Tucked against the icy Atlantic Ocean, between Hout Bay’s Karbonkelberg and, on the Llandudno side, Klein Leeukoppie, lies one of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches, and every naturist’s fantasy: Sandy Bay.
The glistening blonde, approximately 200-metre long stretch of sand – which is flanked on either side by massive grey granite boulders – is sanctified largely by its inaccessibility. There is no direct vehicular access to Sandy Bay, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Table Mountain National Park. Most visitors to the beach park at Sunset Rocks in Llandudno and take a relatively easy 15 to 20-minute walk through the fynbos and dunes to reach the spot. For the past 10 years however, I have been lucky enough to essentially step out of my back door and take the short, steep hike up and down to Sandy Bay from the Hout Bay side, encountering along the way a miscellany of remarkable characters, critters and creatures.
The walk begins up the dunes below craggy Karbonkelberg. It’s a wonderful ramble. From late September to early November the lower regions of the mountainside are amply adorned with snow-white arum lilies, whose bulbs are clearly considered a delicacy by the resident porcupines. This is indicated, particularly in spring, by countless fresh excavations of the plants with telltale quill calling cards left alongside them. Higher up, the mountainside is garlanded in purple and pink wild geraniums and other brilliantly coloured fynbos. And if you are lucky as you walk through the dunes, you might see a duiker zigzag away from you and disappear into one of the ravines on the slopes of the mountain.On three separate occasions, as I clambered over the crest of the dunes in the direction of Sandy Bay, I was astonished (and she too, it was clear) to happen upon a magnificently sleek caracal (or rooikat). On our third encounter, the wide-eyed, pointy-eared feline was snarlingly gracious enough to scramble into the branches of scraggy tree and to hang there precariously for a minute while I photographed her with my cellphone camera. On another day, however, I did not linger long enough to point the device in the direction of a decidedly plump, lethargic-looking and approximately one-metre long puff adder, which lay idly in sun before me in the same area.
Once over the dunes, the spectacle down onto Sandy Bay, and left and right across the mountains is splendid. To the right, you’ll see Klein Leeukoppie (Small Lion Head), which looks like a lesser replica of the ‘proper’ Lion’s Head, i.e. the peak situated between Table Mountain and Signal Hill above Cape Town. (On the Hout Bay side, Klein Leeukoppie forms the backdrop to hotel tycoon Sol Kerzner’s Cape Town home and estate.)
If you walk left towards the Sentinel along Rocket Road – which is more of a track than a road – you’ll arrive above the crayfish-poaching hot spot of the Oude Schip peninsula. From here, you can frequently look down onto buoys attached to illegal crayfish nets bobbing about in the bay – it is a protected marine area that is allegedly problematic to police. You can also take in the remarkable sight of the Boss 400 wreckage, which is a massive floating crane that ran a ground when its towline broke during a storm and which remains perilously perched on the granite rocks.
To get to Sandy Bay however, you hike neither left nor right. Instead, you follow the track directly down the mountain towards the sea. It’s a steep but easy enough walk, with most of the alien vegetation having been cleared during the past six years, courtesy of an effective Working For Water programme. This not only makes the journey less of a bundi-bashing affair, but also increases your chances of spotting one of the many little grey mongooses (mongeeses/mongi/mongises?) that live in the scrubby terrain. It certainly also enhanced my view of a large Cape cobra that reared and flared dangerously at my dogs recently, before (thankfully) irritably leaving the track to retreat into the bush.Once you’ve descended the mountainside – and assuming you’ve endured any encounters you may have had with wild cats, snakes, rodents and weasels – you’ll arrive at Sandy Bay. At this stage, you should consider the game-viewing phase of the hike over. Although the constant procession of nudists back and forth across the beach on a fine day might suggest they are inviting thorough appraisal, hardcore nudies tell me that it is considered hugely impolite to gawk.
“If it’s a thrill you’re after,” fumed one, shaking his…finger at me, “get yourself a magazine and lock yourself in your bedroom!”
On the other hand, Sandy Bay is well known to be a popular gay cruising spot. Most of the cruising, I’m told, takes place at the far side of the beach. However, because it is a large beach and rarely very busy, it’s easy enough to find a spot away from the parading and socialising, and – even if you are not a nudist – Sandy Bay, with its brilliantly azure water and dramatic mountainous backdrop, is a magnificent place to enjoy the great outdoors. Due to its proximity to Seal Island, it’s customary to see seals on the rocks and/or frolicking in the waves. Whales and dolphins also regularly visit the bay. And, because it is sheltered, the swell often attracts herds of surfers when other surf hot spots are ruined by the wind.
Secluded and scenic Sandy Bay certainly is. Unfortunately though, the Cape cobra is not the only danger in the area. There have been some nasty incidents of crime on route to, and on the beach in recent times. It’s a good idea to only go there in groups. Remember too, there are no amenities like shops, lifesaving services or toilets at the beach. So, go prepared, don’t ogle, watch your step and be polite to the wildlife.
(This article was first published in The Weekender in 2007 but little has changed and I still walk the route regularly. In fact, on our walk down there this morning, my dogs and I watched a pod of surfers (enclosed in wetsuits) cruise, crash and burn. I’m sorry I didn’t have my camera with me.)
The fact that you even have to point this out is kinda sad.
I am so jealous of you seeing a rooikat though – beautiful.
There are, it seems, more and more rooikatte on the Karbonkelberg due to the reintroduction of klipspringer to the area some years ago. It’s fantastic to see them. Yeah, the “don’t ogle”…sad but (specially over summer holidays) there are often people there (young guys primarily) who appear to have woken up and said to one another, “Shall we go to the zoo or Sandy Bay?”
I was glad to find your article on the net and get the evidence that there are indeed caracals in Hout Bay. I have walked a couple of times on Karbonkelberg. Last week, as I was walking from Sandy bay to Sentinel I saw some spoors and scats that I could only attribute to a caracal. However, not being aware there were any around here, I wasn’t sure but now no more doubts. Well, you have been so lucky to spot them and great pic! Have you ever spotted klipspringers that side of the mountain?
I am so pleased that you enjoy the Karbonkelberg too. Although we regularly see their prints in the sand, I last saw a klipspringer run from the bush in the dunes on the Hout Bay side of the mountain and up the side of the mountain about six years ago. Last week, after the first rain, my husband and I saw klipspringer spoor along the tracks, amid countless porcupine prints and scratchings (also on the Hout Bay side of the mountain). I have not seen any on the Sandy Bay side. I am sure that there are more creatures on the mountain than we guess. I imagine they remain high on the mountain because they’re less likely to be disturbed by dogs and hikers. Have you ever walked over the Karbonkelberg down to the harbour? It is mightily overgrown and untouched, in other words wild creature paradise. Happy ramblings.