Hout Bay - Cape Town
Hout Bay, literally meaning 'wood bay' in Afrikaans, was once a valley covered in thick, indigenous forest. Today, all that remains of the ancient lushness is the remote Oranjekloof Reserve, and yet the area, with its sparkling bay and gentle valley, is still sought after for its natural beauty and gentle pace of life.
But it's not just a sleepy seaside hollow. Hout Bay is one of the fastest-growing areas in Cape Town, with a thriving town centre and its own waterfront which predates the better-known V&A Waterfront by several years. At the port and adjoining Mariner's Wharf, fishing and tourism mingle successfully as locals and tourists alike queue for boat trips to see the seal colony on Duiker Island and a nearby shipwreck. By day, take long walks along Hout Bay beach, swim in the crisp, safe waters, or go surfing, wind surfing, kayaking, paddle skiing or scuba diving. The World of Birds, home to hundreds of brightly coloured African species, is another of Hout Bay's major attractions. At sunset, you could indulge in a romantic Champagne cruise from Hout Bay harbour around the dramatic, rocky coast to Cape Town harbour - or enjoy a gourmet meal in a word-class restaurant, order a take-away pizza, or eat fresh fish and chips in the late evening sun while watching the fishing boats coming in.
Surely one of the most beautiful scenic drives on the planet is the trip from Hout Bay along Chapman's Peak Drive (temporarily closed for repairs) to Noordhoek. In a miracle of civil engineering even by today's standards, the road has been cut into an almost vertical cliff face; driving along the winding road and watching the waves surge against the rocks hundreds of metres below is an unforgettable experience. Stop at one of the awesome picnic spots and look-out points along the way to see the Sentinel, the rocky outcrop guarding the entrance to Hout Bay. Further on, beyond the green Noordhoek valley, you'll find the villages of Kommetjie and Scarborough nestled in the more wild and isolated landscape close to the Cape Point Nature Reserve. And if you prefer to absorb scenery by foot, walking tours may be arranged.