The West Coast has always held a special charm for me, and I have many wonderful memories of numerous road trips taken in the company of colourful people, buoyed up at the prospect of unspoilt beaches and perfect waves.
It’s been a while since I explored this vibrant part of the Western Cape, and on a sunny October Friday morning I set out all on my own as everyone else was heading toward their offices at snail’s pace. It gave me great pleasure to be traveling in the opposite direction to hit the open road to experience the rich biodiversity of the West Coast.
Situated a mere 30km from Cape Town, The Blaauwberg Nature Reserve boasts spectacular views down fynbos slopes, across the city, over 7 km of rocky, sandy coastline to the ocean and beyond. It is also one of the few viewpoints in the world from where you can see two proclaimed World Heritage Sites, namely Table Mountain and Robben Island.
The reserve conserves three critically threatened vegetation types: Cape Flats dune strandveld, Swartland shale renosterveld and Cape Flats sand fynbos. Its rich biodiversity embraces a wetland, 559 plant species, 49 mammals (including whales, dolphins and seals), 162 bird species, 30 reptiles and four amphibians
Also under the conservation of Blaauwberg Nature Reserve is the site of the 1806 Battle of Blaauwberg, when the British took possession of the Cape from the Dutch for the second time. Several buildings which were constructed on Blaauwberg Hill during World War II can still be visited today.
On the coastal side of the reserve is the Eersteteen Resort which offers picnic and braai facilities alongside the pristine white beach.
The Blaauwerg coastline is the gateway to the West Coast and the coastal road took me straight to the second destination along the Groenkloof Route – Melkbosstrand. A favourite with locals, Melkbos is the quintessential seaside village, but with all the amenities one could wish for, including several inviting beachfront restaurants.
Parked at the beachfront I watched a couple strolling hand-in-hand along the sand, a man and his dog playing fetch with a ball and two boys run down the sand, surfboards under their arms. Had this been my last destination of the day, I would have spent some time on the beach myself, watching the sun set over Table Mountain.
‘Melkbos’ literally translates to ‘milk bush’ and refers to the Euphorbiaceae bushes that grow on sand dunes in the area and give off a milky latex like substance. Melkbosstrand is also notable for being one of the landing points for the South Africa-Far East and South Atlantic/West Africa submarine cable systems.
Let’s be honest, a nuclear power plant is the very last place you’d expect to find nature in all her splendour, with herds of buck and zebra, and a thriving bird life. But, surprisingly, Koeberg is just such a place.
Situated near to Melkbosstrand off the R27, it’s actually a very popular destination with locals who frequent the reserve to hike and cycle along the gentle trails. In fact, one of the best ways to see the reserve is on a bicycle and there are several routes to follow. The area is pretty flat, with less than 50 metres of climbing, so it’s great for beginners and families as well as more seasoned cyclists.
I very recently spent the morning cycling through the reserve with a couple of friends and it was incredible. I saw various buck and several bird species and the views were breath-taking.
If biking isn’t your thing, then you can walk one of the two hiking trails. The Dikkop Trail is a 13-kilometre loop of which two kilometres are on the beach and the Grysbok Trail is much less strenuous and at just under six kilometres, shouldn’t take longer than two hours.
But whichever way you choose, pack a picnic lunch and stop at the bird hide where you’re likely to spot great white pelican, greater flamingo, African fish-eagle as well as various gulls, herons and egrets.
Silwerstroomstrand, just north of Melkbosstrand, is a Blue Flag beach with excellent water quality and an expansive stretch of coastline in a wonderfully secluded setting. In my youth I spent many happy hours here and it was a treat to return again on this trip.
Visitors can make a day of it and relax at one of the various picnic sites and braai areas, or for longer stays, there are comfortable bungalows and a caravan park.
For those who prefer not to brave the cold Atlantic Ocean, there is a tidal pool and a nearby slipway is perfect for launching small craft. And on-site lifeguards and law enforcement offer families peace of mind so they can relax and enjoy the day.
Established during the 1970s by the Apartheid government as an industrial centre, Atlantis is not a town I have ever had reason to visit and actually knew very little about, other than it being known to border vast sand dunes.
What I also didn’t know is that these vast sand dunes provide spectacular views of Table Mountain on clear days and are also the perfect spot to do some 4X4 training or sand-boarding and that several guided adventure outings and corporate bonding days are often held here. Tour operators offer packages that include transport, boards, wax, and guidance. Don’t forget to pack your sun cream, a hat, as well as plenty of water.
Another fact I learnt is that Atlantis is also home to the longest historic blue gum tree lane in South Africa and made for a beautiful shaded drive almost all the way to me next destination, Mamre.
Established during the 1970s by the Apartheid government as an industrial centre, Atlantis is not a town I have ever had reason to visit and actually knew very little about, other than it being known for its vast sand dunes.
What I didn’t know is that these vast sand dunes provide spectacular views of Table Mountain on clear days and are also the perfect spot to do some 4X4 training or sand-boarding and that several guided adventure outings and corporate bonding days are often held here. Tour operators offer packages that include transport, boards, wax, and guidance. Don’t forget to pack your sun cream, a hat, as well as plenty of water.
Another fact I learnt is that Atlantis is also home to the longest historic bluegum tree lane in South Africa. This spectacular lane runs almost to Mamre, my next stop.
This small settlement is best known as the site of a Moravian mission station, established in 1808 by two Moravian missionaries known as Kohrhammer and Schmitt.
The quaint mission station village still stands, the church still used for services, and on any given Sunday it is apparently packed to capacity. In the village there is also a former bakery, a shop, the church offices and a little lower down, the former mill next to what would have been a stream but today is a trickle. There are also a few ‘hartbeeshuisies’ or reed houses, all of them white-washed with thatched roofs. The streets, aside from Main Road which brings you into the village, are sand and you can wander around the tree-shaded village at will.
A long gravel road took me to my next destination and home to one of my favourite wines. A lovely young man called Wimpie showed me around and told me about all that is on offer at Groote Post – which, as it turns out, is more than just great wine.
There are farm drives through the 2000ha game camp where you’ll be able to spot some of Africa’s indigenous antelope (The Eland, Kudu, Gemsbok, Bontebok, Springbok, Red Hartebeest, Fellow Deer, Ostrich, Black Wildebeest as well as Quagga) and there are also nature walks which would be most spectacular in spring as the farm forms part of the famous West Coast Spring Flower Route.
Groote Post also hosts a monthly Country Market brim-full of artisan foods, arts and crafts, home ware and décor, live entertainment, lots of fun activities for kids, and of course, Groote Post’s well-loved wines.
And good food is always on the agenda, either at Aunt Hilda’s restaurant or as a delectable picnic to be enjoyed outdoors.
Other than its spectacular wild flowers, Darling is perhaps best known as home to Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout aka well-known political satirist Pieter Dirk Uys and his theatre/restaurant, Evita se Perron.
Shamefully my first visit to this quaint historical village, I headed for the museum which is usually a great place to find out more about a town. Turns out I was right as curator Diane filled me in on all the attractions and events. The museum itself was also a treasure – and a delightful insight into my own history and forefathers.
Situated between vineyards and golden wheat fields, the town has a tangible sense of history and lovingly restored Victorian homes and ancient trees add to its charm.
The West Coast National Park, which stretches all the way from Yzerfontein to Langebaan, was established in 1985 with the aim of conserving the Langebaan Lagoon and surrounding landscapes, including the islands in Saldanha Bay.
Small enough to view in a day, the inhabitants in the park are varied, and the whole area is of international and national importance in respect of both terrestrial and marine life. A great family day out, there are long stretches of beach to picnic and gentle trails to walk.
Being on my own this day, I didn’t spend a lot of time here, but I did spend enough to know I want to go back soon.
In fact, with over 200 species of birds and a variety of other animals to spot as well as many buck species and other animals, the park is well worth several visits just to take it all in.
This picturesque fishing village has always been one of my favourite destinations along the West Coast. Not only is it a haven for birdlife, wildlife, sea life and indigenous flora, it also boasts the longest uninterrupted sandy beach on the South African coastline, stretching north from the main beach all the way to the West Coast National Park near Langebaan.
On offer in this spectacular locale are whale and dolphin watching, bird watching, mountain biking, hiking and water sports such as skiing, sailing, surfing and angling. It is also well-known for its fresh snoek (barracuda) and has a small craft harbour for both leisure and commercial boats.
Ravenous by now, I stopped in at an unassuming little eatery called Club Café, adjacent to the local recreational club on the beachfront. After ordering calamari I got chatting to local artist Rose and the proprietor of Club Café, Ami who has lived in the area her whole life and whiled away a relaxed hour chatting about all things local before heading for the final stop on the Culture Route.
Having driven past !khwa ttu many times, I was thrilled to finally be trundling up the hillside on the gravel road to the buildings I had always seen from afar. A San Education and Culture Centre, !Khwa ttu offers the unique experience of being introduced to the world of the descendants of the first indigenous people of southern Africa.
During a three-hour tour the San will demonstrate their skills, share their ancient knowledge about oral history, tracking animals, identifying edible and medicinal plants and they will also teach you words in some of their languages. A truly fascinating and rare insight into an historical culture; an experience that will stay with you for many years.
As I headed back to Cape Town in the late afternoon, once again against the traffic, passing those in the know heading up the West Coast for the weekend, it struck me that the R27 is our very own Route 66, brimming with unexplored terrain and the promise of adventure.
I had fallen in love with the West Coast all over again.