Cape to //Karas

Photo: Chloe Durr

Cape to //Karas

06 July 2020 | Tourism

We invite you to make the journey to Namibia part of a much greater experience. Instead of flying, we suggest that you to travel by road and experience the West Coast as you drive to Namibia, coming up from the Cape of Good Hope.

I suppose we all have travelled the direct route from the Cape at the tip of Africa to Namibia – in my case more often than I can count – and while I’ll miss the monotonous journey along the N7 highway, this time I will not cross the infamous Vioolsdrift border post in South Africa as you enter Namibia at Noordoewer. It’s time to take the road less travelled – the coastal route from Cape to ǁKaras! There are many different ways in which you can spice up your journey to Namibia, this is one of them.

“Hier kom die Alibama”

Leaving Cape Town, we first went to Yzerfontein, – a small harbour town on the west coast of South Africa, a mere 90 kilometers north of Cape Town. It holds a special place in my heart, as my great-grandfather was the local doctor, my grandfather was born in Darling, and my father spent his youth sailing his catamaran around the iconic “Meeurots” (gull rock), only to be interrupted when he saw the smoke curling from a snoek braai set on the front lawn. Our little cottage, built from the stone ballast left behind by early traders when returning with their sailing ships from Europe en-route to Cape Town, is nestled on the bay overlooking the 16-mile beach. It is the longest uninterrupted sandy beach in SA, where ostrich, eland and seals can be found on the shoreline of the West Coast National Park. “14 On Beach”, a B&B in Yzerfontein, is the perfect location to experience that.

Yzerfontein is a fantastic base from which to explore the nearby town of Darling and its surrounds boasting of Ondine, Groote Post and Kloof Wine Estates, Darling Brewery, Darling Olive Farm, Darling Marmalade Cat Restaurant and the Darling Sweet Factory. In Yzerfontein you find the Artisanal Bakery and Brewery. Also spend time exploring the West Coast National Park, a must-see during the wildflower season. You may prefer a swim in the azure waters of the Church Haven lagoon or to hire a houseboat for an unforgettable weekend on the lagoon at Preekstoel. Airbnb offers more accommodation options in the area and the caravan park in Yzerfontein welcomes campers.

Day1: Visit and Stay

Leaving Yzerfontein for Paternoster, after taking the R45 turnoff, we found ourselves temporarily immersed in a sea of farmlands until arriving at one of the oldest and most beautiful fishing villages on the West Coast. You can choose Paternoster as a base from where you visit the West Coast National Park (view the wildflowers in season from September), explore the Swartland Wine Route and visit West Coast Fossil Park near Hopefield.

Our Paternoster-diversion was supposed to be a “pit-stop and photo-opp” but the beauty of this picturesque fishing village soon captured us. We explored the little village street by street to view the white-washed, “langhuisie”-styled cottages (in Cape vernacular), watched fishing boats returning from the misty sea, carrying their bounty of fresh crayfish, offered for sale on the beachfront, and wandered into the quaint art galleries that make up the town centre. Paternoster is famous for its seafood and is home to the award-winning, world renowned “Wolfgat Restaurant”. We decided to support the locals and grabbed a fresh calamari burger from “Oumas Karavan”. Venturing into the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, we stumbled across the Self-Catering Seashacks, hidden within a fjord on the shoreline and were so overawed, that we made Paternoster our home for the night!

The theatre-view through our open stable-door onto the phosphorescence glowing sea as the Cape Columbine Lighthouse (visible at a distance of 36km) shone its beams across the water, was nothing short of magical and so we fell asleep to the lullaby of the ocean sounds. A great alternative is camping at Tietiesbaai, not far from Paternoster, or even sleeping in a Teepee for a more unique experience.

Day 2: “Alles is net ommie draai”

Next we left Paternoster for Doringbaai and as we exited Paternoster we noticed a turnoff onto a dust road that runs adjacent to the Sishen-Saldanha railway. We learnt that, while taking this route is tempting as it is a direct route linking the coastal towns in the area and will substantially cut the travel time, it cannot be used without a permit!

Driving further down the coast towards Elands Bay we passed a plethora of fishing villages and small towns, each with their own coastal charm. The west coast is clearly steeped in history of the San Bushmen, Strandlopers and other pre-settler people, who previously inhabited the area.

Elands Bay, more affectionately known as E-Bay by the surfing fraternity, is found roughly 100 kilometers north of Paternoster. It is a quirky coastal town that wraps around a towering cliff face that forms the backdrop of this “chilled out” surfer-hotspot. Everything in this town lies “ommie draai” (around the next corner), including a Crayfish Factory, the Baboon Point Cliffs and the Bobbejaanberg Cave – the latter decorated with ancient San rock art. It is also home to Verlorenvlei (a natural wetland), which lies in the Kruismans River estuary, one of the biggest estuaries along the Cape’s West Coast region priding itself of more than 240 different bird species.

Muisbosskerm, south of Lamberts Bay is a non-negotiable stop. Perched on the edge of the Atlantic, we enjoyed a cornucopia of fresh seafood and other local delights – testimony to the cuisine of the Western Cape –, cooked on open wood fires within an open-air shelter built out of muisbos, driftwood and hessian. Muisbosskerm was the first open-air restaurant in South Africa, when they opened their doors in 1986. It remains one of the best in terms of quality of food and the setting. Travellers have been known to charter flights from Cape Town to enjoy a meal here.

Tip: A food-experience that involves many courses and many hours to enjoy - Book in advance!

Lambertsbay is not overly attractive, but here you find excellent seafood restaurants and is close to the Bird Island Nature Reserve, a three-hectare Cape Nature Reserve, where Cape Gannets and Crowned Cormorants breed in abundance. You may tackle the 4x4 Dunes Trail, visit the Strandveld Museum to see an original “matjieshuis” or embark on the 10km Boegoeberg Hiking Trail. There is even a house made entirely of whale bones that can be found on Wadrift Farm.

Doringbaai is a fishing town, where boats are launched daily – when there is a fish-run, the little bay becomes a hive of activity. Visit the Fryer’s Cove Winery, housed in an old fish factory overlooking the Doringbaai jetty and waterfront. We enjoyed a glass of local wine here and then experienced a taste of perlemoen from the Abalone farm that lies behind the cove.

Day 3: Coastal Garden of Eden-Route

Driving to Namaqua National Park (Groenrivier Gate), the route north from Doringbaai follows the coastline to Strandfontein, another popular stop-over, especially during flower season. The earliest residents of this area were the Khoisan, who got their drinking water from a fountain on the beach, hence its name “beach fountain”. The road eventually led inland to the farming town of Lutzville, the last opportunity to refuel and deflate our tyres before embarking on the dust-road-journey towards the remote and idyllic Namaqua National Park. This is where the rustic part of the coastal route truly began – an offroad vehicle is essential. There are privately owned campsites in the park.

Tip: Keep a constant speed when driving in deep sand!

Namaqua National Park is situated in the Namaqualand region of the Northern Cape and forms part of the Succulent Karoo Biome. For most of the year the Namaqualand is a semi-desert plateau, but from July to September, after good winter rains, this arid region bursts into dazzling fields of daisies. The area is world-renowned for its rich variety of endemic bulb flora.

We learnt that although there are chalets at Skilpad and a cottage at Luiperdskloof, camping near the beach was an experience not to be missed! There are 31 rustic campsites dispersed along the coastline with enviro-loos, private beaches, stone-sheltered firepits and unparalleled views of the sea.

Tip: there is no water on tap in the park, except at Delwerskamp where a saltwater tap is available.

Mesmerized by camping in the unspoiled beauty we further enjoyed this remote location by taking a drive around the bay, visiting fjords, hideouts and lookout points, while enjoying birdwatching and admiring the large variety of antelope that roam the coastal plains.

Day 4: Diamonds aren’t always this girl’s best friend

Most people eventually end up at McDougall’s Bay and we were heading there too. I woke up before sunrise, eager to soak up every last minute of the Coastal Garden of Eden – a place, where pink seashells lie on the seashore, seagulls dine on lobsters, flamingoes flap overhead and dolphins dance in the waves. We visited Spoegrivier Cave (near the Spoeg River’s mouth) a 1 meter-thick shell-midden dating back 1900 years, where early hunter-gatherers lived, and where evidence of the first signs of domestic sheep were found. We finally had to leave paradise to travel on to less perfect pastures.

Hondeklip Bay was originally established as a harbour to export copper ore from the mines around the town of Springbok. These days it is a regional holiday destination that serves mainly the fishing and diamond-mining community. Unfortunately, diamond mining at the mouth of the Orange River has led to the coast being destructed in this area.

Tip: There is no fuel available in Hondeklip Bay, so fill up at Koingnaas 25km away!

Having said this, Noup is a great option for an overnight stop. Overlooking the Atlantic and tucked away between the mining towns of Koingnaas and Kleinsee, Noup offers self-catering accommodation in restored diamond-divers’ cottages.

Kleinzee (or Kleinsee) is a small village 83km north of Hondeklip Bay. It is known for its diamond-mining operations and famous for its 37 kilometer-long 4x4-route along the beach, known as Shipwreck Route. Unfortunately it no longer offers a self-drive option and you need to book in advance. We therefore did not stay in Kleinzee, but stopped for coffee at the Crazy Crayfish.
We did however stay at the McDougall’s Bay Caravan Park on the beachfront.

Day 5: Haven for Diamond Dealers

Leaving McDougall’s Bay towards the Richtersveld, we drove on to Port Nolloth, a small seaport-town, previously serving as a transhipment point for copper from the Okiep mines and diamonds from the Namaqua coast. But since the 1970s people here have largely focused on fishing and tourism. It serves as gateway to the Richtersveld, 160 kilometes north. We were fortunate to meet George Moyses - the Museum’s unofficial caretaker and local tour guide, who provided us with an impromptu account of the town’s history and the history of the Nama people.

We continued inland to the Richtersveld National Park. The quickest way to the Park from the N7 (SA) and B1 (Namibia) is to turn off at Steinkopf, approaching the park via Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay, with only the last 80km being on dirt.

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