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”.
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.