With the high prices and lack of availability of award tickets around Christmas, I once again arrived in South Africa with about eight days to spare before beginning my house sit in Cape Town. After previously doing the Garden Route a couple of times, I decided to explore the lesser traveled West Coast of South Africa.
After a long but luxurious flight with Qatar Airways in their amazing business class Q Suites, I arrived in Cape Town late morning and ready to pick up my inexpensive rental car for the short two hour drive to the little town of Saldanha. Why Saldanha you may ask? Well I happened to have quite a few Marriott Rewards points I needed to use up at some point, and the Category 1 Protea Hotel Saldanha Bay was a great value use of those points. As with all Marriott Rewards nights, I was able to book five nights for the price of four, making it an even better value. Due to my VIP status from having the right credit card I was also upgraded to a beautiful ocean view room and even given drink vouchers for the bar for each night of my stay!
After a good nights rest, my first stop the next day was the little town of Paternoster and the nearby Cape Columbine Nature Reserve. The town itself has plenty of cute shops and restaurants as well as a beautiful white sand beach that stretches for miles, but the real highlight of this area is the nearby nature reserve. Cape Columbine is filled with great ocean views, a wonderful old lighthouse which you can climb to the top for even better views, but the real attraction for me was hiking among all the crazy moon-like rock landscapes at the far end of the reserve.
As beautiful as this place was, I never saw another tourist the whole time I was there, very different to the South Coast of the country. This became a common occurrence just about everywhere I went around here, but with the Christmas holidays fast approaching I would make the most of it.
Feeling slightly less jet lagged than the day before, it was time to head to the West Coast National Park. This is just a short drive from Saldanha. I was fortunate that my annual pass for all South African National parks was still valid for another month. We had purchased this last year, mainly for our visit to Kruger National Park. With this, I managed to avoid the 96 rand/$8US entry fee. The park was not that dissimilar to Cape Columbine. Plenty of ocean views and wild landscapes, but the main destination for me, and the dozen or so other visitors to the park that day, was the fabulous blue ocean and white sand beach at Kraalbaai.
As you can see from the pictures, the beach was a little crowded, but I did manage to find a spot to relax and work on my sunburn for a while! There were plenty of hiking trails scattered around the park too, but with the heat combined with jet lag, I didn’t venture too far out on them.
Another quick day trip out of Saldanha was to the small town of Velddrif. There was probably even less to do here than there is in Saldanha. But the nice beach along with what remains of its old pier made for a good photo opportunity.
Directly behind the beach is the local fishing harbor. You just know, if there is a fish and chips shop right at the harbor, it’s going to be good. The folks at Die Vis Vlekhuis did not disappoint. For a little over $3US, I had some of the best fish and chips I have ever eaten. This alone was worth the drive to Velddrif.
There are many other small towns in this area worthy of a quick visit. Langebaan, Yzerfontein, and Darling were all beautiful places, although I couldn’t see any reason to overnight in these places. Darling was probably the most interesting. With many cool old buildings and an old railway, it was a pleasant town to stroll around. But most people just seem to head to the local brewery, aptly named Darling Brew. This was probably the busiest place I had visited on the West Coast, even on a mid-week afternoon. I opted for the sampler platter. To be honest, it was more foam than beer, which left me a little disappointed.
Overall the West Coast of South Africa was a great experience, beautiful scenery, good inexpensive food, and friendly people. But after five days I felt like I needed somewhere a little livelier, so I packed my bag and headed to the wine country.