It’s hard to believe looking back that it is ten years since our permanent move to Fish Hoek, South Africa. Not being from South Africa it was a big move, there were visas to sort out and other legal issues, not to mention the constant barrage of “South Africa? Really? Is it safe?” from family and friends.
We should have been terrified by the move, but we simply weren’t. For us it was a complete ‘no brainer’. We were convinced that Fish Hoek was the place.
What did we base that on? Not much actually- we were looking for somewhere around Cape Town that was closing enough so we could commute if need be, but not so close that we lived in a concrete jungle; had its own amenities such as schools and shops; suitable properties within our price range; and preferably near the sea (OK, the whole of Cape Town is ‘near the sea’ compared to Bloemfontein- lets just say that walking distance was a preference).
We should have also been looking at things like crime rates but it didn’t really bother us too much, we figured that if we saw an area and it looked dodgy we would make that decision at the time.
Gordon’s Bay was considered for a short while, but dismissed because it just too far from the city bowl.
After a ‘love at first site’ visit to the far south on a recce (a poetic moment in which I stopped on Ou Kaapse Weg and looked down the Fish Hoek valley, with False Bay glittering in the distance) the decision was made, we would concentrate on Fish Hoek as our primary target.
Now we are 10 years down the line. Our family has grown from 2 to 3 (not counting dogs and cats) with our daughter now in the school system, and it seems like a good time to reflect on the realities of our decision to move to Fish Hoek.
Living in Fish Hoek
1. The truth about crime
Lets talk about the elephant in the room first. Crime.
It seems that the world (and that includes South Africans) is obsessed with the violent crime levels in South Africa. Everybody we know overseas who has not been here is going to at some point ask us “but what about the crime?”
Yes, there are areas in Cape Town I would not venture into for any reason, there are others where I would not wish to break down, but I can say that about many big cities around the world (and I have been to a lot of them).
Since I avoid those areas, and can only go on third hand information, I am not in a position to say. However, here is our experience of a city that has the reputation of being one of the most violent and dangerous places to visit in the world.
My crime statistics for the last 10 years
Violent crime perpetrated against me: 0
Violent crime perpetrated against my family: 0
Violent crime perpetrated against someone I know personally: 0
Violent crime that I have witnessed being perpetrated against someone else: 0
Times that I have felt that my life was genuinely in threat from criminal activity: 0
Property crime perpetrated against us: 2 (both thefts from the house resulting from us leaving windows open while we were out, and one of those only resulted in a single wallet being taken)
Do I consider Fish Hoek to be a safe place to live: yes.
Do I consider Fish Hoek to have low crime: yes.
It’s true, things happen, they happen every where in the world these days, and I am going to explain my reasoning.
My parents live in a small town in the north of England (its called Castleford- Google map it, former mining town, now home to one of the largest outlet parks in Europe). Basically, if it isn’t nailed down they will steal it- leaving your garage door open while you turn round will result in things going missing. Admittedly it is usually petty stuff, but in the time I have lived in Fish Hoek my parents, their friends, and neighbours have been the victims of crime on a regular basis.
For a period of about 6 months I didn’t even have a lock on my garage door, and it was full of tools- and at that time the garage was open to the street (we remodelled our front garden and now need a gate across). Our property also has two small flatlets that we are continually forgetting to lock. Nothing has ever been taken from these places. In fact, they don’t even show evidence of ever having being cased.
The perception presented to the outside world is that we live in constant fear, not daring to leave our houses, dashing to our cars, driving to secure mall parking, and scooting home hoping to not be hijacked along the way. It simply isn’t the case here in the far south, I walk around Fish Hoek without feeling threatened, or in any kind of danger. I cannot talk about other parts of the city, or the country, but I do know that right here feels safe, secure, and a good place to raise a family.
2. Commuting to Cape Town
When we first moved to Fish Hoek my partner was working in a city hotel, and therefore doing a commute 5 days a week. Her experience of that was not a positive one. A large proportion of the community do travel ‘over the mountain’ to work, and with only two viable roads in and out (one of which is currently under reconstruction) it can be a frustrating experience.
It is quite a drive into the city, especially in heavy rush hour traffic, however, one of the things that we learned living here is just how much industry and commerce happens to the south of the Cape Town city bowl.
I have always been based from home since moving here, however, my partner has had various positions requiring her to travel varying distances from a few kilometers all the way to the cbd. She currently works in Claremont as a travel agent, and uses the train.
Public transport is not the best in Cape Town. My partner is lucky in that her place of work is a short distance from a main line metro station, and it saves her a lot of time, money, and effort. Yes, the metro system is far from perfect, however the city and other stake holders seem to be very keen on addressing the lack in public transport infrastructure. Recent additions to the MyCity bus links, spending on new infrastructure on the metro rail and other upgrades show good signs for the Cape Town public transportation system.
3. Schools and amenities
This was one of the main reasons that we chose Fish Hoek, its schools have an amazing reputation. Our daughter is currently in Grade R at Fish Hoek Primary school. She will progress from there to Grade 1 at the same school and then finally move over to Fish Hoek High School where she will matriculate (hopefully). Both schools are within easy walking distance of our house (in fact I can see the primary school from the house) and Fish Hoek High School has one of the best matric results history in the country. What more could you ask for?
And we are truly blessed with our own municipal department where you can sort out rates issues and transport matters. A traffic opened up recently at the municipal office so that the only thing we are currently missing is our planning department, which was moved to Plumstead just after we moved here.
We addressed the elephant, now lets talk about the shark in the room. This is the other favourite among foreign friends. They seem to think that if we dive into the sea to escape the dangerous gangs of criminals roaming the streets then we will instantly be devoured by man eating monsters.
Yes, there are massive great white sharks in False Bay, and yes, they do regularly patrol the waters just off Fish Hoek beach, and ok, yes, there have been a couple of fatal attacks during the time we have lived here.
first, we have an excellent shark spotting program that alerts bathers of the presence of sharks in the area;
second, we now an exclusion net that is put out to create a safe corner of the beach during busy periods;
and third, you have to ignore all this, and other good advise, swim in areas with a higher likelihood of attacks (deep channels, river outflow areas etc) at dangerous times (in the evening, early morning, or when spotters are not on duty) and still be incredibly unlucky.
Seriously, its not even a consideration amongst locals.
5. Gods waiting room
At some point, some wag christened Fish Hoek “God’s waiting room” due to the high average age of the population. Its another favourite among detractors who have never set foot in the place.
And I have to say that it is again undeserved. It is my experience of Fish Hoek that it is a thriving community full of people of all ages. Yes, there are a few retirement communities, but it doesn’t feel like you are living in one.
6. Its a Dry Town
This one is actually true, due to a historical by-law, Fish Hoek is a dry town- with two bars and several licensed restaurants smack in the middle of the town. The only thing the town doesn’t have is a bottle store, and the supermarkets are also banned from stocking alcohol.
If you enjoy a tipple this isn’t a problem because the town line ends just to the east of Longbeach Shopping Mall, where there is a bottle store and supermarkets can stock alcohol.
Were we right to move to Fish Hoek?
When we first came to live in Fish Hoek we seemed to spend a lot more time going over the mountain for various things, however, over the years we have found that there is less and less reason to go. I can go for months without leaving the peninsula.
And I have to say I don’t want to leave the peninsula. If I do have to go somewhere else I feel relieved to be back. This is home now and I cannot see it any other way. Things change, but it is going to take something drastic to get me out of the far south peninsula.
I’m surrounded by nature, can take walks on the beach, live in a fantastic community, and feel as safe and secure as it seems possible in the world today. Is it perfect, probably not, but then, where is?