I am a lover of the sea. Between exploring the Namibian desert and touring the South African bush, I was feeling landlocked! Luckily, Simon's Town is a quiet, coastal neighborhood on the cape peninsula of South Africa. Famous for its views of False Bay, Simon's Town offers the "closest encounter with penguins in the world."
I flew from Johannesburg to Cape Town late in the evening of June 9th. I was coming directly off of a 5-day safari tour, ready for the final 4 days of my trip to Africa.
It was a rainy day my first day in Simon's Town. I was there to SCUBA dive but I had to wait for better conditions. Instead, I made the most of my first day there exploring this little seaside village.
Cape Town Airport To Simon's Town
My flight arrived to Cape Town's international airport (CPT) at 9:45PM. My guesthouse host was anticipating my late night arrival.
A cab driver got my attention inside the airport. He only accepted cash and the currency exchange was closed at the airport. But when I asked him how much to Simon's Town, he magically said just under the exact amount of cash I had left (~R420).
The ride lasted almost an hour. Along the way, we ran into many flashing cop cars parked on the side of the highway. At one point, the cab driver said "very dangerous area" and explained the gangs shoot people in this area seemingly for "no reason."
I interrogated the driver a bit—asking lots of questions about the circumstances for members of the gangs. He mentioned apartheid and economic hardship but quickly blamed the gangs for their own situation. It was interesting to hear a local's perspective but at the end of the day this was one man's opinion on a very deep, historically layered issue.
When we arrived at the guesthouse, the meter read R450. I felt bad I didn't have enough cash but he accepted the originally negotiated amount without protest.
Meeting My Guesthouse Host
Papillion Guesthouse is set into a hillside overlooking the bay. So there are definitely some gorgeous sunset views from this guesthouse.
I walked up many steps to knock on the front door where my host, Muriel, answered and showed me in. Muriel and Gary are an older European couple who live in the house together and operate the stay. Muriel was my main point of contact for the 2 days I was there.
Muriel showed me to the room which had a classic, grandma's home kind of feel to it. She showed me the bucket in the shower and explained to me that I would need to conserve water because the entire Cape was experiencing a water crisis. Otherwise, the amenities paired with the light pink colors, soft lighting, and canopy made me feel like I was about to be pampered like a pretty, pretty princess!
I booked this stay because I wanted a comfortable room to come back to after diving. It was a splurge relative to my the free couchsurfing accommodation I had previously. But it was still reasonably priced at $47 USD per night.
For a small fee, Muriel washed and folded my laundry. Although it was the end of my trip, I appreciated the washing after 5 days on safari!
Views Of False Bay
Muriel went out of her way to ensure I was comfortable and check in on me. I'm not usually used to such attention when I stay places—so it was almost too much interaction and checking-in for me. But I appreciated it anyway.
In the morning, she offered to drive me to the mall to go grocery shopping so I would have some food to keep in my room. I gladly joined her because I also needed to get more cash from an ATM.
After we both finished our shopping, Muriel met me for some tea as I finished breakfast at a cafe inside the mall.
On the return trip, Muriel drove up the mountainside so I could take photos from a lookout point. It was a drizzly day and SCUBA diving conditions were not right. But the weather made for some gorgeous, cloudy photos!
Boulders Beach Penguins
On the way back over to the guesthouse, I decided to let Muriel drop me off at Boulders Beach. Despite the rain, I wanted to spend the day out of the house exploring.
I followed a boardwalk shrouded in shrubbery next to the beach.
The entrance to the beach was up the path, but I didn't have to go that far to start seeing them. Nesting African penguins were right there under the shrubs. This was truly the closest penguin encounter I ever had!
In Australia, I saw little penguins far off in the distance and then scurry along to their nests. I could see them from along the boardwalk but they were always at least a few feet away and moving quick.
I couldn't believe how close these ones were and they were with their babies! They were so close I could pet them, although I wouldn't dare disturb them. I already felt like an intruder, walking by and taking photos.
Eventually I came to a clearing and then an established entrance to see the penguins at the beach. There was a small tariff before entering—R76 for adults.
Of course, I had already seen the penguins along the boardwalk. One might be satisfied with that, so why pay? Well, the beach view is what you would be missing:
I absolutely loved the views of the penguins at the beach. The big boulders and turquoise-colored water made for awesome surroundings.
It was so much fun watching them socializing with each other and swimming around in the waters. I couldn't stop snapping photos!
Navy Dog & Solo Lunch
After watching penguins for an hour or so, I wandered up along the coastline. I explored more of the seaside area and then the main strip of shops and eateries along St. George's Street.
The coastline in Simon's Town gives you a clear view of the Navy Base. Landmarks and other signs in the area reminded me of the historical relevance of Simon's Town.
For example, in Jubilee Square, there is a statue of a great dane named Able Seaman Just Nuisance. He frequently accompanied sailors on the train journey to/from Cape Town to boost morale during World War II. Just Nuisance was the only dog to ever be enlisted in the UK's Royal Navy. The Simon's Town museum has more information about the dog and his grave sits on top of the mountain on Red Hill Road. He was buried as any other soldier with full military honors.
In general, it was a peaceful, quiet day for solo exploration! I wandered along the beach near Jubilee Square. I spotted a couple of loner penguins chilling far away from the colony there.
I observed a place to rent kayaks—something I would have done if it was warmer weather.
I also sat on top of some boulders looking out at the gorgeous view of the bay.
I ended my exploring with a delicious late lunch at a cafe called Monocle and Mermaid. The food there was amazing—I wanted to try everything on the menu!
Some may think eating and exploring solo is lonely and boring. But I enjoyed it so much!
I was about to make the trek back up the hillside to my guesthouse for the evening. On my way, I passed a side street with a ton of art hanging. A large painting of a lion's face caught my eye.
The bright colors and harsh lines were exactly my style of art.
I talked to the artist for a while and he helped me decide on a painting for myself and one for a gift. I chose the lion for myself and the gift was a painting of Maasai women—an ethnic group mostly residing in Kenya. His brother, Erik, was the artist who painted lion and he, Asanoo, was the artist behind the Maasai painting.
I don't remember exactly how much money I spent on these paintings, but it was definitely over R1000 for the 2 paintings together. He gave me a massive discount but was clearly very satisfied with his sale.
I love supporting local artists! And now I get frequent compliments on the lion hanging in my home.
I thanked Asanoo for his beautiful art and then hurried home, trying not to get the rolled-up paintings wet. On my way, I walked by some interesting nature. There was a guinea fowl picking at some litter on the side of the road. I chuckled at how unglamorous this was for such a gorgeous bird, one that gets a prominent feature in the opening images in the Lion King.
The I saw this gorgeous stone pine. This was such a significantly placed tree that it had a plaque on it explaining its historical and protected status. As a named "Champion Tree" from southern Europe, it's one of the last stone pines lining that road.
I made it back to the guesthouse where I relaxed for the rest of the evening. Sometimes it's nice to have a quiet day of exploring and a quiet evening in after a whirlwind of activities every day!
I appreciated this day so much and enjoyed getting to know Simon's Town before spending a full day diving in the bay.
Next time, I will post about my experience diving False Bay. While it was not all I hoped it to be, it was a lesson in finding the silver lining in otherwise disappointing experiences!