The Cape West Coast is a spot of fantastical gems, soupy fog, ethereal springtime blooms and world-class surf, bordered by one of many few coastal strips worldwide the place you may wild camp at will. However, for the way for much longer?
Phrases & Images: Catherine Hofmeyr
It was a photograph that impressed the journey. A photograph in a global browsing journal of a scraggly bush with a peg quantity 15 within the foreground, and a grinding proper barrel peeling off within the background. The caption indicated merely that it was someplace on the West Coast of South Africa. Sebastian had the picture on his cellphone and he was on a mission to search out ‘Camp 15’. Alexander Bay, on the mouth of the Orange River, appeared the apparent place to begin wanting.
I’d at all times wished to drive from the north-western tip of South Africa, slowly southwards as near the ocean because the sandy tweespoor and mining concessions would enable. When the blokes from Amandla Surf Basis returned late final 12 months from a three-week recce journey with experiences of waves, but in addition of rampant mining growth, I felt it was time to go see for myself. Sebastian Lanz, some old-time Weskus surfers and frothing 4×4 adventurers had been solely too eager to affix me.
An outdated acquaintance, Gavin Craythorne has been a diamond diver alongside this coast for 35-odd years, and he kindly supplied to present us the rundown of Alexander Bay.
Alex, significantly with a rising full moon, resembled a post-Apocalyptic setting from a Deon Meyer novel. On the seaside, metal-laden deposits lent the sand a darkish hue and the flooding Orange River clouded the unruly sea with brown silt. An deserted mining plant was sequestered behind rusting barbed wire, whereas outdated coffer dams scarred the sand. ‘If somebody doesn’t cease this quickly, the entire shoreline will seem like this,’ Gavin mentioned, pointing to slate ‘partitions’ so far as the attention might see.
Past lay a wild, hauntingly stunning, largely unpeopled, however mineral and gem-laden shoreline… and waves.
Re-invented Cities and Rusting Shipwrecks
In a white-out fog, the as soon as bustling mining enclave of Kleinzee, had ‘ghost city’ written throughout it. However a cease on the fascinating Kleinzee Museum – and assembly the nice folks there – quickly dispelled this notion. Round 2013, when the ‘final’ diamond was collected, De Beers pulled out and bought off its property. A cracked salt pan, jetty and derelict clubhouse bear parched testimony to the regattas as soon as sailed on a man-made lagoon at Kleinzee Yacht Membership. However the city now has 11 guesthouses, I learnt from Jeanene Jessnitz and tourism officer Herman de Vries who’re championing the realm as a part of the Namaqualand Coastal Route initiative to assist rural communities get on the tourism map.
When Herman produced a handful of campsite marker pegs with numbers on them, we thought we’d hit Camp 15 paydirt. On what was as soon as a De Beers sport farm south of the city, there’s wild tenting on an unmined strip of magnificent shoreline. Pay your payment, decide a quantity on the museum, then go discover your excellent camp spot. A cautious recce of the bays revealed a number of potential surf factors, however the swell was tiny and Herman’s No 15 marker didn’t fairly match the one within the picture.
We headed as a substitute to Die Houthoop, a visitor and dealing farm the place MP Veronica van Dyk has labored quirky décor marvels with rusted bric a brac and the dinner of seafood and farm fare was a feast.
Subsequent morning we set off for the a lot anticipated Shipwreck Path, a guided solely route that hugs the dunes and spectacular bays for round 37km, from close to Kleinzee to outdoors Koingnaas – and, if the speak was correct, promised among the finest surf spots on the Namaqualand coast.
‘Proper, right here comes your first sand check. Deflate tyres to 1.2 bar and switch off the traction management,’ instructed famend Namaqualand information and 4×4 skilled, Dudley Wessels. We had been at Samson’s Bak initially of the path. And, aside from the drought-blackened vaal vygies (gray mesemb) of this succulent Karoo biome, we couldn’t see 5 metres within the fog. It’s the sudden arrival of this all-blanketing sea mist that’s partly accountable for the rusting hulks of ships dotting this strip of wave-battered shoreline.
When the fog lifted a little bit, true to type Samson’s Bak confirmed its signature right-peeling level break. Glassy, excellent – and 5cm excessive! Dudley rubbed salt into our wounds by displaying us pics of Samson’s Bak firing a number of months earlier.
As we meandered the sand trails, Dudley saved in touch with our four-vehicle convoy by two-way radios, sharing tragic tales, figuring out crops, together with the tyre-piercing bossiecus papwielicus! and identified the Cape lark’s mating ritual. We discovered a small left break close to the rusting ribs of the Border and the blokes paddled out, quickly enveloped within the fog.
There’s a Zulu on my wave
Simo Mkhize, from the balmy waters of KZN, wanting proper at dwelling on an icy West Coast bomb throughout an Amandla Surf Basis recce journey up the West Coast final 12 months. Discover out extra about how Amandla helps and coaching SA’s future browsing stars at amandlasurffoundation.com
Even with out swell, the Shipwreck Path is excessive on motion – and beautiful lunch spots. Dudley’s experience and his philosophy of ‘higher to do it over than to overdo it’ bought us up some difficult tracks, with many classes learnt. Nearing the tip of the day-long journey, Dudley rung off the names of surf spots – that on the proper tide and swell are world class: ‘Workshop, Trailer Bay…’ the kelp barely stirred.
At close by Noup, the restored diver’s cottages weren’t but operational however have since been opened once more, giving surfers entry to some close by gated spots. Seb put Noup on his itinerary for the subsequent winter swell, as we headed to Hondeklipbaai.
Such is the consistency of the waves at Hondeklipbaai that it has been scheduled for a global surf competitors later this 12 months. However for us, the sundown reflecting off a mirror sea was our welcome to the village, named after a rock that supposedly seems like a canine. It’s one other place that’s reinventing itself from a mining and fishing previous to tourism, however is tormented by common water outages, joblessness and, in our case, excessive wavelessness.
We pulled into the stunning Honne-Pondokkies the place Kempton Park attorneys (earlier than lockdown) Emdi Swanepoel and her husband have mixed her love of the bushveld along with his love of the ocean to style their erstwhile vacation dwelling right into a ‘surf and turf’ – thatched lodge-style pondokkies with a view over the principle surf break – which wasn’t, er, breaking.
It’s wild, however you may drive it. The Namaqualand Nationwide Park, world-renowned for its neon spring flower present, has gloriously wild campsites dotted alongside the rugged coast. Boulderbaai discovered us trying to find a small quantity 15 peg in impenetrable fog. We didn’t discover it – and even the boulder or baai the campsite is called after.
We did nevertheless discover Spoegrivier Caves, the place archaeologists have unearthed 2 000-year-old sheep bones – presumably the primary proof of home animals saved by the Khoi. At Skuinsklip we noticed the place Olympic boxer turned Nazi operator, Robey Leibbrandt landed off the yacht Kylo in 1941, on his nefarious mission to overthrow the Smuts authorities. And when the fog lastly lifted at Kwass se Baai, the ocean had gone from zero to 10 foot in a single day. Determined, Sebastian paddled out – and was final seen being sucked out in direction of Rio (however returned bedraggled and exhausted an hour later having not ridden a wave).
Once we confirmed Dudley the Camp 15 picture, he recalled seeing numbered camps south of the park. So the search ramped up after Groenrivier park gate. Many sand-sucking detours later, we noticed the primary numbers, adopted them in reverse order and Bingo! ‘The place is it,’ I hear all you surfers ask? Effectively, it’s proper between Camp 14 and Camp 16. ‘Search and ye shall discover,’ is the mantra for West Coast surf missions.
Situations had been gnarly and the campsite uncovered however we discovered a sheltered seaside additional on that Johnny pronounced to be ‘Lengthy Seaside with out the crowds’. Up went the tents, out got here the beers, and for the subsequent two days we traded waves with a resident pod of dolphins.
Actuality hit rudely as soon as once more after Model se Baai because the meandering sand observe morphed right into a hard-packed grime freeway. I ramped off the street in fright as an enormous truck thundered previous in a cloud of mud, with inches to spare. Incongruous on the white seaside, extra yellow vehicles wait; a pipe spews gravel onto a mound of tailing.
‘None of this was right here a 12 months in the past,’ Johann remarks, as little sadly.
The restricted mining space at De Punt, north of the Oliphants River, pressured us inland via Lutzville, then we turned coastwards once more to take a look at the seaside break at Strandfontein and the left level at Doringbaai – however the swell had gone south. So we settled in for a lekker calamari and chips and chilled sauvignon blanc on the pleasant Jetty Restaurant on the pier at Doringbaai the place you’ll additionally discover an abalone farm and Fryer’s Cove Winery.
Winter is finest for waves on the Weskus. However who even wants waves, I mused, reflecting on the previous 10 days of enjoyable and escapades as we strolled alongside the jetty. North of Doringbaai, magnificent unmined cliffs ran northwards, seagulls swooped on scraps with a guttural kaa; south lay the extra acquainted and crowded lineups at Yo-Yos, Farmer Burgers, Elands Bay…
Fill your jerry cans, have interaction low gear and go discover your personal Camp 15 now – earlier than it will get dug up within the insatiable quest for zircon, ilmenite, rutile and garnet.
In regards to the automotive
Up towards the Toyota Fortuner ‘boss’ of the SUV journey section, the Isuzu mu-X 3.0 produced some surprises. A full seven seater, the intelligent cut up/fold seats give loads of configurations – or fold flat for optimum area. Meals, tenting gear plus 80l of water, no drawback. The three.0 turbo diesel engine purred quietly up the N7 and on some horrendously corrugated roads it was a cushioned journey. Energy and torque figures are in need of its main rivals however this fashionable household SUV went in all places the thick sand trails led. At R747 900 it’s round R40 000 lower than the Fortuner. isuzu.co.za
Port Nolloth is 700km from Cape city, up the N7, turning onto the R382 at Steinkopf. Alexander Bay is 85km additional on good tar.
Go birding on the Ramsar web site in Alexander Bay (spot the Barlow’s lark), Verlorenvlei close to Elands Bay, and the Olifants River estuary.
Discover the Namaqua Coastal Route sights of the Northern Cape.
083 364 2223, bookings @namaaquacoastal.co.za.
See the historical past of diamonds and extra on the wonderful Kleinzee Museum, and uncommon conophyton and different endemic crops within the Molyneux Reserve.
027 877 0028
Guide the Shipwreck Path 4×4 journey through Dudley Wessels. He additionally guides a Strandveld dune 4×4 tour, and is your go-to man for picture journeys or adventures within the space.
083 305 2569, [email protected]
Pattern the wines of the West Coast Wine Route round Lutzville. wineland.co.za
Perlemoen (abalone) and different seafood treats are on the menu on the Jetty Restaurant in Doringbaai. Whereas there you may style and purchase the wines from Fryer’s Winery.
027 215 1092
Hike the San Path, a 50km slackpacking route from Elands Bay to Strandfontein.
082 903 5445
Discover extra at experiencenortherncape.com; visitnwc.com; westcoastway.co.za
Keep Right here
There isn’t any lodging, but it surely’s lower than an hour’s drive from Port Nolloth. portnolloth.co.za
Kleinzee Guesthouses and wild coastal tenting on the Strandveld Conservation Membership’s farm, R200 pp an evening for non-club members. 082 827 9723 Herman) or Jeanene on 083 364 2223
Die Houthoop has tenting (R240 for 2), huts (R580 for 2), en suite rooms, R900 for 2 and household rooms, R1 050. Guide the wonderful dinner prematurely, R180 pp; farm breakfast is R90pp.
083 967 5774, diehouthoop.co.za
Noup restored divers’ cottages that give company entry to some gated surf spots close by. Two-, four- and six-sleeper models, from R800 for 2.
079 877 8859
Honne-Pondokkies in Hondeklipbaai has tenting (R350 a web site, max 4), Brak & Jan caravan (R550 for 2), and 4 self-catering pondokkies (sleep 4) from R750; breakfast on request.
083 321 1600, honnepondokkies.co.za
Namaqua Nationwide Park has 10 coastal campsites (9 are 4×4 solely) with half-moon protecting rock partitions, eco-toilets and braai locations, however no water. R170 a web site (max six) plus R48pp day by day levy. sanparks.org. South of the park, Waterval Farm has 55 coastal campsites (no services in any respect), R100 a day, 027 652 8709/WhatsApp 063 694 5092. Past Waterval, pitch your tent wherever you please. It’s free – return the privilege by leaving your web site in pristine situation.
Has 10 self-catering residences overlooking Doringbaai, every with a patio braai with sundown views. There’s a swimming pool, and check out the on-site seafood store for all of your fish-braai wishes. From R850 for 2.
027 215 1333, thornbay.co.za
Defend the West Coast
Capetonian big-wave surfer Mike Schlebach loves the West Coast: ‘It’s wild, untamed and there are some severe huge slabs in case you’re keen to seek for them,’ he says. However final 12 months, Mike was barred from certainly one of his standard haunts by mine safety. That’s what prompted him and others to type the non-profit firm Defend the West Coast (PTWC).
The first challenge is that Mineral Sands Sources (MSR), an area subsidiary of Australian mining large Mineral Commodities Ltd (with a historical past of non-compliance with environ-mental legal guidelines, and controversy surrounding its bid to mine at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast), is extending their Tormin mine operations up 52km of pristine coast-line, and proscribing public entry to beautiful wild campsites and seaside breaks. Think about the outcry in the event that they tried that again in Australia!
The go-ahead given by setting minister Barbara Creecy is at the moment being challenged within the Cape Excessive Court docket by the Centre for Environmental Rights, a UCT professor and different appellants. Within the meantime, MSR digs on.
‘The issue with the West Coast is that it’s out of sight and out of thoughts within the public eye. Mining operators get the inexperienced gentle for a concession, then just about do what they like,’ Mike says. Additionally worrying is the proliferation of different land in addition to off-shore mining and prospecting functions for as far south as Elands Bay. Discover out extra at protecthewestcoast.com