A Guide to Snorkelling and Octopus-Spotting in Simon's Town

by - March 09, 2021

Title Image: My Nudibranch selfie: A guide to Snorkelling in Simon's Town

While I have snorkelled many times on some beautiful coral reefs in the Caribbean and loved every second of every experience, I didn’t have the same desire to snorkel in the chilly not-so-blue definitely-not-so-warm and not very coral-filled waters off the coast of Cape Town in my own country.  Then, considering I have texture issues to the point where the thought of eating an uncooked slice of tomato is traumatic, the idea of swimming through slimy kelp forests made it seem even less fun. 

But then Netflix released their documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ filmed on location in the kelpy waters of Simon’s Town and my friends decided to jump on that bandwagon. By this time, I already owned a wetsuit (for surfing), a snorkel mask (from my time in the Caribbean) and a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out) that was far more severe than my fear of monstrous icky sea plants clinging to - and possibly submerging and engulfing - my body. (Yup, giant squid are not my only irrational ocean-related fear!)

The goal of spotting an octopus was never specifically stated, but there isn’t a person on this planet who has seen that documentary, who will go snorkelling in Simon’s Town (or anywhere) and not hope to see one of those cute little molluscs. On top of that, I don’t mean to brag, but I kind of have a reputation for the super flattering #turtleselfie I took a few years ago, so I felt the pressure to please my Instagram followers with a followup #octopusselfe.

Unglamorous selfie with turtle

Octopus Spotting - Attempt 1:

Our first attempt at snorkelling in Simon’s Town happened a few months ago. We found a very quiet beach, dumped our things behind a rock and got lost among the bobbing heads of kelp breaching the surface of the water. 

We waded through the rock pools and then swam through some deeper water where you could no longer see all the way to the bottom, but reaching out of the darkness, suspended in their own buoyancy, were heads of kelp, desperately trying to reach the surface but still quite far from it. It definitely felt like a strange alien world. 

Kelp forest - Simon's Town

We swam through shallower waters as well, where, though the visibility wasn’t great, we saw a few fish, one or two starfish and a couple of urchins. By far the most exciting discovery of the day was a nudibranch! A nudibranch is basically a sea slug. But the one we saw was blue! I think they call it a ‘gas flame’. 

I've always struggled with that whole holding your breath with a snorkel in your mouth and diving deep under the water thing. I’m just so effing buoyant! The wetsuit definitely doesn’t help either. My friend who has one of those weight-belts managed to dive down and get a picture of it.  

Nudibranch as spotted snorkelling in Simon's Town
Boom!

Impressive, huh?

While it was disappointing to not see an octopus, we were all only more determined to try again. But then, the second wave of COVID happened and we were banned from going to all beaches. 😞


Attempt 2

When the restrictions eventually lowered we went to a different beach in Simon’s Town. The visibility was perfect! We saw so many different forms of sea-life. I managed to spot three nudibranchs (sounds so much more impressive than 'sea slugs', right?) by myself! 

I remember staring at a wall of kelp when a current opened up a corridor lined with the most colourful anemones and molluscy-things and pulled me through it. I saw three blue nudibranchs and a whole lot of other crazy sea-creatures in the space of a few seconds. It was incredible! 

Unfortunately by now my supposedly waterproof faux-pro camera had taken in some water and given up on life, so you will just have to take my word for it. Here’s another picture of some kelp:

Kelp forest - Simon's Town

Pro tip: If you DON’T have a working underwater camera with you, you will see amazing fish!

I left before my friends because I had somewhere to be. After I left, they swam out beyond the big rock that was sheltering us from the open sea and there they fo realzies saw an octopus! 
Jerks! 

Fortunately, snorkelling is addictive so we went again. 


Attempt 3 

This time, the visibility wasn’t great and even though I no longer had a camera to document the experience, I cleared my schedule for the day.  I was determined to see a freaking octopus! 

We got all suited up (wetsuits are hard to put on) and as we began to enter the water, some kids drew our attention to the very first rock in the very first tiny rock pool that pretty much everyone has to climb over on their own personal quests to find and befriend the crap out of their very own octopi in the deeper waters. 

Under that rock was not one but two freaking octopi! How anti-climactic can you get?!

Rock pool in Simon's Town that supposedly holds an octopus even though it is not visible in this image

You can't actually see the octopus as it's hidden by the reflection on the surface of the water in this picture taken on my non-waterproof phone camera, but take my word for it, it's there. 


So, what did I learn from my nudibranch teacher?
Nothing! 
The octopus did teach me something though: Don’t over complicate things.

Be sure to look out for My Nudibranch Teacher, coming soon to Netflix Youtube
Spoiler alert: He’s probably going to get eaten by something. 


Glamorous kelp selfie
A super-glamorous kelp selfie / 'kelpie' in lieu of an octopus selfie

Where to go Snorkelling in Simon's Town:

Anywhere where you can gain access to the water in Simon’s Town is pretty much a good place to go snorkelling. Some of the popular snorkelling beaches include:
 
  • Long Beach
  • Boulders Beach
  • Windmill Beach
  • Water’s Edge Beach 
  • Seaforth Beach 

And south of Simon’s Town there's also:

  • Miller’s Point
  • Castle Rock
  • Partridge Point
  • The Cape Point Nature Reserve

Boulders Beach is very close to the penguin sanctuary, so if you’re hoping to see one, that’s a good place to go. 

Penguins at Boulder's Beach in Simon's Town

What Types of Sea-Life can you See in the Waters of Simon’s Town:

In my various experiences, I have seen red Romans, sea urchins, anemones, starfish, big snail things (okay, that’s probably not the scientific term), plenty of random unimpressive-looking fish, nudibranchs and obviously octopi.

According to other people or sources, you can also expect to see shrimp, rock lobsters, seals, otters, cow sharks and pajama sharks (harmless to humans). 

I’ve also seen the occasional penguin (on the beach) and, if you’re really lucky, South Africa’s most underrated animal, the magnificent and mythical dassie is also occasionally spotted sunning their little brown pillow-like bodies on the rocks. 


Flamingo travel mascot at Boulder's Beach in Simon's Town
Be sure to keep a 3-metre distance from the penguins. The plastic lawn ornaments, however, you can approach.

What do you Need for Snorkelling in a Kelp Forest:

  • A wetsuit: The water temperature in Simon’s Town ranges from a minimum of 14 degrees celcius (57 F) in winter to a maximum of 22 degrees in Summer (71 F). In summer it’s not too uncomfortable to swim without a wetsuit. The rest of the year, unless you would like to attempt cold water skin diving (like the guy in the documentary) or cold water immersion, a wetsuit is recommended. 

  • A snorkel mask (obviously) 
  • Water shoes (Standing on anemones is bad)
  • A towel
  • Bio-degradable / reef-safe sunscreen (The South African sun is harsh. You’re going to want to cover up anything that sticks out of your wetsuit/cozzie*) 

*International friends, we refer to ‘bathing suits’ as 'swimming costumes’ or ‘cozzies’ for short. While some wetsuits do make us look like power rangers, swimming costumes are not in fact costumes. 

Snorkellers in wetsuits who resemble power rangers


Not Necessary but Helpful for Snorkelling:

  • Flippers (depending on how far or deep you want to go)
  • Weights (Wetsuits make you buoyant AF. If you want to take your own pic of a nudibranch get some of these.)
  • Drinking water for afterwards. (Sour worms also make for a great post-snorkel treat)
  • An action camera / waterproof camera 
Snorkeller in kelp forest, Simon's Town

Pro tip: The snorkel bun will change your life! 

It’s really annoying when you get your snorkel’s head strap tension just right and then it slips down the back of your head. Most head-straps have a slit down the middle that can be conveniently positioned on either side of your both functional and fashionable hairstyle. If you’re serious about snorkelling and you don’t already have long hair, start growing it now!

Snorkel bun
I’m starting to understand why there are so many man-buns in these parts.  

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Where to get Snorkel Equipment in Simon’s Town: 

Any surf shop in Cape Town usually has a selection of snorkels and water/reef shoes, in addition to wetsuits. Due to the abundance of rocks which make Simon’s Town unsuitable for surfing, there aren't any surf shops in Simon’s Town (that I know of). While a few other shops do sell snorkels, I would suggest stopping in Fishhoek on your way if you need to pick anything up: Here you can find:

When to go Snorkelling in False Bay:

According to simonstown.com, visibility is usually better between June and October when the wind usually blows offshore (northwesterly)

You can always stay up-to-date with the current sea conditions online, here

Boulder's Beach - Simon's Town


How Safe is Snorkelling in Simon’s Town:

Currents and Lifeguards:
Very few Cape Town beaches are manned by lifeguards. To be honest, I’ve never really paid attention, but I don’t believe any of the Simon’s Town beaches have lifeguards on duty. Riptides are also common here and can be unpredictable for people who are unfamiliar with these waters. Don’t go if you can’t swim. If you can swim but lack confidence, book a tour with an experienced guide. 

Companies that offer Snorkel Tours Include:

Security:
Leaving your valuables on the beach is not recommended. It is best to leave them in your car, out of sight.

Kelp entanglement:
So far there have been no reported fatalities from kelp attacks. 

    Snorkeller in kelp

    Can I Touch an Octopus?

    I put this question here because I know, based on my experiences working on US-based cruise ships, some people won't want to snorkel unless they can touch a freaking octopus! At the risk of national stereotyping, there’s that one nation of people that has to touch EVERYTHING! (You know who you are!)

    You’re probably hoping that there’s a tour that you can book where a whole bunch of people in matching lifejackets go out with a guide who will reach down under a rock, pull out an octopus and everyone will take turns having their picture taken with it, which will then be sold to you at an exorbitant price a few minutes later (the picture not the octopus). Kinda like they do with stingrays in the Caribbean, right?

    Girl with stingray on tour
    #guilty

    Well, no tour like that currently exists in Simon's Town. Also, DON’T BE THAT GUY!

    Secondly, there are plenty of places where you can touch an octopus, even in Simon’s Town. Just pick any seafood restaurant. 

    If you don’t think your Instagram followers will be satisfied with that, just photoshop something. Everyone does it!

    Badly photoshopped underwater selfie with octopus
    My #octopusselfie

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    4 comments

    1. As much as I would love to go snorkelling, I would probably freak out if an octopus came near me. But it looks like a great experience!

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      Replies
      1. The octopi are pretty shy, it's the kelp that's scary!

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    2. Hahaha that was such a fun read, Sharon! Love your selfie with the 'octopus'. 😄

      ReplyDelete