Tested and Recommended by Tomas Degenaar, my ex boyfriend (now good friend) from Stellenbosch – South Africa – who’s now helping me with my blog!
South Africa is well known for its shark cage diving, Table Mountain, and Wild Life Safaris, BUT it has so much more to offer. Being a local in Cape Town, I have discovered some amazing, heart pumping and adventure packed activities.
It would be selfish of me to keep it all to myself, now wouldn’t it? So join me as I take you through some unusual things to do around Cape Town.
INDEX: Click on the related chapter and skip the rest.
Are you an adrenaline junkie? The thrill of facing a lion during a Safari is just not enough for you anymore? Then cliff jumping is something you’d like to try when visiting South Africa!
The Crystal Pools are some of the most spectacular natural reserves in South Africa, only a 40 minutes drive from Cape Town. They are located within the Boland Mountain complex, a UNESCO world heritage site.
So are the pools really worth it? I’d definitely say yes! I am a thrill seeker and decided to try the hike. Armed with hiking shoes, towel and costume, I set off towards the mountains for an adrenalin packed day trip. The drive to Steenbras gorge is beautiful, with the Pacific Oceans’ blue waters sparkling in the sun on your left.
TIP Keep your eyes wide open and your camera ready as If you’re lucky, you can even spot a few whales!
It takes roughly 45 minutes to get to the first pool and an additional 15 minutes to get to the second. The hike to reach the first one is fairly easy, even for beginners and people of all ages.
The hike to the second and third pools is for more advanced hikers only as you have to literally climb the rocks to find a suitable place to jump.
Even if the hike is easy, always be careful as the path is quite tricky with some loose rocks, so you need to be aware of your steps.
From the first pool the highest cliff to jump is around 15m, being the first pool it is usually quite crowded so either you put up with the crowds or move on to the next (there are some lower jumps here).
The second one is obviously less crowded, as it’s more challenging and dangerous to get there. If you feeling very confident, there is a jump from the second into the first pool (you can check it out for yourself on the video of my jump, scary times!).
IMPORTANT NOTE: read the section below with the recommendations as cliff jumping can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions.
Awesome shots of the jumps, pure adrenaline!
Watch the amatorial video where I jump into the first pool!
WATCH OUT FOR BABOONS “WILDLIFE”…
Yes, sometimes cliff jumping is not the only attraction you will find at the Crystal Pools! The place is well known for its Baboons (watch out for your food!). They usually relax near the pools up against the mountain.
When I went there, I was witness to an obscure scene, where The alpha male after giving a couple of loud barks, found himself a throne on one of the rocks overlooking the pools, and then proceeded to have noisy baboon sex in front of everybody. It’s not like I haven’t seen this in South Africa before, but never on a pedestal like that, have they no shame at all?
Now I get the true meaning of “Wildlife”.
MORE INFORMATION ON JUMPING INTO THE CRYSTAL POOLS:
Crystal Pools are set in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. The hike starts at the Steenbras River mouth and you’ll need to walk along the river into the gorge to reach the beautiful rock pools. They are part of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve so you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of R60 p/p (around $6), from a local office at Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West.
Please note that the natural park allows only a certain amount of visitors per day, so it’s a smart move to book your ticket in advance.
Crystal Pools are closed during the winters and open 1st November until 31st April. Gates open from 7:30am – 16:00pm.
Take the N2 out of Cape Town towards Sir Lowry’s Pass (30min), turn right onto Sir Lowry’s Pass road until you get to a T-junction. Turn left onto the R44 and keep going until you get to a bridge with Sunbird Resort on your right.
After the bridge, you can park your car in the parking on the right. Walk across the road and you’ll see the gate with a little hut in front of it.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts when cliff jumping-
This is probably one of the most fun and unusual things you could ever do in Cape Town. Not very popular amongst tourists or even the locals, this walk is definitely a unique experience.
Since we decided to try the experience without a guide (please read more on safety and precautions at the end of this chapter), we had to ask around to find the entrance of the tunnel, which is located next to Upper Buitenkant Street at the foot of Table Mountain.
The tunnel channels the fresh water from Table Mountain and some run-off from the streets into the sea down by the V&A Waterfront (another top spot in Cape Town).
Our mission was to literally cross the city, until the end of the tunnel at the pier, with no idea of how to get there! But hey, what is an adventure without a bit of mystery, right?!
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THIS ADVENTURE?
Below is my experience, as usual: always be careful when taking on these kinds of adventures.
The tunnel at the entrance is circular and about 1.5 meters high, so we had to walk with our backs bent and legs spread to avoid stepping in the little stream flowing down. Quite a back cracker! Making our way deeper into the city (literally), the architecture of the tunnel started changing.
At some point, the tunnel started losing its circular shape and became more oval like, and built from old stones. We assumed we were under the Castle of Good Hope (one of the most popular attractions in Cape Town) and carried on walking until the tunnel split in three. We didn’t have a clue of where we actually were at that point. Decisions, decisions…
After (not so) careful consideration, we decided to go with the 3rd one on the right, thinking that it might lead us in the direction of the sea. The water became deeper and darker and numerous kind of fish started brushing against my legs. Good sign, that meant that we took the right turn after all, the sea was getting closer!
When the water reached my tights, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for once, not in a metaphoric way! Toward the exit the water was getting too deep to continue. We could now see a few boats floating in the harbor and hear the screams of the seagulls.
We made it through!Great success! Turning back with smiles on our faces, we chose the closest manhole and climbed up to the surface onto private property. You should have seen the perplexed faces of the security guards, who saw us resurfacing through one of the manholes in the ground. We casually strolled past them and got a taxi to get back to the car.
What an amazing experience, I recommend it to everyone. If you decide to try it and are not enjoying yourself, you can always turn back and climb to the surface trough one of the manholes (you will find several during the walk).
MORE INFORMATION ON THE UNDERGROUND CANALS IN CAPE TOWN:
Some parts of the canal and river date back to 1654. The tunnels use to supply the company gardens and passing ships with fresh water from Table Mountain. Later it became such a pleasant “Gentleman’s Walk”, that it was named “Little Amsterdam”, but by 1895 the rivers got too dirty and unpleasant that they were arched and forgotten about. Now the tunnels once again only convey fresh water from Table Mountain and some Spring Water into the ocean.
HOW TO GET THERE:
If you want to take the organized tour, head to the Castle of Good Hope. I have read that the tunnel has been closed to the public, but we easily entered at the start of the tunnel in Upper Buitekant Street with no problems.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts when walking inside the abandoned canals-
-Ronan’s Well: Less famous than Boomslang Caves but way more hazardous–
Apparently this is the mother of all the caves in the region and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted, as you can see from the pictures. It consists of two caves (Ronan’s Well and Robin Hood) that links up with each other via a narrow tunnel called “The Narrows”.
In preparation for this adventure, we met a girl who is an experienced caver (spelunken). She was the first one to mention this cave and she told us that we just had to keep going straight and we could not miss The Narrows, and that the average time inside the cave is about 3 hours.
Following her suggestions, we kept on going for more than two hours through some very narrow passages. We had to literally squeeze our way through, bending in some seemingly impossible positions.
As we continued going deeper and deeper into the womb, the cracks and tunnels started getting narrower and narrower. Each new crack we completed we convinced ourselves that maybe THAT one was the Narrows.
Even the chambers started getting smaller and smaller. Some could not even fit my brother and me. For the first time on this adventure, uncertain thoughts started to surface. “How sure am I that this is the way?” and the scariest of all, “Could we be lost?”
THE WAY BACK
At some point, I could not turn my head to look back, nor expand my chest to take a breath. The cave decided for us. We had to admit that we were completely lost, running out of water and couldn’t go any further, It was time to turn back.
Two and a half hours of struggle later, we saw an orange glow ahead. Painful, bruised and tired we resurfaced back to the fresh colorful outdoors. The sun was just about to disappear behind the horizon, giving us enough light to get back to the car. Smiling out of exhaustion and relief, we made our way down the mountain and back home.
A few months later, we returned with the girl who mentioned the cave to us, and we completed it.
MORE INFORMATION ON KALK BAY CAVES:
Ronan’s Well is one of about 85 caves found in the Kalk Bay’s mountain range. Hiking up the mountain there are signs directing you to some of the more popular caves. Most of the caves are small and suited for beginners, and the hike alone is beautiful through the Cape flora with views of False Bay.
Take the train from Cape Town to Kalk Bay, then climb up to Boyes Drive and find the sign indicating Echo Valley. This will take you up the mountain with numerous signs directing routes to the more popular caves.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts for the Kalk Bay caves-
I am a bodyboarder and this is my local beach, which means that I know the area quite well. I had so many experiences there, including having my bag stolen by baboons looking for food, swimming with dolphins and being chased out of the water by sharks.
As a top experience, I definitely recommend camping on the beach.
Not only can you have the beach to yourself, but also watch the sun turning the sky orange as it vanishes behind Cape Point across the bay, which makes for an unforgettable sunset!
After enjoying the sunset, take a walk on the shore and you might notice the glowing of phosphorus beneath your feet and in the water. Whenever it is disturbed it lights up with a magical blue glow.
I had an amazing experience while camping and bodyboarding at Kogel Bay: I noticed phosphorus in the water and I decided to have a (quite risky) night session with a friend. In the attempt to catch a few waves, we ended up entirely covered in blue lights all over our bodies. It was everywhere, in my hair, on my board, whenever I made a movement the water lit up. An experience out of this world!
Located in False Bay, at the foot of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, this is definitely my favorite beach in the world. Secluded from the city, it’s the perfect place to come for a relaxing getaway. The beach is very popular amongst bodyboarders and surfers because of its amazing waves.
Dappat se Gat (Dappat’s Hole in English) was named after a livestock thief named Dappat. Cattle farmers use to graze their cattle around the area. Dappat would go steal some cattle and lead them into the cave down by the beach. When the tide came in it cut off access to the cave and wash away the footprints, leaving farmers very confused. Later he was discovered when a fishing boat spotted smoke coming from the cave and asked the police to investigate.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take the N2 out of Cape Town towards Sir Lowry’s Pass (30min), turn right onto Sir Lowry’s Pass road until you get to a T-junction. Turn left onto the R44 and keep going until you see Kogel Bay Beach. Park at the first parking on your right, and there will be a sign that reads Dapat se Gat. Just follow the little path all the way down to the beach.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts at Kogel Bay-
Stony Point is a rocky point in the small town of Betty’s Bay. It is home to a colony of Jackass penguins that spend their days fishing in the kelp filled waters, or just enjoying the sun on the rocks. Along the way, there are some informative signposts about the penguins, other cormorants in the area and history on the old whaling station that was stationed there.
- I would recommend this instead of Boulder’s Beach, as it is less crowded.
- Betty’s Bay is known for being windy, so take some warm clothes along.
- Keep an eye out for rock hyraxes, called “Dassies” by the locals.
- Photos are welcome, so don’t forget your camera!
The Zip line tours that have recently become more and more popular around the world, has come to the Cape! In the mountains near Grabouw, you can now zip from platform to platform over massive ravines. Highly recommended to adventure seekers. Don’t forget your camera (even better a GoPro). When I go back to South Africa, I am definitely doing this!
- Some of the zip lines go over 300m deep ravines.
- It takes you into the previously inaccessible areas of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve which is declared a World Heritage Site.
- Instead of flying between the trees, this tour takes you into the mountain which makes this a unique experience.
If you are a fan of trance music and the outdoors, then these festivals are for your. The Trance scene in South Africa has grown massively in the past couple of years. The organizers always go out of their way to give an amazing visual experience. We have some great DJ’s that has been invited to play all over the world. If you want to meet some down-to-earth people, I recommend checking it out.
- The festivals usually lasts between 2 – 5 days.
- At some of the festivals tents can be rented, but I would recommend taking your own.
- There are several food stalls at the parties, so you will not go hungry. If you don’t want to spend too much money, you can take your own food with you.
- There are usually bars by the dance floor, but you are allowed to take in your own drinks. (NB: No glass bottles allowed, they will search your car at the gate.)
Enjoy a day experiencing day-to-day life in the Kayamandi “sweet home” township. Within the tour you can meet and talk to the locals, and meet a Xhosa Mama. She will welcome you into her home and tell you stories about the life in the township. You will be served some traditional food and ginger beer (Non-alcoholic). I highly recommend it.
- Enjoy some dishes that Nelson Mandela grew up eating.
- The tour usually lasts around 3 hours, depending if you take the full tour or the mini tour.
- It will cost around $60 p/p for the full tour and $40 for the mini tour, depending how many people you are.
- Tours run 6 days a week, Monday – Saturday.
- Feel free to explore the beautiful Stellenbosch after the tour, as there are many things to see.
According to me, this is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Cape Town area. Best to do on the day of a full moon, as you can enjoy the beautiful sunset in the west, followed shortly by the full moon rising in the east. The view is a spectacular 360 degrees, including Table Mountain, Cape Town’s city lights, and the famous Robin Island where Nelson Mandela was held captive.
- Remember to take a flashlight with you.
- Take a picnic basket with some good local wine to enjoy.
- Use the Hop On Hop Off city bus to Lion’s Head, it’s easy and cheap!
- You do not need to walk far to see the moon rise after the sun has set. It takes less than a minute to walk to the other side of summit.
The Garden was coined the most beautiful garden in Africa, and it truly lives up to its reputation. Set on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, this garden is devoted to displaying the vast array of flora that southern Africa has to offer. On Sunday evenings (during summer), you can watch local and international acts performing, whilst lying on the grass enjoying a nice picnic.
- The Gardens became the first ones in the world dedicated to preserving only the indigenous flora.
- Many of the walking trails within the garden leads up and along the slopes of the mountain, one of which leads up a ravine called Skeleton Gorge, an easy and popular trail up to the summit of the mountain.
- The garden has an amazing array of proteas, which is South Africa’s National Flower.
SO, ARE YOU READY TO DISCOVER THE CAPE TOWN SURROUNDINGS LIKE A LOCAL?
If you have some more suggestions to add, or you need additional information on the activities listed, leave a comment below!