South Africa is known as a country of great natural beauty, and with its contrasting landscapes and climates it offers everything from stark desert terrain to palm-lined tropical beaches. However, by far the most richly abundant and diverse area is the Biodiversity Corridor of the West Coast.
Beginning a mere 25 minutes from Cape Town on the scenic coastal R27 road, stretching from Blaauwberg Nature Reserve all the way to Saldanha Bay in the north and the Darling Hills in the east, this small, compact region is a veritable treasure trove of natural and cultural wonders.
As part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the West Coast is home to thousands of species of plants, including fynbos which is indigenous to the region and found nowhere else in the world. And when you consider that although the Cape Floral Kingdom occupies only a tiny fraction of land at the bottom of Africa, yet hosts almost 20% of all floras on the continent, one begins to grasp the true natural wealth of this unique region.
Add to that several internationally recognised places of importance such as the Langebaan Lagoon and Verloren Vlei which are Ramsar sites and home to hundreds of bird species, including Palearctic migratory birds from northern Europe and Siberia, and you begin to understand just what is at stake – and what an unparalleled utopia there is to discover and explore.
Only 35 areas in the world qualify as Biodiversity hotspots and, although they represent just 2.3% of earth’s land surface, they support more than half of the world’s plants species and nearly 43% of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species. For an area to qualify as a biodiversity hotspot a region must have at least 1500 endemic plants and it must have 30% or less of its original natural vegetation – in other words it must be threatened.
The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor is one of these hot spots and the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor Initiative is implemented in partnership with the Development Bank of South Africa, Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve, Cape Nature, West Coast District Municipality, the Saldanha and Swartland Local Municipalities, the City of Cape Town, landowners, business owners and communities.
The WCBCI is a project within the SANParks Rural Development Programme aimed at promoting conservation as a significant contributor to rural development within the delineated Buffer Zone of the West Coast National Park.
Not only unique in its vegetation and wildlife, it is also the only Biosphere that:
• Is run by elected volunteers (others are run by state employees).
• Has a nuclear power station and an oil refinery.
• Has a toxic dump site.
• Encompasses a city boundary.
With the Atlantic Ocean as its western border, the area is also rich in marine-and-bird life, and offers wonderful opportunities to view many different species:
• It is an excellent venue for shore-based whale watching, and is not overcrowded like most other places.
• It includes a RAMSAR site (Langebaan lagoon) with a deep-sea harbour to accommodate ore carriers.
• It includes Dassen Island, one of only two breeding sites in the country for pelicans, (the other is St. Lucia.) as well as the largest penguin colony.
• It is the hub of the pelagic fishing industry, based in Saldanha.
• Yzerfontein harbour produces the largest amount of line fish in the country.
• It has the largest colony of gannets, based at Lamberts Bay.
And with the ocean running up the entire length of the corridor, the region also offers miles and miles of beautiful coastline with many pristine beaches as well as a large lagoon, making the area a hot spot for water sports enthusiasts.
• Langebaan hosts the largest hobie cat sailing regatta in the country every Easter weekend.
• The World championship sailboard competition is annually held at Big Bay.
• Blouberg is one of the top five kite surfing venues in the world.
The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor is also an enticing culinary adventure for food and wine lovers, and visitors are spoiled for choice. From outdoor beach restaurants serving fresh seafood cooked on an open fire through to fine dining, the region is a veritable smorgasbord.
• The area has its own wine route which comprises four stunning farms.
• Groote Post vineyard produces Chardonnay of Choice for SAA business class and has won many awards.
• Darling Cellars, the largest local producer of a fine selection of wines, is also based in the Biosphere.
• The Swartland wheat fields in the biosphere are described as the “Breadbasket of South Africa”.
• The Berg River estuary is one of the largest salt producers in country (Cerebos).
• It is the home of the dried fish industry (Bokkems).
Other interesting facts about the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor:
• It still has large open spaces and a BIG blue unpolluted sky.
• It includes the fastest expanding residential area in South Africa (Parklands/Table View).
• It has been ignored historically by botanists and other academics as having no real merit.
• Most large industries in the area are currently BEE compliant.
• It has an excellent climate, lower rainfall and warmer winters than Cape Town; and cooler summers owing to the cold Atlantic.
• It has a fossil park.
West Coast Way is a proud member of West Coast Biosphere.
For more information on the West Coast Biosphere Corridor please visit: www.capebiosphere.co.za