Simon’s Town Secret SeasonBy Boet Dommisse with photographs by Dave Hurwitz
“Simonites” who live in this unique and attractive town will affirm that the best times of the year in Simon’s Town are the early and late winter months. These are the months when the rest of the Cape Peninsula is cold, wet and windy!
The secret lies in the fact that Simon’s Town is one of only three or four sea-side towns in South Africa that are north-facing, and Simon’s Bay is also sheltered from the strong north-west winter winds by the Cape Peninsula mountain chain on its northern and western aspects.
The climatic advantages of this sheltered bay, compared to the storm ravaged Table Bay, were appreciated by Simon van der Stel when in 1687 he personally surveyed and named Simon’s Bay. His recommendation to the Dutch East India Company (VOC), that Simon’s Bay become the winter harbour for their ships, was only implemented in 1744 after many sailing ships had been storm-wrecked in Table Bay. The Royal Navy also appreciated the safe shelter of Simon’s Bay and moved the headquarters of the Cape Fleet there in 1814. Simon’s Town has remained the main South African Naval Base ever since.
The historic village faces the sheltered bay with its placid waters which change colour with the tides and temperatures of the sea, or reflect the pale pink and silver shades of sunset. In winter the sun rises in splendid morning colours over the Hottentots-Holland Mountains across False Bay, and bathes Simon’s Town in warm winter sunshine for a far longer day than in most other places in the Cape Peninsula.
Of course it does rain occasionally in winter, but the long, cold and dreary days, associated with the Cape in winter are few. Even the strong, sometimes gale-force, north-west winds do not cause the havoc and damage seen along the Atlantic coast and in Table Bay.
The residents of Simon’s Town therefore seldom find it necessary to light a home fire or indoor heater in winter. In the mornings they sit on their sun-filled balconies overlooking the calm waters of Simon’s Bay, the busy harbour and the yacht basin. When the rain does come, it is usually very welcome!
The town centre is quiet in winter and parking is not a problem! Some residents may appreciate the absence of tourists, but most are happy to share this secret season and to welcome our visitors all year round.
What is there to do in Simon’s Town in the so-called off-season? For a start, Simon’s Town offers a large selection of restaurants and places to stay. There are two excellent hotelsin Simon’s Town and a third in Glencairn, while numerousB&B or self-catering
Winter is a time for walking, and from Simon’s Town you can walk south along the sea shore towards Cape Point, or north towards Fish Hoek and Muizenberg. The more energetic can walk up the Red Hill road, or via mountain steps, to the signal station andJust Nuisance’s grave on the plateau above the town. Long Beach provides a wonderful walk at sunset or the early morning, and a walk along Willis Way will take you past the Penguins, Boulders Beach and the Golf Course, with changing views across False Bay.
The Historic Mile, extending from the railway station to the Old Burying Ground, is a gentle one and a half kilometre walk. It passes many historic buildings such as Admiralty House and the newly-restored Palace Barracks, the ornate dockyard gates, the British Hotel and Jubilee Square, the centre of the town with a wonderful view over the yacht basin, and the life-size statue of that famous dog, Just Nuisance!
Along the way you will find inviting places to enjoy a cup of coffee, or a pancake, and perhaps take time to browse in several antique and curio shops. From Jubilee Square the road ascends slightly to pass the Dutch Reformed Church, where the music of the original South African Anthem, “Die Stem” was composed. The Historic Mile ends at the Old Burying Ground on the right with a fine view of the Harbour and the Martello Tower on the left. The Old Burying Ground which dates from 1813 has many graves of historic interest, including those of Boer Prisoners of War, some of those who perished in the Birkenhead tragedy, and of many young seamen lost at sea. A little further on Seaforth road leads down to the penguin colony.
The South African Navy is an integral part of Simon’s Town and although the harbour and dockyard are closed to visitors, the comings and goings of our own ships and visiting vessels are visible from almost anywhere in the town, and dockyard tours are arranged from time to time. The colourful yacht basin, home of the False Bay Yacht Club, lies alongside the harbour and the old Cable Restorer, docked on the outer harbour wall with its restaurant, “The Roaring Forties”, is available for special functions.
Should inclement weather occur, this is an ideal time to visit one of our several museums. The Simon’s Town Museum in Court Road is one of the best small museums in the country and the Naval Museum alongside it is of special interest. There are also the Toy Museum and the Heritage Museum nearer the centre of the town. The Bronze Age Foundry has a superb gallery, where bronze castings of international standard are on exhibition and for sale, and there is also a permanent Art Gallery in the Quayside Centre. The Simon’s Town Public Library, situated on the main road opposite the Police station, has attractive reading rooms and a large collection of books and magazines.
For the more adventurous, what better than a trip on the Bay? The Spirit of Just Nuisance operating from the town jetty offers cruises with an excellent commentary around the inner bay and harbour.Boat trips to Seal Island, Cape Point & whale watching (June-November) leave from the same jetty. A guided kayaking excursion to visit the penguins by sea is also highly recommended. Visitors are always welcome at the Simon’s Town Country Club which offers bowls and squash and has a formidable golf links. There are several safe beaches where some intrepid Simonites swim all year round, despite the cold water!
Close to the town several interesting and scenic routes explore the “Deep South”. Red Hill road provides spectacular views over False Bay, and of Simon’s Town and the harbour lying in the shelter of the Simon’s Berg. At the top of Red Hill a road turns off to the signal station and the grave of Just Nuisance, and then winds down towards the Atlantic Ocean. An impressive array of very large stone sculptures for sale stands alongside the first T-junction and is well worth a visit.
From here one road leads straight on to the entrance of theCape Point Nature Reserve and Cape Point, while the right hand fork brings you to the picturesque village of Scarborough and then along the seaboard, with the huge Atlantic rollers breaking below, to Kommetjie. Here it is worth visiting the impressively tall Slangkop Lighthouse, open to visitors, and also the famous Kommetjie surfers’ beach. The road continues in a north-westerly direction towards Fish Hoek, but you can turn right at the crossroads, and return to Simon’s Town via Glencairn.
Cape Point and the Nature Reserve can also be reached by simply continuing along the Simon’s Town main road passing the golf course and Miller’s Point, after which the road ascends to the Park entrance. Baboons are almost always encountered along this road. Enjoy their antics, but please do not feed or tease them!
The friendly people of Simon’s Town will be happy to share their secret season with you, whether it is as a day visitor or a longer stay. We know that you will be back, or perhaps even wish to join the many who have been fortunate enough to make Simon’s Town their home.
Selection of photographs taken from the recently published book
Simon’s Town – Views from the Bay by Boet Dommisse and Dave Hurwitz