17 March 2013
After our leisurely stroll around the Silvermine Reservoir on Sunday morning, we continued through to the suburb of Noordhoek, where we had visited the Noordhoek Garden Emporium for lunch that time – remember?
Suddenly, Richard pulled over into a small lay-by and squeezed himself into a parking spot behind a huge tour bus. A group of Chinese tourists were standing in clusters at the roadside, posing for each other’s cameras and laughing and chattering excitedly. We found a gap among the bushes along the verge, and stared at the wide vista below us: a pristine white sandy beach, which Reggie identified as Noordhoek Beach, lay spread out below us, stretching to the mountains in the distance, where the curve of the beach was met by the houses of Kommetjie.
“Can you see the lighthouse over there at the edge of the ocean?” asked Reggie.
It looked like a small white vertical line sticking up on a bit of flat shoreline.
“That’s Slangkop Lighthouse at Kommetjie, Flat Kathy,” she said. “Do you remember the day we visited Cape Point?”
“Oh yes – we went walking to the old lighthouse at the top, and then the new lighthouse at the bottom of these huge cliffs…”
“Yes,” Reggie nodded. “And on our way back to Noordhoek, we followed the coastal road through the small places of Scarborough and Misty Cliffs and Kommetjie. We stopped next to the road just above Slangkop Lighthouse.”
“Ohh yes, I remember!”
It was such a nice, comfortable feeling to remember some of the places we had visited, and to see them again – even if from a distance. It was like running into some old familiar friends. I have been here in Cape Town for almost two months now, and it is starting to feel like a home from home to me.
Dodging the traffic of cars and cyclists – oh! so many cyclists! – we crossed the road to the other side and climbed back into the car. We continued to follow the road as it hugged the almost perpendicular cliffs of Chapman’s Peak on our right, with a sheer drop to the Atlantic Ocean on our left.
I think this must be one of the most breathtaking seaside roads in the world: Chapman’s Peak Drive (if you are curious to find out more about the history and engineering involved in carving out this road and making it safe for the demands of modern traffic, click those links).
“The road is also known by locals as ‘Chappies’,” explained Reggie, putting on her tour guide hat. “It is the coastal link between Hout Bay and its slightly more rural counterpart Noordhoek further south. Although the road is only about 9km long, it has 114 curves, so this is not the road to take if you are in a hurry. And it’s also not the best road to take if you suffer from vertigo or have a fear of heights! You don’t have vertigo, do you, Flat Kathy?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head, “I don’t think so…”
I must admit, though, that when we stopped at the designated parking areas and viewing sites next to the road, and I saw the huge mountain above us and the waves of the ocean pounding into the rocks far below us, I felt extremely small and vulnerable.
“The old roadbuilders carved this road into these cliffs along a particular contour,” explained Reggie. “The road surface follows the solid Cape Granite contour, while the cuttings were made in the more workable Malmesbury shale above, which you can see is made up of sedimentary layers.”
“The cliffs above the road are a bit unstable, so stones and boulders can come tumbling down – damaging the road, causing accidents – and even killing people,” she continued. “So Chappies is often closed during winter, or after it has rained quite heavily, because of a risk of landslides or rockfalls.”
“Yes, I saw those warning signs next to the road,” I interrupted.
“Well spotted,” said Reggie. “You’re very observant, Flat Kathy. If you visit here in winter-time, and you want to drive around Chappies, it’s a good idea to check their website, or to phone, to make sure that it is open.”
“Several years ago,” she continued. “Chappies was closed for a long time so that it could be properly upgraded. They stabilised the road surface, and added numerous catch-fences above the road – these are made of high tensile wires, which are anchored with steel ropes.”
“And they catch the rocks?”
“Yep, that’s the idea.”
“In one section, where the road is literally carved into the perpendicular cliffs, they also constructed something that they called a half-tunnel and a portal canopy. So that keeps motorists safe when they drive along this road.”
“Unfortunately, all this construction and engineering and maintenance work is very expensive, and so, to recoup the costs, Chappies has become a toll road – much to the dismay of locals and residents who regularly commute between Hout Bay and Noordhok. When we reach the toll gate near Hout Bay, you’ll see that we need to pay R33 for a single trip.”
Some distance after the half-tunnel, we came around a tight bend, and suddenly, the view opened up. Richard pulled into a gap in the parking area, and we got out of the car to gaze at the incredible view. Wow… It took my breath away.
“That is Hout Bay in the distance, Flat Kathy,” gestured Reggie, “and that triangular-shaped mountain peak right on the edge of the ocean, which looks as though it is toppling over into the water, is called the Sentinel. In the old days, and still when I was a little girl, Hout Bay used to be a small fishing village, with a lovely little harbour, very rural and quaint. Over the years, it has become very built-up, with more and more houses being constructed higher up on the mountain sides, on the edge of the nature reserve. But it is still a nice place to visit – the beach is wonderful for walking, and you can buy freshly caught fish at the harbour, and you can also take a cruise boat out to see the seals in the bay.”
“And what are we going to do in Hout Bay?” I asked, excitedly.
“We are going to visit the World of Birds, Flat Kathy,” announced Reggie. “And if you’re lucky, you are going to play with some squirrel monkeys!”
“Oooh! Let’s go!”
Click on any of the pictures in the gallery to access the image caroussel with all the captions.