Since Admiral Robert Lambert of the British Navy did a marine survey of this bay between 1826 and 1840, its fishing village, situated in the Sandveld 280 kilometres from Cape Town, has grown into a town. Lamberts Bay still has a thriving fishing industry, with anchovies, pilchards and snoek caught and canned or processed into meal and oil.
These days, the town’s two major drawcards are Bird Island, a breeding colony of almost 20 000 Cape gannets, and the Muisbosskerm open-air beach restaurant’s delicious fresh seafood.
Lamberts Bay receives winter rainfall, with July night-time temperatures averaging around 7 degrees Celsius. It is topographically flat and the harbour and buildings have a no-frills functionality, which is authentic to its fishing-industry roots. It can seem austere in cold or windy weather when the skies are brooding iron-grey. Even in foul weather, however, a trip to the harbour and Bird Island is captivating and not to be missed, especially for birders and photographers.
The rich stench of rotten, fishy guano is soon eclipsed by the vitality of the gannets. The sight of the birds gliding into the colony, with black webbed feet splayed, to join in the cacophony of gannet-laughter is such an unusual natural phenomenon that any discomfort is immaterial.
In February, the height of summer, the average day-time high is 28 degrees Celsius, and the blazing blue skies and long unspoilt beaches are beautiful for walks, especially those fuelled by a lunch of succulent west coast Lobster, galjoen or harders (made into a local delicacy called bokkoms).
Look out for
The Harbour – besides the diamond and fishing boats, the main attraction is Bird Island at the end of the harbour’s breakwater wall. Tickets are available at the harbour entrance. Isabella's and Die Kreefhuis restaurants are nearby.
Bird Island Nature Reserve - colonised by thousands of penguins, cormorants and gannets, this is the most accessible of the six islands in the world where Cape gannets breed. A lookout tower offers views of their famous mating dances (April to September). Cape fur seals can still be found on the rocks on the side of the island.
Lamberts Bay Crayfish & Cultural Festival – six days in March. Fishing and crayfish diving are allowed in season (November -April) - licences are obtainable from the post office.
Open-air restaurants - sample excellent seafood and South African favourites such as waterblommetjie bredie, patats, mussels, lamb chops, crab, calamari and koeksusters at Muisbosskerm (a beach boma specialising in seafood),and Bosduifklip (an inland stone kraal).
Die Plaaskombuis (The Farm Kitchen) on the farm Steenbokfontein, nine kilometres from Lamberts Bay serves Sandveld cuisine and shares the love story related to the HMS Sybille shipwreck (the only British ship to sink during the Second Anglo-Boer War), which is visible from the farm at low tide. There is also a labyrinth, Bushman rock art and an art gallery. Booking is essential.
Sandveld Museum - exhibits Lamberts Bay’s archaeological, natural, Anglo-Boer War, fishing, farming and community history, including the HMS Sybille’s propeller.
Whale and dolphin watching - southern right and humpback whales (August to October), Haviside’s dolphins (endemic to the Cape West and Namibian coasts) and dusky dolphins.
Bird-watching - Verlorenvlei (Lost Marsh) near Eland’s Bay is an important Western Cape estuarine system, with 232 recorded bird species, including black egret, goliath heron and palmnut vulture; and northern hemisphere waders in summer. Vanputtensvlei and Jakkals River Mouth on the way to Bosduifkip (flamingos) are worth a visit too.
Spring Flowers - Lamberts Bay blossoms with west coast floral brilliance in spring at Dassiepoort Reserve and the Arend De Waal Flower Route (best from August to October).
Heeronlogement (Gentlemen’s lodgings) Cave is a national monument on the R363 near Elands Bay. It sheltered and bears the signatures of explorers (Francois le Vaillant), bandits, government officials (Simon van der Stel), artists and miners. Archaeological findings and elephants’ marks date back about 8000 years (Coordinates -31.961775,18.549685).
Apart from swimming, surfing, sailing and sunbathing, holiday-makers can sand-board on the dunes and microlight over the bay.The five-day Crayfish/West Coast Hiking Trail passes through Lamberts Bay, from Elands Bay to Ebenhaeser.