Focus on Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa
The West Coast

The area is the hub of the South African commercial fishing industry. From snoek (which can be bought fresh for R20 or less) to crayfish and mussels from the bay. The area is also a popular spot for tourists to see whales during their mating season, which is from early August to about November.

The climate is mostly known for its infrequent rains, dry countryside and high offshore winds. But for all that, the West Coast is becoming increasing popular, with its remarkably beautiful coastline of jagged cliffs, wide beaches and perfect sunsets.

Because of the Benguela current flowing from the Antarctic, the water of the Atlantic Ocean is cold. This is also the reason for the vegetation, which comprises mostly of succulents and succulent-type plants, low bushes, sedges and some coastal fynbos. During spring, the area is transformed into a floral paradise, with wild flowers growing everywhere, forming the southwestern fringe of the famous flower carpets of Namaqualand.

Taking the R27 leading north from Cape Town, one reaches Yzerfontein, a small holiday resort. A very popular surfing spot, Yzerfontein’s rock promontories are also excellent for fishing. About 10 km south-west of Yzerfontein lies Dassen Island, which is the main breeding ground of the Cape penguin (Spheniscus demersus) more commonly known as the jackass penguin for its harsh, braying call. During springtime the road to Yzerfontein is lined with wild flowers. The Tienie Versveld Flower Reserve on the road to Yzerfontein has been designed to conserve the typical vegetation of the Sandveld.

Following the R27 north, the next coastal town is Langebaan, which, just like Yzerfontein, is a holiday resort. A must see if one is in the area and a popular tourist sight is the Langebaan lagoon, which forms part of the West Coast National Park. The lagoon supports some 60 000 birds of at least 23 species. It is truly a bird watchers paradise.

The West Coast National Park, which lies between Yzerfontein and Langebaan, is an extremely important conservation area for many different live forms, including 50 per cent of the world’s population of swift terns. The terrain in the park is, like the rest of the area, virtually treeless, but the ground vegetation has its interest and in spring its beauty.

Within the park, one can find the Postberg Wild Flower Hiking Trail that is only open during August and September. The trail follows the lagoon and offers an opportunity to walk among the wild flowers.

Between Yzerfontein and Langebaan, just north of the lagoon mouth and outside the park borders is Club Mykonos. This large hotel, timeshare and resort complex, draws its design inspiration from the Greek isles. A casino has recently also been added. If it wasn’t for the wind and the obvious newness of everything, one could easily imagine oneself beneath an Aegean sky.

North from Langebaan is Saldanha Bay, one of the great natural harbours of the world. The town, Saldanha has developed much since the days when it was a peaceful fishing village, but has nevertheless kept much of its charm. One can find many scattered well preserved old cottages. The municipality hires out holiday bungalows and runs an attractive caravan park.

Only 11 km from Saldanha and slightly inland, lies the town Vredenburg, where the peace monument in Church street commemorates the origin of the town’s name ("town of peace") when an end was put to the interminable water squabbles about water rights. Fifteen km northwest from Saldanha is lies the quaint fishing village Paternoster.

North from Saldanha one finds the town St Helena, which bay is the largest on the West Coast and the centre of the South African commercial fishing industry. St Helena Bay was given its name by Vasco da Gama when he anchored here in 1497. The Vasco da Gama monument is located more or less where the explorer landed.

The last village worth noting is Lambert’s Bay. Bird Island in the bay is a massive slab of rock where tourists can see thousands of penguins, cormorants, gannets and other bird species. At the Muisbosskerm, a restaurant on the beach about 5 km south of the village, gourmet seafood dishes are prepared on open fires and served under the stars.

Other tourist attractions are the horse mill together with a wooden lock more than 200 years old, which can be seen on the farm Wadrif, 15 km south of Lambert’s Bay and also the Sandveld Cultural History Museum.

With its exquisite seafood dishes, rugged beauty, attractive fishing villages and small holiday resorts, the region is very different from the southern and eastern coastal areas and has much to offer.

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