by Cody Hagman
At the southwest tip of the African continent, the cool Atlantic crashes against Cape Town's eastern shore, while the warmer Indian Ocean lies calmly to the west. To the north, Table Mountain reigns over a range of smaller mountains running along the coast above the city.
The weather is fabulous in this beach-oriented town, very similar to that of Southern California. And Cape Town is very cosmopolitan and diverse, with a very active population. A bustling metropolis with about three million inhabitants, it was originally a layover for Dutch sailors traveling along the spice route to India. Long a destination for the adventurous, it's rapidly becoming a popular spot for runners in particular. Ask anyone who lives there - the world begins and ends in Cape Town.
Route 1: Green Point Lighthouse to Camps Bay Beach, 4.8 miles
A short distance from the marina at Victoria & Albert Waterfront, at the southern end of Table Bay, is the Green Point Lighthouse. Built in 1865, this monument is an excellent starting point for a coastal run.
The route begins along a winding concrete path sandwiched between a grassy field and surf crashing against the rocky shoreline. A popular destination for families as well as fitness enthusiasts, runners, cyclists and sunbathers abound for the first two miles of flat terrain. Stick to the coast when the road turns inland and the park disappears; you'll leave the families and sunbathers behind and enter a ritzy oceanside neighborhood.
Soon, the road turns uphill and, after a short but steep climb, travels cliffside past huge homes and resorts that butt up to the water. Keep an eye out for the shipwrecks near the shore, some barely poking out of the water, others half washed up on the beach - they are everywhere!
After about a half mile along the cliff, the road turns slowly downhill past aptly named First, Second, Third and Fourth beaches. Don't stop yet! The real prize is within sight: Camps Bay Beach lies about three-quarters of a mile from Fourth Beach - and it's the best of the bunch.
Stop and cool off with a quick dip in the icy water. Don't worry, you'll dry off in just a minute. The inland view is spectacular - especially at sunset, when you can watch the sky slowly turn scarlet against the Twelve Apostles Mountain Range, which rises straight off the beach. Camps Bay Beach is always active, with lots of beachfront bars and restaurants, volleyball and frisbee games - and lots of people. After your coastline run, you can shell out 60 cents for a bus back to the marina, or turn around for an equally good time running the other way.
Route 2: Constantia Nek to Table Mountain Cable Car Station, 12 miles
The first thing I noticed after arriving in Cape Town was the mountain sticking up out of the middle of the city. Table Mountain is home to a diverse variety of unique flora and fauna, along with one of the best runs I have ever encountered.
A 20-minute cab ride from the marina, Constantia Nek is the starting point. Across the street from the Constantia Nek Restaurant and behind a small group of ever-present guides, two dirt roads lead up into the mountain. Take the one on the right and you'll begin a steep uphill climb to the Contour Path. After quickly climbing about 1,000 feet, the path levels off and stays that way for the next 12 miles. The path is well used and wide; you'll invariably see a few, if not many others walking or jogging the route. Winding around the mountain, you'll be taken away by the view of the city spreading out below.
About a mile and a half in, the path runs above the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, an alternate starting point for the Contour Path run. Kirstenbosch is one of the best botanical gardens in the world and it is certainly worth slowing down a bit to enjoy. There are many paths that run through the gardens, ranging from one to five miles round trip, with the added bonus of spring-fed fountains sprinkled among the forested routes. The paths are all well maintained and runners are allowed in for free before 8:30 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Otherwise, it costs about $1.50 to enter.
After passing Kirstenbosch, the Contour Path continues to meander along the mountainside, staying level as the city passes below. A rockslide near the middle of the route interrupts the path but is no problem to negotiate. About nine miles into this scenic run, the path turns west, and Table Bay and downtown come into view.
The end of this path is worth the entire journey, for Cape Town truly is a beautiful city, and the Contour Path gives you the second best view you will find of the town and the peninsula it lies on. The best view, however, is from the top. This run ends at the cableway station that leads to the peak of Table Mountain. Though several paths lead the truly adventurous all the way up, they are very strenuous. I spent $8 for the cable car and saved my legs for another day.
Route 3: Simon's Town Rail Station to Boulders Beach and back, 4.3 miles
Situated on the western shore of False Bay, Simon's Town is the second oldest city in South Africa, in essence a small fishing village with a distinctly Victorian feel. In 1814, the English colonial rulers of the Cape turned Simon's Town into a Naval Base and it has remained one ever since. A quick train ride from Cape Town's Central Rail Station takes you to the beginning of this fun route.
The Simon's Town Rail Station is situated at the northern edge of town and right along the M5 road. If you follow the M5 into town, it will take you straight through the center of the village. Again, you will probably see quite a few runners along the way.
About a half mile past Simon's Town along the M5 is Boulders Beach. The water is fairly warm and very calm. The beach is nice but not spectacular -the real draw of this small cove is the wildlife. In 1983, a pair of Jackass Penguins decided to settle down here, and since then the colony has grown rapidly. It's now home to about 2,500 regulars. It costs $1 to walk out to the beach, and these penguins provide a wealth of entertainment for your dollar.
From Boulders Beach, it's a little over two miles back through Simon's Town to the Rail Station for a return trip. If you're not ready to go back yet, there is a group of small towns along False Bay that are well worth running through. Fish Hoek, about four miles from Simon's Town, is a placid place with long, sandy beaches. From July to October, Humpback whales loll around just 200 feet offshore in preparation for mating and giving birth. Fish Hoek is also conveniently equipped with a rail station for easy access back to Cape Town.
Life After Running
Apart from the great running trails that abound in and around Cape Town, there are many adventures you'll want to experience during your trip. The Western Cape is home to numerous vineyards, open-air markets - and lots of opportunities for relaxation as well. South African currency, the Rand, is weak against the dollar at the moment, so prices are amazingly cheap.
A visit to Greenmarket Square, the oldest open-air market in Cape Town, is a must. African art from all over the continent is sold in the square, and the surrounding area is packed with restaurants and shops with very reasonable prices. For more upscale shopping, the Victoria and Albert Waterfront hosts a nice mall, great restaurants, Table Bay boat tours, a colony of Cape Fur Seals and fabulous Dutch architecture. About ten miles north of town is Canal Walk at Century City, the largest mall in the Southern Hemisphere, complete with hotels and a rollercoaster park.
In and around Cape Town, there are many great vineyards, the most scenic being the Stellenbosch Winery, which dates back to 1659. Nearby Rhebokskloof offers horse trails and guided rides through the winery and, for seasoned riders, a daylong horse ride through a nearby wildlife refuge is a truly memorable experience.
Bicycle, boat, bus, helicopter, plane, yacht, train and walking tours of the city and peninsula are fun and easily arranged through one of the many tourism offices throughout the city. My favorite tour was a helicopter ride from the Victoria and Albert Waterfront past Cape Point, ending in Simon's Town, where I started my run to Boulders Beach.
To get the most out of your running safari to Cape Town, check out Active Africa and their section about Table Mountain. These guys are amazingly good. For more specific information about the city and things to do while you are there, go to Cape-Town.org.