West Coast National Park is famous for flower season when fields are painted orange, purple and white by countless wildflowers. But there’s plenty to do aside from admiring the pretty blooms. Make time for these five fun West Coast experiences. By Sanelisiwe Gantsho
The Cape winter is no child’s play but experiencing it in West Coast National Park is something special. After all, the spectacular spring wildflower display along South Africa’s West Coast is a result of the winter weather. Depending on the rainfall and temperatures, different species will bloom, so every year the spring flowers are different. With thoughts of the wildflowers to come, I decided to spend a weekend with friends in West Coast National Park, experiencing all the park has to offer. Not knowing what to expect, I went down to my local Cape Union Mart and got some sensible advice and gear for the trip.
It was cold on Saturday, 1 July, when I went to fetch the vehicle for our trip. The Volkswagen Amarok, a diesel-run machine on loan from Unitrans Unite Against Poaching, was most appropriate. A powerful and graceful ride that elevated my view as I set off for the West Coast. A route I had last taken as a child with my parents and siblings back in the 1990s on a family vacation. Coincidentally, in a 4×4.
Throughout my drive to the national park, I was reliving our trip as we whizzed past the greenery along the R27, the ocean sparkling in the distance. A form of déjà vu, only this time, I’d grown wiser and was appreciating my surroundings so much more.
West Coast National Park is a pristine piece of nature cradling Langebaan Lagoon. The stunning lagoon, also a protected wetland, is a safe haven for thousands of birds – a birder’s paradise that forms part of the Flamingo Bird Route. To make the most of this wonderland, we had a packed weekend programme of five essential West Coast experiences.
#1: Kayaking on Langebaan Lagoon
Langebaan Lagoon lies at the heart of this picturesque park, so what better way to experience it than from a kayak? Andrew Kellett of Gravity Adventures reassured us that the kayaks were designed to be stable so chances of capsizing were actually minimal. I let go of any apprehensions and embraced the thrill of gliding through the clear water. Our goal was Schaapen Island and under Andrew’s expert guidance we skimmed across the water.
It was interesting to learn that the island is home to a protected bird colony, as well as seals and white bunnies. Yes … white bunnies. I spotted two! The one was rather dirty and camouflaged against the dusty brown rocks but the other was standing upright and was hard not to miss. The bunnies can be traced back to the time when sailors used the island to rear sheep and rabbits for food.
Kelp gulls swirled around us and the island. Schaapen Island is one of the largest breeding colonies for kelp gulls in South Africa, but it is also home to Cape and white-breasted cormorants, black African oystercatchers, grey herons, African sacred ibises and swift terns.
Make it happen: Two-hour guided kayak trip to Schaapen Island R450 a person or rent a kayak for R150 an hour. Visit www.gravity.co.za or call +27 (0)21 683 3698.
#2: Spending the night in a restored cottage
By the time we finished kayaking, the chill had intensified. We were all grateful to head back to the comfort of a blazing fire in our Cape Dutch style cottage. Van Breda is one of two recently restored cottages close to the historic Geelbek homestead. It sleeps up to six people in three bedrooms, making it ideal for a gathering of friends or a family holiday. Nearby Steytler Cottage is more compact, perfect for a couple looking to get away from it all. I found our lodgings spacious and tranquil, and the absence of any mobile network was liberating. A new type of luxury that I embrace. Peace, a roaring fire, great company and yummy food – nothing beats that.
Make it happen: Van Breda Cottage R1,275 for one to four people, R410 an extra adult, R205 an extra child. Steytler Cottage R950 for one or two people. Book online or contact SANParks Central Reservations on +27 (0)12 428 9111.
#3: Walking up an appetite
The next morning I was up bright and early to go for a glorious walk. I found the perfect spot for my morning ritual: a sizeable rock where I could enjoy a warm cup of coffee with a full view of the glittering lagoon. West Coast National Park has several day walks and we were rather spoilt as two of them started right on our doorstep, at the nearby Geelbek Visitor’s Centre. From Geelbek there is a 7km circular route that leads to Sixteen Mile Beach on the Atlantic Ocean or a 9km walk to the dunes and back. On the other side of the lagoon, the Bakoor Trail is a 4.6km route from the park’s Langebaan Gate to Seeberg Viewpoint – the vista is not to be missed!
Make it happen: Get a map from the Geelbek Visitor’s Centre.
#4: Ticking your bird list
From Van Breda Cottage we could also stroll to one of three bird hides, two of which jut out over the lagoon for a closer look at wading birds. Langebaan Lagoon is considered so important for wetland birds that it is a world Ramsar site. Many of the wader birds migrate here from the northern hemisphere, arriving in spring to spend summer feasting on the lagoon’s bounty. The park is home to ticks such as the curlew sandpiper, little stint and sanderling, but I must admit that the pink flamingoes were my favourite to watch, standing tall and regal.
Make it happen: Pack your binoculars, a bird book and head to a hide, no booking required.
#5: Having a bite at historic Geelbek homestead
Our morning activities ended just in time for lunch at Geelbek Restaurant, housed in the beautifully restored Cape Dutch farmstead. The restaurant specialises in traditional dishes that reflect the local history, drawing on Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian, Italian and Malay influences. Popular choices are the bobotie and the ostrich burger, but for me there was just one option: the fish and chips. The chips were soft inside, the hake crispy and the whole well complimented by the lovely homemade tartar sauce. A perfect end to a weekend of discovery, re-discovery and relaxation. Nature is really the best relaxant.
Make it happen: Geelbek Restaurant is open seven days a week. To book, email [email protected]t or call +27 (0)22 772 2134.
Visit West Coast National Park for flower season
You can see one of nature’s greatest spectacles less than an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Cape Town. The Postberg section of the park is open to the public only during August and September (09:00–17:00). Flowers are best viewed on sunny days between 10:00 and 15:00. See our tips for a self-drive flower adventure.
Support Unite Against Poaching
This initiative by Unitrans and the SANParks Honorary Rangers funds counter-poaching activities in national parks. When you buy a Volkswagen through a participating Unitrans dealership, a percentage of the price is automatically donated. To learn more and find a list of dealerships, visit www.uniteagainstpoaching.co.za.