“Have you ever had your finger nibbled by a sea anemone?” Hanli enthuses.
An afternoon walk along the seaside has turned into an eye-opening voyage of discovery. Perhaps unsurprising given that I am with Hanli Prinsloo, world champion free diver and passionate ambassador for our oceans.
Hanli’s childlike enthusiasm is infectious. I eagerly share in her curiosity as we discover starfish, sea urchins, anemones and mermaids’ earrings. Two young children, intrigued by our behaviour – a behaviour not normally displayed by adults in Kalk Bay – run over and join us staring into the magical watery world of the tidal pools.
Kalk Bay sits on False Bay, an eighteen-mile bite out of the rump of South Africa, right on Cape Town’s doorstep and under the shadow of Table Mountain National Park. False Bay has a diverse cast of actors, from the bit-part players such as my nibbling anemone to the whales, dolphins and Great White Sharks.
As Hanli explains, “Few people consider the extraordinary diversity beneath the waves. There are 11,500 species in False Bay – that is more than the total number of species of birds in the world.”
By day, Kalk Bay is sluggish and Bohemian. It has a friendly charm as I amble along the quaint village streets browsing the artisan stores – vintage clothes, jewellery, antiques. My favourite is Quagga, not just for the name – it is named after an extinct sub-species of zebra – but that it is bookshop stacked full of rare books.
I step into Quagga and back to a dusty past and learn that Kalk Bay was originally a ‘Cape coloured’ fishing community. Once déclassé, Kalk Bay is now a fashionable district and, sadly, one of the pitifully few racially mixed communities.
Outside in the sunshine, we stroll through the packed Brass Bell pub and tight-rope walk around the walls of the man-made tidal pools. I would have loved to have stopped in Cape to Cuba to enjoy its exquisitely eccentric décor, its relaxed atmosphere and spicy seafood salsa.
Instead, we walk through the fishing harbour full of colourful boats that are still very much operational. We negotiate a couple of gangster seals fat from the cast-offs of the fishermen. We enter Harbour House bathed in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun. Whilst looking out over the pier and lighthouse I have sushi – line-caught, of course – whilst Hanli has a vegetarian option. She doesn’t eat fish.
Later we find ourselves swamped by welcome and food at the Olympia Café. Olympia is quirky, friendly and undiscovered. A metaphor for Kalk Bay and perhaps the whole of False Bay.
With such a dramatic setting, False Bay deserves a more illustrious title. Named by disappointed sailors who thought that they had found a route to the riches of India, had it been dubbed “Bay of Plenty”, the heritage status bestowed upon the land would have extended below the waves to what many dub the ‘Serengeti of the Seas’.