Travel

Public Sector Manager - - Contents - Writer: Jill Shep­pard Im­ages: Be­van Lan­g­ley and Jill Shep­pard

Ex­plor­ing the beauty of the West Coast

The West Coast of South Africa con­jures many im­ages − a harsh and un­for­giv­ing cli­mate, des­o­late empty coast­line stretch­ing un­bro­ken for miles, raw beauty and ad­ven­ture.

For­get places like Pater­nos­ter and Lange­baan, al­though tech­ni­cally in­cluded here, as these West Coast towns are ac­ces­si­ble by tarred roads and within easy reach of Cape Town's week­end war­riors. But think about the far West Coast into the North­ern Cape. Places with names like Hon­dek­lip­baai and Kotzes­rus, towns on the way to nowhere, small patches of civil­i­sa­tion that have made peace with the harsh un­for­giv­ing sur­rounds and thrive off their iso­la­tion.

Be­cause of its re­mote na­ture, ex­plor­ing the West Coast has al­ways been a dream of mine. Not too long ago, we found our­selves in Dor­ing­baai, one of the Western Cape's last coastal towns before the bor­der with the North­ern Cape, and con­tem­plat­ing a foray into the wilds of the North­ern Cape's coast­line. Our ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion was Noup, a small clus­ter of ren­o­vated di­a­mond min­ers' huts north of Hon­dek­lip­baai.

The road less trav­elled

There are two roads to Hon­dek­lip­baai.The first and un­doubt­edly the quickest is the N7 – the na­tional free­way be­tween Cape Town and the Namib­ian bor­der.The other, and much more fit­ting to the na­ture of our ex­pe­di­tion, is a 300 km soft sand track that hugs the coast­line. It is

barely marked on all but the most de­tailed maps and known mostly only to a hand­ful of farm­ers whose land it tra­verses. There was lit­tle doubt which route we'd be tak­ing.

From what we could make out, this coastal sand road had a num­ber of farm gates that we would need to cross. It also passed through the south­ern sec­tion of the Na­maqua Na­tional Park and we would need to make it to the gate of the na­tional park within vis­i­tors' hours. Apart from that, and pray­ing we wouldn't en­counter re­sis­tance from the mines along the way that would cause us to turn back, and our route through should be clear.

The one other se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion that we paid next to no heed to was that this route is best driven in con­voy with another 4x4, with re­cov­ery equip­ment amongst the team. The soft sand road would re­quire some tech­ni­cal 4x4 driv­ing in parts, and get­ting stuck here with­out as­sis­tance or cell­phone sig­nal could mean be­ing stranded for days. Al­ready trav­el­ling alone, we had no choice but to press on un­aided if we wanted to drive this route at all.

With all of this in mind, we set out from Dor­ing­baai, first head­ing in­land to cross the mighty Oli­fants River before cut­ting back to the coast. With­out any sign­boards, it was a case of us­ing a cell­phone to match our lo­ca­tion pin with the right track on Google Maps un­til our sig­nal ran out. After that nav­i­gat­ing be­came as sim­ple as:“At a fork, choose left for the coast”.

Beauty un­ex­pected

We knew that choos­ing this route would take us well off the beaten track and away from any signs of civil­i­sa­tion. What we weren't en­tirely pre­pared for was the ab­so­lute beauty of the coast­line that we en­coun­tered and the feel­ing of be­ing com­pletely alone. We stopped at what­ever sandy beach or rocky point caught our fancy. Walk­ing out onto a beach un­marked by foot­prints and with only a few star­tled seag­ulls to dis­turb was truly an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing. I was over­whelmed by the sense of con­stancy and per­ma­nence – the knowl­edge that de­spite daily rhythms and seasonal changes, this land­scape is con­stant in its wild­ness and un­chang­ing over the aeons.

Back on the road, the deep pur­ple after­noon storm clouds build­ing on the hori­zon jux­ta­posed with the yel­low sand that later be­came red and then a desert or­ange. Low grey scrubby plants cov­ered the sand hills and, within the Na­maqua Na­tional Park, spring­buck grazed next to the road. As our time on the road ticked past seven hours of slow progress, I longed for the drive to end but at the same time, with the set­ting sun deep­en­ing the pur­ple, reds and yel­lows of the land­scape, I wanted to be in this place for­ever. The hot wind blew through me and into my spirit and at once I un­der­stood and felt the al­lure of this desert land.

Noup ex­ceeds ex­pec­ta­tions

After dark, we fi­nally reached an in­ter­sec­tion with the main dirt road lead­ing to Hon­dek­lip­baai. From here it would be another half hour to Ko­ing­naas and then on to Noup. Ar­riv­ing at a new lo­ca­tion in the dark al­ways leaves me feel­ing dis­ori­en­tated. With noth­ing but our head­lights il­lu­mi­nat­ing the bush on ei­ther side of the dirt road, it was hard to an­tic­i­pate our sur­round­ings. Morn­ing would re­veal where we were.

Noup was bet­ter than we could have imag­ined. We found our­selves in a cosy stone hut fac­ing a rocky

shore and rich blue wa­ter, lined with kelp. The stone huts are ren­o­vated di­a­mond divers' ac­com­mo­da­tion and en­joy a prime lo­ca­tion on the coast. Be­cause of Noup's re­mote­ness, the only elec­tric­ity is supplied by a gen­er­a­tor that op­er­ates for a few hours at night and in the morn­ing. Ev­ery­thing else is run on gas. For me, there is no sound more cheer­ful than the whis­tle of a boil­ing ket­tle on a gas hob, es­pe­cially when it sig­nals after­noon tea after a long day spent out­side ex­plor­ing.

Every day was spent out­side, walk­ing along sandy beaches or hop­ping from boul­der to boul­der, sneak­ing as close to the sun­bathing seals as we dared. Watch­ing the sun set over the ocean from our ve­ran­dah and lis­ten­ing to the rus­tle of scur­ry­ing an­i­mals in the scrub around us, we were filled with a sense of peace and calm. Be­ing near the sea is medicine for the soul but some­how find­ing our­selves on such a beau­ti­ful coast­line with no cell­phones or hol­i­day crowds to dis­tract and dis­turb us was even more so. In the evening, as we re­laxed on comfy arm­chairs in front of the fire­place while lis­ten­ing to the tap-tap of in­sects on the out­side the win­dows and din­ner bub­bling in a pot on the gas stove, we re­alised we did not want to leave.

We dis­cov­ered that Noup, and the West Coast in gen­eral, is ex­actly what you make of it. Its vast­ness and the raw­ness of life of­fers peace for the wea­ried soul, while its un­ex­plored and empty sur­rounds of­fer end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for the ad­ven­tur­ous. Life is dis­solved down to the es­sen­tial and sim­ple acts, like watch­ing the sun set or light­ing the gas stove for tea, that be­come equally as sat­is­fy­ing as they are beau­ti­ful.

Know before you go

Book­ings for Noup can be made via the web­site www.noup.co.za and with 11 cot­tages, can cater for large groups. Al­though we would highly rec­om­mend ex­plor­ing the coastal road, this route is only suit­able for

4x4 ve­hi­cles and adds sig­nif­i­cantly to travel time. Noup can oth­er­wise be ac­cessed via the N7, with a travel time from Cape Town of roughly 6.5 hours. Noup stocks some es­sen­tials but per­ish­able gro­ceries can be bought at nearby Kleinzee or Ko­ing­naas.

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