The unique history of Kalk Bay

The unique history of Kalk Bay

Ask anyone to describe Kalk Bay and the eclectic mishmash of adjectives you hear will have you hankering for a visit to this charmingly unique town. On one hand, there is the bohemian, organic milk-drinking, vintage blazer-wearing youth.  On the other; weather-beaten fishermen whose multi-coloured boats haul in the freshest fish every day; Kalk Bay’s signature lunch option. One walks down the street and is enveloped by the colonial old-world beauty of the buildings that now house hip, cutting edge coffee houses and knick knacks.

Kalk Bay, only thirty minutes out of Cape Town is, like the Mother City, steeped in colourful history. A peek into the story of this town demonstrates just how original it is.


In the 18th century, the Dutch East Indian Trading Company used Kalk Bay to transport goods to Cape Town, predominantly lime or ‘kalk’ in Dutch; which soon became the bay’s name. By 1795, the British gained control of the Cape and Kalk Bay turned into a whaling station. By the 1830s, the whales had been hunted into near extinction while many immigrants of Spanish, Filipino and Malaysian descent had settled in Kalk Bay as fishermen.

False Bay was an ample fishing ground, letting the immigrants become entrenched members of the town and establishing a Filipino diaspora. A Spanish-speaking Irish priest called Father Duignam built a large church and convent called St James, after Spain’s patron saint. While the church has since been destroyed, St James is now the name of the village where it once stood.

By 1883, the railway reached Kalk Bay and affluent families from Cape Town’s suburbs made their holiday homes there. Thus, Kalk Bay transformed itself from a small fishing hamlet to a place vibrant with tourism and market growth. Notable residents included Count Labia and Cecil John Rhodes who made their homes around the ‘millionaire’s mile’ of St James, a few kilometres away.

Today, St James is a stop along  the Rovos Rail journey and is home to some of the best guesthouses in the Cape.

Kalk Bay harbour

St James in the background on the way back to harbour on 27/12/1937.

Kalk Bay’s plucky survival continued to defy the world around it. In the 1960s, it resisted the Group Areas Segregation Act of South Africa, becoming the only mixed race town in the country.

Today, its multiculturalism and originality have persevered. Many still flock every weekend to sample Kalky’s finest hake and chips, slurp ice cream as they walk along the docks or surf the swells at Kalk Bay Reef. A simple, small town it may be, but it has always maintained its own character.


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