A languid lagoon with a diadem of flowers

Time of article published Apr 12, 2010

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Langabaan, at the heart of the West Coast National Park, is thick with stories of the old Cape. In the age of sail, vessels from all corners of the globe were careened on the shores of the lagoon. Sea-weary crews camped on the sand, mended sails and recuperated from scurvy, goods were bartered with the Khoi and slowly the ships were made ready again for the stormy Atlantic beyond the mouth.

These days, however, the park is a haven for birdlife and anyone seeking peace and serenity. 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. On the sea side of the peninsula, enormous waves ceaselessly pound the shore.

Beyond the beach, ostriches gambol beside your car, angulate tortoises tootle along like VW beetles on legs and bontebok, gemsbok and springbok gather at waterholes.

The lagoon is registered as a wetland under the international Ramsar Convention and has the richest diversity in South Africa, supporting some 60 000 birds of at least 200 species.

In spring, the Postberg section of the park is blanketed in a breathtaking display of wild flowers. Colour patterns change from week to week as flowers fade and other varieties come into bloom.

Down a gravel track on the eastern shore of the lagoon you'll find a beach camp called Flaming Jo's. It's a Robinson Crusoe-style camp and a great base for kayaking sorties through the tidal channels of the upper lagoon.

Further south is Geelbek, a farm built in °1. Today it's the hub of the park, although the manor house has undergone some insensitive additions.

But it's still a fine place to have lunch and imagine the affluent end of lagoon living.

Directly opposite Flaming Jo's on the west side of the lagoon is Churchhaven. This village captures the spirit of the Cape of yore and has retained its charm.

There's still no electricity or piped water, or even a shop. The locals fiercely protect their patch of lagoon and visitors are not allowed in unless they have an invitation or are hiring a house.

North of Churchhaven is a series of lovely coves and beaches. Preekstoel and Kraal Bay are particular favourites with day-trippers from Cape Town. The latter is dotted with houseboats and yachts.

  • Tickets to the West Coast National Park are R26 for South African citizens and residents outside flower season, or R38 in season. Call 022 772 2144, or see www.sanparks.org
  • Published by arrangement with Getaway magazine. For the full story, see the April edition.

    TRY THESE VIEWPOINTS

    Great viewpoints within the park include: Seeberg, where on a clear day you can see Table Mountain and the Cederberg, as well as the southern part of the lagoon; Atlantic view site overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain is also visible; Plankies Bay is where whales visit any time from July to October.

    If you go...

    • Things to do
    • Lagoon birding is exceptional. In summer the shallow, southern part is home to the largest number of migrant waders in South Africa.

      Postberg in flower season is a sea of colour. This part of the West Coast National Park is open only in August and September.

      Cape Sports Centre in Langebaan caters for all watersports. It has a comprehensive array of windsurfing and kite-surfing equipment for hire (plus lessons). Call 022 772 1114.

      Flaming Jo's offers great kayaking (packages start from R250 for a two-hour trip). Tel 021 683 3698.

      Entrance to the West Coast Fossil Park is R50 an adult, R25 for seniors and students and R15 for children. There's also a plant restoration trail (R10) and a bike trail (bike hire is R60, own bike R20). Call 022 766 1606. For more information, contact Langebaan Tourism, call 022 772 1515, or see www.langebaaninfo.co.za

    • Where to stay
    • In the park: For Kraal Bay houseboats and various options, such as Geelbek, Duinepos, Abrahamskraal and Joanne's Beach Cottage, tel 022 722 2144, website www.sanparks.org.

      In Langebaan: Cape Sports Centre, tel 022 772 1114, e-mail [email protected] or see www.capesport.co.za

      Flaming Jo's, call 021 683 3698, e-mail [email protected], see www.gravity.co.za. In Churchhaven: Perfect Hideaways, call 021 790 0972, e-mail [email protected] see www.perfecthideaways.co.za

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