Exploring Simon's Town bay in a kayak

By Jo-Anne Smetherham

PADDLING frantically, we try to surf a wave. My kayaking companion Riana calls out: "left right, left, right, quicker, quicker". But we are novices, and our boat surges only slightly.

We are in Simon's Town bay, 150 metres away from the harbour wall. It's near the end of a two-hour kayaking trip, and our shoulders are aching, so we can't muster the strength to surf properly. But it's not often you get to paddle out to sea. The views are magnificent and we don't want to feel puny. "Shall we try again?" says Riana.

It is hot; the Cape's renowned southeasterly blowing only a breeze. Across the bay the Helderberg mountains are low and purple, and on our left rise the steep slopes of the Simon's Town mountains, olive green and rust, the white houses bright in the heat.

One of their peaks is the third highest in Cape Town.

On the quay, before we even take to the water, our guide Derek gives us a quick paddling lesson: arms out, twist your body and push down with the paddle instead of pulling. If we don't get it right on land there'll be plenty of time to practise. "I'm just going to just put my paddle up like this and sail all the way," says wise-guy Mike.

The water in the harbour is so clear we can see the sandy bottom, and paddling over this windless stretch is effortless. Terns wheel in the air just beyond the white yachts. "There must be fish there," says kayaking guide Derek.

Riana is in the front on our boat and it's my job to steer with the foot pedals. She shouts out instructions because I'm cottoning on slowly to this push-the-left-foot-while-paddling-the-right-arm thing.

We paddle past the harbour wall, built of stone from a quarry we can see carved into the mountainside, and "two of the R5 million corvettes the navy bought in the controversial arms deal, end quote," says jovial guide Derek.

The boats have the twisted shapes of trees in a Dr Seuss story. "Look at all those angles: not enough straight lines for enemy radars to pick up their signals," he says.

Just outside the harbour Riana and I get stuck in the swells rushing towards the wall and falling back again. "It's like a washing machine over there. We call it clapiotis - you've caught the clap," calls out Derek cheerfully.

Then out through the swells.

It takes a little effort, but the rise and fall of the kayak and the feeling of working with the ocean makes it fun. We are aiming for Arch Rock, which looks far away.

When we get close, about 15 minutes later, we can see the cormorants as thick on its flat top as the spikes of a navy marine's short haircut, and the white fringe of guano beneath.

The birds are standing still, their heads up, soaking up sunshine.

Further out is Roman Rock lighthouse, named after the red roman fish caught nearby.

Then we turn our kayaks towards the white rocks of Boulders.

On the way we pass pretty Seaforth beach, where people are picnicking on the grass slopes under the shade of huge palm trees, and children on holiday are swimming like little seals.

We reach beneath our kayaks to feel the thick, oily strands of kelp we've been gliding over. But then we must paddle quickly - "left foot, left foot, right arm", Riana reminds me - to avoid the rocks, their black-and-white granite crystals quite visible through the water.

Just before Boulders, we head to a tiny beach for a rest. It's a beautiful spot, a shallow bay of green water, with one stone house in the corner. An old man who looks so at home he probably lives in the house, is looking out to sea from behind his painter's easel and there's just one child playing on the shoreline in her bright pink costume and hat. We drag the kayaks on to the beach and drink our first glugs of water.

A penguin is on the rock to our left. He gazes out to sea then dives in, darting across the bay, then waddles on to the rocks and into the bushes in his solemn penguin way.

It is moulting season, so most of the famous Boulders penguins will be hiding in the undergrowth instead of crowding the beaches as they usually do, Derek tells us. But when we paddle into the Boulders bay there are a few penguins on the rocks.

They stand stock still for the 15 minutes were are there.

We could swim from our kayaks, Derek tells us, but we are quite content to gaze at the gorgeous summer colours: aqua sea, the huge white rocks reaching so far out to sea they form a deep, rounded bay, and the forested boardwalks across the slope. There is no better way to see the splendid Cape than when mucking about in a boat.

Mike, Riana and their 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, are on holiday from Pretoria. Nicole, who loves adventures, had been nagging her parents for days to go kayaking. When we heave the boats out of the water at Simon's Town she is grinning.

"That was fun," says Mike. "And now I'm going to be lekker sore tomorrow."

Wear shorts and a swimming costume, T-shirt, hat and sandals. Bring sunblock and a change of clothing.

The trips leave from Bertha's Restaurant on the Simon's Town waterfront, where there are several places to eat.

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Published on the web by Cape Times on December 5, 2007.

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