More than 300 kilometres of tarred road? Check. Wine tasting? Check. MTB’ing, hiking and bouldering? Check, check and check. Magnificent coastal and semi-desert environments on the Namaqua West Coast and the Cederberg? Check. Now all you need is enough space on your camera for epic pics and you can plan an epic energetic West Coast road trip.
I spent four days exploring the West Coast and learnt about some of its top sights and destinations with DiscoverCTWC and Weskus Tourism. Here’s my ultimate four-day road trip itinerary for those who love to get outdoors.
Also read: A road trip up the West Coast off the N7
Day 1: The Viswater MTB Trail (Doring Bay, Strandfontein and Papendorp)
I thought that mountain biking would be a chance to affirm my inner adrenaline junkie, but I was a victim of my own deceit. Enthusiasm evaporated in the 40-degree heat as soon as we reached our first incline. Would the decadent cheese platter from Lutzville Vineyards sustain me? Were Saturday mornings at parkrun a true realisation of #fitnessgoals? Surely knowing how to get on a bike was sufficient? Nope.
The Viswater MTB Trail definitely brought out the devil in me; one that dared me to throw my bike to the ground and have a tantrum worse than any toddler in their terrible twos. Plus, I certainly got a workout, pushing my bike through the rocky and sandy terrain.
Distracted by my incompetence, I hardly paused to admire the views of the Atlantic and the menacing cliff faces. Luckily, falling off so many times got me to notice the gorgeous succulent Karoo up close.
‘It’s probably better for you not to go on the single track’, said photographer and entrepreneur, Craig Howes, who had established a graceful cycling and picture-taking sequence. So I tried my best to tackle the wider jeep track, but as a novice this whole mountain biking thing was tough!
It was a nine-kilometre journey from Strandfontein to the lighthouse (and my beacon of hope) in Doring Bay, which was our endpoint. When the tall black-and-white lighthouse seemed close enough, the fraction of determination I had left got me back on the bike and then I could see the blue roofs of Thornbay Accommodation taking the last bumpy moments to fight to the finish.
The view of the ocean from my window at Thornbay Accommodation was soothing after a hit day and I was pleased with the thought of being able to see the sun rise in the morning. Doring Bay might be a small town, but being so close to the sea is a reason I’d like to go back.
Day 2: The Crayfish Hiking Trail and Fryer’s Cove
The coastline looked less daunting in the morning sun and the bay’s indigo blue water washed away any fear I had for the next activity: hiking.
The Crayfish Trail is a slackpacking route that was revived by Daniel Smith, an environmental and geological sciences graduate who based his thesis on it. A trial group that started in Elands Bay joined us in Doring Bay and we walked our MTB track in reverse, from Doring Bay to Strandfontein.
This time, the trail took us closer to the coastline and within a few minutes of starting, my phone was out to capture this fascinating environment. Daniel said that in Elands Bay, where the Crayfish Trail begins, there are wide, sandy beaches, strandveld and fynbos – all typical markers of the West Coast. Further along the coast towards Papendorp, the difference is stark and sudden with sheer cliff faces. According to Prof. John Compton (UCT’s Department of Geological Sciences) the rocky outcrops are the familiar sandstone rocks of the Table Mountain Group.
As the single track winds up, it becomes cooler and there’s a great view about 30 metres above the ocean. Daniel mentioned that these parts make the route feel very unexplored and undiscovered. He’s absolutely right.
The duality of semi-desert and ocean-side was awe-inspiring and the atmosphere felt post-apocalyptic with the sandstone formations and the coppery bronze sand. I really enjoyed the variety of uphill and downhill and felt much more in my element with the hiking.
Next, we drove to Papendorp, 16 kilometres from Doring Bay. This old missionary town at the mouth of the Olifants River could easily be overlooked, but we stopped and went across a boardwalk to a solitary bird hide.
Before leaving the Namaqua West Coast we made one last stop: Fryer’s Cove at Doring Bay Harbour. It was a spontaneous decision to go wine-tasting, but locals insisted on it. Located on a jetty, we tasted wine from grapes harvested 820 metres from the Atlantic Ocean. We all agreed that the eccentricity of Fryer’s Cove is the kind of thing you look for on a road trip and their Pinot Noir, popular with customers, lived up to our expectations.
Day 3: Beer tasting and bouldering (Vredendal and the Cederberg)
We eased into the first part of our day with a beer tasting at Maskam, a brewery located on a family farm. Maskam was a surprising find in a laidback rural setting. Here you can drink your way through a flight of blond ale, amber ale, Weiss and cider. You also can’t miss the garlic and herb pita bread – it’s worth travelling all the way from Cape Town for.
80 kilometres later, we sat for lunch at Reinholds Restaurant in Clanwilliam before driving another 30 kilometres to Rocklands for bouldering.
The mountainous landscape of the Cederberg region was other-worldly to my unfamiliar eyes. Pupils from Elizabeth Fontein Primary School were already at the ‘warm-up’ boulder for a lesson with their coach, JP. When it was my turn to conquer the boulder, I felt a surge of nervous energy – I didn’t want a repeat of the mountain biking experience and the crash pads didn’t look like they’d make a comfortable landing, but in the spirit of ‘fake it til you make it’ I went for it.
At the top of the boulder, I paused for a few minutes, arms and legs feeling like jelly, before lumbering down. In a way, a fear had been overcome because I didn’t believe I could climb without a harness. The landscape of the Cederberg exerted a kind of energy that made me want to step outside of my comfort zone.
Day 4: Rock art and rooibos (Clanwilliam)
The last time I saw rock art was in a grade four history textbook. Groggy from a satiating braai the evening before, the overcast conditions were pleasant for a five-kilometre walk along the Sevilla Rock Art Trail.
As we meandered along the path and followed the painted footsteps to each rock art site, I tried imagining the San having this place to themselves. Gabi mentioned that the rock art might have functioned as a newspaper for San communities. If so, the world as they depicted it stood the test of time and now we were seeing it, thousands of years later.
We returned to Clanwilliam for an impromptu stop at Rooibos Ltd. The iced rooibos sample infused with honey melon relieved my thirst and I was happy about the choice to stop there. Our visit included a 15-minute video on the history of rooibos tea from the Khoisan who harvested it in the Cederberg to its commercialisation in the twentieth century.
Then, it was time to go home.
The journey back to Cape Town was very different from when we headed out on the N7. Strangers had become travel companions and muscles were stiff from the trifecta of outdoor activities and I finally got to see the famous Cederberg Mountains.
If I’m lucky enough, my next West Coast road trip will include stargazing and if you’ve been reading Getaway for a while, you’ll know just the place to do that.
Also read: where to go stargazing in South Africa
Plan an active West Coast road trip
The Viswater MTB route is a 30-kilometre circular trail that goes from Doringbay to Papendorp and back again. There are single tracks on the cliffs and jeep tracks. Definitely, a must if you want something challenging to give you that adrenaline rush. Call 027203376.
There are also guided walks along the Viswater route where you can get close and personal with the diverse vegetation. Contact Tania and Lehan Fouche to set up a time. Call 0721543887 or email [email protected]
Go to Klawer Cellars and Lutzville Vineyards for wine tasting. Make sure you try Klawer’s African Ruby Rooibos Vermouth, which is also infused with buchu. The sweetness doesn’t overpower the flavour and tastings at Klawer are free. At Lutzville it’s R20 per person for five wines and there are three different cheese platters to choose from (R85, R160 and R280 respectively). For Klawer, call 0272161530 and for Lutzville call 0272171516.
Fryer’s Cove has three different tasting options: The Doring Bay range consists of four wines at R20 per person and their premium range, Fryer’s Cove has three wines at R40 per person. Combining the ranges will cost R50 per person and there is a waiver of the price if you purchase bottles. Call 0272151092.
The Crayfish Trail is still running their discounted Trial Tours. Find more information on crayfishtrail.co.za. Otherwise, their tours will be priced from about R1650 per person per night. This price includes food, accommodation, transport and a local guide. You can choose between a two and five-day trail. Group size must be between four and 12 people. Call 083 553 9107 or email [email protected]
Beer tastings at Maskam Brewery costs R35 per person and includes three beers and a cider. The garlic and herb pita bread is R50. They also have free wine tastings from local cellars every Saturday from 11:00 to 15:00. There is a petting zoo and jungle gym to keep your kids entertained while you sip. Call 0828880119.
The Rocklands Bouldering day permits are R80. A weekend permit (two days) is R130. Call 0274821879.
There is an entrance fee of R40 per person at the Sevilla Rock Art Trail.
Doringbaai Seespens serves seafood and steaks. Just a few minutes walk if you’re staying at Thornbay Accommodation.
Reinholds Restaurant in Clanwilliam is renowned for their steaks. They also have bobotie, quiches, chicken schnitzel and hake. Their lunch menu ranges from R50 to R130. If you’re craving a full house breakfast while on the road it will cost you R80 and there are also health and vegetarian options. Call Emil 0833893040.
Red Ox Steakhouse at Letsatsi Lodge in Vanrhynsdorp. Starters are from R60 and mains start at R120 for a 200-gram sirloin to R180 for a T-bone steak. They also serve chicken/beef schnitzels and beer-battered hake (all R120). Call 0272192828.
Traveller’s Rest Restaurant has a full farm breakfast on their menu for R75. Filter coffee is R20. Their health breakfast is R50. Call 0274821824.
Thornbay Accommodation from R600 per night for four people and it’s self-catering. 0272151333.
Letsatsi Lodge is R595 for a single person and R950 for two adults sharing (breakfast included). Letsatsi has succulent tours and a historical church. Some of the units also have self-catering facilities and braai areas. Call 0272192828.
Kliphuis has three cottages that sleep a minimum of six people and a maximum of eight people. Self-catering. 0214830190.
Call Cape West Coast Tourism for more information: 0224338505 or email [email protected]