Hout Bay is the best base for Cape Town explorations. Sandwiched between the forested fairgrounds of Kirstenbosch and the rolling Constantia vineyards, with the bonus of Chapmans Peak panoramas on its doorstep, there are many grounds for making this vibrant harbour town your headquarters.
On a trip to see the best of Cape Town, Hout Bay offers the most convenient proximity to the Mother City.
This laidback seaside suburb sits a comfortable distance from the bustling city centre for leisurely day trips. Point your compass north, and a 15-minute drive will seat you along the trendy bar-studded shores of Camps Bay. 25 minutes and you’re in Seapoint, where you can kayak through the enchanting watery habitat of Heaviside’s dolphins and look back at the imposing silhouette of Table Mountain. Just 30 minutes drive from Hout Bay, you’ll find the artistic marvels of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and local shopping spoils at the iconic V&A Waterfront. Why not end the day with a sunset champagne cruise?
To the south, one can comfortably visit the endearing Southern Peninsula (home to Africa’s unusual penguin colony) or gallop along Noordhoek beach on a horse ride, before venturing to the wilds of Cape Point beyond.
The true charm of your visit, however, is the return. Retrace your steps to Hout Bay and retreat into the beguiling pocket of nature that first attracted intrepid sailors to South Africa. Right here in Hout Bay, there’s immediate access to top-notch hiking routes like Signal Hill hiking trail, and to the Cape’s most revered heritage vineyards. You don’t have to travel far for a Hout Bay winery tasting experience, as Hout Bay’s very own family-owned wine estate, Hout Bay Vineyards, can be found high up on the slopes, close to our hotel.
This attractive bay opens into the Atlantic Ocean and was first marked in early 16th century Portuguese maps as Port o Fragoso (fragile or jagged port). Chapmans Chaunce was the first English name given to Hout Bay, and the charming road that connects Hout Bay to the Southern Peninsula still bears this captain’s name — the stunningly scenic Chapman’s Pass.
Before settlers and sailors, indigenous Africans walked these shores. The Khoi and the San people lived a pastoral life hunting and fishing along the bay, sharing it with animals. Want to know a little local secret? On your drive from Hout Bay to Chapman’s Peak, look out at the boulders to find a special statue. A bronze leopard is lurking among the stones. Sculptured by Ivan Mitford-Barberton, it is a memorial dedicated to all the wild animals that once freely roamed these mountains. According to the Hout Bay Museum, the last leopard spotted in Hout Bay was seen on Little Lion’s Head in 1937.
Drawn by this abundance, the Europeans occupied the area. They also brought enslaved people and indentured labourers from the Malaysian and Indian Archipelagos. These diverse cultural influences remain evident today. The Cape’s varied architecture and scrumptious cuisine contain many hidden stories. The humble bobotie casserole and bredie curry have hundreds of years of history behind them.
Hout Bay translates to ‘Wood Bay’, derived from the era when Dutch settlers came ashore when the hills were deeply forested. The matured Yellow Wood trees were especially sought after (they are endemic to South Africa), and their timber was used to help build Cape Town. Ships were repaired using these trees, and the strong trunks were used to craft iconic structures, such as the Castle of Good Hope. You can still hike through the last remnants of these woodlands today.
Despite modern developments, Hout Bay has retained its country atmosphere and honours its maritime roots.
The Mariner’s Wharf might seem like a time capsule of seafood delis with generous fish and chips, plus vintage-style nautical shops, but the harbour still functions as a fishing port and processing centre. There is a beautiful, bustling feel here, and the lively harbour also hosts excellent activities.
Hop on a glass-bottomed boat trip to visit the colony of Cape fur seals at Duiker Island, or get up close and personal with them on an unforgettable seal snorkelling adventure. Duiker Island is home to some 5,000 seals and lies within the Karbonkelberg marine protected area (part of Table Mountain National Park). These seals are not fed. They behave naturally and interact with snorkellers on their own terms, often in an acrobatic swirl of bubbles and delight! It doesn’t take much to interact with these curious creatures.
Steve Benjamin, the owner of Animal Ocean Seal Snorkeling, is a trained zoologist, marine guide, skipper, and scientific commercial diver. This responsible eco-tourism activity also gives back. The operation will rescue seal pups (interestingly, little ones can’t swim for about six months and often drown if knocked from the rocks) and disentangle them, provides free boat and crew for researchers and coordinates beach clean-ups.
Why not get a coffee for a cause while in Hout Bay? Head down to the beach and order a cappuccino with a croissant to support the Sentinel Ocean Alliance. This non-profit organisation has created a safe space for local communities to learn about and develop a love for the ocean. They started off by establishing the Hout Bay Surf Lifesaving Club (a development club that has grown to almost 60 members) and partnered with Waves For Change. This mental health programme uses surfing as a means of therapy. In December 2020, with the support of Parley For The Oceans, they then launched the world’s first Parley Ocean School. You can also get involved. They host regular beach clean-ups and engaging talks from ocean advocates.
The solar-powered, eco friendly hotel in South Africa, Vida Nova Retreat sits on the upper slopes of Hout Bay, nestled into the hills and embraced by trees. ‘Vida Nova’ means new life and speaks the hotel’s light on the earth ethos. The aim is to connect guests with nature while preserving and protecting our environment. This eco-retreat helps to fund the marine conservation efforts of Fire Island Conservation.