With its European-style cafés, world-class shopping, endless selection of fine restaurants and chic beaches of pearly-white sand, you might be tempted to spend most of your time in Cape Town with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other. In this city that loves the good life, not a soul would look at you sideways.
But then, you’d be missing out. Because the oceans and mountains that surround the city on all sides offer plenty of options for the adventurous visitor. If you want to get the blood pumping before you reward yourself with a sunset glass of Pinotage, the ‘Fairest Cape’ is the perfect place for adrenaline adventures.
And perhaps the best way to start is by going up.
The Table Mountain Cableway offers wonderful views of the city as it rotates its way to the summit, but they won’t come close to what’s on offer through Abseil Africa. One of the most reputable adventure companies in the city, their 112-meter rappel off the top of Table Mountain offers unforgettable views of the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton a full kilometer of fresh air below you. Nerves of steel are required!
The sandstone cliffs below the Upper Cableway station are also home to some of the finest traditional and multi-pitch rock climbing routes in the country, with postcard-perfect vistas to boot. Professional guides such as Cape Climb offer half- and full-day excursions on routes across the Table Mountain National Park. If you’re not a climber, the Park also offers a variety of hiking trails and outstanding single-track mountain biking.
Lion’s Head, the conical peak above the city, offers some excellent granite climbing and is also a popular launch site for paragliders drifting on the updrafts to a landing point on the glamorous Sea Point promenade. Outfits like Icarus Paragliding offer tandem flights from around $90.
If you’d like a bird’s eye view without too much adrenalin, a helicopter flight is a fine way to see the peninsula. A range of companies use the heli-pad at the V&A Waterfront, offering flights that take in the Atlantic Seaboard, Cape Point and False Bay before returning to the city. Happily, prices start at less than $80.
Earth and air may be popular playgrounds here, but it’s the oceans that have long defined the Mother City. From the earliest sailors that founded Cape Town to the traditional fishermen who still land their catch at the peninsula’s stone harbors, the sea looms large in the life of the city. So it’s perhaps no surprise the sparkling blue waters offer plenty to excite and entertain tourists too.
Surfing is rapidly growing in popularity in Cape Town, with over 50 surf spots that offer almost every type of wind and swell condition.
Long Beach and Big Bay are popular Atlantic breaks in the summertime, when the south-easterly wind is offshore, while winter storms push good waves into False Bay from June to November.
If you’re a newbie, Surfer’s Corner in the up-and-coming suburb of Muizenberg is renowned as the best place to learn to surf in Cape Town. Gary’s Surf School has been going since 1989 and offers lessons and rentals seven days a week.
Local surfers often curse the Cape’s infamous winds, but the kite-surfers who flock here from across the globe rub their hands with glee at the steady cross-shore breezes that make the city one of the planet’s top spots to ride a kite over the surface of the ocean.
The seaside suburbs of Bloubergstrand (literally, ‘blue mountain beach’) and Milnerton are heaven on earth for experienced kiters, or if you’re a newbie, join Downhill Adventures for introductory lessons either in the city or at the idyllic Langebaan lagoon (an hour’s drive north).
The bays around Cape Town are often dotted with sails of all shapes and sizes, and the city is well known as one of the foremost yachting destinations in Africa. If you’re keen to spend some time trimming the main sheet, the Waterfront Boat Company is the best place to start. They offer everything from sedate sunset cruises on the historic gaff-rigged schooner Spirit of Victoria, to bareboat charters for accredited skippers.
If you’d rather be beneath the water than above it, the Cape’s admittedly chilly waters offer excellent scuba diving for both beginner and advanced divers.
While the water on the Atlantic side often barely breaks into double-digit temps, in summer the offshore wind provides perfect conditions and good visibility for sites such as Oudekraal’s Justin’s Caves: just 10 minutes’ drive from the city center, this easy dive has wonderful corals and dramatic swim-throughs framed by giant granite boulders.
Windmill Beach in False Bay is an even easier shore-entry dive that’s popular with beginners… plus there’s the chance of spotting penguins from the nearby colony ‘flying’ underwater! Advanced divers can enjoy the handful of wrecks sunk as artificial reefs off Smitswinkel Bay, with the added thrill of sighting the bay’s legendary Great White sharks.
Although attacks in Cape waters are extremely rare, Great White sharks — also known as White Pointers — enjoy plenty of respect in Cape Town; not least from the handful of operators that offer cage-diving excursions to Seal Island in False Bay.
Chris Fallows from Apex Shark Expeditions is one of the most respected guides in the area, offering cage-diving and shark-viewing adventures out of the coastal village of Simon’s Town, a 45-minute drive from the city center. In late spring, you can also spot pods of orcas in the bay, following (and hunting) massive pods of dolphin.
And that’s the remarkable thing about the Mother City.
You can be staying at a hotel in the heart of the financial district, and just 30 minutes later be climbing a mountain, sailing the seas or surfing the local breaks. While a great restaurant or glass of Cape wine is never far away, neither is the great outdoors.