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The West Coast region of the Western Cape Province is one of the least developed areas in South Africa, however, it has much to offer the visitor. This coastal expanse stretches from the Cape Farms area in the south to roughly 400km northward to the Northern Cape Province boundary.
The West Coast remained largely untouched due to the lack of rivers and lakes, however, it is rich in minerals, has natural harbours, excellent surfing spots and an abundance of shellfish. Many of the fisherman’s cottages in quaint coastal villages are being snapped up by investors and the West Coast is growing rapidly.
The area was originally used as grazing grounds for cattle and in 1701, a military outpost was established to protect the farmers from marauding cattle thieves. The outpost has remained as part of a working farm, first as dairy producing, and now a treasured wine estate.
Top 10 reasons to visit the Cape West Coast
1. The West Coast’s primary attraction is the wild flower phenomenon that occurs annually in spring, and after the first rains, when barren fields are transformed by masses of blooming flowers. Visitors travel from all parts of the world to see this magnificent display.
2. Visit the !Khwa ttu park for a fascinating guided tour of the San culture, their tracking methods and traditions. The San were South Africa’s original inhabitants. The park has an onsite restaurant.
3. South African history records the attempt by German missionaries to convert indigenous people and it was for this reason that the Moravian missionary station at Mamre was established in the 1850s. The station has been lovingly restored, the old church and attendant buildings still in use today by villagers. Visit to view the complex and enjoy a coffee over a chat with the friendly locals.
4. The West Coast National Park is a Ramsar site, a wetland deemed to be of international significance. The reserve has various small mammals and buck species and a restaurant based in an historic farmhouse. The park incorporates much of the Langebaan lagoon which is surrounded by ancient dunes and where house boats can be hired.
5. Langebaan is renowned for ideal wind- and kitesurfing conditions. The Langebaan lagoon can easily be mistaken for a tropical sea, the colour a bright cobalt hue. A popular beach restaurant offers fresh seafood prepared over open fires.
6. The town of Darling has an excellent wine route and one of the country’s most popular satirical artists has transformed the town’s station into a theatre-restaurant filled with unique and interesting memorabilia.
7. St Helena Bay is the centre of commercial fishing. It’s the largest bay along the coast and is positioned such that it’s the only west coast town where the sun rises over the sea. The town’s history dates back to 1497 when the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama anchored here.
8. An annual Crayfish (lobster) Festival takes place at Lambert’s Bay and visitors flock here to feast on the fresh seafood. The town has a bird island filled with thousands of the striking-looking gannet. Other towns worth visiting are Paternoster filled with white beaches and fishermen cottages and Velddrif where huge salt pans are situated along the mighty Berg River.
9. The West Coast Fossil Park is an area where huge quantities of Pliocene-dated (5 million year old) fossils were discovered in an old river bend. Fossils include those of the sabre tooth cats, African bear, short necked giraffe and three-toed horse.
10. Clanwilliam is citrus country and while travelling along the main road, you will encounter colourful road stalls and miles of orange trees. The Clanwilliam dam wall is a magnificent sight in times of flood. Further along the road is the well-known Cederberg area, loved by rock climbers and hikers.
The nearest airport is Cape Town International Airport, the distance dependant on where you are located. Ask your host for details. Book your car rental while in Cape Town, the airport or from Langebaan. Most car rentals can be arranged online. Unfortunately there are no taxi operators in the region, however, there are a number of tour operators that offer shuttle services between the airport and west coast towns.
Did you know?
The Dutch East India Company sent many parties up the west coast in the early 1600s to try and find the fabled golden city of Monomotapa. In the 1690s, they again travelled here, this time to investigate the copper mines further north.
The cold Benguela current that runs up the west coast is rich in nutrients, thus the reason for this section of South Africa being considered the country’s premier fishing grounds.
For those who are a little adventurous and enjoy the company of other travellers, you can decide to stay at a Backpackers. Often having to share a room with others as well as costs, it is incredibly inexpensive. Often the best choice for those who may be just passing through or will be occupied for the majority of their day. It comes with the most basic amenities and is often formed as part of a bar or similar establishment. Not recommended for those who want privacy, this is best suited for those who wouldn’t mind meeting various other interesting travellers.