Dive beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V & A Waterfront (without a wetsuit and without getting wet). Explore the enchantment of the kalaeidescopic life that thrives beneath the surface of the ocean embracing South Africa: an educational experience that thrills people of all ages. From sea horses and starfish to enormous marine fish and sharks, there are live exhibits to explore and even interactive experiences for the little ones.
Address: Dock Road, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town
Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch’s sweeping, emerald gardens are a colourful and audacious celebration of life. Visitors here can get to truly appreciate the majesty and diversity of the Cape floral kingdom by meandering on the network of pathways that lead through protected Fynbos, ancient trees, forests, edible food gardens, and more. From pink proteas, emerald lawns, and fiery orange watsonias to olive reed beds, blue ericas, and yellow orchids, there isn’t a colour in the spectrum that isn’t represented in Kirstenbosch’s dazzling array of flowerbeds. When you get hungry, stop in at the Kirstenbosch Tea Room (ktr.co.za) – they also prepare picnics while you wait – or sit down at the more formal Moyo at Kirstenbosch (www.moyo.co.za/moyo-kirstenbosch).
Address: Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town
Whale watching along the Atlantic Coastline
Every year, around June and July, great pods of southern right whales make their way northwards to the substantially warmer waters around South Africa, where they breed and give birth before travelling back south again to their feeding grounds around Antarctica. It’s during this special time of year that these enormous, yet gentle beasts can be seen from just about any vantage point along the Cape peninsula and southwestern Cape coastline!
The most notable of these vantage points are found in False Bay, Cape Agulhas, and, of course, the famous whale-watching town of Hermanus, which the World Wildlife Fund has rated as one of the top 12 whale-watching locations in the world. They even, on occasion, come right into Hout Bay! In addition to southern right whales, we are also routinely visited by humpback whales, Bryde’s whales, and several species of dolphins.
To get up close and personal to these mammoth marine mammals, Dyer Island Cruises (www.whalewatchsa.com) and Simon’s Town Boat Company (www.boatcompany.co.za) offer frequent whale watching cruises from Kleinbaai and False Bay respectively.
Whether you travel to Hout Bay with kids in tow or with fellow adults, the World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park is an enchanting daylong activity that immerses you in nature. Wind your way through humid micro-biomes populated by kalaeidescopic tropical birds, large raptors, and owls; take a step into the squirrel monkey enclosure and feel their little paws as they crawl all over you; and watch the keepers feed the penguins, flamingos, and pelicans. Bird enthusiast or not, the World of Birds is an institution and a delightful diversion for any visitor to Hout Bay.
Address: Valley Road, Hout Bay
Cape Town’s nature reserves
Cape Town is riddled with protected pockets and swaths of nature, where one can go hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and birdwatching amongst the indigenous vegetation. The Table Mountain National Park (www.tablemountainnationalpark.org) encompasses the Cape peninsula and surrounding flats, mountains, and valleys. Here, you’ll find rock hyrax or “dassies”, Eland, Red Hartebeest, Cape mountain zebra, the critically endangered Table Mountain ghost frog, tortoises, more than 20 snake species, and a staggering diversity of bird species. Then, no more than an hour’s drive south from the city, there’s the Cape Point National Park (+27 (0) 21 780 9010) and north along the coast, the West Coast National Park (+27 (0) 22 772 2144). Both are rich in fauna, flora, and birdlife, as well as beautiful views of dramatic coastlines and ocean panoramas.
Boulder’s Beach penguin colony
Located on the adjacent coastline to the historic, naval base of Simon’s Town, you’ll find a secluded, white sand beach that’s home to a noisy colony of African Penguins (previously called Jackass Penguins for their donkey-like braying call). Boulder’s beach is a safe haven for these endangered birds and, for a small fee, visitors can actually share the beach with them for a few hours. The penguins are used to humans so don’t be surprised to find one hopping over your feet while you sunbath or swimming alongside you when you get in the water! Just don’t touch them.
Address: Kleintuin Road, Simon's Town
Visit / go snorkelling with Hout Bay’s seal colony
Right around the corner from Hout Bay Harbour, tucked behind the Sentinel Mountain, is a large, noisy, and rather odorous colony of Cape fur seals, a visit to which makes for a lovely 1-hour boat outing. Drumbeat Charters South Africa (www.drumbeatcharters.co.za) offers daily scenic cruises to Duiker Island’s seal colony, where visitors can watch the mammals basking in the sun, frolicking in the waves, and honking at each other.
Alternatively, you can don a wetsuit and jump into the water with the seals! Animal Ocean Seal Snorkeling (www.sealsnorkeling.com) takes visitors on an unforgettable half-day, eco-friendly adventure to Duiker Island, where you’ll actually jump ship to snorkel with the seals. You can even hire waterproof go-pros to record the experience of swimming with curious seals and the kelp forests and colourful ocean life that swishes in the currents beneath your flippered feet.
Annual blooming of the Cape wildflowers
The Cape practically has an international reputation for the annual blooming of its wildflower. Every August – towards the end of the month – millions upon millions of bulbs and seeds that have lain dormant in the soil erupt into a celebration of colour, carpeting the West Coast in swaths of orange, purple, red, and white. Visitors are encouraged to get out of their cars and walk through this wonderland, to take pictures with the flowers, and smell the Hesperantha (aandblom) and Babiana (Bobbejaantjie).
Some of the best places to view the spectacular annual blooming of the Cape wildflowers include Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens; Postberg Flower Reserve at the West Coast National Park; Citrusdal, the centre for South Africa’s fruit farming industry; Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden; Darling Renosterveld Local Nature Reserve; Ramskop Nature Reserve near Clanwilliam in the Cederberg; Cape Columbine Nature Reserve near Paternoster; Harold Porter Botanical Garden; Tienie Versfeld Wildflower Reserve near Darling; and the Namaqua National Park.