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Nowadays, we all know Camps Bay as the glamorous, cosmopolitan seaside suburb of the Mother City. While there is no denying that Camps Bay is still one of the brightest jewels in the Atlantic Seaboard, you’d be surprised to know that this wasn’t always the case!

We’ve put together five interesting facts about the history of this iconic suburb – so you can impress your friends when you’re next sipping on Champagne on the Sunset Strip!

camps bay birds eye view

1. Into The Wild

As all of us know, the Dutch arrived in Cape Town in 1652, and with it, brought about life-altering changes for the indigenous Khoisan people who populated the Cape, the environment and of course, the wildlife.

Before the arrival of the Dutch, the area of what we now know as Camps Bay, as well as the entire Twelve Apostles Mountain Range was covered in thick forest and wildlife was rife throughout the area.

Camps Bay, Twelve Apostles, the Kloof Nek and Lion’s Head area were all heavily populated by antelope, leopards and even lions. It’s interesting to note that one Dutchman once wrote in his journal that he climbed Lions Head (then called Lions Hill) and upon reaching the top, got the fright of his life after he encountered an actual lion!

2. What’s In A Name?

The history of how Camps Bay got its name is a rather interesting one that, at the time, was considered scandalous as it involved a widow and a rather unassuming sailor.

The lad which is now known as Camps Bay originally belonged to Johan Wernich, who was married to Anna Koekemoer. When Wernich unexpectedly passed away in 1778, his widow inherited the land.

However, it wasn’t long before Anna married again – this time to a sailor who frequented the area. His name: Frederick Ernst Von Kamptz. After marriage, Frederick Ernst Von Kamptz became the legal owner of the land, and it was subsequently renamed “Die Baai Van Von Kamptz”.

While Anna and Frederick may have seemed happy, many people at the time whispered behind their backs; claiming that Von Kamptz only married Anna because of the benefit (read: land) that would come with it.

Nevertheless, the name stuck, and eventually evolved into what we know today: Camps Bay.

This is also why the stunning restaurants at another of Camps Bay’s historic venues – Camps Bay Retreat – is named Von Kamptz Restaurant.

3. High Society

In the late 19th century, heading towards the turn of the century, Camps Bay quickly became the place to socialize and be merry – much like it is today.

It became known as an ideal picnic destination (picnics were big back then) and wealthy families (or those who would want to impress the upper echelons of society) would frequent the then resort town and enjoy crumpets, tea and (most certainly) gin and tonics on the lush lawns adjacent to the beach. Again – much like people do today.

The biggest social venue of the era was undoubtedly The Rotunda which was situated close to said lush lawns and beaches. The Rotunda is a dome-shaped venue which was designed to house events and get-togethers for the social elite in the Victorian era.

Built in 1904, The Rotunda is still standing and is famously the oldest single story dome construction in Cape Town and is still used to this day to host stunning events, as it is now part of The Bay Hotel.

The Rotunda has truly stood the test of time and has even recently been revamped ahead of another glorious Camps Bay summer season.

A tramline between the city and Camps Bay was built in 1901, which then made it easier for the dozens of socialites to make their way to cool Camps Bay.

camps bay beachfront 1905

The Rotunda in the background of Camps Bay beachfront, Victoria Road, circa 1905

4. Lonely Living

It may sound strange to conceive – knowing what we know about the area now – but Camps Bay once only had one full-time resident. Yes, that’s right, only one, single person lived in Camps Bay throughout the year, while others merely visited.

Besides being home to Von Kamptz and his wife’s farm, Ravensteyn (which was destroyed in the war in the 1800s), the area officially only had one resident. This lonely Lenny was a man known only as Glendinning.

According to historical documents, Glendinning must’ve felt the loneliness of being the only man in Camps Bay overwhelming, as he desperately tried to sell up to 40 plots in Camps Bay to visitors, but to no avail.

He tried his luck at selling (what is now) prime real estate again in the early 1900s, when he claimed to have found gold in Camps Bay, but, once again no one wanted to live in Camps Bay.

Camps Bay was officially incorporated into the City of Cape Town in 1913.

How strange to think that one of the most sought after areas in South Africa – and the world! – was once so undesirable.

We bet the great-great grandkids of those families who turned down a plot in Camps Bay for a lick and promise are not too impressed with their ancestors!

tramline to camps bay early 1900s

The Tramline to Camps Bay circa early 1900s

5. Revelling In The Riviera

Modern history shows us that the rise (and rise, and rise…) of Camps Bay is yet another testament to its natural beauty and all round atmosphere.

Camps Bay quickly became more than just a seaside resort suburb in the 21st century, and by the 90s, it was the hottest place to be seen in your mini skirt and shoulder-padded sequin top. It was quickly equated to French Riviera, with many people calling it the Cape’s Riviera.

Fast-forward to the 2000s and 2010s, and Camps Bay is still considered one of the most beautiful and desirable locations in South Africa. With its abundance of restaurants, bars, shops and other attractions, it’s easy to see why.

We’re sure in a 100 years from now, people will still talk about the glory that is Camps Bay.