Namaqua West Coast: a guide for first-time visitors
The Namaqua West Coast is a somewhat unexplored, unfamiliar land for many. It’s not Namaqualand but it’s also not only and completely West Coast. So where is it and what makes it worth a visit?
If you’re coming from Cape Town, it’s super easy to simply hop on the N7 and arrive at the border of the Namaqua West Coast within three hours. If you’re coming from Gauteng, you would go either via Upington or Kimberly and it could take you anything from 14 to16 hours. The Namaqua West Coast region includes towns such as Klawer, Vredendal, Vanrhynsdorp, Lutzville, Koekenaap, Papendorp, Doringbaai and Strandfontein, among others.
At first sight, it might not seem like there is lots to do, but don’t be fooled. Here are some of our highlights:
Though it appears to be (and for the major part is) a dry, desolate land, majestic waterfalls abound – if you know where to search for them in the right season). Waterval Resort is located 35kms from Vanrhynsdorp in the Maskam mountain region and offers camping facilities, a mountain hut, as well as open-plan chalets. From the camp site, it’s an easy 600m walk along the mountain pathway to a natural rock pool that gets topped up by a 380m waterfall during the rainy season.
Another hidden waterfall is located on Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm in Nieuwoudtville. Niewoudtville doesn’t technically fall within the Namaqua West Coast border, but is considered a close, friendly neighbour.
Papkuilsfontein owners, Jaco and Alrie van Wyk’s working farm (of which they are the sixth-generation owners) borders the Oorslogskloof Nature Reserve where a war ensued in 1739 between the indigenous Khoi and local farmers. Its multitude of gorges, rivers, caves and plateaus make it a paradise for hikers and mountain bikers. In the rainy season (usually between May and August), the waterfall smashes down into a rock pool 180m below.
The road to the Namaqua West Coast is, thankfully, dotted with many random padstalle and you’d be silly to pass the opportunity to stop to stretch your legs, fuel up on some roosterkoek and coffee, and buy locally produced food and craft items. The padstalle in this area are worth a stop even if you don’t need or want anything – the character of the shops and personalities of the local people alone, make it worth the stop.
There are, however, two specific stalls not to miss in this area. Bagdad Café is located 24km outside of Vanrhynsdorp as you approach the Nieuwoudtville Pass. You’ll recognise it by its colourful flags, life-size stuffed dolls, and a signboard that lists reasons why they might be closed – It’s Monday. The road’s too quiet. There’s a cricket game on. They are feeling lazy. They made enough money yesterday.
Inspired by a 1980s movie, Bagdad Café is unconventional and fascinating. Chat to the owners over a lip-smacking pancake, browse old books while sipping on a refreshing Coke, or hum along to The Rolling Stones record playing in the background as you watch a car or two pass by every hour.
A bit further north-west, Bitterfontein boasts but one thing apart from a petrol station – the Gerber & Co. padstal. This is a haven on the N7 for those on their way to Namibia. Indulge in baked goods such as carrot cake, baked cheesecake, roosterkoeke, homemade lamb pies, deli products, cookies, coffee and rusks.
The Namaqua West Coast is also home to some great wines such as Klawer Cellars, Fryers Cove, Seal Breeze and Teubes Wines, among others. Klawer offers an unusual wine and rooibos pairing while Fryer’s Cove cellars, situated in Doringbaai, offers a unique experience being located in an old crayfish factory. Enjoy fresh seafood, some local wine and, if you’re lucky, there might even be a live band.
Take a drive through the Quiver Tree Forest, the second largest in the world, which lies 25km north of Nieuwoudtville. Alternatively, stop in Vanrhynsdorp at the nursery – your mouth will no doubt hang open when you see the sheer amount and various types of succulents.
Gifberg Holiday Farm is hidden on top of the Maskam Mountains and apart from hiking routes, camping and other accommodation, produces lots of rooibos tea. Early in the morning, you can take a short walk and watch the workers cut and prepare the tea for sending off to its various destinations.
Then there’s nature’s spring flower show in the months of August and September. Though the Namaqua West Coast can be brown and dull for nine months of the year, come August, a multi-coloured flower tapestry starts covering the earth. Just be sure to book your accommodation in advance as everyone comes from afar to witness the flower magic this time of the year!
Beaches that form part of the Namaqua West Coast include Doringbaai, Strandfontein and Papendorp (where the Olifants River meets the ocean). The towns are small and beaches almost desolate. There is nothing quite like ending a day walking on Strandfontein’s long, stretched-out beach, wading through thoughts that you never have time for back in the busy city.
One of the greatest concentrations of birds can be found within the Olifants River estuary in Papendorp. This estuary has been classified as the fourth most important South African estuary in terms of Estuarine Conservation. More than 200 bird species have been recorded here, and in summer the bird population in this area can exceed 15 000 birds.
Rare migratory waders such as common redshank, pectoral and broad-billed sandpipers, red-necked phalarope and dunlin also frequent the estuary.
Though the Namaqua West Coast resembles a harsh desert in some parts – sans cities and crowds of people – it’s real and rough, yet spacious and free. It’s a place where breathing becomes easy and effortless. While you think you’re still absorbing its beauty with your eyes, it has probably already, unknowingly, crept deep into your heart.