Simon’s Town is one of the oldest towns in South Africa, and one of the most strategically important. Its location and orientation in False Bay means that it is sheltered from a lot of the wind that plagues the cost. In 1687 it was identified as an ideal spot to build a winter harbour and it’s been in vogue ever since.
It’s still an active naval base with ships and submarines going in and out of the harbour on various exercises, but it’s also blessed with breathtaking natural beauty and contains enough museums and galleries to keep arts and culture enthusiasts happy.
One of its most popular drawcards is its breeding colony of African penguins. Boulders Beach is one of the few places in the world where people can interact with penguins in their natural habitat. But watch out, they bite.
The Historical Mile
The Historical Mile is a 1.5km stretch of road that ably encompasses most of Simon’s Town’s history. It runs from the railway station to the Old Burying Ground and includes the Simon’s Town Museum, Naval Museum, Toy Museum and Church of St Francis (reputedly the oldest Anglican Church in South Africa). 21 of the buildings on the mile are over 150 years old.
Jubilee Square is on Simon’s Town’s waterfront. It’s a happening little place filled with curios, coffee shops and restaurants, an art gallery and a statue of South Africa’s most famous Able Seaman: the Great Dane Just Nuisance. Just Nuisance joined the navy during WWII after sneakily capturing the hearts of several of the sailors based in the town.
From the square it’s possible to walk down to the harbour (passed several groups of musicians demonstrating their skills) and admire the view, or charter a boat to take you round the bay. Charters will take you to Seal Island, Cape Point and the Roman Rock Lighthouse. You can also charter boats for deep-sea fishing ventures and shark cage diving.
Roman Rock Lighthouse
The Roman Rock Lighthouse has the distinction of being the only lighthouse in South Africa built on a rock in the middle of the sea. It’s also distinguished by its helipad. The 17m high structure stands guard at the mouth of the harbour and has been in operation since September 1861. Initially it was manned full time by a lighthouse keeper and his assistant, but technology put paid to that in 1919 when it became fully automated.
Boulders and Foxy Beach
Boulders Beach is the more famous of the two beaches and more readily associated with penguins, but Foxy Beach plays just as important a role in the preservation of the breeding colony. In fact, it’s even more important because while people are allowed to traverse the wooden walkways above the colony, they are not allowed to get up close to the penguins as they are at Boulders.
At Boulders you can walk among the penguins and even swim with them, if you care to brave the water. It’s very important to remember, however, that the penguins are wild creatures. They appear cute and fuzzy and are by and large used to human interlopers, but they still bite.
Scratch Patch and Mineral World
If you like pretty gemstones and fine jewellery you might want to give the Scratch Patch and Mineral World a go. Make Mineral World your first stop in the all-in-one compound and admire the beautiful bracelets, necklaces and pendants on display. Most the pieces are made on site. There are also intricate carvings, ornaments and gem trees for you to buy.
Enter the scratch patch on your way out and dig around for gemstones to your heart’s content. You’ll feel like a kid again and walk away with some absolute treasures, including Tiger’s Eye, Rose Quartz, Amethyst, Jasper and, if you’re particularly lucky, Lapis Lazuli.
Simon’s Town Museum
The Simon’s Town Museum was first established in 1977, but after a brief spell in the old municipality complex was moved to The Residency (the winter home for the Governor of the Dutch East India Company). The museum contains a wealth of exhibits, starting in the Early History Room, which contains artefacts dating back one million years. The Military Room documents the various altercations that have coloured South Africa’s history. The People of Simon’s Town Room is dedicated to the people who were forced to leave their homes by the laws of apartheid. There is also a Shipwreck Room, a room dedicated to Just Nuisance and a Punishment Cell.
The SA Navy Museum
The SA Navy Museum is a work in progress with collections being added as technology comes and goes. Items on display include ship and submarine models, naval guns and torpedoes, sea mines, mine-sweeping equipment, diving equipment, a mock-up of a ship’s bridge and certain naval craft.
For more information on the sites in and around Simon’s Town contact the tourism office on 021 786 5880 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon’s Town is accessible via Fish Hoek from Kommetjie Road (turn left at the circle that marks the end of Main Road and keep on going) and from Noordhoek and the surrounds via the Glencairn Expressway, known locally as Black Hill (turn right at the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill).