With music by Cyndi Lauper, several Tonys and a Laurence Olivier Award
Hout Bay Backpackers
Holiday by the seaside in this lodge on the dunes
There’s just something about a holiday by the sea that’s immediately relaxing. Perhaps it’s the childhood memories of sticky ice creams and sandy feet or the equally nostalgic scent of salt and sunblock that whisks you away to a simpler time.
Hout Bay Backpackers, budget accommodation located just 20 minutes from the centre of Cape Town, conjures up this leisurely feeling in spades (and buckets).
Housed in a three-storey converted home, the backpackers rises above so many white sand dunes and looks out onto the curved inlet of Hout Bay Harbour and beach, literally a sea shell’s throw away from the shoreline.
Everywhere you look there’s a view.
Guests can take in the panorama from the long balcony that stretches across the top floor, which leads into the communal lounge with an indoor braai-slash-fireplace at its centre. The rear windows of the hostel face onto a sprawl of homes buttoned with green scrub fynbos, and onto yet more dunes, inexplicably located halfway up the mountain. And there are two dormitories at opposite ends furnished with three bunk beds and large windows that let the waterfront vistas spill in.
“I try and spread out individuals, so that they often get their own room,”
says manager Sarah. “Or, if we’re busy, I make sure to match similar people—girls with girls and so on.” The caring overseer can generally be found on the premises, as she lives in a cottage on the property. Sarah jokingly refers to herself as ‘the house mother’. Though, with the lengths she goes to ensure the comfort of her lodgers, it’s not that far from the truth.
There’s also a communal kitchen on this floor (where I imagine the preparations for the many, many braais must take place). Sarah says the team is happy to cater for larger groups, and they’ll also supply breakfast foods, so weary travellers don’t need to shop before they check in; she just needs fair warning on both accounts.
Other services the staff offer are laundry and ironing—features more common in a lodge setting than a backpackers. Similarly, the rooms on both the second and third floors are also more like hotel rooms than hostel accommodation.
The décor is simple and beachy, and the quarters are neat and compact, with en-suite bathrooms. Plus, they’ve been furnished to accommodate different types of groups—from the family unit (double bed with bunk beds), to the couples’ suites, to rooms for travelling friends. The lower floor offers the most privacy; though, it also claims the fewest view points.
It’s no wonder that, with its private yet convivial set-up, Hout Bay Backpackers was recently awarded the ‘Service of Excellence’ certificate by TripAdvisor.
Though, it’s not only in service to its guests that the coastal hideaway shines, but in other areas too. Owned by a division of All Out Africa, a combined travel company and non-profit that specialises in responsible tourism and social initiatives, the hostel also gives visitors the opportunity to get involved in volunteer projects.
In fact, many of the people staying at the backpackers have been sent by the organisation to work on their various altruistic endeavours Those wanting a helping of social conscience are spoilt for choice; the backpackers can help link do-gooders with plenty of worthy options: from teaching, medical work and childcare to business development, product design and even wildlife education.
Due to the nature and length of some of the work, volunteers often end up staying for a few months. “We become home away from home,” says Sarah. “Some people never want to leave!”
This comes as no surprise considering not only the lodge’s proximity to beautiful seascapes, but to the diverse and exciting range of things to do in the Western Cape. All tours and activities can be arranged from the backpackers: whether you’re after adventure in the form of skydiving, sea-kayaking, or even abseiling off Table Mountain or you’re in search of culture, from township tours to an outing in the Winelands.
Though, truth be told, you needn’t go far. Another sea shell’s throw away from the comfortable accommodation is the very heart of Hout Bay, the working harbour (flanked by a beach). People often walk along the pier with a bundle of takeaway fish and chips admiring the moored boats against the frame of the Sentinel Mountain. Another attraction, Mariner’s Wharf has a number of restaurants, novelty shops and fresh seafood purveyors to explore, and boats trips can also be arranged from this point. There’s plenty more to see and do in the area; visitors must make sure to visit The World of Birds—the largest bird park in Africa – and should also enquire about surfing (the lodge hires out equipment, arranges lessons and points newbies in the direction of the legendary Llandudno Beach, a beginner surfer paradise just a hop, skip and a jump from the hostel!).
Whether you’re championing a cause or simply exploring the coastline, Hout Bay Backpackers provides the base from which to have the most memorable seaside holiday yet - at a very forgettable (cheap) price.
Tip: When making your booking, advise on what type of room you’re looking for; say ‘private’, ‘with a view’ or even that you’d ‘like to be in the thick of things’, and the management will do their utmost to accommodate you.
Bill: The rates are great value considering the location, and start from as little as R170 per person per night.
If staying during the first part of the month, don't miss the Bay Harbour Comedy Supper Club, a regular night of stand-up at Hout Bay's famed market.
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