The Namaqua region of the Cape West Coast is home to some spectacular stretches of coastline – calm protected bays with white sand beaches, or rocky wild points. The sea along these stretches is alive with kelp forests that line the shallows, flocks of birds like cormorants and waders, as well as bigger animals like seals, dolphins and migrating whales. To spend time on the coastline means being engulfed by the ocean – the sound of birds calling, the smell of kelp drying on the shore and the sudden temperature changes when the onshore wind brings icy ocean air onto the land.
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Leaving the West Coast Peninsular region far behind, we headed north further up the long coastline that stretches to the border with Namibia, unbroken save for a few large river mouths. This coastline becomes ever more remote and wild, and has plenty of potential for great surf. Bevan and I spent a few days exploring this area.
Rock art and remote places in Elands Bay
Elands Bay was the first of our stops. Tucked into the base of a large stony headland, access to this small town is across the Verlorenvlei freshwater lake and wetland. Ordinarily this is one of South Africa’s largest lakes and the sight of shimmering freshwater and its associated waterbirds is the first sight that greets visitors to the area. Unfortunately though at the time of our visit Verlorenvlei was another victim of the countrywide drought and only the different plant types gave any indication of previous shorelines and the presence of water.
We stopped in Elands Bay not only to look for waves, but also because we had heard about San paintings that can be viewed in a cave on the rocky headland known as Baboon Point. Parking our car at the bottom, we began on the steep but short path to the large cave. Residents have been petitioning to have the site protected because of its cultural and historic value, and indeed it has been the subject of international studies. Plans are currently underway to have the site formally recognised, but in the meantime it is freely accessible and easy to find.
Standing in the cave, we studied the paintings on the walls. Looking at the individual handprints of the artist that were visible in the design, it was not hard to imagine a small group of San people in the very spot that we were. They would have stood at the cave entrance and looked out over the same ocean view, unchanged to this day. They would have foraged along the same shoreline that we later walked, rich with seabirds, seals and shellfish covering the subtidal rocky shelf.
Lambert’s Bay, the West Coast’s diamond
Lambert’s Bay was next on our journey north. Life in Lambert’s Bay is centred around the ocean. The town is a narrow strip of houses about three roads deep, with a small business centre and a harbour. A short drive and you have left the town behind, and there is nothing but a road that runs parallel to an unbelievable coastline. This small town has been named as the “Diamond of the West Coast” because of its beaches, wildlife and crayfish. It hosts the annual Kreeffees (crayfish festival), and the chance to spot the endemic and poorly-studied Heaviside’s dolphin, as well as the thousands of nesting Cape gannets and other seabirds on Bird Island are big tourism drawcards.
This coastline is home to a popular open-air seafood restaurant. In my opinion, this type of restaurant epitomises the Cape West Coast; dining on delicious seafood straight out of the ocean, all the while exposed to the salty sea air and with the smell of kelp all around and seagulls crying overhead. Bevan and I relished the chance to explore this coastline a bit and Bev even found time to jump in for an evening surf.
Exploring the Namaqua West Coast
Doringbaai in the Namaqua region is about the northernmost coastal town you will find along the Western Cape coastline before crossing into the Northern Cape. Situated just south of the popular holiday town of Strandfontein, it is a charming coastal town also only a few roads deep and centred around a harbour. Its main economy is the packaging and export of crayfish, but it is also well-known for Fryer’s Cove wine that is produced right on the coastline.
This Namaqua coastline is characterised by small bays that have been eroded out of sandstone cliffs and rocky headlands. Again, being at the sea is an overwhelming experience that engages every sense. The hot dry wind that blows from the inland meets icy sea air that is contained in a narrow strip along the beach by the steep cliffs. The smell of salt and kelp is strong in the air, and this mixes with the pungent smells that drift across from rocky islands covered in seals and nesting seabirds. It truly is a coastal wilderness, and something about its raw beauty touched us in a way that no place has before.
Another huge thank you to our partners who made this leg possible:
Gurshell and the West Coast Regional Tourism Organization team.
Marika in Elands Bay who showed us around the rock art site at Baboon Point (thanks Shaun for putting us in touch).
Eagle’s Nest Guest House – a comfortable beachfront guest house in Lambert’s Bay. In the morning we were entertained by dusky dolphins right from our front garden.
Thornbay Accommodation – thanks Kerry for hosting us in your lovely Doringbaai beachfront apartment – what a treat to watch the sunset over the harbour from our verandah!
Cape Town 4×4 Rentals – highly recommended for a great fleet of well-maintained and very capable 4×4 vehicles.