Birds, spring flowers, a lagoon; quaint coastal towns; the evergreen Cedarberg Mountains: the West Coast is a veritable beauty.
1. West Coast National Park
Peace for the 250 bird species, reptiles and mammals. Whales visit. Eland, hartebeest, zebra, steenbok. The Heaviside’s dolphin is regularly seen as are southern right whales. African penguin and pelicans too. If you want to see the flowers going ballistic and hurling their colours all over the floor aim for August and September and go to the Postberg Flower Reserve. It’s in the national park and is only open when the flowers bloom, giving the area time to recover.
One of the best way to get around is by bike. But if you’re feeling particularly fat and lazy get yourself an e-bike. Oh yes. You can hire one of these motor-assisted beauties. Off, off, off you go, woohoo! YES. Steep hill? Bring it on. Best of all it looks like a normal bike whilst you look like a fit stud.
2. Coastal towns eg: Paternoster, Langebaan etc
Paternoster. The name’s a bit unnerving. The first two words of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father”. Yup. The place is named after the prayers of ship wrecked Portuguese sailors. Bit worrying. And yet it’s a little diamond. Whitewashed homes. Traditional fisherman architecture. Crayfish for dinner. It’s one of the oldest fishing villages on the West Coast too. Sandy beaches, stacks of flowers in spring. The West Coast Fossil Park is nearby. A heritage site with one of the greatest diversities of fossils ever found. 200 different kinds, 5 million years old. Bit wrinkly now.
North of the West Coast National Park is Langebaan. Langebaan and its lovely blue lagoon called, wait for it... Blue Lagoon. No, sorry, scrap that, it’s Langebaan Lagoon. Excellent. A windy town with a thumbs up from the windy water sports people. Windsurfers, snorkellers, wake boarders, water-skiers, kayakers, kitesurfers. The lagoon is a wetland of international importance. Clearly you will want to bird watch. Tiny chestnut-banded plover, ruff, curlew sandpipers. Many, many, many. Heron, ibis, egret. African hoopoe. Where? There! Ah, missed it.
Interesting fact coming up. A set of fossilised female footprints were found on the shore of the Langebaan Lagoon in 1995. The woman walked here 117, 000 years ago. She must have been a stomper. Known as ‘Eve’s footprints’ they are the oldest footprints found belonging to an anatomically modern human.
Churchhaven is a darling little sanctuary. A village off the beaten track with ostriches and flamingoes hanging out.
Yzerfontein has the 16 mile beach which stretches to the West Coast National Park. They too have a pile of flowers in spring. Bird watch ostrich snacking on blooms as they wander by. 60% of West Coast line caught fish is Yzerfontein fish.
Saldanha Bay is a harbour town with the largest and deepest natural bay in the country.
3. Cederberg Mountains
Once the hunting ground of the San people. The mountains. Ageless and ever, evergreen. Indeed. These guys are named after a small evergreen tree, endemic to these parts. Trouble is this little evergreen is endangered. Bit of an irony.
100km of heavy duty mountain. The sandstone is richly coloured by iron oxide and eroded into odd shapes. This has led to names for the odd bits like Wolfberg Arch, Lot’s Wife and the Maltese Cross. The Stadsaal caves are worth a look as are the Bushman rock paintings. Fossils of 450 million year old fish have been found too. Fish. The world’s first true vertebrates. Alive on ancient Earth. Life, life was beginning during this late Ordovician period and fish, fish were here.
The mountains stand above the Oliphants River valley. You can swim in natural rock pools at Algeria Forest Station or Maalgat. Black eagle, antelope, baboon and even the elusive leopard.
Get your trekking pole and go. Are you ready boots? Start walkin’.
More In South Africa
South Africa is the best of both worlds: it is Africa with its beautiful scenery, glorious weather and relaxed attitude, which manifests itself in the people who are friendly and easy-going; it also has a modern infrastructure making it an easy country to visit with plenty to see and do and plenty of ways to get around.
There is something soothing about row upon row of grapevines be they in winter green or summer russet. It may be their rhythm and sense of order; the shape of the land enhanced or the calming effect of lines converging in the distance. In any case, time slows down in Cape wine country and that's all the more to enjoy your time here.
Ah, the Garden Route. Rivers, lakes, lagoons, vineyards. 300km of the south east coast of South Africa. Indigenous temperate forest, pine plantations and thick fragrant bush. Rocky coves, sandy bays. Do you like the phrase ‘coastal vista’? Hmm. Well, you’ll hear it, see it, damn, you’ll be shouting it by the end of this jaunt. You’re gonna see a whole lotta lovely views. Super sea. Super whales. Super sand. So much super it’ll make ya cry.
Garden Route Safari
If you've been doing your South Africa safari research, and that's why you're here, you'll be thinking along the lines of a Kruger National Park safari followed by a few days on the beach in Cape Town. But, you'll be saying to yourself, there's an awful big distance between those two places and I've heard malaria is a nasty piece of work.
Namaqualand and Northern Cape
Dry. Arid. Remote. Stretching 1000 kilometres along the West Coast, this thirsty patch of Planet Earth is a biodiversity hotspot. Incredible. Rich in minerals and swathes of unspoilt vastness. A different kind of beauty. And then, suddenly, for a few short months Namaqualand sheds its desert cloak and darling buds burst through the sand and granite. Thousands and thousands of petal clad carnival queens vying for the sun. Their survival remarkable. The Namaqualand flower route is a natural phenomenon and world famous.
Humans like perfection. Humans like shiny things. Like the common magpie myth we covet, squirrel and parade. And what could be more gorgeous, more glittering, more regal than gold. We trade it, wear it, damn it we even eat it. So when gold was discovered here in the late 1800s people rushed in. Pickaxes a ready. The world’s largest gold rush had begun and South Africa would never be the same.
Swaziland (Kingdom of Eswatini)
Still under rule by decree of the King, Swaziland is one of the last true monarchies in the world. A country wedged between South Africa and Mozambique with a small economy but with a number of game reserves and a huge traditional culture so unique, it has fast become a popular tourist attraction.
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