If you are looking for quirky locals and unexpected treasures and pleasures, head up South Africa’s west coast for a dose of the Wild West SA style, says Carrie Hampton. Here are the best places to visit… (All images by Carrie Hampton)
West Coast National Park
Head for the lagoon where 20,000-year-old Eve’s footprints were found. Dr Dave Roberts thought, “I’ve found ancient animal footprints here, why not human?” And by jove he did! I love to lie on the powdery sand of this shallow lagoon and imagine Eve looking at this same peaceful scene, albeit within a national park of harsh dry landscapes home to ostrich, lizards and tortoises.
Carrie’s pick Privately owned hideaways beside the lagoon at Churchhaven are pure off-the-grid bliss and some are for hire. Try West of the Moon or Seagull Cottage.
This quaint village has been enticing city-worn chefs who are setting up their own restaurants and attracting an appreciative weekend crowd. Paternoster is all about walking the wide beach, eating seafood and chilling out in a whitewashed beach cottage. Consult Stay in Paternoster to find your retreat of choice.
Carrie’s pick Chef Kobus of Wolfgat Restaurant forages the dunes and coastline for indigenous Strandveld ingredients, with which he creates a unique tasting menu.
Port Owen, Velddrif
A refined boutique hotel with top-quality restaurant and yachts moored out front, was not what I had expected as I drove through fishy old Velddrif to the rather smarter Port Owen marina. I heard it said that the British owner of Russells on the Port (who else but Russell?) built this so he had somewhere decent to eat and drink. He succeeded! For a good look around, take a jolly Tollie’s boat trip along the Berg River.
Carrie’s pick The only other place worth visiting in Velddrif is Bokkomslaan. Bokkoms are salted mullet caught in the Berg River mouth, dried in sheds along this sandy riverside lane. It helps to be born within the smell of bokkoms to truly appreciate them, and impressionist artist Marina Clunie whose gallery is along Bokkomslaan, can’t abide the taste. Admire her beautiful, blue waterscapes, and then pop into her husband’s makeshift booze-and-snack bar next door and ask him to braai you a freshly caught mullet for lunch.
My surprise in this quirky town came in the form of Riaan van Schalkwyk – the local plumber – who became my guide for the day. He took me canoeing on the huge and beautiful Verlorenvlei wetland estuary and revealed his soul connection to birds and nature. He showed me Bushmen cave paintings and the surfers’ beach, littered with lobster carcasses blown onshore by a storm.
Carrie’s pick Base yourself at Vensterklip camping and chalets on the edge of the wetland and eat a fat, juicy steak cooked by big Xhosa fella Linda Koli and drink a few dops with the locals.
Avoid the small town blues that may surface here and go straight to what makes Lamberts Bay a site of remarkable natural interest – Bird Island Nature Reserve Cape Gannet colony. It’s poorly signposted, but head for the fishing harbour and you’ll see the walkway to Bird Island. In spring, the colony contains up to 24,000 gannets, but in autumn or winter there is barely anything to see.
Carrie’s pick: Call ahead to Kookfontein farm (5k out of town) and buy a case of their fine flinty sauvignon blanc, from this rare vineyard so close to the sea. You’ll be glad you did.
Inland and away from the cool sea breeze, it’s really hot here in summer. But I kept cool at Piekenierskloof Mountain Resort on the top of the mountain pass by lounging by their gorgeous pool. This is the best accommodation with the best views for miles around, with great fun things to do for all the family; like their 7-stage zip line, rifle target shooting and a self-guided walk.
Carrie’s pick: Drop in at Sandveld Huisie (also housing Citrusdal Tourism Office) to encounter artistically whacky Juan-dré at this shop of eclectic anythings. Then dash over the hill for a Rooibos tea tasting at Carmién Tea and walk away with boxes of delicious infusions for every mood.
This was the last stop on my circular west coast route and I’ve decided I want to move to Porterville! The Oliphants River Mountains rise in a show of strength behind this little town that’s full of artistic ‘incomers’. There studios are open to anyone showing an interest and prepare to be amazed. This is your chance to buy seriously good art, ceramics, mosaics and jewellery at studio prices – half that of galleries.
Carrie’s pick: Head for 22 Waterfalls Holiday Farm and hike up the 22 Waterfalls gorge. It’s a scramble up rustic ladders, but worth the effort for each valley view and every dip in a waterfall pool.
So near yet so far – it’s only an hour and 45 minutes back to the city (Cape Town). I returned with a boot-full of wine, tea, curios, ceramics and artworks and if that isn’t a good reason for an excursion along the West Coast Way, what is? Choose your preferences by intertwining the West Coast Way Tourism Routes: Culture Route, Scenic Route, Foodie Route, Berg Route and Wild Route.