A Cape Town Peninsula Tour - and Paying for Friends…
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
Cape Town sits on the northern, landward end of the Cape Peninsula, which juts down into the South Atlantic and ends at the Cape of Good Hope. This peninsula includes some of the most beautiful scenery in the world but, without a rental car, is tough to visit.
Enter Local Knowledge Tours, an awesome organization that takes visitors on guided tours of the Cape Peninsula led by, as the name suggests, locals. In addition to being an awesome way to see the peninsula, this model basically lets you pay for friends!
The Cape Peninsula Tour - an Overview
As first-time visitors to Cape Town, we lucked out with some recommendations - had some friends who’d spent a bunch of time in the area. And, of all their advice, Don’t miss the Local Knowledge Tour was some of the best (thanks Mike and Jackie!).
The Cape Peninsula stretches 52 kilometers from the Cape Town waterfront in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the far south. And, along this stretch, you see some of the most stunning beaches, national parks, and just generally outstanding landscapes in the world. But, there’s just not great public transit to see the area, and we didn’t have a rental car.
Recognizing that a lot of tourists would fall into this situation, three South Africans founded Local Knowledge Tours a few years back. In a nutshell, you pay to have some young, knowledgeable guides drive you around to see all the cool spots in the area for a day - through the eyes of a local. Incredible way to get out and see the entire Cape Peninsula.
Yes, tongue-in-cheek, you are “paying for friends.” But, we ended up making an actual friend - pretty awesome outcome. Yanga, in addition to being an outstanding guide for the day, ended up a great friend during the rest of our time in Cape Town (and generously connected us with his friends up the South African coast as we continued our travels!).
With a long day ahead of us, we walked over to the Local Knowledge office in Green Point around 9am. One of the company’s managers met us, connected us with the other guy who’d join the tour, then introduced us to Yanga. Great system - we hop into a luxury van and spend the day cruising around on a curated tour of the area.
Fish & Chips Fit for a President
After driving south out of Cape Town proper, our first stop was at St. James beach on the east side of the peninsula. Sitting on False Bay, St. James is a quaint, picturesque beach town with a multicolored row of beach huts that - almost - gives the Bo-Kaap paint scheme a run for its money. For the next hour or so, we’d stroll through the back alleys of this little town, explore the waterfront promenade, and work up an appetite for our second stop.
Having grown up in Buffalo, Chipp knew about Friday fish fries. But, in South Africa, fish and chips (chips = fries in non-American English...) takes on an almost religious zeal. And, Kalky’s is one of the best places in the Western Cape to get a massive portion of this dish - so much so that the current South African president has gone out of his way for lunch there on more than one occasion.
Sitting on picnic tables right in the Kalk Bay harbor, with fishing boats and sun-bathing seals in close proximity, the four of us worked our way through styrofoam takeaways of what seemed like 10 pounds of - absolutely delicious - fish and chips. Perfect base for a long day of exploring!
Visiting the Boulders Beach Penguins
Continuing south from Kalk Bay, we passed through Simon’s Town, which, in an interesting piece of history, had been the British Navy’s most important Southern Hemisphere base until transferring it to South Africa in 1957.
British history’s cool, but penguins are much cooler! With a brief nod to naval legacy, we continued on to Boulders Beach, home to a colony of the endangered African - or Cape - Penguin. Only found in parts of South Africa and Namibia, these little guys are some of the most adorable creatures we’d ever seen. On a few-hundred-meter long stretch of sandy beaches and large boulders, hundreds (thousands?) of these penguins frolic in the sand and water, just basically checking the yes-we-know-how-cute-we-are box!
Cape of Good Hope - the Most Southwestern Part of Africa
This one threw both of us for a loop. You know how there are certain “facts” from school that you just take for granted? Well, both of us - quite incorrectly - were under the impression that the Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost part of the African continent. Turns out, Cape Agulhas (east of where we were) holds that title.
Instead, Good Hope - at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula - holds claim to the most southwestern part of Africa. Not quite as cool, but, clearly it has a good PR team, as most Americans have heard of Good Hope - not Agulhas.
Regardless of distinctions, the Cape of Good Hope is amazing. To get there, you drive through the beautiful Cape Point National Park, home to some of the most diverse flora in the world. And, following a winding drive through this incredible landscape, you’re rewarded with panoramic views from a rocky outcropping in - almost - the southernmost part of Africa.
It’s kind of surreal looking out from Good Hope and knowing that, were you to sail due south (and not die…), the next land you’d hit is Antarctica.
Chapman’s Peak Views and Some South African Insight
Continuing the theme of mind-blowing natural beauty, we wrapped up our day with a drive along Chapman’s Peak. A Big-Sur-esque, winding stretch of road with towering peaks on one side and a precipitous drop to the ocean on the other, these few miles are famous throughout South Africa (and the luxury car advertising world…).
After navigating the serpentine road towards Cape Town, the terrain opened up, and we pulled over at a roadside picnic area with sweeping views of Hout Bay. In normal times, this is where Yanga would pour us all gin and tonics to toast a great day. In prohibition times, you make do with what you have.
So, with “cocktails” in hand, we hung out, enjoyed the views, and talked about life in modern South Africa. That’s another great aspect of the Local Knowledge program: being with young, relaxed South Africans - not up-tight, overly formal tour guides - you can have deeper discussions. And, hearing Yanga’s perspective on daily life in post-apartheid South Africa - well, that’s not something we would’ve gotten sitting on a massive tour bus.