Lime to fish - the story of Kalk Bay on the Cape Peninsula
When megafauna roamed
Back when giant animals like Equus capensis (a kind of giant zebra) roamed the Cape Peninsula, in what is now the Western Cape Province of South Africa, the shells of masses of sea molluscs were collecting on the west shore of False Bay and would become, hundreds of thousands of years later, the reason for the foundation of what is now the quaint fishing village of Kalk (pronounced in English "Cork") Bay.
False Bay is a large bay to the southeast of Cape Town with its mouth facing almost due south. The mouth of the bay is designated by Cape Hangklip (Hanging Rock) to the east and Cape Point to the west.
In the 17th Century when the Dutch settlers at the Cape were consolidating their presence on the southern tip of Africa they needed lime (in Dutch, "kalk") for their buildings.
The considerable lime deposits laid down eons before were discovered and soon were being extracted and taken by wagon to the settlement that would become Cape Town.
Today the economy of Kalk Bay is no longer dependent on lime, but flourishes on the linked industries of fishing and tourism.
Kalk Bay history
From those early beginnings as a lime quarry the history of Kalk Bay was influenced by many happenings, perhaps none more influential than the wreck of a ship off Cape Point in the 1840s. This ship was manned by Philippine sailors who found the already active small fishing harbour at Kalk Bay a good place to settle.
The fish in False Bay, so named more than 300 years ago because sailors returning from the east en route to Europe often confused it with Table Bay, were plentiful and the weather and sea conditions conducive to the fisherman's life.
These sailors were mostly Catholic and needed to be served by the Church. As a result the church of St James was founded in 1858, giving its name to the popular swimming beach adjacent to Kalk Bay.
The influence of the Phillipino sailors is still evident today, especially in the surnames of the descendants of these fisher folk who live in Kalk Bay, who have names like de la Cruz, Fernandez, Menigo and Erispe
One of the highlights of a visit to Kalk Bay must be a meal at Kalky's, a no-nonsense eatery in the harbour area.
On the two occasions I have eaten there, separated by three years, the food has been exceptionally good and good value too. I especially enjoyed the calamari which was superb.
The restaurant is really down-to-earth with no frills or fancy stuff, and one has to queue for a seat as there is no booking. But the slight wait is very much worth it - the food is served simply but is very, very good.
When the fishing boats come in
The arrival of the fishing boats in the harbour is always an occasion of great excitement. The visitors love to see the picturesque boats and their crew bringing the haul of fish in.
The wives of the fisherman are equally excited to see the boats come in as it means their men are safe and there will be a bit more money to be made from the sale of the catch.
The gulls, of course, are also happy to see the boats as they know they will also get a little something. The gulls are mostly Hartlaubs Gulls (Chroicocephalus hatlaubii ) which are endemic to the south west coast of South Africa.
Often seen in the calm waters of the harbour, to the delight of visitors, are Cape Fur Seals which lazily swim about in the green water hoping for some delicacy to fall from one of the boats.
These seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus ) were once incredibly common around the Cape coats, but their numbers were drastically reduced by commercial exploitation.
Today there are about 1.5 million of them around the coasts of South Africa and Namibia and they breed in about 20 localities. Commercial exploitation of seals is now strictly co9ntrolled by law.
A little more about the gulls
There are estimated to be in the region of 15000 Hartlaub's gulls in the greater Cape Town area. This represents about half of the total population of the gulls. They are a feature of the area, adding to the general atmosphere with their loud screeching calls and their voracious appetites.
The name of this gull species comes from German physician and ornithologist Gustav Hartlaub (1814 - 1900).
The premier breeding location is Robben Island from where the parent gulls fly to Cape Town, making a round trip of about 24 kilometres, to scavenge for food for their young.
A little more about Kalk Bay
In the Victorian era Kalk Bay was regarded as a very healthy place to live and many famous and wealthy people established holiday or permanent homes there, including Cecil John Rhodes, whose cottage is now a museum.
The railway line from Cape Town reached Kalk Bay in 1883 leading to a rapid increase in the population. It was later extended to Simonstown further down the Peninsula.
Kalk Bay was a separate municipality from 1895 to 1913.
Today the village, no longer dependent on either lime or fishing, is home to many small antique shops and fine restaurants.
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2011
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