A South Africa safari often includes a trip to Cape Town. If you have already done the tourist thing in Cape Town, I suggest going off-the-tourist-track and up the Cape West Coast. It’s different! There aren’t many towns along this Atlantic coastline, backed by sparse bushy sandveldt, but there are a lot of quirky characters and unexpected gems.
Here’s what I unearthed with the help of West Coast Way and their tourism routes: Culture / Scenic / Foodie / Berg (mountains) / Wild and there are they say, 101 things to do and see! I took a linear route north then circled inland and returned south back to Cape Town, with never more than a 1hr 45min drive in any one stretch.
2. West Coast National Park: when Dr Dave Roberts discovered ancient animal prints here, he thought why shouldn’t there be human prints too? To his own astonishment, he found them, leading down a solidified sand dune towards the lagoon. Named ‘Eve’s footprints, they are dated to about 17,000 years ago. You too can lie by the lagoon and appreciate these tranquil surroundings and even stay in SANPark chalets or off-the-grid in highly desirable, privately-owned cottages at Churchhaven – a hidden spot inside the park.
3. Russells on the Port, Port Owen, Velddrif: who knew that there was a smart boutique hotel with yachts moored out front in the rather fishy town of Velddrif? I say fishy as Velddrif is renowned for being the place where little mullet are caught in the mouth of the Berg River, then salted and dried to create a delicacy called bokkoms that few people will eat! It helps to be born within the smell of drying bokkoms to truly appreciate them. But not a whiff of them at Russells on the Port, which is now attracting any discerning person from miles around for food, drinks and stayover.
4. Bokkomslaan, Velddrif: I’ve probably put you off bokkoms, but you must pop along to the little lane alongside the river where the bokkom drying sheds are. Witness this unusual sight then go next door and visit artist Marina Clunie and admire her beautiful blue water scenes. Her larger-than-life hubby props up the bar next door, because he owns it, and he threw a couple of fresh mullet on the braai for our lunch. After dissecting my fish, I was told to throw the bones to the waiting seagulls and pelicans.
5. Elandsbaai: Local plumber – Riaan – was summoned to be my guide in Elandsbaai and it turned out he was wonderfully in tune with nature. Off we went canoeing and birding on Verlorenvlei wetland estuary, hiking up to Bushman cave paintings and walking along the renowned surfers beach, strewn with Cape Rock Lobster carcasses blown onshore by a storm. My base was Vensterklip camping and chalets on the edge of the wetland where I found the bar, a few visiting campers, some salty ole locals, big steaks and a drunken evening (not me – I kept putting my wine top ups back into their glass).
6. Lambert’s Bay: The interest in this funny old fishing town lies at the remarkable colony of Cape Gannets at Bird Island Nature Reserve, whose numbers swell to around 24,000 in Spring. By winter they’ve all gone and there’s nothing to see! Gannets are great at diving into the ocean (at up to 120 km per hour!), but terrible at landing on land. If they plonk down in the wrong spot, their offended neighbours peck the hell out of them – with terrifyingly sharp beaks! Before leaving town call Kookfontein farm (5ks out of town) and ask if you can buy a case or two of their fabulous flinty sauvignon blanc from this rare vineyard so close to the sea.
7. Citrusdal: A daily breeze cools the coast but inland at Citrusdal the summer heat is hectic! Capetonians come here in winter when the 43ºC natural hot spring water at The Baths can be enjoyed in sheer comfort in cottages and apartments with their own private spa Jacuzzi. Then there’s Piekenierskloof Mountain Resort at the top of the pass, where there’s something for everyone; families with kids, corporate conferences and little ole me on my own having fun doing the 7-stage zip line and rife target practice. Nearby is Carmien Tea – my favourite Rooibos brand – where the process was revealed to me. I left with a box of heavenly infusions….my current fave is Red Mocha Rooibos. While here you must pop into the ONLY place in town; Sandveld Huisie (also housing Citrusdal Tourism Office). The outrageous Juan-dré has such a joyous take on art that this shop full of eclectic anythings is a daring delight of colour. And he sets up projects assisting local ladies to make crafts from donated fabrics and other altruistic endeavours. What a special guy!
8. Porterville: I think I’ve found the next place I want to live…Porterville at the base of the Oliphants River Mountains. An interesting arty bunch has moved in and my next art purchases will definitely be from there. I’m very taken with Andre Du Toit‘s moody men and JP Meyer‘s sexy pots. And then there’s the mosiac lady Christel who has clad her house inside and out with storytelling mosiacs. I stumbled across Monique at Ebony Moon and into a jewellery class in progress which I joined and walked off with a silver pendant I had crafted myself. The bright blue Elephant Cottage was my base for all these distractions and I really didn’t want to leave.
Have you been to any of these places? What did you find there? Leave a comment and tell me.
All photos © Carrie Hampton