THE WEST COAST - SOUTH AFRICA'S SOUL COASTLINE
Words and pics by Paul Winter
In certain symbolism, the place where the sea meets the shoreline is a representation of the mystical zone where the human spirit meets the body. In South African tradition, the West Coast represents a similar place of lucidity and soulfulness. It is a sparsely populated part of the country where, on one level, you can engage all your physical senses. On another level, you are free to 'just be' and explore your inner space. Sea kayaking, coastal trekking and wave riding seem to lend themselves perfectly to this type of travel.
The West Coast is a treasure chest of marine delights for sea kayakers. Well, those with a keen eye for safety and knowledge of what the water and wind conditions are. With food and camping gear stowed in their kayaks, sea kayakers can paddle from point to point along sheltered sections of coastline.
As part of an extended exploration of the Western Cape and South African shoreline by sea kayak, I recently completed a multi-day kayak. I paddled from St Helena Bay on the West Coast, down past Cape Columbine, Saldanha Bay and Langebaan Lagoon. Then through to Cape Town, around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, and into False Bay. A trip like this highlights the excellent sea kayaking opportunities along the West Coast.
Some of the best patches of coastline for sea kayaking in South Africa are around the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve and the Paternoster area. Here, the many bays and rocky headlands, sandy coves, and small islands and reef systems just offshore offer protection from open ocean conditions. The kelp forests harbour an endless variety of sea life. The water is often clear and calm. The much-loved rustic Beach Camp is a good place from which to explore.&
'Langebaan is undoubtedly one of the most ideal kayaking areas along the West Coast,' says Johan Loots in his guidebook: Sea Kayaking in Southern Africa. Loots suggests starting on the north-eastern shore of the lagoon at Mykonos, and paddling south past Langebaan Village and then on to Oesterwal. From here, following his route, you head across the lagoon to Oudepost, and then on to Kraalbaai and Churchhaven. As you paddle back to Langebaan, you can explore the coastline past Rietbaai and Meeuwen Island.
Although not considered true West Coast territory, Cape Town's Atlantic seaboard also offers excellent sea kayaking. There are guided routes and established operators at Mouille Point/Green Point, Hout Bay harbour, Chapman’s Peak, and around Clifton's beaches and Cape Town harbour.
Trekking and hiking along the West Coast offers the opportunity to engage all of your senses, freed from the noise and complications of city living.
The four-day, guided West Coast Crayfish Trail, for example, is something that no beachcomber can miss. The community-run trail begins at Elands Bay and finishes at Ebenhaezer, 55km later, on the banks of the Olifants River. On this trail you'll explore empty white beaches; quaint, photogenic fishing villages where time seems to have stood still; stretches of rocky shoreline; and beautiful seascapes. Along the way you'll find old-fashioned hospitality, West Coast rock lobster and wines from the Olifants River Valley. The trail is intended to be a cultural experience – a fascinating look into life in this remote section of the country.
If you need an escape but can’t get away for four days, then one of the newly launched luxury, guided two-and-a-half-day trails might be just the ticket. You can leave the office on a Friday afternoon. Eve’s Trail, through the West Coast National Park, focuses on the unique palaeoanthropology of the West Coast.
The 5-Bay Trail takes hikers along one of the most scenic sections of the West Coast, from the traditional fishing village of Paternoster south to Jacobsbaai. The guides are drawn from these communities. You will learn about the ancient and contemporary West Coast fishing culture, while enjoying outstanding accommodation and cuisine in Paternoster each night.
The Darling Stagger starts in Darling - known for its annual wild flower show. It’s also the home of one of South Africa’s best known personalities, Pieter-Dirk Uys (creator of the colourful Evita Bezuidenhout). The route ends at Yzerfontein. This beautiful walk over rolling hills and through the olive groves, vineyards and coastal fynbos of the Cape West Coast is led by one of the guides from the !Kwha ttu San Cultural and Educational Centre, at which you overnight.
Another West Coast classic is the two-day Postberg Wild Flower Trail, in the West Coast National Park. It is only open during August and September, when the West Coast flowers show their brilliance.
Pretty much every bit of the West Coast shoreline makes for memorable multi-day trekking and day hikes. It seems the more attention you give it, the more the West Coast resonates with something deep inside you. And keeps you coming back for more.
Key surfing spots along the West Coast are the long, reeling left-hand point break at Elands Bay, and some semi-secret spots like ‘Garbage Dumps’ and ‘Farmer Burgers’. There are also some great waves at Lamberts Bay. Near Cape Columbine you’ll find ‘Heavens’, ‘Hell’ and ‘Ascensions’. These, and the newly discovered and very intimidating ‘Khoisan Ledge’, are worth travelling to in the right winds and swell. Further south, Schaapeiland's beach break (next to Yzerfontein) can offer the waves of a lifetime when Cape Town is flat. Langebaan is a world-class kitesurfing and windsurfing destination.
- Real Cape Adventures runs guided trips at various spots along the West Coast and Cape Peninsula (including Hout Bay).
- Cape Sport Centre hires out kayaks on the Langebaan Lagoon.
- Coastal Kayak offers trips off Green Point/Mouille Point and Clifton.
- The African Sea Kayaking Society provides info on sea kayaking safety and established routes.
- The Beach Camp.
- West Coast Crayfish Trail
+27 27 215 1798 or +27 74 358 4333
- Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails.
+27 86 187 2457 or +27 22 451 2648
- [email protected]. www.capebiosphere.co.za/trails
- Postberg Wild Flower Trail.
+27 22 772 2144