False Bay
False Bay is a body of water defined by Cape Hangklip (Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia. It is a daughter language of Dutch, originating in its 17th century dialects, collectively referred to as Cape Dutch .Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see , , , , , .Afrikaans was historically called Cape...

 for "Hang-cliff") and the Cape Peninsula
Cape Peninsula
The Cape Peninsula is a generally rocky peninsula that juts out for 75 km into the Atlantic Ocean at the south-western extremity of the African continent. At the southern end of the peninsula are Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope...

 in the extreme South-West of South Africa.

Description and location

The eastern and western shores of the bay are very rocky and even mountainous; in places large cliffs plunge into deep water. Notable peaks associated with the bay include Koeelberg (1269m / 4163 feet), which rises from the water itself forming the highest point of the Kogelberg
The Kogelberg is a range of mountains along the False Bay coast in the Western Cape of South Africa. They form part of the Cape Fold Belt and start south of Grabouw and form a steep coastal range to Kleinmond. The Kogelberg area has the steepest and highest drop directly into the ocean of any...

, as well as Sommerset Sneeukop (1590m / 5217 feet) and Wemmershoek Peak (1788m / 5866 feet) which are clearly visible across the bay. The highest peak visible across False Bay is Du Toits Peak
Du Toits Peak
Du Toits Peak is the highest seaward facing peak in the Cape Fold Belt ranges, i.e. the highest peak in the Western Cape within direct sight of the ocean. Located between Paarl and Worcester in the south-west of South Africa, 70 km to the north-east of the provincial capital of Cape Town...

 near Paarl
Paarl is a town with 191,013 inhabitants in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Its the third oldest European settlement in the Republic of South Africa and the largest town in the Cape Winelands. Due to the growth of the Mbekweni township, it is now a de facto urban unit with Wellington...

 (1995m / 6545 feet). The northern shore, however, is defined by a very long, curving, sandy beach. This sandy, northern perimeter of the bay is the southern edge of the area known as the Cape Flats
Cape Flats
The Cape Flats is an expansive, low-lying, flat area situated to the southeast of the central business district of Cape Town. To many people in Cape Town, the area is known simply as 'The Flats'....

. The bay is 30 kilometres wide at its widest point.

Some 20 kilometres across the Cape Flats there is a smaller, C-shaped bay — Table Bay
Table Bay
Table Bay is a natural bay on the Atlantic Ocean overlooked by Cape Town and is at the northern end of the Cape Peninsula, which stretches south to the Cape of Good Hope. It was named because it is dominated by the flat-topped Table Mountain.Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to explore this...

 — with Robben Island
Robben Island
Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island". Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 km long north-south, and 1.9 km wide, with an area of 5.07 km². It is flat and only a...

 guarding its entrance. The central districts of Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

 lie around Table Bay. Devil's Peak
Devil's Peak (Cape Town)
Devil's Peak is part of the mountainous backdrop to Cape Town. When looking at Table Mountain from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, or when looking at the standard picture postcard view of the mountain, the skyline is from left to right: the spire of Devil's Peak, the flat mesa of Table Mountain,...

, Table Mountain
Table Mountain
Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa, and is featured in the flag of Cape Town and other local government insignia. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top...

, Lion's Head
Lion's Head (Cape Town)
Lion's Head is a mountain located in Cape Town, South Africa, between Table Mountain and Signal Hill. Lion's Head peaks at above sea level. The peak forms part of a dramatic backdrop to the city of Cape Town and is part of the Table Mountain National Park....

 and Signal Hill
Signal Hill (Cape Town)
Signal Hill aka Lion's Rump, is a landmark flat-topped hill located in Cape Town, next to Lion's Head and Table Mountain.The hill is also known as "The Lion's Flank", but this term is obsolete...

 form an amphitheatre along the western edge of the Cape Flats. Suburbs of Greater Cape Town now stretch right across the Cape Flats from Table Bay to the shores of False Bay and down the eastern flank of the Cape Peninsula for many kilometres.


Bartolomeu Dias
Bartolomeu Dias
Bartolomeu Dias , a nobleman of the Portuguese royal household, was a Portuguese explorer who sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488, the first European known to have done so.-Purposes of the Dias expedition:...

 in 1488 first referred to the bay as "the gulf between the mountains" (Schirmer, 1980). The name "False Bay" was applied early on (at least three hundred years ago) by sailors who confused the bay with Table Bay to the north. According to Schirmer, the confusion arose because sailors returning from the east (The Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies
The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Netherlands government in 1800....

) initially confused Cape Point and Cape Hangklip, which are somewhat similar in form.


The climate is Mediterranean, with warm, dry summers and cool, damp winters. In winter gales and storms from the northwest are common and can be ferocious. False Bay is exposed to southeasterly winds in summer and its waters are approximately 6°C warmer than those of Table Bay, owing to the influence of the warm Agulhas Current
Agulhas Current
The Agulhas Current is the Western Boundary Current of the southwest Indian Ocean. It flows down the east coast of Africa from 27°S to 40°S. It is narrow, swift and strong...


Marine life and recreational pursuits

Fishing is good in False Bay and at times there are large schools of snoek
Thyrsites atun
Thyrsites atun, the "snoek" or "Cape snoek", is a long, thin, perch-like commercial food fish belonging to the Gempylidae family. It is found in the seas of the Southern Hemisphere. It is also known in Australasia as barracouta though it is not related to the barracuda.It can grow up to long and...

, an oily, barracuda
The barracuda is a ray-finned fish known for its large size and fearsome appearance. Its body is long, fairly compressed, and covered with small, smooth scales. Some species could reach up to 1.8m in length and 30 cm in width...

-like fish that is much sought after locally. Angling
Angling is a method of fishing by means of an "angle" . The hook is usually attached to a fishing line and the line is often attached to a fishing rod. Fishing rods are usually fitted with a fishing reel that functions as a mechanism for storing, retrieving and paying out the line. The hook itself...

 from the rocky shores to either side of the bay is very popular, but dangerous. The shape of the bay creates interference patterns in the swells that come in from the Southern Ocean
Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean comprises the southernmost waters of the World Ocean, generally taken to be south of 60°S latitude and encircling Antarctica. It is usually regarded as the fourth-largest of the five principal oceanic divisions...

 and these patterns occasionally combine to cause "killer waves" to rise up without warning and to sweep the sandstone ledges well above the high tide mark. Scores of fishermen have been swept away and drowned over the years, but this seems to have done little to dampen enthusiasm for the sport.

Sailing is the propulsion of a vehicle and the control of its movement with large foils called sails. By changing the rigging, rudder, and sometimes the keel or centre board, a sailor manages the force of the wind on the sails in order to move the boat relative to its surrounding medium and...

 is also a popular recreational activity in False Bay. The "killer waves" mentioned earlier can wreak havoc with moored sailboats, especially if the moorings are chain based and on the leeward side when the south-easterly winds are howling up the bay. The sailing clubs in False Bay include False Bay Yacht Club in Simon's Town, Fish Hoek Beach Sailing Club at the main beach in Fish Hoek, Gordon's Bay Yacht Club in the Gordon's Bay Harbour, and Hottentots Holland Beach Sailing Club in Strand.

There is a small granite island in the bay (not discernible in the image above) called Seal Island, which is one of the main breeding sites for the Cape Fur Seal
Cape Fur Seal
The brown fur seal , also known as the Cape fur seal, South African fur seal and the Australian fur seal is a species of fur seal.-Description:...

. (Seal Island can be seen in a scan in the article on The Cape Flats
Cape Flats
The Cape Flats is an expansive, low-lying, flat area situated to the southeast of the central business district of Cape Town. To many people in Cape Town, the area is known simply as 'The Flats'....

). The seals attract many Great White Shark
Great white shark
The great white shark, scientific name Carcharodon carcharias, also known as the great white, white pointer, white shark, or white death, is a large lamniform shark found in coastal surface waters in all major oceans. It is known for its size, with the largest individuals known to have approached...

s and some of the biggest sharks ever seen have been spotted in these waters. These sharks are famous for the manner in which they breach the surface of the water while attacking seals, sometimes jumping entirely out of the ocean. Despite this, swimming, surfing, yachting, SCUBA diving and so on are popular pastimes around the bay, at centres such as Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Smitswinkel Bay, Strand and Gordon's Bay
Gordon's Bay
Gordon's Bay is a harbour town in the Western Cape province of South Africa, close to Strand. It is situated on the northeastern corner of False Bay about 50 km from Cape Town to the south of the N2 national road and is named after Robert Jacob Gordon , the Dutch explorer of Scottish descent...

. Shark attacks are not common but are by no means unknown.

Naval base at Simon's Town

The famous naval base of Simon's Town
Simon's Town
Simon's Town , sometimes spelled Simonstown; is a town in South Africa, near Cape Town which is home to the South African Navy. It is located on the shores of False Bay, on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula. For more than two centuries it has been an important naval base and harbour...

 is situated on the Bay, about half way down the length of the Cape Peninsula
Cape Peninsula
The Cape Peninsula is a generally rocky peninsula that juts out for 75 km into the Atlantic Ocean at the south-western extremity of the African continent. At the southern end of the peninsula are Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope...

. During the Second World War many heavy guns were dug into concrete bunkers at various points along the mountainous shores of False Bay in order to deter attacks on Simon's Town. The firepower and defensive situation of these weapons were formidable and no attack was ever mounted. Although some of the guns were removed decades ago many large guns are still emplaced on the hillsides near the Redhill road.

Development and human impact

Although urban development of the coast is intense along some parts of False Bay, much of the shoreline remains relatively wild and unspoiled. The bulk of the development is residential; there is little heavy industry. There are a few exceptions, however: one of the largest dynamite
Dynamite is an explosive material based on nitroglycerin, initially using diatomaceous earth , or another absorbent substance such as powdered shells, clay, sawdust, or wood pulp. Dynamites using organic materials such as sawdust are less stable and such use has been generally discontinued...

 factories in the world lies near the beach towards the wild and uninhabited eastern end of the bay. The nitroglycerine plant at this installation blew up twice in the second half of the 20th century and sent massive shockwaves across the bay, breaking windows and rattling walls on the distant shores. False Bay is remarkably poor in natural harbours. Almost all protection for shipping and yachts has been created by artificial means (e.g. at Kalkbaai, Simon's Town and Gordon's Bay).
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