The Crayfish Trail
Words and pics Di Brown
The early morning sun warmed my back and cast a golden glow on the landscape. The air was fresh and fragrant, the peppery smell of fynbos mingled with a salty tang from the ocean hidden by the distant dunes. Birds called, creatures scuttled in the undergrowth and my feet kicked up little puffs of dust with each step.
My moving meditation was interrupted by a sharp command to STOP!
Our party of six watched in awe, and a little bit of fear, as two meters of a vibrantly patterned yellow and black puffadder slithered across out path and vanished into the bushes.
Welcome to the West Coast Way SA Wild Route, where nature is clearly in charge.
What is the Crayfish Trail?
It is a slack-packing trail that uncovers the secrets of the coastal towns and villages of the West Coast situated between Rocher Pan and Papendorp.
Three options are offered:
The Five Day Trail includes a total of 61km of hiking, wine tasting, home cooked meals and excellent dining in local restaurants, visits to ancient caves, bird hides and meeting local people.
The Two Day options cover between 20 and 25 km of walking and some of the attractions listed above, depending on which of the 2 routes you choose.
The trail is suitable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness and for children over 12 years of age. The terrain is mostly flat and walked on rough paths, jeep tracks, boardwalks, beaches and coastal hill paths.
What I loved about the Crayfish Trail.
The light, the air, the astounding views and the diversity of the terrain. The absence of noise, pollution, people and traffic, of all digital intrusion.
The slow living ethos of the West Coast Wild Route where life is savoured in long moments and the only time is right now.
Baboon Point and Elandsbaai
On the approach to Baboon Cave, also known as Cape Deseada, stories of the past whisper from the emptiness of abandoned buildings. A soaring concrete platform serves as a reminder of the radar station active during World War 2.
We climbed up the hill to the cave and were drawn into the lives of the San hunter-gatherers and Khoekhoe herders and their ancestors who lived here thousands of years ago. Baboon Point and the cave have been proclaimed a Provincial Heritage Site and is the only site on the entire African continent where rock paintings can be found so close to the coast.
The rocks glowed in orange and red as the last light hit the point. We cracked open some Darling Brews, toasted the past, present and future and admired the views.
The wind almost blew my face off as I explored the cliff paths high above the sea. I could see how these craggy cliffs got their rugged appearance. Rough paths and structured walk ways lead to a labyrinth, a covered seat with endless ocean views, or down to the coves and giant rock accessed via a stony spit at low tide. This piece of coastline is so different to the endless beaches found to the north and south and I could have explored all day.
I am no foodie, but this lunch was the best fish pie ever. It was the size and shape of a large chocolate cake, but made from quiche stuff, sort of. Inside was flaked snoek in a creamy sauce that tastes like ocean goodness. It was served with a fresh salad. Simple, divine and filling after a morning walking.
This tiny settlement of just 200 people should be a thriving community, yet it appears that the world has forgotten these folks.
Papendorp is a tiny settlement on a big river. Set back about a kilometer from the sea the few dwellings overlook the Olifants River, flood plains, salt pans and the abundant bird life. The river opens out onto an unspoiled beach, accessible only on foot. The residents of Papendorp have permission to harvest the salt when the pan dries up during the summer months.
The bird hide is well maintained, and the views are spectacular. After the bright white of the salt pans and the dull brown tones of the fynbos, the burst of green and blue as the river and reeds are viewed from the shade of the hide are an explosion of rich colours.
Vensterklip and Verlorenvlei
Verlorenvlei is a World Heritage site of incredible natural beauty and huge archeological importance due to the caves and rock art found here. It is an IBA (International Birding Area), home to over 170 bird species. The wetland is a RAMSAR site.
It is an idyllic spot for bird watching, horse riding, kayaking, walking, rock art, wild flowers or just relaxing in nature.
Lamberts Bay and Bird Island
If you want fish and chips, Lamberts Bay is the place to go. The people are friendly, the fish is fresh, and they know just how to cook it. Isabella’s or the Weskus Kombuis are both highly recommended.
There are only six Cape Gannet Breeding colonies in the world and Bird Island is one of them. Access is easy as the island is connected to the mainland by a breakwater.
Coming from drought stricken Cape Town, the first thing that got my attention after the natural beauty and solitude, was the waterless toilet. I was fascinated.
A hissing sound was coming from the roof of the carport. Later that night Daniel called me to the sight of the hissing sound. There was a perfect Barn Owl, her exquisite white face peeping shyly out at us, then retreating and hissing loudly, protecting her young. That was another memorable moment, imprinted forever in my mind.
Rocher Pan is as dry as a bone. We walked to the bird hide about an hour before sunset, weavers chattered, swallows gathered, and a few sandpipers darted on the ground. That was it.
Walking back, we spotted a few bright red Bishop birds, but I think we saw more tortoises than birds that evening, those guys are everywhere.
Back at our chalet we met Sylvia Newman, an inspiring lady and our Chef for the night. Sylvia is part of a project that empowers local women by teaching skills to provide catering services to the tourism and hospitality industry in the area. This was real comfort food cooked with love and flair.
I loved the roads, and the ever changing landscapes, all beautiful and so wide open, you can just breathe. The alternate routes are gravel and force you to slow down and take in the views. Some hugged the coastline, other followed the tracks of the Sishen- Saldanha railway line that brings iron ore from the North down to the massive steelworks at Saldanha Bay. All are worth exploring.
Weather facts, when to visit
Winter, June and July. This would be my first choice. Fog and mist are more likely to occur than rain and the cooler temperatures mean you can hike all day. Wind is rare in winter, this is good as wind is my least favourite weather. Storms at sea are wild and invigorating. Dramatic, loud, and magnificent.
Autumn is between March and May; cool temperatures make for pleasant hiking conditions and mist and fog create a great atmosphere.
Spring, August to October, is flower season where the region bursts into colour as wild flowers bloom, attracting visitors from hundreds of miles away.
Summer, November to February, wind is highly likely in the afternoons. The itinerary in summer shifts slightly, hiking can be done in the cooler mornings and indoor activities or relaxation is scheduled for the windy afternoons.
This trail is an all year round option depending on your personal weather requirements.
The serious stuff.
“Sustainable fishing is harvesting only as many fish as the fish stock can accommodate while maintaining its population at healthy levels.”
While on the trail you can learn about over-fishing, poaching and the plight of the now endangered West Coast Rock Lobster, locally known as Kreef or Crayfish.
These issues have a negative impact on the socio-economic health of the communities, and the guides are able to tell you how it affects their lives and that of their families, friends and neighbours.
Growing the tourism industry in this area is vital to ensure growth and economic empowerment for the people of these West Coast towns.
Who would love this trail?
Serious hikers, nature lovers, casual walkers, photographers, birders, surfers, beach addicts and stressed folks needing to digitally de- tox. Families, foodies, eco-friendly people.