Cycling from Cape Town to Hermanus: Chapman’s Peak, Gordon’s Bay, Kogelberg Nature Reserve
Our first ride in South Africa, along the coast of Western Cape
Cycling around Cape Town is just amazing. Cape Town is a very spread-out city, expanding on a very wide area which includes a lot of pristine nature, from the Table Mountains National Park down to its southern tip, the Cape of Good Hope; from the sand dunes of False Bay to the cliffs of Gordons Bay, this is definitely a great area for a bike tour.
One of the things that we liked most about Cape Town is the fact that we never really perceived to be in a big city, being mostly composed of suburbs that look like small villages in the countryside and separated from each other by huge green spaces and a marvelous coast.
Cape Town was the starting point of our journey by bicycle in Africa, from here we will continue to Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. Our itinerary started in Green Point, the northern part of the Cape, where the cableway to the Table Mountain is located. This can be also considered the city center.
Leaving the city along the coast we were expecting a boring and busy road but instead, we were really surprised and fascinated by the beauty and epic of the landscapes that we found in front of us: Chapman’s Peak, the beach of Noordhoek, the white dunes, penguins and Gordons Bay. Here is our story, itinerary, and what we liked most.
Cycling Western Cape’s coast – Our itinerary and GPX track
This is a 220 km ride with slightly more than 2000 meters of elevation gain. Some trained cyclists like to do it in one day, we did it in three, nice and relaxing. Overnighting in Simon’s Town, Somerset West, and Hermanus.
The route is scenic almost all the way, so why rushing?
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From Green Point to Noordhoek, riding Chapman’s Peak
Starting from the city center in Green Point, the best way to get out of the city is to go up the steep hill leading to the cable car, certainly more difficult than other roads, especially with the summer heat, but always better to get stuck in city traffic.
The downhill from this “pass” is very scenic, overlooking the beautiful white sand beach at Camp’s Bay, where you’ll get after a shire downhill.
Camp’s bay water is as crystal clear as it is freezing, bath there if you dare. Here are several bars and ice cream parlors, street vendors trying to get crazy amounts of money from you, a protected seawater swimming pool (free to access), and several beautiful and relatively isolated coves.
From here the road goes up a bit, following the coast and then crossing a small pass into Hout Bay. There’s an “informal settlement” (slum) hanged on the flank of a mountain, shining tin reverberating in your eyes. Hout Bay also has a beautiful beach, encased between Chapman’s Peak and the Harbour Heights.
The best part of this overall great ride starts here, with the absolutely gorgeous Chapman’s Peak Drive. This world-class road is not always rideable, it is indeed often closed for fallen rocks or strong winds.
A sign indicates the state of the road before the climb, or you can check online here, where you can also check the forecasts and the direction of the wind.
This is a toll road, cars and mopeds need to pay to enjoy it, while for cyclists it is completely free. It’s narrow but not many cars around. The road follows the cliff and offers an escalation of memorable views, climaxing in the gigantic beach of Noordhoek, in whose waters the sharks roam free.
From Noordhoek there are three equally scenic options:
Staying on the west coast to Kommetjie and then crossing over the mountain into Simon’s Town
Getting straight into downtown Retreat through a beautiful but busy pass (M64 – Silver Mine)
Going through the marine hamlet of Fish Hoek, where you could easily see seals and even sea elephants occasionally, before getting into Muizenberg.
If you want to (literally) pay a visit to the Cape of Good Hope, you might want to choose the first option. Keep in mind that the entry fee to the Cape’s National Park is a steep 300 Rand (20€).
Once there, you’ll anyway go back to Fish Hoek and take to the road to Muizenberg (option 3).
Simon’s Town is a small coastal resort village, with a military naval base, a few restaurants and bars, and not much more. From here various boat trips depart (whale watching, cruises around the cape), there is also a club where to rent kayaks and other kinds of boats to explore on your own.
The main attraction in Simon’s Town is certainly Boulder’s Beach, with its incredibly cute Penguin Colony. Those are here almost all year round, together with thousands of less-cute but equally admirable cormorants. We talked about boulders beach in this article, so check it if you want to know more.
Muizenberg is one of the most popular beaches in Cape Town for surfing and kitesurfing, it is a very nice area where to have a cheap beer or some fresh seafood also.
The lagoon of Marina da Game (part of the neighborhood) is a quiet place for a picnic-style lunch break or to try your hand at SUP.
Going east from Muizenberg there starts a road which we didn’t expect at all. Hitting the Baden Powell Driveway is like being teleported in another planet, and a beautiful one. This is called False Bay.
The urbanized area immediately disappeared and we find ourselves riding amidst white sand dunes covered in fynbos (the incredibly diverse and flowery vegetation of Western Cape region).
We were still in the city but it definitely didn’t feel like it. The only downsides are the quite heavy presence of cars, and the sandblasts that can hit you if the wind is too strong. Luckily for us, we passed through there in a rare moment of calm.
At a certain point (check map), there’s a tranquil side road you can take for about 6km, still amidst the dunes. Here there’s also a free Braai (barbecue) spot with public toilets and drinkable water.
Back to the main road, you’ll pass alongside the biggest “informal settlement” in South Africa, Khayelitsha, a guy even stopped to warn us about the danger but we honestly think it’s absolutely ok during the daytime (obviously entering the slum and starting to take photographs is absolutely not recommended, and not just for security reasons).
On the other side, there are the most incredible sand dunes at Macassar beach, which we didn’t explore and then regretted a fair bit.
Khayelitsha, a few words about the largest slum in South Africa
The name of this slum, or “informal settlement” as they call it here, is Khayelitsha, meaning “new home” in the Xhosa language, and it is one of the largest and fastest-growing in South Africa. The last census reported about 400,000 residents, but nowadays the figures are probably at least double.
To understand how these realities were born and continue to grow and develop, one can only look at the recent history of this country. In the fifties the Group Areas Act intensified even more the already terrible policy of racial segregation, blacks were prevented from entering the cities.
This meant that they could not live or own any land in the city. Combined with the fact that 87% of South Africa’s land was owned by whites (today 8% of the population) there was not much space left for the rest of the population.
Even when apartheid officially ended, land ownership mostly stayed, in the great majority of cases, white. This is a crucial yet unresolved issue on which the electoral campaign of the next elections to be held in May 2019 is based.
Once past Khayelitsha and the great white sand dunes, the scenery quietens a bit, passing through the black township of Macassar and then into the Afrikaans-Majority town of Somerset West… still a bit of segregation if you’re not blind. The area is famous for winemaking, you could consider a day-off for a wine tour in the nearby Stellenbosh.
In Somerset West, there’s a very good bicycle repair shop, with friendly and competent mechanics. Don’t expect to find much spares though, if you need something better give them call and order something like a week in advance (we found that true in most South African bike shops).
Here the mechanic’s data in Somerset West, Velo Life:
Starting from Somerset West, another astonishing section of coastal road begins, the Gordons Bay. Majestic peaks on one side and a pristine sea, full of whales, seals, dolphins, and other marvelous creatures on the other, keep an eye out to spot them (we spotted a group of seals). Baboons also are residents of the area, watch out if you have lunch here.
In Pringle Bay, another gorgeous white sand beach, a short but steep climb starts, getting away from the coast through white peaks, colorful fynbos (burnt when we passed), and an alien-looking white sand valley.
From here you’ll get down to Stony Point, where another colony of African Penguins lives, the entrance fee is much cheaper and the place is definitely less crowded than Boulders Beach.
Botrivier lagoon and Hermanus
Passing Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond, brutally hit by a recent fire that burnt 41 houses and killed two persons and many animals, the road is a bit away from the sea but the mountains will still keep you attentive and engaged.