The great escape: take a surf safari up the West Coast

Posted by Justin Fox on 13 July 2016

Justin Fox packed his Beetle with windsurfer and surfboard, and headed up the famous West Coast route on a surfing road trip that never gets old.

 

Surfers emerge from a playful session at Sunset Beach, just north of Cape Town. Photo by Justin Fox.

Surfers emerge from a playful session at Sunset Beach, just north of Cape Town.

Back in the 1990s, when I was a student in Cape Town, a West Coast surfing trip offered the great escape. A long weekend up to Elands Bay, with boards and beers and babes, was the holy grail, especially after year-end exams. For many cape town youngsters, E-Bay (Elands Bay) meant the first kiss, the first babalas, the first green tube of eternal stoke.

Twenty years later, and still a sucker for surfing in all its forms, I planned a road trip to my West Coast haunts of yore. I phoned the lads, all of them a bit longer in the tooth but still surf devotees, and many were heading north too, as the wind and waves looked to be smoking. Dave suggested Swartriet, Luke said Elands, Philip was going to stick to Melkbos.

I loaded the Beetle (the new one; my yellow bug of the 90s had long since passed into VW heaven) with surfboard and windsurfer. My partner, Tracey, packed hampers of food and strange, practical stuff such as sunscreen and maps.

 

Iconic West Coast signage. Photo by Justin Fox.

Iconic West Coast signage.

It was a bright and breezy summer’s day as we hit the R27, Californian rock filling the car and our grins as wild and carefree as 18-year-olds. We didn’t get far. Luke SMSed that Sunset Beach, just north of Cape Town, was epic. So we took a left turn and arrived in a parking lot jammed with kitesurfers and windsurfers. There were carloads of Europeans, wind swallows out for the season and taking advantage of the suicidal rand. ‘Plenty of action,’ said Luke, pulling on his wetsuit. ‘five-foot waves, 20 knots of wind, perfect!’

I wasted no time. Soon I was racing across luminous green water, my sail filling to the southeaster, the board leaping from the lips of curling waves and riding long, clean faces. The kiters were getting prodigious air, flying high like agile marionettes above the criss-crossing windsurfers.

 

Kitesurfers and windsurfers assess conditions before rigging up at Sunset Beach. Photo by Justin Fox.

Kitesurfers and windsurfers assess conditions before rigging up at Sunset Beach.

It was a most satisfactory opening salvo, but the north road beckoned. We paused to check the breaks at Blouberg, Haakgat and Melkbos, then pressed on past the resort of Ganzekraal with its gorgeous beach, to Yzerfontein. There we hired a self-catering apartment, On the Beach, for the night. You step out the door onto a dune above a stretch of wild shore. Boogie-board grommets splashed in the shore break while a few silverbacks rode a large wave at the back, carving its face with awesome precision.

Next, we hit Langebaan, a Mecca for all forms of sailing on the West Coast. We checked into Puza Moya, a guest house attached to the Cape Sports Centre. Antony and Esti Teale run this establishment, which caters for watersports on the lagoon, offering rentals, lessons and a shop that sells equipment ranging from surfing and windsurfing to stand-up paddling (SUP), kayaking and kitesurfing.

 

Crayfish, bokkoms and boats are what the West Coast is all about. Photo by Justin Fox.

Crayfish, bokkoms and boats are what the West Coast is all about.

In the morning, while the wind was still iffy, Tracey and I tried SUP. We carried the big, floaty board to the water and hopped on. It was a pleasant, if wobbly, few hours learning to paddle and taking colourful tumbles as a tiny swell played havoc with our balance. All around us were novice kitesurfers and windsurfers learning the ropes, and groups of instructors shouting directions from the shore.

When the wind got up, clearing the grommets from the water, I rented a sleek 86-litre Tabou windsurfer and raced across the lagoon. Back and forth I sailed, to Schaapen and Meeuw islands through shallows alive with gulls and cormorants, until I was too exhausted to stand. Plugging into E-Bay North we drove, bound for legendary Elands Bay, the best surf spot in the Western Cape. As the wind and swell had eased off, I skipped the spots on the Cape Columbine peninsula, such as Swartriet, Trekoskraal and Heaven. We crossed the Berg River and hugged the coast past Dwarskersbos, through farmland gripped by drought. Over a rise and down to the lovely, reed-rimmed Verlorenvlei, where thatched langhuises still line banks aflutter with every waterfowl under the West Coast sun.

We were staying at Elands Bay Hotel, an old-school establishment that’s been around since the surf toppies were grommets. It’s a no-nonsense, no-frills place and lies just above the beach and caravan park where we used to camp on student jaunts. The wind was building and a decent swell bent into the bay. Lads were rigging up in the parking lot and soon we were dancing out across raking blue hillocks. Gybing onto a face and creaming down the line, smacking the lip and tearing clean bottom turns with the southeaster howling over Baboon Point and across the bay.

As the sun slipped into the drink, staining the land all naartjie, Tracey and I walked along a rocky, mussel-strewn ledge where surfers come to worship at the Atlantic font. We climbed the bluff to a cave filled with San paintings. A giant eland adorned the rock, like a totem to the surf god of the point. Beside us, a group of dread-locked surf rats smoked zol and gazed at the pearly dusk.

 

Boats are numbered, just like car registrations; a patio meal with wine at sunset at Weskus Hokkie. Photo by Justin Fox.

Boats are numbered, just like car registrations; a patio meal with wine at sunset at Weskus Hokkie.

We retired to Wit Mossel Pot, a backpackers and restaurant that serves hearty fare and delights the surfer crowd. The decor is old surfboards, dreamcatchers, flotsam and sea wrack. Supper was hake and calamari and slap chips washed down by a Two Oceans white (why bother with two? Only the icy Atlantic counts). A sign on the wall read, ‘You book out but you never leave’. Damn, I thought, if I had a spare year to burn, I could easily mislay it in a place like this.

The tarred road led inland along Verlorenvlei wetland, then turned to gravel past Wadrifsoutpan. When I was a lad, Farmer Burger’s was talked about in hushed tones: a secret spot on a private farm. Legend. These days, it just so happens that Farmer Burger junior (a surf acolyte called Albert) rents out a surf shack called Weskus Hokkie on his family farm. It’s got the whole Robinson Crusoe thing down pat plus a bathroom embedded in rock and a home-made hot tub fed by a donkey burner. It’s as close to surfer heaven as the West Coast gets.

 

Tracey chilling out in a home-made hot tub fed by a donkey burner at the Weskus Hokkie. Photo by Justin Fox.

Tracey chilling out in a home-made hot tub fed by a donkey burner at the Weskus Hokkie.

That night, as the boerie and tjops sizzled on the braai, we wallowed in our outdoor bath, frothing with rooibos foam, and watched the stars surfing that long, long Milky Wave all the way to the horizon. It was time to bend the Beetle for home, except for one last stop in the fishing dorp of Lambert’s Bay to squiz the surf. As it happens, Yo-yos was cooking. It’s a reef break in front of the caravan park that goes both left and right.

I suited up and joined a pod of dolphins and whooping teens shredding the wave. Hell, I could still just about do the schoolboy thing, despite my two-score years and eight.

The Beetle honked its horn. Tracey was waving from the parking lot. Damn and blast: Cape Town was calling. So back we drove, down the West Coast road, past the spots that make this a surfer’s paradise. Our weekend had filled us up with wind and waves, calamari and chips and a hot tub under the stars. We’d be back.

‘How about next weekend?’ said Tracey.

 

Things to do on the West Coast

1. Visit the West Coast National Park

During August and September, the landscape is covered with endless carpets of flowers. The Postberg section is one of the best places to view them. There are also walking trails, pristine beaches and braai spots. Entrance is R70 per person in season (August and September) and R50 per person out of season.
sanparks.org

 

2. Visit the West Coast Fossil Park near Langebaan

See the fossils of animals such as the sabre-tooth cat and short-necked giraffe which lived in this area about five million years ago. Adults R25 per person, pensioners, students, kids (6 ‒ 17) are 20 per person, under 6s enter free.
fossilpark.org.za

 

Places to stay on the West Coast

1. On the Beach

On the Beach in Yzerfontein has two elegant apartments for self-catering. From R390 per person sharing, Marilyn Apartment sleeps two, and from R490 per person for two, plus R250 for an extra person, Luxury Apartment sleeps three.
Tel 0224512162, onthebeachyzer.co.za

 

2. Puza Moya

Puza Moya in Langebaan is a quiet guest house with rooms set around a courtyard with a braai area. It’s part of the excellent Cape Sports Centre. From R360 per person sharing.
Tel 0227721114, capesports.co.za

 

3. Elands Bay Hotel

Elands Bay Hotel is a West Coast institution. Accommodation ranges from camping and backpacking to private rooms. From R200 for camping (four people), R150 per person for backpackers and from R250 per person sharing for a standard room.
Tel 0229721640, elandsbayhotel.co.za

 

4. Weskus Hokkie

Weskus Hokkie is a surfers’ shack overlooking the ocean on Steenbokfontein farm, south of Lambert’s Bay. From R325 per person sharing.
Tel 0837021414, travelground.com/accommodation/weskus-surfer-hokkie

 

Best restaurants on the West Coast

1. Meeurots Restaurant

Meeurots Restaurant Yzerfontein, serves fresh fish and steak. Meals from R80 per person.
Tel 0224512608.

2. Marc’s Beach Bar

Marc’s Beach Bar, Langebaan, is a cocktail bar in Club Mykonos. The pizzas are great. Meals from R55.
Tel 0814107989.

3. Pearly’s Restaurant

Pearly’s Restaurant, Langebaan, is right on the beach and the most popular restaurant in town. Meals from R60 per person.
Tel 0227722734.

4. Wit Mossel Pot

Wit Mossel Pot, Elands Bay, has a surfers’ shack vibe and serves decent grub to set you right after a long session in the waves. Meals from R30 per person.
Tel 0824968931.

5. Isabella’s Restaurant

Isabella’s Restaurant in Lambert’s Bay is on the waterfront and specialises in seafood and sushi. Dishes start from R40 per person.
Tel 0274321177.

6. Die Plaaskombuis

Die Plaaskombuis, Lambert’s Bay, offers traditional Cape boerekos on a farm. Meals from R30.
Tel 0731788433.

 

This story first appeared in the April 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.

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