Do this dreamy sea­side route

Getaway (South Africa) - - Front Page -

Once upon a time, the south­ern tip of Africa was a big deal – the gate­way to the East by sea. It turned out to be a tem­pes­tu­ous place. The wa­ters around Agul­has, that south­ern tip, have of­fi­cially claimed 129 ships since 1673; the most re­cent was in 1982. It makes sense, then, that a jour­ney to the deep south should in­clude a visit to the Ship­wreck Mu­seum. That’s where I chose to start this road trip, in Bredas­dorp, also the ‘cap­i­tal’ of the Agul­has re­gion. I had orig­i­nally in­tended to start in Gans­baai and drive down the long stretch of coast un­til the tar road ended, at Die Dam, and then cut across the Agul­has Plain to the south­ern tip. But peo­ple I spoke to said it was ‘bor­ing, with noth­ing to see ex­cept alien trees’ and no sea views to speak of. Bredas­dorp is eas­ily reached from the N2, giv­ing ac­cess to any­one com­ing from Cape Town side or the Gar­den Route, or in­land from the Robert­son val­ley.

‘It was over­cast and the wind had picked up ... suit­ably ap­pro­pri­ate for a visit to the south­ern tip of Africa’

Bredas­dorp’s Ship­wreck Mu­seum was won­der­fully at­mo­spheric, with a sound­track of waves and seag­ulls that made me ea­ger to get to the coast. The road leads straight down the Agul­has Plain, through fyn­bos that twists and clumps and forms pat­terns and tex­tures. On the hori­zon, in an oth­er­wise clear blue sky, a bank of clouds hov­ered over where the coast was. It wasn’t un­til I en­tered Stru­is­baai that I caught a glimpse of the sea: stun­ningly trop­i­cal-look­ing wa­ter in glo­ri­ous blue-green hues. I needed to see more, and took a left to the har­bour, where an im­pos­si­bly quaint scene un­folded: a dozen multi-coloured lit­tle fish­ing boats (called ‘chokkas’) at an­chor in the calm bay, flocks of seag­ulls and a golden beach stretch­ing off to the left. Peo­ple came and went – turns out, Stru­is­baai har­bour is the cen­tre of town, and ev­ery­one makes a turn here to see what’s hap­pen­ing (and whether Par­rie the fa­mous st­ingray is there). I walked along the board­walk be­hind the beach, past a group do­ing a sea-yoga class, to a sec­ond, much longer stretch of sand that con­tin­ues for 14 kilo­me­tres to Ar­niston. Back in the car, Marine Drive curls around the cor­ner (evoca­tively called Spook­draai) along­side a rugged coast dot­ted with lonely benches. This stretch be­tween Stru­is­baai and L’Agul­has, due to ever-in­creas­ing devel­op­ment, is now prac­ti­cally one town. By mid-af­ter­noon, the weather had turned – the four sea­sons in a day that lo­cals speak of. It was over­cast and the wind had picked up … ap­pro­pri­ate for a visit to the south­ern tip of Africa. To be hon­est, it didn’t feel like the end of Africa; it didn’t even feel like I was stand­ing on a ‘tip’, but it does have a sense of ‘oc­ca­sion’. The woman at the info cen­tre in the light­house had said that if I walked 10 me­tres to the right of the mon­u­ment, I’d be stand­ing ex­actly in line with the meet­ing place of the two oceans. So I did that, but there was no ob­vi­ous sign – no mixing of two dif­fer­ent shades of blue. There are plans for de­vel­op­ing this site, with a much more mon­u­men­tal, ab­stract struc­ture in­volv­ing paving in the shape of Africa. It will surely make the experience feel ‘grander’ but I’d urge peo­ple to get here while it’s still a rel­a­tively sim­ple place. Be­fore leav­ing L’Agul­has the next day, I stopped in at the ‘shell house’ up on the hill. Owner Mosie Hope is an anti-plas­tic and re­cy­cling ad­vo­cate, who turns all the junk she finds on her shore walks into art­works. She’ll hap­pily show visi­tors around her ‘mu­seum’, con­tain­ing many amaz­ing things – I had no idea, for ex­am­ple, that shells start out as eggs (which look a lit­tle like caviar).

Just out­side Stru­is­baai there’s a turn-off to Elim, a short­cut across the Agul­has Plain tak­ing you past wet­lands – in­clud­ing Voëlvlei and Zoe­tendalsvlei, the sec­ond largest wet­land sys­tem in South Africa. How­ever, it’s gravel and the lo­cals call it the ‘sum­mer road’ for good rea­son; in win­ter it all turns into marsh. There is another turn-off to Elim fur­ther up, on a new tarred road link­ing Gans­baai to Bredas­dorp. It has in­creased the traf­fic through this lit­tle-vis­ited part of the Over­berg, and opened up ac­cess to a new wine route. Black Oys­ter­catcher is the es­tate most peo­ple men­tion; Strand­veld is five kilo­me­tres down the gravel road to Die Dam, and Zoe­tendal is the last es­tate just be­fore Elim. These farms are not grand and his­toric, like many in the Winelands, but they’re a wel­come anom­aly out here and the cool-cli­mate, eco-friendly wine is good. I’d been told in L’Agul­has that the road be­tween Elim and Wol­ven­gat is one of the most beautiful drives in spring when the fyn­bos blooms; even though it’s the wrong sea­son, I de­cide to try it out, be­cause who can re­sist a place called Wol­ven­gat? No other car passed me, there were some beautiful views, and I had a real feel of rewind­ing time, stum­bling on this sleepy ham­let lost to the world. ‘More peo­ple used to come this way, when gravel roads were the only way to get around this area, but since the R43 was tarred the traf­fic here has vir­tu­ally stopped,’ artist Tina de Roubaix tells me. I’m not sure if she’s glad or sad. Back in Elim I bought a soft-serve ice cream at the Royal Cafe and took a stroll. A mis­sion sta­tion founded in 1824, built around an enor­mous church, it has an old work­ing wa­ter­wheel and colour­ful cot­tages lin­ing the main street. Sit­ting un­der the palm trees in the church gar­den, I be­came aware that the church bell tolls every 15 min­utes. The pass­ing of time marked gen­tly is some­thing beautiful and sadly for­got­ten. The fol­low­ing morn­ing I headed back to the coast, pass­ing Baardskeerder­s­bos, a once-for­got­ten ham­let be­com­ing more fa­mous thanks to an in­flux of artists – its for­tunes the op­po­site of Wol­ven­gat’s. This road from ‘B-Bos’ was prob­a­bly the most scenic of the trip, with wel­come moun­tain­scapes, and again I could see a bank of clouds hov­er­ing on the hori­zon. Crest­ing a rise about half­way to Gans­baai, I saw the sea again and pulled over at a per­fectly placed pad­kos spot right there, with a glo­ri­ous vista: a great swathe of south­ern ocean to be­hold. It’s fit­ting that my jour­ney would end at Dan­ger Point – another no­to­ri­ous ship­wreck spot, most fa­mously where the Birken­head came to grief. Be­fore I got there, though, I stopped in Fran­skraal, with its lovely beach and prom­e­nade (lesser-known prime whale-watch­ing ter­ri­tory) and, drawn to a white­washed cottage in the dis­tance, dis­cov­ered the ec­cen­tric Strand­veld Mu­seum. Then I kept fol­low­ing the coast, pass­ing Klein­baai (the har­bour from which the shark-div­ing boats leave, be­fore head­ing out to the light­house. I left for home feel­ing a lit­tle haunted, yet with a head full of magnificent seascapes.

top De Roubaix Gallery in Wol­ven­gat, at the bot­tom of a gar­den filled with sculp­tures. ABOVE A clas­sic sea­side treat at Stru­is­baai har­bour. RIGHT A row of mid-19th cen­tury build­ings in Elim (one of them is the only guest­house in town).

Baardskeerder sbos Look out for our Get­away is­sue of story in the July be­low Peak caps left be­hind by pa­trons of Ma­ri­etjie’s Pub & Grill in Baardskeerder­s­bos. LEFT Suider­strand is on a pretty half-moon bay with a peb­ble beach and won­der­ful rock pools.

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