Rooi-Els. Never heard of this tiny town at the east side of the False Bay near Capetown? I didn't, too before we stayed here.
During our sabbatical in South Africa were looking for a place to stay for two weeks. We wanted it to be at the Western Cape but not in the immidiate vicinity of Capetown. We found a very nice place in Rooi-Els. To the west of the town is the huge False Bay with its occasional but fewer White sharks and Orcas, to the east is the Kogelberg Nature Reserve.
We drove the wonderful Clarence Drive (R44) along the coast during our stays at the Garden Route back in 2014 and 2016 and I still remember how much I liked the larger Overberg area. But since it is quite close to Capetown we never planned an overnight stop here. This time we stayed for more than two weeks and we really loved it.
Rooi-Els is Africaans and means red alder, a tree that occurred in town in previous time but not today anymore. It is a quiet coastal town with untarred streets that have no street light. The Klein-Hangklip mountain serves as backdrop and shelter of this settlement. It has lots of accommodation, a village shop, some restaurants and outstanding views towards the sea. When its windy - which it is a lot here - huge waves crash the rocky shore and send salty spray high into the air. Don't park you car where the spray settles or you have to take car of removing the salt crust afterwards. The sunsets at the coast are excellent. The sun sets over the Cape Peninsula on the western side of the bay. A little history: The area of today's town of Rooi-Els, Pringle Bay and Betty's Bay had been purchased in the 1930's by three business men that divided the then called Hangklip Beach Estates in today's townships.
During one of our first mornings I met Sgt. Botha at our place. He introduced himself as member of the Mossel Bay Anti-Poaching unit coming down here to support the local unit. "What are you protecting?", I asked. "They abalone", he answered. After checking with my landlord he confirmed that all the coastline is under big threat for abalone poaching. These sea snails are sometimes also called sea ears and perlemoen in Africaans. There is a big market in Asia with huge prices for abalone. We should watch out for divers in full diving suits with gas cylinders, Sgt. Botha added before he left. Since the shallow waters have already been ripped of abalone they nowadays had to dive for it. The local town website also indicates a threat for the local crayfish.
Fynbos and the Cape floral kingdom
There is a nice walk along the shoreline from Rooi-Els to Pringle Bay. It is only a gravel road that was used before the Clarence Drive (R44) was build. Today it serves the few houses at the coastline and the many birdwatchers around. It is a lovely walk with stunning seascape views to the one side and mountain views to the other side. It is a limestone habitat, mostly pretty dry, with lots of stunning Fynbos flora. This is all part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Don't forget your binoculars or a tele zoom to enjoy the local and sometimes endemic bird like the Cape rockjumper, the magnificent Cape sugarbird that likes the Proteas, the orange-breasted sunbird or even the Verreaux's eagle of Klein-Hangklip mountain.
The rocky shore seal colony
"And make sure to check the seal colony", my landlord Ken told me. You can almost see the colony from your accommodation. It is at the very end of the rocky shore line. I grabbed my tele zoom, put good hiking boots on and went for sunset with the seals. It took me some good climbing over the rocks and ten minutes to reach first the cormorants and then the seal colony. Most of them were enjoying the evening sun while the typical heavy winds pushed the seas of False Bay. Table Mountain and Devil's Head are always in the far background. You can find some more information on this colony via the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.
Our accommodation in Rooi-Els
I have never stayed in an apartment with such a nice micro-location as this one. Eva's and Ken's "White House" is a gem itself in situated right a the sea within lots of Fynbos around. I just had to take plenty of photographs whenever walking down to the seal colony or just enjoying the place. If you want to get to know Eva and Ken and also check this view you can find them via this AirBnB link. If you do, please send them my regards!
Things to do in the area
Do not miss out on the following activities when you are staying in the area. The Kogelberg region offers a lot for land- and seascape lovers, animal friends, hikers and foodists. Check my following suggestions!
Enjoying the views over Rooi-Els from above is wonderful. When the wind finally dies down you can go up on Klein-Hangklip mountain which dominates the village. It is easiest to start from where the R44 makes a sharp turn up the hill and crosses the entrance of town. There is no real hiking track up and you have to be aware to use proper hiking gear and have your hands free for occasional climbing over the rocks. Views are stunning even from half way up. You overlock the small beach, a few stretches of Clarence Drive towards Gordon's Bay and you can see all the way to Table Mountain and Devils's Head on the other wide of the bay. Turning around to the other side you see vast stretches of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and even the first spots of Betty's Bay in the far distance. I read that there is supposed to live a pair of Verreaux's eagles up there which I didn't manage to see.
Visiting the Kogelberg Nature Reserve
The Kogelberg Nature Reserve covers the inland mountains between Rooi-Els, Pringle Bay, Betty's Bay and Kleinmond. The reserve is all about the Western Cape endemic fynbos biom and the wildlife that lives there. The Kogelberg Nature Reserve Reception is 14 km and some 30 minutes away from Rooi-Els.
Hiking the Palmiet River Trail
We did one of the hikes that start from the Kogelberg Reception along the river. The Palmiet River Trail is a 10 km, 3 h (without stops) return hike mostly along the river itself. Right at the beginning of the track we heard some noise in the bushes down by the river. After some waiting and watching we saw a troop of baboon foraging. It was so nice to finally see baboons feeding where they should be feeding - the pristine nature of the Fynbos. We saw them before on our way down the Cape Peninsula and in Rooi-Els. Every town has its baboon save shops, windows, garbage bins and door looks for good reason. But here they were just peacefully feeding along the river. Another troop of baboons was further up the river. Further more, you find some pictures of Cape Mountain Leopards living in the area at the Reception. You also find information on what used to live here - like the Cape Lion - but doesn't anymore. Other than that this river valley is all about Fynbos in its huge variety. Some plants grow along the river, some bushes like the limestone in the drier regions.
Enjoying the African penguins at Stoney Point Nature Reserve
There are some spots that you can visit over and over again and enjoy each time. This is true for the Stoney Point Nature Reserve next to Betty's Bay where you find a colony of African penguins. It is only a 13 km and 20 minutes drive from Rooi-Els. After a little entrance fee you can appreciate the colony up close along the stony coast from an elevated board walk. You will also see three different species of cormorant mostly at the end of the track at a tower that was set up in former times by whalers. Finally, a bunch of different geckos and the Cape classic Dassies (Rock hyrax) can be spotted here enjoying the sun. In 1982 the penguins chose the old Waaygat Whaling Station as home and you can still see some remnants of the machinery and infrastructure.
Walking to Cape Hangklip Lighthouse
The Cape Hangklip Lighthouse is situated right at the eastern entrance to False Bay and strategically oversees the bay to its counterpart in the west at Cape of Good Hope with the New Cape Point Lighthouse. You can reach this lighthouse that was built in 1960 via a short hiking trail from the Maasbaai slipway. This slipway can be reached after 13 km and not even 20 minutes from Rooi-Els. The little town of Hangklip (hanging rock) is north of the lighthouse at the coastline.
Enjoy a ride along Clarence Drive - one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world
Most visitors know the Chapman's Peak Drive between Capetown and the Cape Peninsula. Clarence Drive (R44) is equally beautyful but less known and driven compared to the famous coastal street opposite False Bay. It follows the 50 km coastline between Gordon's Bay and Kleinmond along False Bay and around the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. My highlight is the Kogel Bay Beach, a 3 km long pristine sand beach that you can see on the picture above. Other than this stop the road's plenty parking lots become whale watching hotspots from the car in season. We experienced during our stay that this road is nice enough to use it for filmmaking. You get film crews from all over the world taking advantage of this scenery for their next movies or documentary. So watch out for the occasional 20 minute road closure.
We stayed for 2,5 weeks in Rooi-Els. And although we mostly do road trips and rarely stay longer than three nights at one spot we really enjoyed our sabbatical time here. It is really nice to appreciate some peace and quiet outside the busy Capetown, Constantia and the Winelands. Especially for the ones who repeatedly come down here you should check for the more remote places with lots of land- and seascapes to offer. Besides Rooi-Els itself, Pringle Bay (which is right next door), Betty's Bay and Kleinmond have lots to offer!
If you want to be up to date on recent developments in Rooi-Els and get some further information on this beautiful place make sure to check the Rooi-Els Weebly website.
Did you ever visit Rooi-Els or the Kogelberg area? Write in the comments below about your favorite activities.