The West Coast: So much more than the beach!

Posted on Posted in South Africa, Ultimate South African Road Trip, Western Cape

The Western Cape’s West Coast region was new territory for Bevan and I. From the first time that I saw pictures of whitewashed houses and turquoise water, I wanted to visit the West Coast. A life on the ocean, fresh fish straight from the sea, windswept white sand beaches – it all sounded too good to me.

Given this preconception, it was quite surprising to me when we set out for the West Coast from Cape Town and spent the first few days in this region doing anything and everything but being at the beach! The diversity of activities and points of interest in this region was an unexpected treat. The West Coast has far more to offer than just the beach!

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An introduction to San culture

For starters, we took in some San culture with a visit to !Khwa ttu near the coastal town of Yzerfontein. The San people are some of the earliest inhabitants of South Africa. They are hunter-gatherers and survive off of the land using their intricate knowledge of the plants, animals and elements. During our time at !Khwa ttu we were taken on a guided experience of San culture, lifestyle and traditions.

This experience taught me so much. The little I had previously read about the San presented them as a displaced and marginalised people group. From what I understood, those that remained had largely been assimilated into the surrounding communities or succumbed to extreme poverty, and their traditional way of life lost. While this may be true for the South African San people, I was very interested to hear that there are isolated groups of San tribes living in remote areas of Botswana and Namibia who still practice a largely traditional semi-nomadic way of life.

Added to this, I believed that all San people spoke the same language. Can you believe that there are actually 15 different San dialects alive today? And unlike languages like Zulu and Xhosa which have enough similarities that their speakers can understand each other, people from different San dialects can’t understand each other at all and have to speak to each other in another common language like Afrikaans.

Learning new things is always a humbling experience, and I love the fact that seven months into our travels around South Africa and we are still finding new things about this country and its people. Our visit to !Khwa ttu exposed us to something completely unique and endemic to South Africa. Moreover, as well as its educational value, !Khwa ttu has a great story. It is a training facility for San youth, skilling them for the hospitality industry and providing an outlet to keep the San culture and traditions alive through tourism initiatives.

San firemaking
Making a fire, San-style
San bird trap
!Khwa ttu San guide Kondino Samba demonstrates a San bird trap
San tools
San tools and implements
San village
A replica of a traditional San village at !Khwa ttu

Langebaan lagoon and the West Coast National Park

Next up was Langebaan lagoon, in the West Coast National Park. One step closer to the beach but still not there just yet! Langebaan lagoon is a huge coastal inlet that is 17 km long and in places up to 4 km wide! No fresh water enters the lagoon and it is purely seawater. Its calm, crystal clear blue water and beautiful beaches are the perfect place for a picnic or long walk, and the series of hiking and cycling trails through the fynbos are perfect for outdoors enthusiasts.

The sheltered, tidal Langebaan lagoon has some very special habitats including a large salt marsh area in its Geelbek region. This salt marsh especially provides spectacular birding opportunities, and over 300 bird species have been recorded from the West Coast National Park. The lagoon is a RAMSAR site because of its global importance to wetland bird species. Many of the species encountered are Palearctic migrants – summer visitors from distant areas including Europe and Asia north of the Himalayas. A wide variety of waders use these shallow sheltered waters to feed. The five offshore islands are also important breeding grounds for cormorants, African penguins, Cape gannets and others.

The area also has a varied history with a whaling station that used to operate out of Langebaan town, and guano mining of the rich deposits on the islands. During the spring flower season (August and September), hikers have access to the Postberg and Steenbok hikes through an area of the West Coast National Park that is otherwise closed to visitors.

Langebaan bird hide
A bird hide in the Geelbek region of Langebaan lagoon
West Coast National Park Eland
Eland in the morning mist in the West Coast National Park
Langebaan Lagoon
Langebaan lagoon’s Kraalbaai beach in the West Coast National Park
The West Coast National Park coastline
The beautiful West Coast shoreline.

Game viewing opportunities

Large game including elephant and lion once roamed free on the West Coast. Given the area’s long history of human habitation however, they have all long been hunted out. The West Coast National Park is home however to a number of antelope including the large eland, as well as zebra and others.

Close to Langebaan is Thali Thali game and fynbos reserve. This relatively small reserve (1500 ha) is home to a variety of antelope and other game including zebra and giraffe. It offers visitors to the West Coast a chance to get into the bush which Bevan and I relished. We enjoyed a game drive during which we viewed the tallest giraffe I have ever seen, and also spent some time on an archery lesson which was a new and fun experience. The lesson was prevented from deteriorating into the usual competition between Bevan and I because we were shooting on different bows. Most importantly, Bevan’s compound bow had a sight and stabilizer, and could be adjusted meaning that he could shoot pretty much bang on target with every arrow, whereas my recurve bow required more of the hit and miss kind of approach…

Thali Thali archery
Enjoying an archery lesson with Thys at Thali Thali Game Lodge
Thali Thali game drive
One of the biggest giraffes we’ve ever seen, at Thali Thali Game Lodge

Final thoughts

This short introduction to the West Coast has made me think that my initial perceptions of it are far too narrow. There is plenty to see and explore away from the coastline. Our next few stops are the small beach towns of Jacob’s Bay and Paternoster, and Saldanha Bay which is the largest and deepest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere! We have lots to look forward to and explore further, and I for one am looking forward to some time at the beach.

 

A huge thanks to all our partners who have helped and supported us along this leg:

To Gurshell Abrahams, Kiewiet Van Rooyen and others from the West Coast Regional Tourism Organization who put together a superb itinerary for us.

!Khwa ttu and Thali Thali Game Lodge for opening my eyes about the diversity of experiences available on the West Coast.

The warm and welcoming West Coast locals who have hosted us during our stay:

Duinepos peaceful self-catering chalets in the West Coast National Park.

Villa Mari Guest Lodge well-equipped and comfortable self-catering units that offer a taste of home in Saldanha Bay. 

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