Cape Town - A narrow dirt road hugs the north-western coast of South Africa between Lutzville and Hondeklip Bay. The only sign of human life is the occasional tent, 4x4 or deserted caravan. Mother Nature is in full control on this stretch of untouched wonder with its wild waves, fat seagulls and a rugged landscape of fynbos and bright orange soil.
Werner Rontgen, adventurer extraordinaire, is the guide for our group of 12. We leave Cape Town for a three-day journey to explore the more undiscovered parts of the West Coast.
Werner describes the type of people drawn to off-road adventure: those who have done it for decades and are so attuned to the lifestyle that birthday cakes are easily baked over a campfire. Then there are those families who spend thousands on new 4x4s and camping equipment, only to find (after day two) that it’s not their cup of tea.
Most of us are novices but with three vehicles between us, three bona-fide crayfish divers, a few tents, a good number of box wines and a lot of enthusiasm, we are ready to hit the road.
With no facilities en-route, my concern about not being able to shower for three days soon dissipates as we settle around a bonfire on a beach somewhere between Lutzville and Brand se Baai. As Dave strums a guitar and the smell of wine-infused mussels fill the air, we find ourselves pondering natural phenomena such as star formations and mussels’ breeding habits.
The next morning we run through the morning mist, straight into the freezing Atlantic for a skinny-dip. It’s exhilarating, hilarious and the most natural thing to do. A curious seal inspects our morning activity. Then we sit on the beach and give gratitude to the fresh air and beauty all around us.
At the campsite, the men impress us with freshly caught fish and crayfish. There is something to be said for traditional male roles.
Werner refuses to let our inclination to relax in one spot get the better of us. It’s a 4x4 trip after all, so driving is the order of the day.
Our collection of cars makes for an ideal mix of practicality, comfort and adventure. Werner’s Toyota Land Cruiser (complete with 4x4 trailer) sports a boot that resembles a fully fledged kitchen, with drawers, a table and a tap.
The Land Rover Freelander 2 is the vehicle of choice for smooth, comfortable driving, while the convertible Wrangler proves to be the ultimate toy for off-road adventure.
As our tyres cut through the sand road, a pod of dolphins appears in the nearby waves. Like a gift meant only for our eyes, they skilfully surf some of the biggest waves I have ever seen.
Just before dark, we find a new home for the night along a spectacular beach filled with green sea urchins that have washed ashore. We pitch our tents, pour gin and tonics and watch a giant sun set over the vast ocean.
The further north we move, the more rugged and isolated the landscape becomes. We drive past copper mines, desolate crayfish factories and a lonesome lighthouse at Groenrivier Mouth.
A fierce wind welcomes us into a protected coastal area that forms part of the Namaqua National Park. Exposed to the elements, we pitch our tents underneath Werner’s Bedouin tent and light a fire. Yet another crayfish is placed in a boiling pot, while ribs sizzle away alongside mealies and foil-wrapped potatoes. Like the characters in Lord of the Flies, we devour our food straight from the pot.
Our final day’s drive takes us into civilisation again. Eager to see the landmark after which Honde-klip Bay is named (a gneiss rock that resembles a dog), we head into this former copper ore hub.
Like a mix between Morocco’s coastline and the Bokaap, Honde-klip Bay is otherworldly. Even though we fail to see the dog in the famous (if not unimpressive) rock, the harbour makes up for it. Wooden fishing boats line the shore and fishermen gathered outside the abalone factory are making animated conversation in Afrikaans.
Infinite stretches of Namaqua beauty present themselves as we meander inland toward the N7. Butter trees, quiver trees and road signs to places like Koingnaas, Bitterfontein and Spoegrivier accentuate the barren landscape.
We ramble up the Messelklip Pass, from where we see the ruins of a prison dating back to the 1800s. Werner regales us with stories of a warden of the time who was said to have cheated on his wife with the inmates. When his wife caught him in the act, she left him and he in turn shot himself.
With an eerie feeling in the air and tales of a resident ghost, we drive away, contemplating the extreme temperatures those prisoners must have endured.
When I finally get back to my comfortable city home that evening, I enjoy a long shower and climb into my warm bed.
But as I drift off to sleep I find myself yearning for the fresh Benguela air, the campfire heat, the wild waves, morning rinses in rock pools and eating crayfish for breakfast, lunch and supper.
* Travel Ideas is a quarterly magazine; see www.travelideas.co.za