range between 400-650m, with the exception of the 928m high Constantiaberg. The most recognizable peaks are Little Lion’s Head, Karbonkelberg, The Sentinel, Skoorsteenberg and Constantiaberg.
The Skoorsteenberg and Constantiaberg are found on the east side of Hout Bay and also mark the starting (or end) point of Chapman’s Peak Drive (M6). Between the M6 and Constantiaberg are a couple of gorges and trails through them that take you up to the peak. This offers views on Hout Bay, Table Mountain, Muizenberg, False Bay and the Cape Point. The Skoorsteenberg offers a beautiful view on Hout Bay.
To the west of Hout Bay lies The Sentinel and the Karbonkelberg. The coastline of the peaks is rugged and covered with hugged boulders. It is no wonder that you can find a couple of shipwrecks here. Just west of The Sentinel lies Duiker Island, home to a large seal colony. To the north of the Karbonkelberg lies the secluded Sandy Bay Beach, near the parking a large sand dune and Llandudno Beach.
To the northwest of Hout Bay lies Little Lion’s Head. This name is given because it resembles de shape of Lion’s Head, but with a height of 437m, it is smaller than its big brother. Arguably the view from this top is the best in the area.
muizenberg & chapmans peak
Nestled between the ocean and the mountains lies the most famous scenic drive of the peninsula, Chapman’s Peak Drive. It is a 9 km stretch between Hout Bay and Noordhoek and contains over 110 twists and turns, multiple viewpoints and multiple hikes. At the southern end of this drive, you are welcomed by a beautiful view of the Noordhoek Wetlands. It consists of beaches, dunes, small rivers, lakes and swamp areas.
To the northeast of Noordhoek, you will find the Silvermine Nature Reserve. This reserve is part of the Table Mountain National Park and is divided into two sections by the Ou Kaapse Weg. Both sections offer a couple of hiking trails, caves, mountain peaks with beautiful views and waterfalls. This is an absolute plant oasis with over 900 species of Fynbos, most of them being Proteas, Ericas and Restios.
Where Chapman’s Peak Drive is the scenic drive on the west side, Boyes Drive is the one on the east side. It is slightly elevated above the coastal towns and runs from Kalk Bay to Lake Side. It is the scenic alternative to the Main Road down at sea level. From here a couple of hiking trails climb up into the mountains and in whale season you might spot some in False Bay.
fish hoek & witsand
The further south you go on the peninsula, the more you leave the big cities behind and the less crowded it gets. Even the landscape changes from the high mountains and dramatic views in the north, to the more gentle slopes towards the south.
The M65 on the western coastline runs past a beautiful and somewhat secluded coastline. From the Slangkop mountain peak, the Slangkop lighthouse and the wooden boardwalk in Kommetjie, past the white sand dunes and beach of Witsand, through the little village of Misty Cliffs, down to Scarborough Beach. Just past Scarborough there is a winding mountain pass, Red Hill Road (M66), that brings you to the other side of the peninsula, just above Simon’s Town.
On the eastern coastline lies the 303m high Elsie’s Peak. There are a couple of hiking trails across the mountain and one of them reaches the peak, offering beautiful views on Fish Hoek, False Bay and Simon’s Town.
The area between both coastlines has a couple of hiking trails like the Jonkersdam Hike and the Kleinplaas Dam Trail. They run through beautiful Fynbos and grey-white rocks that are so familiar to the Cape Peninsula. The Kleinplaas Dam is a popular destination among the locals and ideal for a picnic.
simon's town & swartkopberg
The main attraction in this area is Boulders Beach and the colony of African Penguins who live there. The population of penguins that live here is estimated between 2000 and 3000 individuals. The huge boulders in this area offer protection against wind and strong waves and the vegetation higher up provides excellent breeding spots.
The entire area consists of 4 different beaches; Foxy Beach, Middle Beach, 1st Beach and Boulders Beach. Foxy Beach is where the most penguins are and where you walk on elevated boardwalks above the beach. Boulders Beach is where you can get on to the beach and swim between the penguins. Middle and 1st Beach is the rocky center and accessible via Boulders Beach.
South of Boulders Beach is a beautiful rocky coastline with several small outcrops like Miller’s Point, Castle Rocks and Partridge Point. These outcrops are a marine life haven and many come here to snorkel, dive or just wander between the rocks at ankle depth. Here you can find life such as starfish, sponges, anemones, corals, fish, crustaceans, octopus, cuttle fish and sharks.
Right on the edge of the coastline sits a mountainous area with several peaks like North Peak (486m), Simonsberg (564m) and Swartkop (678m). A couple of hiking trails climb to these summits and one goes all the way down south to Smitswinkel Bay. These hikes are ranked as moderate to hard.
cape point & cape of good hope
The southernmost point of the peninsula is home to the Cape Point Nature Reserve, also part of the Table Mountain National Park. The more popular attractions here are the Cape Of Good Hope, Cape Point and Diaz Beach in the middle. Surrounded by dramatic scenery and often strong winds, it is no wonder this place was first named Cape Of Storms.
Besides these popular attractions, there are other noteworthy places here. There are some beautiful secluded beaches like Buffels Bay and Platboom Beach, rugged and unspoiled coastlines, a couple of tidal pools and many hiking trails.
This large area is rich in Fynbos and houses more than 1000 different species of indigenous plants. This enables other life to thrive here as well. Among others, lizards, tortoises, baboons, bontebok, eland, mountain zebra, ostriches, cape foxes, porcupines and over 250 bird species can be seen here.
For some, a quick view of Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope landmarks is all they have time for on their busy holiday schedule, but you could easily spend an entire day here.