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Kalk Bay - no longer just a fishing village

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Kalk Bay, Chalk Bay, started life as a tiny fishing village on the False Bay coast of the Western Cape. Generations of fishermen have earned a living, or at least sustenance, from their small boats moored in the tiny harbour when the weather is too bad for them to venture out onto the sea, and many still live in the double storey flats that lie against the mountain.

The town itself has grown into a tourist mecca, with more eateries than you could breakfast at in a month, a literary bookstore to spend a couple of hours browsing in, and antique and collectable shops again just made for looking around on a Sunday afternoon. Broken a precious saucer recently? Don’t worry, Whatnot and China Town, just up the hill from the main drag, is your answer. If they don’t have it among the thousands of pieces of porcelain on display, they will almost guarantee to find it for you. I have to admit to feeling more than a tad nervous when browsing, as the lanes are narrow and the china displayed where a wrong move with a handbag could result in chaos and an angry owner!

You simply can’t visit Kalk Bay without stopping for fish ‘n chips at Kalky’s on the harbour, where the unpretentious atmosphere and the crispy fish make for a great family lunch outing. Looking for something a little more upmarket? The Brass Bell and Harbour House are both literally on the ocean, with views that take my breath away.

Saturday and Sunday afternoons seem to be set aside for line fishing off the harbour wall, and many’s the time I’ve wandered along there chatting to the hopefuls. In the more than several times I’ve done this, I have never seen anyone catch a fish. Even the giant seals that live in the harbour have given up hoping for a snack that they haven’t had to forage for.

But it’s a social thing, this fishing, and the mantra seems to be “never give up”.

It’s not always calm and heavenly in this little seaside place. The sea can be smooth and beautiful, but given the right conditions of high tide, strong south easter and full moon, and you dare not walk along the harbour wall for fear of being blown or washed off. Waves double or treble the height of the little lighthouse make a photographer’s dream come true as they roar over the wall, and even intrepid surfers stay on land. The restaurants have had wave damage that includes floods and broken windows, and heaven knows what their insurance premiums must be, always supposing that there’s an insurer that will have them.

If you’re lucky, you might be in time to watch fisherfolk unloading their catches, but again this is a double edged sword in this historic little place. Some of the fish is sold to patrons who know that fresher than this you won’t get, and the ladies at the small stalls will gut and fillet according to your wish. But – and this is a big but – the big frozen food companies have grabbed most of the permits now required to catch fish off our shores, and most of the fisher people unload their catches straight into the waiting freezer trucks. Many of the small boats are therefore harbour bound, leaving their owners with no way to make a living. I have very strong feelings about this, but that’s an article for another time.

Whether you live at the tip of Africa as we do, or are just visiting, you’ll love Kalk Bay, its quirkiness and acceptance of any and all differences. And your mental note to return as soon as possible will not disappear.

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