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 Published in AbouTime, 1-time airlines in-flight magazine, October, 2012

Visitors tend to have a sense of ‘otherness’ about Cape Town. The Mother City is like a quasi-independent principality in that it has a ‘What-Monaco-is-to-France’ feel to it. Residents also have a sense of ‘otherness’ but theirs is a ‘What-MonteCarlo-is-to-Monaco’. In the 1980’s the wacky residents of the Hout Bay valley keenly felt this and declared themselves a republic. It was a tongue-in-cheek gesture that emphasised the fierce independence of residents that were largely separated from the rest of the city by mountains and sea. Their splendid isolation made them…well…distinct. These days Hout Bay has lost that sense of isolation, it’s now a genuine suburb of greater Cape Town as it has modern, familiar feel despite the faded signs proudly announcing it’s still a republic. These days that fierce partisan sentiment has migrated south, around the corner, to another isolated valley: Noordhoek. Like Hout Bay, Noordhoek is separated from the rest of the world by an impressive arc of mountains and sea complete with it’s own sentinel, Chapman’s Peak, which rises abruptly from the crashing surf like the colossus of Rhodes. Noordhoek is correctly rural and quirky. It’s the new boondocks and the residents are the typical Capetonians of yore – earthy and eccentric “laaik shuwa”.

Noordhoek residents are fervidly passionate about their green, oak-lined patch and do not take kindly to outsiders with intentions of paving paradise and putting up parking lots on the commons (yes, the noun not the adjective; and, it is anachronistic but that’s Noordhoek). And there’s a fen. ‘Buitelanders’ (visitors from Cape Town’s northern suburbs) are often admonished for driving too fast on rainy winter nights when ‘everyone’ ought to know its breeding season for the endemic Cape Western Leopard Toad. On such nights volunteers brandishing torches and flashing orange lights slow traffic and lend a hand to any toad hopping the gauntlet across Noordhoek’s only thoroughfare. Consequently, Noordhoek’s natural charm has been preserved, where horses and riders mingle effortlessly with salt of the earth families and their good-natured canines on the commons and along the great white expanse of Noordhoek Beach. This beach is so long and broad that one feels completely secluded even during the height of the December holidays where other beaches groan under the weight of human flesh.

Then there is the beloved Chapman’s Peak and its ‘drive’. As far as the residents are concerned Chapman’s Peak Drive ought to be reserved exclusively for cyclists, runners and skateboarders. At the very least as a convenient lookout and signal point for shark-spotters surveying the turquoise expanse below for the telltale shapes that would send (some) surfers back to hard ground. One small blessing about ‘Chappies’ is that the contentious issue of the new toll plaza is on the Hout Bay side, meaning Noordhoek residents can still freely access the hiking paths that snake up to the top of Chapman’s and Noordhoek Peaks. These pinnacles, they would tell you, boast the best views on the peninsula. “Table what?” is the stock response should one be bold enough to mention other views (the ‘vistas’ not ‘opinions’ but the same holds true for both). People from Noordhoek are not big travellers. They believe they live in Nirvana. It’s illogical for them why anyone would want to go “over the mountain”. Indeed, I have met a few residents who have uncharacteristically bought holiday homes elsewhere...in Kommetjie just on the other end of the beach!

It’s not just the beaches, the surf, the green leafy commons, the fen, the mountains, the tranquillity and isolation, Noordhoek is also blessed with some seriously sumptuous restaurants and it’s very own wine estate (Cape Point Vineyards). One restaurant, the Food Barn, thanks to the gastronomic concoctions of acclaimed French-born chef Franck Dangereux, is arguably one of the best in a province reputed to have some of the world’s most unparalleled eating experiences per square mile. The Food Barn may be internationally famed but its atmosphere is typically local and laid back and it’s not unusual for patrons to turn up in their sweaty horse-riding, cycling kit or beach sand-plastered bare feet and board-shorts and enjoy a five course meal designed for royalty. The Food Barn is but one of a few in the thatched dominated Noordhoek Farm Village and while the fare is slightly simpler they are none the less as delicious. There is a buzzing deli that morphs into a rambunctious Tapas bar at night; a thatched sport tavern called The Toad owned by rugby personality Bob Skinstad; and an open-air luncheonette, Café Roux, where dogs (and sometimes horses) are served along with their owners.

So, if you are game for a quirky barefooted, board shorted, beach-shawled experience, take a drive over to the other side of Chappies and linger a little, chances are you will, like me, become well and truly Noordhoeked.