– Copy and images : Jacques Marais
You’re up for an authentic slice of West Coast living if ever you decide to travel up to the Namaqua West Coast. Doringbaai and Strandfontein are just two of the picturesque fishing villages you’ll discover here along the ‘bossieveld-see’ plains unfolding along the the Olifants River valley.
The region is fairly remote and off-the-beaten-track, and has as such conserved much of its natural beauty and rural tranquillity. Spectacular ocean views from dramatic cliff, unique coastal vegetation, whales, dolphins and sea birds, springtime flower displays and breathtaking sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean … these are all part of the package.
Strandfontein is pretty much a holiday town, but Doring Bay comes with its own Weskus character. The town was established in 1925 when the North Bay Canning Company built a crayfish-packing factory here, with the bay used as an anchorage on the sea-trading route, while provisions off-loaded from boats were transported to Vanrhynsdorp by camels. Interesting buildings include the attractive lighthouse built in 1963 and a quaint Roman Catholic Church.
This solitary coastline is rather remote, but offers the outdoor tribe an excellent ocean-side escape. Outdoor activities include the full gamut of water sports, from kayaking, windsurfing, body boarding and snorkelling, to surfing and excellent fishing. In addition, there is a gorgeous hiking trail along the sea cliffs between Doringbaai and Strandfontein.
The once dilapidated harbour now boasts a wine cellar and tasting locale for the exceptional Fryer’s Cove Winery (this was named for Richard Fryer, one of Doringbaai’s early residents). This is arguably the world’s only vineyard this close to the Atlantic Ocean, with sauvignon blanc vines dotting the hills less than a kilometre from the icy breakers.
Papendorp – locally – known as Viswater – is one of the few remaining dorps where visitors can see the simplicity of West Coast life in its purest form. The tiny village slumbers along the edge of an amazing estuary; it offers exceptional birding, and has been identified as a potential RAMSAR encompassing an area of 2 000ha, with approximately 127 bird species listed so far.
The estuarine channels and chilly coastal waters brim with marine life, and local fishermen still fish for ‘harders’ with their nets in the traditional way, before drying them as salted ‘bokkoms’ which they sell as a true West Coast delicacy. They even get the coarse salt they use from salt pans along the edge of these Papendorp wetlands …
More information at www.visitnwc.com
On the Bike
The Viswater Mountain Bike Trail is a well-marked circular route of approximately 30km, starting in Doringbaai to follow a meandering route to the mission village of Papendorp. Rugged sea cliffs, scenic viewpoints and indigenous coastal scrub makes it one of the most breathtaking routes in all of SA.
The route is pretty easy to navigate, and mostly follows gravel roads, jeep track and cliff-top footpaths along the ‘bossieveld’ escarpment. Adventurous riders will be able to dip and dive onto the singletrack sections looping onto the shoreline, while beginners can stick to the flatter, easier main gravel road.
Do take note that current mining activity just outside Doring Bay will force you to stay away from the coast, with signs barring entry to a short stretch of the lower trail. Hopefully this is temporary, as the approach to the hideaway Bamboes Bay constitutes a very fragile part of the coastal biome here.
Do take time out to loop towards the coast, as the exceptional viewpoints over the Atlantic Ocean is not to be missed. Dolphins, whales and pelagic birds like albatross are often spotted from the craggy sea cliffs, while surfers will get the chance to scope out some kickass breaks.
There are numerous small signs indicating the best route choice, but this is a free-range adventure, if you get my drift. So, depending on where your front wheel takes you, you will reach Strandfontein after anything from 5-7km. There is a small shop here if you need refreshments, or otherwise dash along the eastern edge of town to continue your pedal.
The next 8km of riding is by far my favourite, because you leave the villages behind as you approach the Olifants River estuary and wetland. Keep an eye out for giant pelicans, black-headed herons and greater flamingos as you traverse salt flats along the estuarine edge. There are some route sections that is rideable in the wetland itself, so go and explore!
Including the dogleg to the actual river mouth will add an extra couple of kilometres – and a fair bit of pushing through the sand – but it is so worthwhile. Find your way back onto the inland edge of the wetland and keep cranking along Papendorp’s quiet little streets (17km into the ride). People here are proper friendly, so smile and wave as you move on through.
Your return options include a high-speed run back along the tarmac (10km back to Doring Bay) or a slightly more challenging gravel road navigation following the train track. This is easy to access off the tar road by continuing to Ebenaeser – the next little village – and heading inland from here for an hour or so along the 16km railway road.
Keep in mind that the singletrack can be sandy and eroded in places, and may nudge as close as 50m to the edge of the sea cliffs in certain places. Summer days tend to be red hot, although the cool sea breeze and regular mist rolling off the ocean do make survival a lot easier when the sun is set to ‘Burn Baby, Burn’.
Off the Bike
Surfing – Grab your surfboard and go and play in the waves along the glorious Namaqua West Coast. Check out the burly and rather rambunctious Bamboesbaai break if you’re brave enough, or paddle out at Strandfontein’s ‘local is lekker’ beach.
Wine Tasting – the wines of the Strandveld and West Coast Wine Region are truly outstanding. Look out for Namaqua, Bellpost, Teubes, Lutzville and Klawer, and definitely pop into Fryer’s Cove in the heart of Doring Bay’s old-school fishing harbour – wine tasting does not get better than this!
Bird Watching – The wetland at Papendorp rates as one of SA’s top birding destinations and you can be sure to see spoonbills, pelicans, flamingos and heaps of other estuarine and pelagic species. Bring your SUP of kayak to paddle with them – or fish! – or join the local fishermen on an outing in one of their traditional ‘vis bakkies’.
Walking – Strandfontein’s coastline is one-of-a-kind with cliffs tumbling dozens of metres down to the waves. The ‘Viswater Trail is multi-use, and brims with jaw-dropping vistas along the way. You can also check out the multi-day ‘Crayfish Trail’ that meanders all the way from here via Lamberts Bay and to Elands Bay over 5-6 days.
Best time of year
The Namaqua interior typically spikes into the red over the summer months, but on the coast you can expect the ocean’s influence to keep temperatures much lower than inland. Morning fog and icy winter weather may be part of the equation, so keep this in mind when planning your trip in this year-round outdoor paradise.
Map, Elevation Profile & Flyover(s)
|FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Easy to Intermediate|
|DURATION:||2-3 hours return|
|CONFIGURATION:||Circular / return options|
|TERRAIN:||Single track, gravel road|
|START POINT||Doringbaai (or anywhere along the route)|
|MAP:||On web site; trial is well-marked|
|GPS COORDINATES:||31º82’11” S; 18º23’93” E|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Public access|
||Restaurants, and winery|
||Fog, extreme heat, crumbly cliff-tops|
||www.visitwc.com / Telephone +27 82 608 7554|
Follow the N7 to Klawer, then turn west towards Vredendal for approximately 30km. Continue through town on the way to Lutzville for 20km or so, before turning left towards Doring Bay and Strandfontein just before you cross the Olifants River.