The Five Bays trail is a gentle hike hugging long, empty beaches of sun, sea, surf and blue skies along the West Coast between the fishing villages of Paternoster and Jacobsbaai. Karen Watkins finds each bay different from the last:– whiter, windier, wider, sandier, sloppier, stickier. Some bays are covered in discarded shells, others in huge boulders, while others are decorated with tentacles of desiccated kelp.
We must have looked a sight. There we were, in the middle of the beach, twisting and wriggling. Anyone watching would have thought it was a hoola-hoop competition.
Within two hours of our arrival, the Atlantic Ocean had already washed away city stress.
We were in Paternoster to hike the Five Bays Trail; a gentle hike hugging the West Coast between Paternoster and Jacobsbaai. The focus is the fishing history through the ages.
Working up an appetite, we stopped at Tweemosselbank to watch fishermen bring in their catch. Children kicked balls as dogs shook off a shower of glistening salty droplets.
As the sun kissed the horizon, on the menu was grilled fish with almond butter sauce, washed down with wine from the Darling area.
Next morning, tanked up on an al fresco breakfast and selecting lunch from a smorgasbord of pâtés, breads, muffins and cold meats, we set off down the main drag to where we ended our hike the previous day. Progress was slow as we stopped to photograph oystercatcher pairs poised atop granite boulders. Both are synonymous with this stretch of the coastline.
Entering Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, we followed footpaths and dirt roads past the tapered square tower of the lighthouse on a massive granite hilltop known as Castle Rocks. Our guide, Morgan Sambaba, said hikers doing the trail mid-week were taken on a guided tour of this, the last manned lighthouse on the SA coastline. “And if you were hiking the trail in the opposite direction because of the wind, you’d hear the fog horn,” he said. But today was windless, warm and clear.
Rounding the headland we saw vehicles and fishermen, their nomad homes lining Tietiesbaai, named after a colonial-era West Coast trader, Jacques Titius.
Rounding another headland, we entered gullies and beaches with heaps of black mussels. The contrast in terrain was palpable as the rocks changed from grey to red sandstone, blending with cliffs riddled with holes and sculpted by wind, sea and storm, creating camels, snails, elephants, lizards, human faces and other body parts.
“Anyone scared of heights?” asked Morgan, leading us along an undulating path. Collecting our cameras, he scampered down to the beach, directing us to stop as he patiently photographed us crossing what turned out to be a rocky window.
The path led to a narrow channel and a welcome lunch break. While the location was perfect for a swim, the temperature wasn’t, but this did not stop Morgan, who jumped into the rising swell before just as quickly jumping out again.
Until now the hike had been easy but the next section was a calf-wrenching walk along endless bays. Descending to the third bay, we stripped off footwear to enjoy the sensuous feel of sand squelching between toes. In the distance was our goal and, lured by the promise of beer, we made for the headland at Trekoskraal, and then Klein Paternoster.
With time to kill before supper we looked in at the local hotel, a melting pot of locals and tourists where a darkened room is adorned with rash moments of frivolity.
Hanging from the ceiling is a dense canopy of panties of every size, shape and colour, many stencilled by their former owners. Aptly named the Panty Bar, it was created 40 years ago when former owner Johan Carosini started a collection of “honeymoon panties”. The mind boggles.
The second day is more of the same, but with what Morgan describes as “a wall of time”. Rounding the headland to Trekoskraal and passing Groot Kreefgat, we came to a huge wall of sand and history. “We’ve found shells in these layers of stone and rock strata,” said Morgan.
At Westbaai we stopped to poke and prod the cliffs of clay conglomerates riddled with holes, before ascending the cliff to enjoy views and coastal fynbos. Just before Swartriet we descended to the beach before reaching Hospitaalbaai, where in the middle to late 1800s ships stopped to drop off the sick who were quarantined before they reached Cape Town.
Once past Jacob’s Reef, we soon reached our destination at Jacobsbaai, where we were treated to a picnic lunch. As for our hoola-hoop of twisting and turning on our first evening, Morgan had been showing us the best way to find white mussels, hidden beneath the surface and best found with toes. For most of our walk we barely saw anyone else.
Watkins is the author of Adventure Hikes in the Cape Peninsula as well as Off the Beaten Track. - Cape Times