Hidden Gems Edition 25

Our regular feature in which we explore some of South Africa’s many fascinating, unique, and off-the-beaten-track destinations and experiences you may not have known even existed…

By Stef Terblanche

 

Yzerfontein, the pearl of the West Coast

 

The publicity brochures refer to Yzerfontein as, “our hidden gem”. They go on to describe it as “the pearl of the West Coast” that is “a pleasant one-hour drive from the metropole of Cape Town”. These things Yzerfontein can truly claim.

But not too many people know of or where this pretty little village is. It is fairly well hidden, straddling a small peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean some 9km off the beaten track, the latter being the R27 or West Coast Road of course. The turnoff is about 90km or an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. But once you turn off the main arterial route and drive the 9km route to the village and the sea, delightful discoveries start popping up all over the place.

 

Yzerfontein the village, came into being when the Katz family bought Yzerfontein the farm in the 1930s and divided it into plots which they sold. Many were bought by farmers from surrounding districts to put up holiday homes. Today the village of some 1,200 permanent residents is a favourite holiday spot, swelling its population in the summer months. The village harbour is used by many professional and leisure fishermen to launch their boats in pursuit of snoek, a favourite South African fish delicacy, and tourists from near and far visit here each year during the wildflower season. In Afrikaans the village’s name means Iron Fountain.

The village is surrounded by nature reserves, adding to its well-preserved beauty, while it sits at the southern end of the West Coast National Park and the Langebaan Lagoon. But it is devoid of the sometimes over-crowdedness of Langebaan and Saldanha, especially in the summer months. Dassen Island, about 10km offshore, is another local nature reserve. From Yzerfontein the aptly named 16 Mile Beach offers scenic access to hikers on foot to the West Coast National Park.

Once you have turned off the R27 onto the R315 that leads into the village, you’ll start passing a number of delightful stops, such as a farm stall, guest farms and B&Bs, bistro, restaurants and even a fish market.And if you wonder what those “round white things” that you might spot from the road, well they are round white lime kilns. Two can be seen next to the R315 when approaching Yzerfontein, the only two that remain in South Africa and that were declared a national monument in 1980.

And just as you reach the entrance to the village, a slight rise in the road surprises visitors with a fantastic bird’s eye view of the village, the ocean, the little harbour, the peninsula, 16 Mile Beach and, to the south, the world-famous postcard view of Table Mountain.

There’s plenty to do in Yzerfontein and the surrounding areas. As mentioned, it borders the West Coast National Park and the Langebaan Lagoon. Driving through the park en route to the lagoon, you may come across antelope, wild ostriches, tortoises, and a snake or two crossing the road in front of you. Remember, they have the right of way.

The Langebaan Lagoon in itself is a great treat. Start at the Seeberg View Point on the eastern side just south of Langebaan village, then drive around the lagoon’s southern tip and the Geelbek Bird Lookout, then up along the western side to the quaint and timeless little fisherman’s hamlet of Churchhaven, and then on to Preekstoel beach and Kraalbaai with its houseboats. Here you can also enter the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park with its Lookout Point for views all around, while it is also a very popular location during the wildflower season.

You can even go on proper game viewing drives at the nearby Groote Post game farm. Groote Post is located on 2,000 hectares of natural West Coast vegetation, including the highly threatened Swartland Granite Renosterveld, Swartland Shale Renosterveld and Atlantis Sand Fynbos. The farm is home to indigenous species such as kudu, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, bontebok, springbok, quaggas, eland and gemsbok.

 

Just east of Yzerfontein on the other side of the R27, you’ll find a fascinating cultural centre dedicated to the history and culture of the hunter-gatherer San people who along with the Khoi were the original inhabitants of these parts. The centre is called the !Khwa ttu San Culture & Education Centre and is truly well worth a visit.

A bit further east along the R315 lies the village of Darling, famous for Evita se Perron, the theatre restaurant of the well-known South African performer, author, satirist, and social activist Pieter Dirk Uys. Darling is also well-known for its annual flower show, the nearby wildflower reserve, its museum, and a wine cellar or two.

In Yzerfontein itself there are excellent eating places, bistros and pubs, as well as a choice of B&Bs. The little fishing harbour with its breakwater that keeps the robust Atlantic at bay, is a focal point and can get quite busy when the small boats laden with snoek return to shore.

16 Mile Beach presents itself as a wonderful hiking trail for those more energetic, while in the nearby national park you can tackle the Geelbek Trail. The beach is also well suited for mountain biking and horse riding. At the southern tip of the peninsula and connected to the mainland, lies Schaapeiland (Sheep Island) which offers a delightful shorter hiking alternative with amazing views and marine bird life.

Visitors can explore the entire coastline around here making use of raised walkways, clearly marked walking paths, lookout points, and easy access to the beaches and the sea. While the Atlantic Ocean with its Benguela Current can be cold to put it mildly, it still lends itself to swimmers, snorkel and scuba diving, anglers, kayaking and surfing. Yzerfontein is also a good place for dolphin and whale watching.

At the other end of the action spectrum, shoppers and those keeping the kitchen of the self-catering accommodation going, will find all the necessary shops in the village, including a small shopping centre.

Contact Yzerfontein Tourism Office on Tel +27 (0)22 451 2985 or visit their website at https://yzerfonteintourism.co.za/.

 

Hartenbos offers wonderful family weekends and holidays

Image by Andre Janse van Rensburg

If it’s a fun weekend or holiday ranging from doing nothing to doing everything that you want, plus value for money, then Hartenbos on the Garden Route is just the place. Hartenbos is a small town on the famous Garden Route within the Mossel Bay Local Municipality, and some 8km from the centre of Mossel Bay. It hugs the warm Indian Ocean along the N2 highway between Cape Town and Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and is also just 35km from George Airport. But Hartenbos is probably best known for being home to the sprawling ATKV resort of the same name.

Here the sayings “budget holidays” and “family holidays” still have real meaning. Included with this are superb beaches, a lovely river lagoon, too many leisure activities to name, a riverside hotel with restaurant and bar, an excellent ATKV resort restaurant, many little shops and kiosks that line the main entry road in summer, indoor heated bathing pools, an outside public swimming pool, popular concerts, a new waterpark with three water slides, two mini golf courses, a kiddie’s playpark and much more. The resort also houses a 1,000-person conference facility and concert hall where some big South African stars regularly perform.

Image by Andre Janse van Rensburg

The ATKV, to which this seaside resort pretty much owes its existence, started as a private venture established by twelve people in Cape Town back in 1930 to promote an environment in which Afrikaans speakers could enjoy themselves together. The name ATKV literally means Afrikaans Language and Culture Association. It soon started developing holiday resorts around the country, such as Hartenbos. These days the ATKV runs an impressive portfolio of seven resorts, all located in beautiful settings around the country and is also still an Afrikaans cultural centre with some 70,000 members, 30 cultural projects, and some 220,000 people who are involved with its projects. One of its more unusual and colourful projects is the annual rieldans traditional dancing competitions it organises in the Western and Northern Cape.

Hartenbos can easily be reached by car or bus along the N2 highway or by air to George Airport. It’s railway station, although no longer active as a commercial mainline station, is still a stop for private sightseeing train tours.

Image by ATKV

The ATKV resort offers a wide and value-for-money choice of accommodation ranging from seaside camping to cottages, rooms, rondavels, houses, flats, Park homes, and other self-catering units. In addition, there are plenty of accommodation options available in the surrounding non-ATKV-resort residential areas.

From Hartenbos’ beachfront one has superb views of the many kilometres of white-sanded beaches stretching north and south, and of the suburbs of Bayview, Voorbaai and Diaz Beach, all the way across the sea to Mossel Bay. A long-time favourite with locals and visitors alike is the Riviera Hoten located on the banks of the Hartenbos River, which offers hotel accommodation, self-catering units, restaurant, bar and fabulous waterside terrace. As their brochure says, the breath-taking view and relaxing scenery is what makes the Riviera Hotel perfect for business trips, family vacations or just a weekend away.

Image by Andre Janse van Rensburg

Using Hartenbos as your base, you will never in a year get through all the wonderful things you can do in the surrounding areas and towns. In Mossel Bay south of Hartenbos, you can visit the casino, play golf with sea views from every hole, book a deep sea fishing charter, go scuba and snorkel diving, surf at Outer and Inner Pool respectively, visit the many little shops and shopping malls, tackle the cliffside hiking trail with its sea caves  between the Cape St Blaize lighthouse and Dana Bay, laze on excellent beaches such as Santos and De Bakke, swim in the large tidal pool known as the Poort at The Point, visit the local Post Office Tree museum complex and learn about the region’s fascinating history, do the zipline from a cliff over the sea, visit a wine estate or game farm, enjoy the many restaurants and pubs, and do a thousand other things. In Voorbaai shoppers may want to stop at the Langeberg Mall.

Image by Drone Fanatics SA

Going north to Oudtshoorn – about an hour’s drive away – you can have lunch at the Eight Bells mountain inn, take in the views from the lookout spots on the Robinson Pass, or visit the ostrich farms, the CP Nel Museum in town, view the magnificent residential palaces of the erstwhile ostrich barons, visit the CJ Langenhoven museum in the erstwhile home of the celebrated author, or go and visit the nearby Cango Caves.

Image by ATKV

Going northeast towards George – about 40km away – you will pass one enticing seaside holiday resort town after the other… each one worth a proper exploratory visit. These include Little Brak River, Glentana, Tergniet, Rhebok, Great Brak River, and Herald’s Bay. At Great Brak River you can visit the old train station, now a pub and restaurant, drive across to the Island, board slide down the giant sand dunes, and more.

George also has so much on offer that it’s impossible to list. But some of the attractions here include the town centre with its lovely little shops, eateries, coffee shops and historical building. There’s also a fabulous Transport Museum with old cars, trucks, trains and buses. From George you can also do a very scenic drive up the Outeniqua Pass PASS.

 

 

Discovering Stilbaai, the sleeping beauty of the Southern Cape

In the heart of the Southern Cape coastal region lies Stilbaai, or Still Bay, a true gem off the beaten path, and one of only a few towns in South Africa that developed on either side of a river and along the sea.

 

To get to this lovely sea- and riverside town you need to travel along the N2 coming from Cape Town or Mossel Bay, turning off south onto the R305 approximately 12km from Riversdale. After about 26km you’ll come to the only bridge that crosses the Goukou River at Stilbaai. This river divides the town in Stilbaai-East and Stilbaai-West.

 

The river provides an idyllic setting for this little town, equalled only by the many kilometres of unspoilt beaches on either side. Stilbaai-West ends on a little peninsula where you will find the town’s fishing harbour – really not much more than a shed or two, a small breakwater and two slipways where a few local fishermen and holidaymakers can launch their boats.

Stilbaai lies within the Hessequa Local Municipality that incorporates also the towns and villages of Albertinia, Gouritz, Heidelberg, Jongensfontein, Riversdale, Slangrivier, Witsand and smaller settlements like Melkhoutfontein, Vermaaklikheid and Garcia. Located some 7km west of Stilbaai along the sea is another charming village, Jongensfontein consisting mainly of holiday homes.

While Stilbaai can get quite busy in the peak summer holiday season, it’s permanent population together with that of the two adjacent villages, Jongensfontein and Melkhoutfontein, numbers only approximately 7,000 people.

Travelling along the N2 in the vicinity of Riversdale you may have noticed a peak of the Langeberg mountains that looks like the profile of a beautiful woman with her eyes shut. Long ago this peak was named The Sleeping Beauty by locals. So, it’s probably no coincidence that Stilbaai’s lovely bay just a short distance south is also known as the Bay of Sleeping Beauty.

The excellent N2 highway gives easy access to Stilbaai whether coming for Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) or from Cape Town. And a mere 70km away to the east is Mossel Bay with all its interesting attractions, wonderful hospitality options, shopping and plenty of other things to do. Stilbaai can of course also be reached by air, using the airstrip just outside Riversdale. George airport, which handles normal passenger aircraft, is 150 km away.

Visitors to Stilbaai can choose whether to utilise the river or the sea for a wide range of water-based sport and leisure activities. These range from skiing to kayaking, sailing, motorboating, swimming, river angling, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, kitesurfing and more. The estuary creates a large lagoon and the Goukou River is navigable upstream for 15km. The shallow bay with its clean, sandy beaches adds to the attraction of Stilbaai as a family holiday destination. There are 4 beaches that have Blue Flag status during the December – January holiday season.

Once you can pull yourself away from the water and the beaches, there are several awesome hiking routes to choose from. Stilbaai is also surrounded by several nature reserves – most of them for the protection of fynbos – including the Tuin-Op-Die-Brak Fynbos Garden, a unique fynbos park containing over 200 species of plants, the Geelkrans Provincial Nature Reserve, Stilbaai Oos nature Reserve, Stilbaai Fynbos Private Nature Reserve, Kleinjongensfontein Nature Reserve, among others. Cape Nature’s superb Grootvadersbosch and De Hoop Nature Reserves are also nearby, as is SANParks’ Bontebok National Park. The estuary with its bird hide is also a hit with birdwatchers.

A visit to nearby Melkhoutfontein is a must for a local culture and cuisine experience. Interested in history and archaeology? Stilbaai has it all. The ancient stone fish traps found along the coast here have national monument status and were declared a restricted zone within the Stilbaai Marine Protected Area. They give a fascinating insight into ancient technology. Along the coast you will also find some very old shell middens which, together with the Blombos cave archaeological site provide visible evidence of the Later Stone Age. It is also well worth visiting the Blombos Museum of Archaeology which is accommodated care of Stilbaai Tourism Bureau in the historic De Jager farmstead, Die Palinggat in Stilbaai.

Also, at Die Palinggat, the Stilbaai Tourism Bureau in Langenhovenstreet is home to the only tame eels in South Africa that can be hand-fed in the fountain adjacent to the historic homestead. Visitors can also feed the eels although kids are more eager to participate. These freshwater eels belong to the Anquilla genus of the family Anquillidae and later in life the migrate to the coast off Madagascar.

 

Other local attractions include the Inverroche Gin Distillery, a world first, where Fynbos is used to produce gin, with the facility offering gin tasting and pairing sessions, and Kasselshoop where the Old School Tasting Room and Eatery offers cheese pairing session with beer, gin, wine, port and olives.

 

There are many other sporting options with good facilities available here, including golf, tennis, bowls, jukskei, squash, cycling and mountain biking. Explore the fishing harbour while waiting for the boats to come in with their catches. The town also has two well-stocked grocery stores, medical facilities, restaurants, take-away food outlets, clothing shops, beauty salons, gift shops, hairdressers, and sports shops.

Locals will tell you that the popularity of Stilbaai as one of the best tourist destinations on the Garden Route, is well established and continues to grow, but it also remains a pollution-free, safe, and peaceful place to spend a fantastic holiday.

 

Restaurants and coffee shops are plentiful here, ranging from establishments such as the Coffee & Cream Coffee Shop & Restaurant to Drie Pikkewyne Restaurant on the beachfront in Jongensfontein, Die Inkommer Koffiewinkel, the licenced seafood-serving Die Lapskuit, the Fresh Lemon on the main road in Stilbaai-East, Hanlie’s Bistro at the river bridge in Stilbaai-West, the House of Sarah with its nursery garden, Lappiesbaai Restaurant on the blue flag Lappiesbaai Beach, Lihong’s Asian cuisine, Lilliput Coffee Shop, and Allegaartjie restaurant on Main Road.

 

Accommodation is just as plentiful with private holiday homes for rent, self-catering cottages and apartments, guest farms, lodges, Airbnb, camping sites and caravan parks, B&Bs, and backpackers covering a popular range of prices and standards.

 

  • For more information contact the Hessequa Local Municipality at +27 (0)28 713 8000

(main switchboard), +27 (0)28 713 8001 (municipal manager), +27 (0)28 713 7829

(tourism); or contact Stilbaai Tourism Bureau on Tel +27 (0)28 754 2602, email

stilbaaiinfo@easycoms.co.za or visit their website at https://stilbaaitourism.co.za/.