To say we are visiting the west coast (again) this coming weekend, is frowned upon by many. Having its own unique atmosphere, cultural heritage and warm and generous people, a visit to this exquisite area needs to be understood and experienced first hand. Luckily I have experienced it from childhood and looking back, I realise it has become part of my being.
I am an outdoors person, and travelling along the west coast is an enjoyable, de-stressing exercise which I can recommend to everyone. With this article I will try and explain in broader terms where to stop, what to enjoy, why you need to visit and also point out interesting photographic locations.
The West Coast does not have fixed boundaries. It actually starts in Cape Town with the R27 “West Coast road”, which directs you along the coast 140 km up to Velddrif/Port Owen/Laaiplek. But the West Coast does not stop at Velddrif. It carries on to include Dwarskersbos, Eland’s Bay, Lamber’ts Bay, Doringbaai and Strandfontein.
Being an avid photographer, most of the places shared in this article I have discovered during my excursions along the coast, sometimes onto unknown roads or from unplanned stoppages.
PHOTOGRAPHY IN VELDDRIF
In order to catch the early worm (or rather, light in this case), my trips up the West Coast normally starts in the wee dark hours before sunrise, in order to catch the daybreak and the first rays of the sun announcing the arrival of a new day. I prefer some clouds in the air to ensure some drama blended into the photo, warning us of nature’s powers. Planning is vital, as not all members of the family share my enthusiasm to see the daybreak on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Moving into summer now, they may be required to get up early in order to be alongside the Berg River before 05:00. The Berg River at Velddrif never disappoints. It is one of the locations which I love – whether it be for photography , or just to sit and relax, to enjoy a scrumptious breakfast along the river’s edge, or just to show my friends what is offered along the shores of the Berg River – a haven for bird photography and a paradise of nature’s wealth.
A wide variety of birds can always be found along the river and their numbers change from day to day, with local pelicans begging for harders from the bokkom factories along the rickety wooden jetties in Bokkomlaan, flamingo’s adding color to the Berg River estuary and salt pans, and the thousands of cormorants returning every evening from their hunting in the open seas to rest and sleep on the edges of the salt pans. Rocherpan, and estuary just outside Dwarskersbos, is filled with water from June/July to November each year (depending on the winter rains), and attracts numerous waders and other marine birds.
The light during winter is superb for photography and with warm summer days, watersports are the norm on the river.
PHOTOGRAPHY FURTHER AWAY
Further north in Lambert’s Bay a visit to Bird Island during the summer months will showcase Cape Gannets departing like aeroplanes from a busy Heathrow airport, with precision and very good traffic control. Landing in the colony is a tricky learning curve, as they are attacked and bitten by offending gannets if they land on the wrong nest.
Watch out for stormy seas, which may splash you when traversing the harbour-wall to the island.
Travelling from Eland’s Bay northwards along the gravel road which closely hugs the Sishen-Saldanha railway line, bird-life and landscapes abound. A bonus is to encounter a full Sishen Saldanha iron-ore train along the road, which may cause a few minutes of waiting time before you can cross the railway, but looking at the length of these trains (up to 4 km long) while standing close by, it is astonishing the power and engineering required to make this possible. The men in control of these beasts are always friendly and glad for a wave and a smile after nearing the end of their long journey from the Northern Cape. Beware of getting too close to the trains they need kilometers to stop!
VISITING PATERNOSTER AND JACOBSBAAI
Paternoster and Jacobsbaai have their own attractions and nostalgia, not repeated anywhere else in the world. With white houses dotted along the coast like lost seagulls, and the brightly colored fishing boats (or “bakkies” as they are known locally) scattered on the beaches like a toddler’s spilled sweets, they are unmistakably part of the West Coast fishing heritage.
Jacobsbaai is a lovely, quiet village with no shops, except for one small cate with a limited range of merchandise . With several small bays and numerous dead-end streets, it may be a daunting task to find a straight route to the beach or back to the entrance of the town. Rocky and sandy beaches provide quiet areas to ponder the real value of the sea, and nature’s influence on our lives.
Being the well-known and most-visited town on the west coast, Langebaan does not need any introduction . Situated along the lagoon with its Caribbean sea colours, watersports are one of the main attractions. Also the location of Club Mykonos resort, marina and casino, and an SANDF base for the Special Forces, photographic opportunities pop up around every corner.
On the other side of town is the West Coast National Park, which is popular and especially busy during August and September , when the Postberg is being visited for the annual display of spring wildflowers. With the warmer weather during October and November, tortoises, ostrich babies and snakes are seen regularly on the roads and numerous birds return for breeding and foraging in the area. This is also home to the rare and endangered black harrier and other raptors, some of which fly all the way from the Russian Steppes every year. Other animals regularly seen are eland, ostrich, bontebok, duiker, little steebok, and – if luck is on your side – keep your eyes peeled for the ever elusive caracal.
To braai at Tsaarsbank in the West Coast National Park is a picnic with a difference. Changing sea conditions will make every visit unique and relaxation is the order of the day. What more does one need on a picnic than a view of the sea, a sizzling “tjoppie” on the grill and a glass of wine to toast the abundant natural beauty?
Wessel Badenhorst is an engineer by trade and a keen photographer at heart. Contact him on
082 854 4474 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .net