Hiking The False Bay Champagne Trail

Written and kindly contributed by Bevan Pank

The Champagne Trail winds for 11 kilometres from Muizenberg to Simon's Town and a further equal distance to Smitswinkel Bay. There are many excellent lodgings for back-packers on the route, so we need not hurry. Let us stop to see things which are invisible to those touring by bus, car or train. All too often, they whiz past Muizenberg Station without seeing the 27 historically important buildings (of which 14 are national monuments) within just the first kilometre!

Before commencing our hike on the station's seaward side, let us cross the road for tea in delightful surroundings at the Venetian style Natale Labia Museum. A satellite of the SA National Gallery, it even has a painting by the famous Rubens School! Back on track, we follow the Muizenberg-St. James Walkway and enjoy a spectacular view of the mountain chain to Cape Point. After 800 paces, the curious among us can return temporarily to the road via a subway. They face the cottage where Cecil Rhodes died in March 1902. Further back, they discover Het Post Huijs, which was constructed in 1673 as a lookout post for the Dutch East India Company.

Another 700 paces takes us to St. James, with its colourful changing huts and huge tidal pool. Beyond lies a dazzling field of daisies leading to the pure white sands of Danger Beach. It is indeed the very heart of the marine reserves. There are no less than five zonation patterns of organisms on its rocky borders. Little wonder that of the some 2000 species in False Bay, 60 percent are endemic to South Africa and of these - 14 percent to the bay itself. Check it out at the next stop - Dalebrook - which has a wealth of rock-pool life in easily accessible gullies! There is also a tidal pool for those of us who did not realize how warm September can get!

We are now briefly back on the main road through Kalk Bay. It is a very dangerous place! There are too many wonderful antique and craft shops to tempt us. There are also too many restaurants supplied by Harbour trawlers with fish so fresh, that they almost leap off our plate back into the sea! Let us rather turn down Philips Close and relax at "The Point" with our moldy sandwiches. Perhaps we can also take time off at nearby Wooley's Pool. This magical place has a view even more intoxicating than its champagne-like air.

Around the bend lies Clovelly and the gateway to one of the Cape's safest beaches - Fish Hoek. The town itself offers a shopping experience at very competitive prices. However, those of us still in the running head for Jager Walk, which ends after 700 paces at Sunny Cove. Here we stop to watch cavorting Southern Right Whales, before continuing for 2,0 km to the great surfing beach of Glencairn. On the way, we pass an old quarry shortly before yet another whale viewing site. With luck, we might come across the Blackshouldered Kite, Peregrine Falcon or Rock Kestrel riding the thermals.

Behind the beach lies a seasonal vlei fed by the Els River. It has stepped rocks at the weir, which the Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) climbs at dusk to fish in the surf. Among resident waders are the Blackheaded Heron, Grey Heron and Sacred Ibis. Other birds include the African Black and Yellowbilled Ducks, Dabchick, Egyptian Goose, Moorhen and Redbilled Teal. From north of the Limpopo River come the Diederik Cuckoo, Klaas's Cuckoo, Redchested Cuckoo and Largerstriped Swallow. There are also the Barn Swallow and Steppe Buzzard, which migrate from Russia. Even the rarely seen (locally) American Purple Gallinule has been spotted!

Along the three kilometre last leg to Simon's Town, we pass the tidal pools at Glencairn and Shelly Beach. Then comes the beautiful beach of Mackerel Bay with its 1917 wreck of the Clan Stuart. Despite the unsightly approaches and reek of marine oil from an adjacent refinery, it is a good place to photograph fishermen hauling nets. Opposite the Navy's visitors information centre is another diversion. This is the world's largest gemstone tumbling factory, where we can hunt for inexpensive polished rejects in a "scratch patch".

Those of us with energy to spare can become side-tracked at the next stop - the Lower North Battery. Directly opposite is a steep zigzag road to the Navy's Works Department. Not far up is a nine inch 12 ton rifled muzzle loader. Cast in 1885, it is still mounted complete with cascable and slide. However, the less warlike among us with children might be more interested in a teddy bear. This is the speciality of a shop at Simon's Town Station, which has the vast expanse of Long Beach as a background. It is then time for coffee on Jubilee Square, to clear our heads of the champagne-like air. A cheap nine-seat "Rikki" taxi ride is the way to go!

There are so many places of interest in Simon's Town, that we would be unwise to tackle our next eleven kilometre hike for at least another day. There is plenty of accommodation to suit all tastes - and pockets. There is also plenty to do, even during the occasional September shower. Adjacent to shady and very central Jubilee Square is the information centre. It can provide brochures on everything from hotels to maps on mountain trails. These walks have a large share of the some 2250 indigenous plant species found on the Cape Peninsula. Of particular interest, species of Geraniaceae, Iridaceae and Orchidaceae have formed a "guild" to attract only one pollinator. This is a large fly (Moegistorhynchus longirostris) with a tongue up to 90 mm long, which enables it to reach the nectar in exceptionally deep floral tubes.

Overlooking the yacht basin, Jubilee Square is guarded by twin cannons and a bronze statue of Just Nuisance. This sea dog became famous during World War Two for escorting Royal Navy sailors back to ship after a night on the town! To one side of the square is a fabulous waterfront complex with boutiques, coffee bars, restaurants and even a 28-room luxury lodge. However, we are here to walk, starting with either the "cobbled lanes" or "historic mile". Enquiries about guided tours can be made at the museum in Court Road.

A problem with the museum is that once we enter, most of us will not want to leave! It was built in 1777 as a winter residence for the Cape governor of the Dutch East India Company. Prominently displayed are memorabilia from the British occupations in 1795 and 1806, as well as the Royal Navy up to 1957. Just beyond lies the SA Navy Museum with its distinctive clock tower, which was built in 1815 as a sail loft and mast house. The latter is interesting in that it was large enough to store the 117 feet long and 39 inch diameter main mast of a British 100-gun man-o'-war.

Part of the old sail loft is now a beautiful church. From its windows can be seen the first of many steel towers, which were erected to support an aerial ropeway. This once transported men and materials to two naval hospitals up the mountain beyond the influence of local pubs! Another route was up 365 stone steps, which are now mostly climbed on the run by Navy divers from SAS Simonsberg for some exercise!

Leaving the calm waters of Simon's Bay, we get back on the Champagne Trail at nearby Seaforth Beach. It continues for a short distance to Water's Edge Beach and then through the National Parks reserve at Boulders. We pay to view the penguins on Foxy Beach from an elevated board-walk and then proceed down Willis Walk. Passing Boulders Beach, we leave the Park at the 1,0 km Burghers Walk in Bellvue Road. From here the purple Hottentots Holland mountains and the cliffs of Cape Hangklip are prominently visible across False Bay.

The Walk leads to Windmill Beach - a favourite picnic spot for families. We then take the path below the golf course past Frank's Bay and Fisherman's Beach to a dive site below Beacon Way. Here, at 3,0 km from Jubilee Square and 21,0 km from Cape Point, we join the main road. After a 2,5 km scenic walk past more dive sites, we arrive at the popular Black Marlin restaurant for some well-deserved refreshment.

Some of us may want to return at this stage. However, on a warm and sunny day, it is worthwhile continuing for another 1,0 km to Miller's Point. Seldom windy in spring, this is the perfect beach for swimming and snorkelling. If only to experience the awesome views, it is also a good idea to end our hike 4,0 km further at Smitswinkel Bay. Along the way, we pass waterfalls and grassy picnic spots much favoured by local scuba divers. Then suddenly the Bay's majestic vista to Cape Point is upon us. It is a time for us to just sit, relax and enjoy the trail's vintage of champagne-like air!

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