South Africa's sunny West Coast offers a wealth of exciting sights, excursions, and activities to visitors, and is the ideal place to explore for those planning on renting a car and going road tripping in the country.
Langebaan Lagoon, West Coast © Winfried Bruenken
The West Coast encompasses a wide range of geographical regions, and its relatively compact size means that they can all be explored in a single holiday.
The spectacular Atlantic coastline offers excellent water sport opportunities at Blaauwberg and Langebaan, and tranquil seaside towns like Paternoster, Saldanha Bay, and Yzerfontein, all famous for their Mediterranean atmosphere and fresh seafood.
The Swartland, the wheat- and wine-producing region of the West Coast, is home to the charming town of Darling. Further inland, the Cederberg is a nature-lovers paradise, a world-famous ecotourism destination replete with national parks and camping sites, rock-climbing adventures and hiking trails.
The West Coast is also home to the region known as Namaqualand, where every year in spring (September), the landscape is over-run by gorgeous wildflowers. The Namaqualand Daisies, as they are commonly known, were featured in BBC's Planet Earth series and are a deservedly world-famous tourist attraction.
Visitors from all over the globe gawk at the incredible fields of colour. Apart from this splendidly colourful annual display, the West Coast is largely arid, with little shade on offer. Luckily, the freezing cold ocean promises refreshment.
Spring wildflowers © Judith Duk
DarlingDarling is a fast growing tourist destination in South Africa. From the second visitors pull into this dusty station town, they'll understand exactly why. Located in a valley of golden hills in the Swartland region of South Africa's West Coast, Darling is a thoroughly charming spot with a local brewery and opportunities to go olive and wine tasting. Although Darling offers high-quality dining options, the town's main claim to fame is its most famous resident, satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys. He is perhaps better known by his alter-ego: Evita Bezuidenhout. Pieter-Dirk Uys has invested lots of time and energy in Darling, creating not only a popular cabaret venue (Evita se Perron), but also founding the Darling Trust: an organisation that promotes social upliftment through the arts. Visitors shouldn't miss the small museum and craft market, which, in addition to housing several hilarious satirical paintings, also displays some priceless correspondence between Evita and notable figures from South Africa's history, including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk, and PW Botha. Agriculturally prosperous and blessed with plenty of sun, Darling is a must-see destination. It is a magical place where horse-carriages still canter past quaint Victorian cottages and the most stressful decision of the day is which restaurant or wine farm to try next. Darling is also home to an annual Wildflower Show (August to September), where the famous Namaqualand Daisies can be viewed in all their glory.
Langebaan Lagoon, West Coast © Winfried Bruenken
LangebaanLocated just 75 miles (120km) from Cape Town, Langebaan languished for years in relative obscurity, remaining an excellent retirement destination and a popular place for local fishing enthusiasts to spend the weekend. However, in recent years, picturesque Langebaan has been getting the attention it deserves and has become a frequented West Coast tourist destination. It offers an incredible range of fun water sports and adventure activities, as well as top-class beach resort accommodation and a winning selection of restaurants and shops. The water in the Langebaan Lagoon is warm enough to swim in all year round. The most popular water-sport activities in Langebaan include sailing, kayaking, kitesurfing, waterskiing, and fishing, while the town's upmarket resorts also offer quintessential vacation amenities like golf courses, swimming pools, and tennis courts. Animal lovers should note that Langebaan is the ornithological capital of South Africa, boasting over 300 species of birds. Most of them can be viewed in the nearby West Coast National Park. Exploring the national park is a must when in Langebaan, as this is the best place to experience the beautiful area's unspoilt and unusual landscapes.
Paternoster, West Coast © Marzannej
PaternosterPaternoster is a quaint fishing village outside Cape Town. Its name comes from the prayers of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors who fell afoul of its rugged coastline. These days, many consider it the ideal West Coast beach-holiday destination. The first thing visitors will notice are the rows and rows of white-washed fisherman houses: a lovely, and incredibly photogenic, architectural quirk that will linger long in the memory. A holiday in Paternoster is probably best taken at a snail's pace. That is, visitors will enjoy taking long walks on the fine sandy beaches and observing the region's bird life. For active types, hiking trails, mountain biking, sea kayaking, diving, and spear-fishing excursions are available. The West Coast gets extremely hot but the freezing sea water will certainly cool visitors down. Finally, one of Paternoster's most abiding attractions is the quality and availability of fresh fish and seafood, especially crayfish.
Saldanha, South Africa © Morne
SaldanhaSaldanha is a small, attractive town situated on the northern shore of Saldanha Bay. The deep natural harbour sustains the area's economy and provides countless water sport and fishing opportunities to visitors. Saldanha Bay's fishing industry is underpinned by the export of delicacies such as crayfish, mussels, and oysters. This fine selection of seafood naturally characterises the town's gastronomy. Visitors can look forward to a range of fun activities, including kite-surfing, waterskiing and deep-sea diving. The area is also immensely popular with game-fishing devotees, who man their rods and try to entice yellowtail, tuna, and snoek from the ocean depths. Accommodation in Saldanha is plentiful, catering to luxury resort clientele as well as backpackers. In season (June to November), Saldanha is one of South Africa's better whale-watching destinations, as schools of humpback and southern right whales gather off the Atlantic coast to calve. Like most of the West Coast, Saldanha is not a glitzy travel destination but is charming in its own right.
Uitkykpas, Cederberg, South Africa © Jim Sher
The CederbergWhen the film version of JM Coetzee's celebrated novel Disgrace was made, the film-makers controversially opted to ditch the book's original Eastern Cape setting in favour of various locations in and around the Cederberg: a mountainous conservancy area about 190 miles (300km) north of Cape Town. Their reasoning for this was simply that the Cederberg is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled areas of South Africa and that foreign audiences deserved to see this often-overlooked natural wonderland in all its glory. No doubt aided by this exposure, the Cederberg has quickly grown into one of the leading ecotourism destinations in Southern Africa. It is the premium destination for those outdoor adventurers looking to get to grips with South Africa's unique and varied landscape. Although there are plenty of lovely towns in the greater region, including Ceres and Clanwilliam, the real draw card is staying within the Cederberg Wilderness Area, a massive conservancy administered by Cape Nature. Their main campsite, Algeria, is a great place to stay, although there are plenty of privately-owned alternatives, such as Sanddrif, Driehoek, and Krom River, to choose from as well. Great activities in the Cederberg include hiking and rock climbing, and walking tours of caves where San rock art can be seen. The best time to visit the Cederberg is between November and April, when days are warm and there is not much rain around.
West Coast National Park, South Africa © Morne
West Coast National ParkLocated just 70 miles (110km) north of Cape Town, the West Coast National Park showcases the very best of the region's natural beauty. The attraction stretches from the quaint seaside town of Yzerfontein to the turquoise-blue Langebaan Lagoon, and stands out among South Africa's celebrated national parks. It is most famous for its bird life, with thousands gracing the rocks on its golden beaches, and thousands more filling the park's salt marshes with their varied songs and warbles. However, the West Coast National Park is also home to some interesting wildlife, including eland, red hartebeest, and caracal. The Postberg section is an excellent place to view Namaqualand Daisies when the countryside becomes carpeted in bright wildflowers during August and September. Whether gazing at pretty flamingos or diving osprey, a visit to the West Coast National Park is a must for nature-lovers. It offers a convenient and thorough introduction to the West Coast's natural treasures, along with some stunningly beautiful and unspoilt beaches.
Yzerfontein, West Coast © Zaian
YzerfonteinYzerfontein is about an hour outside Cape Town, and is the ideal getaway for those seeking a serene beach holiday. Along with its sunshine and mild winters, the tranquil seaside village is much loved for its Sixteen Mile Beach, which connects it to the Postberg conservancy area in the West Coast National Park. Travellers who venture to the park in August and September will see Namaqualand's wildflowers bloom in fabulous explosions of colour. Yzerfontein visitors can also enjoy fishing, hiking, skiing, mountain biking and whale watching. Only the brave are likely to swim in the region's very cold sea.
Flowers bloom in Nanaqualand © Winfried Bruenken
Namaqualand DaisiesEvery year, the arid and desolate Namaqualand region of South Africa explodes into colour with the blossoming of the Namaqualand Daisies. A vibrant and diverse array of spring wildflowers blooms from the earth, bewitching the landscape to resemble an impressionist painting. The wildflowers make their appearance between August and October, most easily viewed at the Postberg Nature Reserve located in the West Coast National Park. Darling is also a popular spot, featuring an annual Wildflower Show of extravagant floral displays. However, for visitors who really want to experience the full effect of the Namaqualand Daisies, a trip on the Namaqualand Flower Route is highly recommended. A trip on this route will take visitors through the Richtersveld National Park, the Goegap Nature Reserve, the Skilpad Wild Flowers Reserve, and Alexander Bay. One of the stops includes the Orange River estuary, where the glorious tapestries of wildflowers are at their most unrestricted and awe-inspiring best. Namaqualand remains one of South Africa's most famous natural attractions, and is a wonderful inclusion on any West Coast holiday itinerary.
Date: Late July to October
Rocking The Daisies Music FestivalBilling itself as a 'music and lifestyle festival', Rocking the Daisies is one of South Africa's most popular outdoor entertainment events, drawing more than 10,000 people to the charming town of Darling every year. The festival is held on a wine estate, in gorgeous natural surroundings, and distinguishes itself by being the most eco-friendly festival of its kind in southern Africa. In fact, Rocking the Daisies is a 'carbon-neutral festival', with its organisers off-setting whatever emissions they cannot cut by planting trees in nearby disadvantaged communities. Over and above this green attitude, Rocking the Daisies showcases the very best in established and up-and-coming South African rock music, and always attracts a couple of big-name international acts to really round out the festival line-up. With the added benefits of an impressive selection of food stalls and excellent camping facilities, a trip to the Rocking the Daisies Music Festival makes for a memorable weekend excursion from Cape Town. Anyone interested in attending should book tickets well in advance as the festival always sells out weeks before the event.
Venue: Cloof Wine Estate, outside Darling.; Date: 4 - 6 October 2019; Website: rockingthedaisies.com