Heading to Camps Bay to check out ‘the real Cape Town’ (according to one of my trusty Cape Town advisors) was much harder than I expected. Not because Cape Town is difficult to navigate, but because the day I set out was the Cape Argus cycle tour.
The Cape Argus is South Africa’s largest cycling event and this year there were 35,000 competitors. As the world’s biggest, individually timed cycle race for professional and amateur bikers it was pretty much all I’d heard about since arriving in the city.
I’d met a few of the reported 2,500 international entrants during my travels – mostly from Germany or Italy. All were excited and most were competing in their first international cycle tour, taking a few extra days either side to enjoy Cape Town.
On the day of the big race, the rest of Cape Town basically doesn’t move. So many of the streets are closed – but I guess that’s to be expected for a 109km road race that circles the Cape, from the city right down to the national park near the Cape of Good Hope and then back along Chapman’s Peak.
A tip for non-cycling tourists… don’t set out with a hire car on the day of the Argus.
After over an hour in first gear I’d checked out the back streets (on ‘detour’), watched the mist being burnt off the cliffs and listened to every Cape Town radio station. All before arriving in Camps Bay, 10km from where I picked up my rental.
The main road in Camps Bay was closed but the cafes and restaurants overlooking the race and the beach were doing a roaring trade so I opted for coffee and a comfy view of the passing lycra.
What a parade! From cows on bikes to couples on tandems and a guy in a green Borat-style unitard it was a sight to be seen. For those from Sydney, it was kind of like watching the City to Surf on wheels.
Feeling decidedly lazy on the sidelines it was time for me to get moving and check out the rest of the coast. Well that wasn’t quite as easy as I’d expected… but then again I clearly hadn’t thought through my route for the day… I was wanting to drive almost the exact route of the race, just in reverse.
In the CBD there are backstreets, but down the Atlantic cost there aren’t. It was back into town and around Table Mountain on the other side to try and get down to my hotel in Haut Bay.
During my beautiful and winding drive around the other side of Table Mountain I met cyclists riding home after the race, a semi-trailer hauling what looked like a small forest of trees and a lot of European 4-wheel drives with very dark tinted windows. I was in the country, 20mins from the CBD.
The traffic getting into Haut Bay should have tipped me off that I might have issues getting through, but for some reason it didn’t register and I kept on driving into town. About 2km from the beach (and my hotel) the streets were cordoned off and the not-so-
friendly policeman working the barricade told me I could walk in but the car needed to stay where it was. He clearly hadn’t seen what was in my boot. There was no way I was lugging all my badly packed luggage accross town.
Along more backstreets I circled through Haut Bay, past heavily fenced properties with either Chubb or ADT Armed Response signs reinforcing the gap between the have’s and the have not’s. Some of the houses in Haut Bay are enormous but they all have a proportionate level of security… not something I’d be that keen to have on my holiday home.
By the time I reached the base of Table Mountain again the message had gotten through to the part of my brain doing the navigation… “avoid the cycle route”. I headed for the opposite side of the Cape. They were pulling down barricades and roads were slowly reopening. Success!
To give the roads more time to open up I spent a couple of hours wandering along the pier and through the antique and art stores of Kalk Bay, stopping for a drink at Cape to Cuba. Feeling refreshed and quite proud of myself for not having purchased anything I got back in the car and kept heading south.
Just out of Simon’s Town I saw the first sign that I might encounter wildlife… “Baboons!” And encounter I did, they were everywhere on the verge, in the middle of the road, and unluckily for the car in front of me, on the roof of their car. Only in Africa!
Heading back into the national park there was less visible wildlife. At least until I reached the Cape of Good Hope where there were thousands of birds. On the beach, on the rocks and riding the waves… they were everywhere!
By the time I’d taken photo’s at the Cape and the lighthouse the sun was starting to sinking and the wind had really picked up. I was keen to get to the Chapman’s Peak Hotel for the legendary calamari on the deck watching sunset (and to check in). I needed to hit the road again.
Remnants of the race remained along the road to Haut Bay. Lots of port-a-loos and baricades but surprisingly very little rubbish. Driving north along Chapman’s Peak Drive as the sun was starting to set over the water was one of the best photo opportunities I’ve had in South Africa… shame I didn’t bring my tripod. I’ll chalk it up as another reason to
With 20mins till sunset I was safely checked in, with a Sauvignon Blanc in hand and a plate of the softest and tastiest calamari in front of me. The vibe on the beach-side deck was relaxed and most people were talking about the Argus. Sipping my wine I added “cycle the Cape Argus” to my bucket list… I needed to be that specific because somehow, without trying I’d driven the route, albeit backwards.