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The West Coast - Tourist Information & Activities

West Coast & Cederberg Regions, Western Cape, South Africa

Boats at sunrise, Saldanha Bay, South Africa Cape Gannets, Bird Island, Lambert’s Bay, South Africa Wolfberg Arch, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa Windmill near Aberdeen, Great Karoo, South Africa
Return to West Coast Hotels & Lodges            Images © South African Tourism

Tours of the West Coast & the Cape: Cape Town & West Coast Tours

The West Coast is a region of extreme beauty and contrast. Stretching over 400km from south to north, the region and its people offer visitors plenty of sunshine and a surprising variety of travel destinations. To the west, the region borders the Atlantic Ocean. The solitary coast's scenic beauty is challenged only by rich culinary experiences of plump mussels, oysters, calamari, crayfish and abalone in season or linefish pulled from the Benguela Current's cold waters and fried to gold. All are best enjoyed at a sunset fishbraai enlivened by a good wine and the spontaneous, light-hearted banter of hard-working, hard-playing locals.

The area is a bird watcher's paradise - cawing, white-breasted gulls wheel high on the sea wind above thousands of gannets made featureless by their distinct, yellow-painted faces, while flamingoes color the sky pink and swift, darting terns give the lie to the martial imperiousness of ever-aloof penguins. In addition, every year migrating whales visit the coastal waters from July. The eastern border is formed by a belt of mountains with fascinating, often awe-inspiring rock formations. The Cedarberg Wilderness area offers visitors a face-to-face encounter with nature at its most unspoiled as well as rock paintings that dramatically pre-date the world as we know it. Adjacent to the mountains is the Swartland, well known for its undulating wheat fields, vineyards, wineries and outdoor activities.

Further north, visitors encounter the fertile Olifants River Valley and the vast plains of the Knersvlakte with its wealth of indigenous succulent plants. The Olifant's River Valley is cultivated intensively with an emphasis on citrus and other fruits, vegetables and vineyards. The West Coast and its hinterland is a cultural experience of museums, monuments and mission stations such as Mamre and Wupperthal. It offers activities such as exploration in a fossil park, hang-gliding, sky-diving, mountain-biking, 4x4 routes, watersports and hiking. The experience extends also to a superb array of local wines, fresh seafood and other delectable fare, as well as a health-giving herbal drink, rooibos tea. In spring, carpets of wild flowers cover the region from the coast to the mountains. Spring flowers and fynbos are a constantly changing wonder attracting hikers and nature-lovers throughout the year.

• 4 X 4 Routes
• Quad Bike Excursions
• Horseriding
• Mountain Biking
• Parachuting / Skydiving
• Paragliding/ Hangliding
• Wingshooting/ Clay Pigeon Shooting
• Survival Games
• Hiking Trails
• Watersports
• Kayaking / Canoeing
• Diving
• Boat Cruises / Angling Trips
• Boat Based Whale Watching
• River Rafting
• Wind Surfing
• Waterskiing
• Fresh Water Angling

Just inland from the secluded harbour of Saldanha Bay one finds the azure waters of the Langebaan Lagoon, focal point of the West Coast National Park. Thousands of seabirds roost on sheltered islands, pristine golden beaches stretch endlessly into the early morning mist, and brooding salt marshes are home to vast concentrations of migrant waders from the northern hemisphere. During the spring the strandveld is embroidered with a tapestry of multi-hued flowers, while in the Postberg section many antelope are to be seen in a setting that is as unique as it is idyllic.

The largest concentration of mammals is in the Postberg Reserve, but this is only open to public during flower season. However mammals are found throughout the rest of the reserve. Eland, red hartebeest, Cape grysbok, caracal and rock hyrax are some of the terrestrial species to search for. Visitors should also keep an eye on the Atlantic Ocean for passing whales and dolphins.

The park surrounds the Langebaan Lagoon, which is a world Ramsar site (site’s deemed to be of global significance to wetland bird species). Many of the wader species are Palearctic migrants, so summer is the best time to visit the lagoon, particularly in September as species return fatigued from their transcontinental travel, and March when they congregate in large numbers to feed heavily prior to undertaking the reverse journey. In such times, the birds are often changing into or out of their Northern Hemisphere breeding plumage. The best time to observe the lagoon waders is to visit the Geelbek hide from low tide as the tide is coming in.

As the water level rises the waders are forced closer to the hide until eventually they must fly off until the tide has receded once more. The smaller species depart first, with the more long-legged godwits, whimbrels and curlews the last to leave. Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ruff, Marsh, Terek and Curlew Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed and Grey Plover, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Curlew and Bartailed Godwit are present on most occasions, while there is always the possibility of seeing rarer species. Little Egret and South African Shelduck may be seen alongside the waders. Flamingoes and White Pelican frequent deeper water, and there is chance of seeing Osprey. Another isolated hide west of the Geelbek educational centre overlooks a salt pan that is an excellent place to see Chestnut banded Plover.

The reserve’s fynbos surrounding the lagoon hosts Black Korhaan, Cape and Greywinged Francolin, Southern Grey and Cape Penduline Tit, Anteating Chat, Whitethroated and Yellow Canary, Karoo Lark, Titbabbler, Bokmakierie and Cape Bunting are all easily seen. African Marsh and Black Harrier can often be seen quartering the ground.

The coastal islands at the mouth of the lagoon are breeding havens for a number of species such as Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gull, Cape Gannet, and African Penguin. Cormorants and terns are present too.

Though the thousands of migrating birds is one the main reasons for the conservation of the West Coast National Park, the showy plants of the area, usually growing on granite or limestone rocks, especially during spring time, are what attracts most of its visitors to this fascinating park.

One of the summer-flowering west coast plants is the kukumakranka (koeke-makranka - Afrikaans, Khoi). There are about 32 Gethyllis species, of which G.afra and G.spiralis are perhaps the most commonly used ones. Koekemakranka is one of the few Khoi words still in use today and an interesting example of the contribution which the Khoi people have made to the cultural wealth of the Western Cape Province.

These interesting plants all have an underground bulb of which the scales form a distinctive neck at ground level. The long, thin leaves are usually spirally twisted or coiled. The attractive flowers appear in summer when the leaves have already died. They have a narrow tube which extends below the ground where the fruit will eventually develop. In mid-winter, the long, club-shaped berry emerges from the ground. It has a fragrant pulp in which numerous seeds are embedded.

The ripe fleshy fruits are gathered. They are highly aromatic and have a powerful sweet, fruity odour. The gathering of the inconspicious fruit depends to a large extent on a good sense of smell.

Kukumakranka brandy is one of the early Cape remedies for colic and indigestion. Traditionally an alcoholic infusion or tincture is made from a few ripe fruits in a bottle of brandy or witblits. The edible fruit was also highly valued to perfume rooms and linen.

The Cederberg Wilderness Area is situated South of Clanwilliam and extends over an area of approximately 71,000ha. It is managed by the Cape Nature Conservation. The area is well known internationally for its hiking trails and is home to various unique species such as the Cedar Tree and is presently the only leopard conservation area in the country. Unique rock formations include the Wolfberg Arch and Maltese Cross.

Rare endemic plant species such as the Clanwilliam ceder and the Snowball protea grow in isolated habitats in the Cederberg Wilderness Area. Several accommodation and recreation possibilities are available in the Cederberg Conservation Area (take note: no shops, no restaurants - bring your own supplies!!!). Some farms have a small tuck shop.

Bird Island at Lambert's Bay is an important breeding site for Cape Gannets and the mass of birds that congregate there is an amazing sight. The island is also important for the other marine birds such as African Penguins, Kep Gulls, Hartlaub's Gulls, White-breasted Cormorant and Common Tern. It is linked to the shore by a breakwater connected to the harbour and is therefore easily accessible to the public.

The viewing platform on the Island has recently been replaced with a state of the art sunken hide, designed to blend in with the rocks of the area and is situated in such a way as to allow the colony to expand.

Future developments on the Island include a penguin pool and restaurant. The Island forms part of the West Coast Bird Route.

The West Coast is transformed into a floral paradise during the months of August, September and October. A diverse range of flora can be seen in the West Coast National Park, Nature Reserves, Nature Gardens and along the roadsides. In early spring white arum lilies sweep the natural folds of hills and gentle breezes move softly through fields of daisies, as bokbaai vygies form a sea of colour contrasting with the blue of the ocean. To the north a unique vast, pebble-covered plain is home to indigenous and rare succulents. The slopes of the mountains and the areas closer to the coast boasts a large number of fynbos fine leaved species.

The West Coast boasts two official wine routes namely the Swartland Wine Route and the Olifant's River Wine Route. A mere 40 minutes from Cape Town, you will be greeted by the rolling vineyards and wheat fields of the Swartland. Jan van Riebeeck originally called it the Swartland, when he referred to the region as “Het Zwarte Land." This had nothing to do with the soil but in fact pertained to the indigenous “renosterbos”, which at certain times of the year turned the landscape into its characteristic dark colour.

The Olifant's River Wine Region is currently represented by eight cellars producing wine under varied climatic and soil conditions. By staying abreast with state-of-the-art equipment and continually striving to improve their products, all the cellars have already positioned themselves well on the local and overseas wine market. The Olifant's River Wine Route is a 200km spectacular stretch of varying beauty and dramatic contrasts which make a visit worthwhile. The Olifant's River – life-giving artery of this fertile valley is ultimately associated with the breathtaking Cederberg Mountains, the unspoilt West Coast and the Namaqualand flower paradise.

The story of Rooibos is a uniquely interesting one. It was the locals who first discovered that the fine, needle-like leaves of the wild Aspalathus linearis plant made a tasty, aromatic tea. The Rooibos Company was privatised in 1993. The industry has grown from strength to strength so that the unique goodness of Rooibos may today be enjoyed by people all over the world. The area surrounding Clanwilliam is the only place in the world where Rooibos is cultivated as an agricultural crop. It is processed, packaged and despatched worldwide.

This picturesque little town is situated about 8 km from Strandfontein. The crayfish factory and jetty create a picture which remains in one's memory, and the attractive lighthouse serves as a beacon for both fishermen and tourists. Before the town was established, the bay was used as an anchorage on the sea trading route. Provisions off-loaded from the boats were transported to Vanrhynsdorp by camels. The people of Doringbaai make a living from the packaging and export of crayfish, and the town's economy is closely linked to the operations of the crayfish factory. Whale watching is also on offer here.

This seaside resort is a paradise for surfers, seafood connoisseurs and birdwatchers. The variety of different soil types ensures prolific flora during spring when the flowers change the area into paradise. Caves in the vicinity of the town produced valuable archeological finds from the different inhabitants over time. The magnificent Verlorenvlei which flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Eland's Bay is a haven for about 240 bird species.

Jacobsbaai is a beautiful isolated bay a few kilometers north of Saldanha Bay with a sea frontage of about 2 km. Its interesting coastline has peninsulas, rocky and sandy bays with cosy beaches and an abundance of seafood, crayfish, fish, mussels and abalone. Jacobsbaai is often referred to as Namaqualand by the sea since its wild flowers is breathtakingly beautiful in spring. There is good diving and angling, whale and dolphin watching, windsurfing, kayaking, hiking, and flower trips in season.

Lambert's Bay
The picturesque seaside village of Lambert's Bay is situated two and a half hour's drive from Cape Town. This seafood mecca in the heart of crayfish country is increasingly attracting African holiday makers, weekenders and day-trippers. The pure white beaches and blue sea offers ample opportunity for sea adventures and sport. Visitors can view gannets, cormorants, penguins and seals at Bird Island, which attracts ornithologists from all over the world. Other activities include a 9-hole golf course, 4 x 4 and hiking trails, whale watching (in season) and all sea activities. No visit is complete without visiting one of its famous open air restaurants for an unforgettable traditional meal.

Attractions include flowers (in season), whales (in season), dolphins, flamingoes at the Jakkalsrivier, breeding of mountain tortoises, boat trips, bird Island, sandveld museum, angling, crayfishing, and diving. Also worth seeing are the English cemetery, wooden lock and house built of whale bones at Wadrift, the characteristic harbour, and the Dutch Reformed Church.

This beach resort and popular town has everything the sunseeker, water lover or nature buff could ever want. Langebaan Lagoon and the West Coast National Park, an internationally renowned wetland well endowed with flowers, waders and wildlife, are added, spectacular attractions. Managed by the National Parks Board to protect the West Coast fauna and flora, Langebaan Lagoon is zoned for specific activities. The Postberg section of the park, across the lagoon, is well worth visiting in spring when wild flowers burst into bloom.

The name Langebaan is according to tradition a result of one of the three legends. (1) Before World War II, fishermen hooked the fish the y caught and put it on wooden panels (bane) at the high water mark. (2) During the 17th century fjords were called bane in the Dutch language. (3) The town had its origin on the farm De Stompe Hoek, originally known as Geitenmelksfontein. According to belief the long, winding road behind sand dunes, from the original farmhouse (The Lodge) to Leentjiesklip gave the town its name. Leentjiesklip, a caravan park, was named after a runaway sailor called Lynch. Earlier it was called Lynch Point. Fossils found on the farm Elandsfontein, in 1953, traced Langebaan's origin to a period ten million years ago. Langebaan was also the meeting place of the Khoi leaders.

Malmesbury is the Swartland's biggest town and grain distributing centre. With its extensive wheatfields and vineyards, it is only forty-five minutes from Cape Town and close to all other major Swartland towns. Kalbaskraal Nature Reserve, located south of town, offers indigenous vegetation and carpets of wild flowers in spring.

Paternoster, meaning “Our Father” ostensibly, took its name from the heartfelt prayers of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. Although life in Paternoster is still closely associated with the sea and the fishing industry, it is to this historic and peaceful little fishing village that the traveller comes to relax. The Columbine Nature Reserve with the well known “Tietiesbaai” offers beautiful wildflowers during August and September. Whales and Dolphins also visit these waters ten months of the year.

Piketberg snuggles against the slopes of a mountain sharing the same name. Tall sandstone cliffs, reaching a height of 1 459m at Zebraskop, tower above the town. Versveld Pass is worth visiting - drive up the Piketberg Mountain to the broad plateau for beautiful views of the surrounding area across to the Cederberg Mountain range.

Saldanha Bay
The picturesque seaside village of Saldanha is situated on the northern corner of the largest natural bay in South Africa. Its ideal location makes it a paradise for the watersport enthusiast, and its local economy being strongly dependant on fishing, mussels, seafood processing, the steel industry and the harbour. Furthermore, its sheltered harbour plays an important part in the huge Sishen-Saldanha iron-ore project at which Saldanha Steel, a state of the art steel mill, takes centre stage. With strong historic military links, Saldanha is also host to a Naval training base and the South African Military Academy. The popular SAS Saldanha Nature Reserve offers a display of wildflowers during late winter and spring while Southern Right Whales also visit the safe waters in and around the nature reserve.

St. Helena Bay
White rocks, a cobalt sea. This perfect setting greets you when touring this stunning part of the West Coast. A bustling fishing harbour, in a tranquil country village. This beautiful bay is a birdwatchers paradise and home to whales and dolphins all year round, with magnificent flowers in late winter and spring. Visit the Vasco da Gama Monument and Nautical Museum.

The meandering Berg River reflects the tranquility of this fishing village. A Birder's mecca and wader hotspot - fishermen, bokkoms and beaches - this is what life is all about in Velddrif. Our lovely beaches are situated along St. Helen Bay with unspoilt beaches, and forms part of the whale route. A wonderful African holiday haven offering solitude or loads of family fun on warm West Coast days. Visit the fish houses next to the river, where they practice the time honoured ways of making bokkoms (salted dried fish) and Die Vishuis (renovated fish house). Rocherpan Nature Reserve includes a marine reserve.

Mareditat flores decorant: 'The ocean nourishes, the flowers embellish.' This is Yzerfontein's motto. Eighty kilometres north of Cape Town, off the R27, the little fishing village is renowned for its unspoilt beaches, fantastic weather, fynbos and beautiful views (especially of Dassen Island and Table Mountain). The sheltered bay serves as a haven for whales and, in or around Yzerfontein, you'll find a caravan park, guest houses, restaurants, a post office and farm stalls. Yzerfontein also offers birdwatching, hiking trails, whale-watching,wild flowers, swimming, surfing, windsurfing, horseriding and boating (there is a slipway in the harbour). There are salt marshes (excellent for bird watching) and a 16-mile beach.

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For Tours of the West Coast & the Cape, click Cape Tours

Photo Gallery: West Coast Images             Weather: Cape Town Weather

For tourist information and activities in the Western Cape, click More Western Cape
For History and General information about South Africa, click More South Africa

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