After spending almost three decades’ worth of holidays along its shores, I still jump at every chance for a West Coast weekend.
This time around I explored Elands Bay – a seaside hamlet mainly known for surfing and crayfish, although what with the latter now listed as endangered, the costly crustacean was entirely off the menu. Seafood aside, the town still makes for a wonderful weekend destination for anyone looking for recharge a mere 1.5 hours from Cape Town. Known as the gateway to the Cederberg, the rocky outcrops that ring Elands are home to many a cave filled with the paintings of the ancient Khoisan people that called this shoreline home for thousands of years. Visitors can see the a few of the paintings in the Elands Bay Cave – a world heritage site that is located just around Baboon Point, above the skeleton of a radar tower from the Second World War. And if you’re anything like me, the dilapidated old crayfish factory just below the Point also has its draw. Head over at dawn or dusk for the best opportunity to capture the light over the ocean. My heart might lie in Velddrif, but my sense of wanderlust is most certainly ignited by Elands Bay.
Relatively remote, with an exhilarating sense of space and freedom, this is the town you want to stay in when looking to avoid crowds, crying kids and cellphone reception. Predominantly made up of a surfing, farming and fishing community, Elands is diverse enough to keep one interested, but succeeds in retaining it’s rustic charm. As with my previous visit, I stayed on the banks of the Verlorenvlei – a seasonal estuarine reserve home to myriad species of birdlife. Unfortunately most of the vlei was very dry due to the crippling drought the Western Cape is currently experiencing, but luckily I still caught a glimpse of a pair of African fish eagles nesting in the bluegum trees behind the cottage. Unpretentious and charmingly simple, the cottage in question is known as Klein Bontebok and features two double bedrooms, two rustic bathrooms (take a pair of rubber flip-flops if concrete shower floors ain’t your thing), a galley kitchen and a roomy living space and verandah. Ideal for those on a surfing retreat or families with young children, Klein Bontebok is conveniently situated about five minutes from Elands Bay and just south of Vensterklip – a guest farm, wedding venue and restaurant that does fantastic woodfired pizzas every Friday night. There is also a family of friendly horses that live on the neighbouring farm – they’re particularly fond of carrots so be sure to purchase a bag or two for them.
Apart from the Elands Bay hotel (best for a view of Baboon Point) and the Wit Mossel Pot backpackers (best for arguably the most delicious chicken livers I’ve had to date), the town itself has one small general store and two liquor stores, meaning that while it’s advisable to bring your own food, there is an abundance of local wines available to purchase. My favourites include Sir Lambert and Kookfontein‘s Sauvignon Blanc and Groote Post‘s Semillon. It was the latter I opted for, with an idea to pair the wine’s dry minerality with a few lamb rib chops I picked up at the Laaiplek Butchery in Velddrif.
Being a fan of Mediterranean flavour, the best way to do lamb is in a marinade of lemon, garlic, olive oil and fresh rosemary before grilling the chops over the coals or slowly braising them on the stove. I’m a firm believer in simple recipes and so rehashed the lamb chop recipe I did for St Helena Bay as part of my West Coast Wander series. Paired with homemade tzatziki, roosterkoek and perhaps a chunky salad (entirely optional!), this is a dish that celebrates the ingredients of the West Coast whilst giving a nod to its Grecian climate. Fortuitously, I did happen to have some seasonal fruit at hand, and decided to celebrate the long days of late summer with a watermelon and white nectarine salad. A tang was added with a few fleshy lobes from a spekboom plant – an indigenous succulent found all along the West Coast and known for its salty, savoury taste.
The best part of a West Coast weekend has to be sitting out on the stoep after dinner, drinking a few extra glasses of wine before bedtime and listening to the call of the frogs and the whisper of the wind through the reeds, the air fragrant with woodsmoke, bluegum and ocean mist. In the sky, there is still the faintest glow of the long day and stars are beginning to appear. No music is required, no rude interruption by cellphone or siren breaks the peace and there is absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do but enjoy the evening.
This is when I feel most in love with the West Coast. This is when I feel that I am home.