West is best
The West Coast has been a best-kept secret. But on a recent wintry day we took a drive an hour north and found a climate that was completely different, as well as a place alive with the friendliest people.
And we also found miracles of nature. The further we drove, the more flowers we saw. The verges were decorated with them and they were set against a backdrop of lush green fields and koppies with outcrops of rocks. The journey flew past, broken by stops at farm stalls.
But it was cloudy, so instead of "flower spotting" we searched for places of interest. The white-washed houses and fishermen's sorting tables revealed the essence of Paternoster. As we entered the village we were approached by fishermen offering us crayfish. We explored the beach and sorting tables and were introduced to bokkoms - salty, dried fish. My travelling companion, Steve, crinkled his nose, and added â€¦ "an acquired taste".
Following along the coast we entered Columbine Nature Reserve which has the last manually controlled lighthouse to be built in South Africa, in 1936. Located on Castle Rocks it was the first lighthouse sighted by ships coming from South America and Europe.
A little further is Tietiesbaai, popular with caravaners and fishermen in search of crayfish and perlemoen.
We retraced our steps to the Paternoster Hotel, more than 100 years old and converted into a hotel in 1940. The "panty bar" is worth a visit, as is the farm stall where owner Hettie offers a taste of pickled and curried mussels and a selection of rollmops, squid heads and pickled sea stones.
Heading still further north we went in search of the monument to Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama on the shore of St Helena Bay, the largest in Africa. A giant Goliath heron was stalking through the bush near the monument overlooking the sea. It commemorates the fifth centenary of Da Gama's birth, in 1469.
In 1497 his fleet arrived here after sailing for three months and one day, navigating the journey by stars and discovering the route to India round the Cape of Good Hope.
This stretch of coastline has 12 fish-processing factories along a 21km curve of the shore. With the mist rolling in, giving the scene an eerie feel, we made our way to Shelley Point golf estate, surrounded by three bays - Stompneus, Shelly and Britannia.
We stayed at the Shelley Point Hotel, Spa & Country Club and relaxed with good food and a dual massage. The staff was particularly helpful and when we asked something that Wilma and Roy did not know, they would phone around and find out.
Shelley Point is regarded as the site where Da Gama first set foot on the South African coast. Driving to the museum, which celebrates his discoveries, we passed the Da Gama statue.
Next door is Britannia Bay, named after the British ship Britannia that struck a reef in October 1826. The bay is fringed with 4km of sandy beach.
We made our way to SAS Saldanha where there is a choice of four nature trails from 4km to 14.5km. Each one is colour-coded and clearly marked. However, finding them is the difficult part.
Saldanha Bay was known even before Jan van Riebeeck arrived in the Cape in 1652. Every month about 10 000 salted fish, bokkoms, were shipped from the lagoon to the Cape of Good Hope for the slaves who were building the Castle and other Dutch East India Company buildings.
Apart from the safety aspects of Saldanha Bay, it was also valuable in providing basic necessities for the colony. In 1657 sailors plucked down feathers from 700 Cape gannets to fill cushions and beds at the newly established colony.
Guano was found in abundance and collected from the islands for use in the Company's Garden in the Cape.
Saldanha Bay was also seen as an excellent place to repair ships and the VOC used it for 143 years.
Langebaan Lagoon is a world Ramsar site where many wader species are found in summer. But the best place to observe the lagoon waders is at low tide from the bird hides at Geelbek.
It was many years since we had visited Geelbek so we made a detour through the West Coast National Park. From Geelbek's bird hide it is possible to spot long-legged godwits, whimbrels and curlews, knot, sanderling, little stint, ruff, marsh, terek, curlew sandpiper and many others. There is also the chance of seeing osprey and chestnut banded plovers.
Located on Langebaan Lagoon, the graceful National Monument of Geelbek was home to the Khoi people who lived here thousands of years ago. This Cape Dutch building has been renovated three times since it was built in 1744.
There are many choices for cycling and hiking, including two-day trails, of which one is at Postberg. After finishing the trail, it is a good place to see the carpets of wild
Sixteen Mile Beach is a top spot to watch whales and dolphins along the coast. You might also see the rare oystercatcher walking down the beach.
It was while making a short detour to Hopefield, the place of the Fynbos Show from August 26 to 29, that we came across the West Coast Fossil Park. Joining a tour led by Lindy, we were fascinated to learn that the area was a jungle five million years ago, a place where four-tusked elephants and short-necked giraffe roamed.
Nearby is Windstone which is more than a backpackers. Andrew and Brenda left the rat-race to start a dog boarding kennel which grew to include a backpackers and riding trails. At the West Coast National Park we met Archibald who told us that the east wind is not good for the flowers. He said they also need rain, and sun, of course.
The miracle of the flowers is something not to be missed. Go there, walk in them, smell them, and don't forget your camera.
The Flower Power Festival is a West Coast flower celebration hosted by the Shelley Point Hotel, Spa & Country Club from August 27 to 29.
Friday, August 27: Nine-hole golf competition with prizes.
Saturday, August 28: Flower arranging competition with Chelsea Flower Show judge, Michael Tibbs, organised tours to Hopefield and Velddrif to view the flowers, arts and crafts market, a photographic competition, wine tasting, West Coast seafood braai.
Sunday, August 29: Tours to Hopefield and Velddrif to view the flowers, and a Jazz lunch.
To book: Shelley Point Hotel, Spa and Country Club, 022 742 1508 or www.shelleypointhotel.co.za
Special package: The hotel offers a weekend getaway from R1 845 per person with dinner, bed & breakfast, entertainment, a 20-minute massage and golf.
Day visitors are welcome.
What to do on the West side
The West Coast National Park has the following activities in the park during flower season:
There are also many activities to do in the area - walk along the |lagoon in Langebaan, grab a bite to eat in Paternoster (a peaceful little fishing village), visit the Vasco da Gama Memorial or the coastline at Shelley Point - home to whales and dolphins.
The West Coast National Park is about an hour's drive from Cape Town and Shelley Point is just under a two-hour drive - making it a perfect escape for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
The flower season should run until end of September, if the rains are good.