West Coast and Cedarberg
Before crossing the Piekenierskloof Pass into the Olifants River Valley, take some time to visit the coastal areas. The unique and beautiful Langebaan Lagoon is a popular destination.
The lagoon, a long narrow inlet, open to the sea is home to substantial colonies of white mussels, which filter the plankton and microscopic particles from the water, making it extremely clear.
From late August to September the area surrounding the lagoon explodes in a stunning array of colour as the annual spring flowers erupt.
There are an abundance of hiking trails and drives through the surrounding farmlands. The West Coast National Park is an excellent place to experience this miracle of nature which is repeated every year and heralds the start of the southern hemisphere spring.
The West Coast has a huge variety of destinations, and the best way to explore is to have a base from where to explore on day drives and excursions.
long road north from Cape Town to the diamond fields of Namaqualand, the
Orange River and Namibia passes through various environments.
The first is an area known as the "Swartland", this is the bread basket of South Africa, and endless fields of wheat are the order of the day. The area has been known for its wheat since 1752, but is also home to some well respected livestock and stud farms.
The towns of Saldanha and Langebaan, situated on the lagoon are popular destinations with well established tourist facilities, including hotels, guest houses, caravan and camping sites.
The lagoon is home to a variety of bird life and is ideal for sailing and fishing. Deep sea anglers might take a trip out to the submerged volcanic island of Mount Vema, 500km west of Lamberts Bay it has a plateau of 5km2 which is barely 30m deep, almost guaranteeing excellent catches.
The coastal town of Lamberts Bay, further north is popular with surfers, Velddrif is a picturesque fishing village at the estuary of the Berg River and many others are well worth a visit. Doring Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena Bay and Dwarskersbos are some of the names which are an integral part of the region. There are a variety of routes to the interior and each has its own special attractions.
Perhaps you will elect to take the road inland from Velddrif to Piketberg, and cross the mountains over the Piekenierskloof Pass into the fertile Olifants River Valley.
This is an area of mountains and rivers, the only place on earth where the rare and valuable Buchu plant and the health giving Rooibos Tea plant exist.
Principal town of the valley is Citrusdal, which as its name suggests, is also the centre of the citrus industry in South Africa, the town is also important in wine production. In fact some excellent wine, comparable with the best in the country come out of this area. In spring the scent of orange blossoms permeates the air throughout the valley with its delicious aroma.
These mountains are often snow covered in winter, but snow can fall at any time of year, so it pays to be prepared for all weather conditions when hiking.
Weird and wonderful rock formations are the order of the day such as the Wolfsberg Arch, Maltese Cross, Lots Wife, and the Soldiers Head to name a few. Some of these such as the Maltese Cross are easy walks and others such as the Wolfsberg Arch require a day or longer, the reward however is beyond the ability of words to describe.
Its not all climbing, backpacking and strenuous activities however. Soak away the days dust and relax in a natural hot mineral spa just 16km from Citrusdal. The town also has comfortable hotel accommodation with modern conference facilities for business people and companies.
The nearby Clanwilliam dam is a popular destination for water-sport enthusiasts and is also South Africa's premier Smallmouth Bass water. Every October the dam hosts a prestigious fishing competition which draws entrants from all over the country. The local camp site becomes a small tent town with parties carrying on throughout the night and big prizes for the winners.
As the road heads further north, so the terrain changes again, the valley with its vines and orange trees gives way to a dry semi desert where water is a commodity almost as precious as the diamonds which lie beneath the surface.
These are the diamond fields and although many areas are barred to the public, some of the mines are open to tourists, with guided tours of the workings.
This is an area of mountains and valleys, where one seeking solitude can easily find it. On one of the many hiking trails which cross the Cedarberg Mountains the hiker can go for days without seeing another soul.
Leopards roam the valleys and the rare and endangered Clanwilliam Cedar or Snow Protea can be found on the high peaks.
The Cedarberg is a declared wilderness area 70 000 hectares in extent, with no development permitted apart from the few farms which already exist in the area.
There are various accommodation establishments in the mountains from rustic camp sites, to well equipped self catering cottages and farm accommodation. The Algeria Forest Station on the edge of the wilderness area offers well equipped camping and caravanning facilities under shady oak trees, green lawns and a crystal clear river.
Some remote villages such as Wupperthal are well worth a drive. The town lies in the remote Tra-Tra Valley, with towering mountains on both sides and was established as a Rhenish mission station. It is the birthplace of the typically South African "Velskoen", a hardy shoe made from suede leather. The area is also rich in Bushman rock art and well preserved fossils.
Every year around the end of August or early September however, the desolate plains become a carpet of colour as nature puts on its annual wild flower display.
The flowers are at their best after the late winter rains as the days become longer and the sun warmer. Namaqualand is a blaze of colour and the world is transformed. Some of the towns whose names are synonymous with the wild flowers are Springbok, Kamieskroon, Bitterfontein and Vanrhynsdorp. The flowers can be enjoyed on self drive or organized tours.