At the end of the eighteenth century, over a period of about twenty years, 12 000 southern right whales were killed to provide northern soap, oil and whale-bone corsets. The name 'Southern Right' came from the whalers who regarded it as the 'right' whale to hunt. By 1935, a hundred odd mammals were left in South African seas. Protection was finally awarded in 1940. Sixty years on, population figures are rising but it will take another thirty years for the Southern Right to fully recover. The whales visit the east and west coast of the Cape on their annual migration north. They come to have their calves in the warmer southern waters and can be viewed breaching and spouting and tail-lashing from July to November all along the coast.
Saldanha, West Coast
An hour and a half's drive from Cape Town north on the west coast road is the largest natural bay in South Africa , which, unsurprisingly, finds itself the centre of the west coast steel industry - smelt it here, load it here and transport it from here. The same goes for Saldanha's other big industry, fishing - catch it here, buy it here and eat it here. There is also a resident navy base.
Nearby Langebaan is of more recreational interest although fishing trips and boat trips, 4x4 routes and hiking trails, and numerous watersports can be enjoyed here, as there. Flower season is from August to November and the whales can be seen from June to December and there is an Arts and Crafts Market on the first Saturday of every month.
French Huguenot Memorial, Saldanha
This monument commemorates the landing of the first French Protestants who fled Catholic persecution in the seventeenth century. Facing an uncertain future as refugees in Europe, a number arrived at the Cape, taking up the Dutch East India Company's offer of land, in exchange for fresh produce to supply their ships; laden with tea from China, horses from Arabia, gold from Sumatra and wine and dried fruit from the Cape.
West Coast National Park, West Coast
100 kilometres north of Cape Town on the straight and fast track from Cape Town on the R27 highway, the southern tail of the Langebaan lagoon sweeps through the West Coast National Park which comprises some 20 000 hectares of inland and coastal reserve. The protected beaches and low-lying bush and lake shelter a huge diversity of fauna as well as flora. Flower season arrives after the winter rains in September and the dunes and marshy flats twinkle with colour. The Postberg section of the park is only open during flower season; August to October.
The Parks Board run boat trips from their Langebaan base to Postberg and then give the guided tour by vehicle. There is some gravel road inside the park but 4x4's aren't necessary. There is no accommodation within the park. The lagoon has been parcelled up allowing a variety of water sports on the one hand and a wilderness area closed to the public on the other. There are hiking trails and spring flower trails through the reserve offering an opportunity to bump into an antelope or two. Bird hides make bird-watching that much easier. There are picnic facilities for day visitors.
Hiking trails, West Coast National Park
Hiking and spring flower trails are offered throughout the reserve. The Postberg Wildflower Trail is open during the spring months of August and September only and is a two-day ramble through one of nature's many wonders. The flowers provide the setting for a large variety of antelope and birdlife. While the walking is not strenuous you'll have to pitch your own tent and carry your own water. Bookings for this popular trail open on April 1 and as only twelve people are admitted daily, you will need to phone promptly.
The Strandveld Educational Trail starts at the Geelbek Environmental Centre within the park which provides accommodation in a Cape Dutch homestead and National Monument. The double bunks are more than comfortable, hearty West Coast meals are provided in the dining room and there's a bar to slake that post-hike thirst. Videos, slide shows and briefings from the resident Parks Board officials prepare you for the birds, beasts and poison milk bush you'll see on the two day walk past Strandveld sand dunes and Sixteen Mile Beach.
Accommodation in West Coast National Park
Lamberts Bay, West Coast
Two and a half hours north of Cape Town on the west coast, this seaside village and laid-back holiday resort at the mouth of the Jakkals River has great seafood, fine beaches and lots of birds. Boat trip, Lamberts Bay Two rivers and an ocean beg to be explored from Lamberts Bay. The Olifants River and the Berg River bracket the coastal town. Day cruises to the rivers north and south of Lamberts Bay take you past dolphins and seasonal whales and the largest seal colony on the West Coast.
Help catch your own lobster, the cuisine for which the area is most famous, or throw in a lazy line upriver. There is a rustic bush camp at which to overnight if following the loops of the Olifants River. Sundowner cruises as well as seafood dinners and lunches aboard, can also be arranged. And on those days when the weather fails to co-operate, 4x4 beach trips and coastal runs are organized instead.