When I first stumbled into the West Coast National Park it hadn’t yet been proclaimed. It was the early 1980s and my old mate “The Stone” had convinced me that going on a naval officer’s course during National Service was a good idea. That was all very well for him to say, ensconced as he was in his Namacurra patrol boat parked off the backline at Kalk Bay while I slogged it out across 16-mile beach, wondering what the hell I was thinking.
But as I gaze over the turquoise waters of the now protected (since 1985) Kraalbaai, the challenge of eating glucose rations and making potable water from a primitive desalinating contraption while surviving in a life raft, seems like a lifetime ago. The scene that presents itself now, houseboats tugging gently at their moorings and seabirds wheeling lazily overhead, couldn’t be further removed from those fraught naval survival training days, even though the comparison makes today’s savouring even sweeter.
A man I’ve always been quite jealous of is Frank Wightman. A loner by nature, and a naturalist and sailor by lifestyle, Wightman spent around 24 years aboard his self-built wooden yawl, Wylo, in this exquisite bay from the 1940s onwards. My favourite quote of his is contained in Lawrence Green’s biography (A Giant in Hiding; Timmins; 1970) and sums up what appealed to him about his newly found utopia: “Here the tyranny of time would be annihilated. The sweep of the tides would clean the beaches at the appointed hours but never would the sounds of the lagoon jar on him like a factory hooter. Here he could live by the values of remote ancestors. This was the way of life to which he had always been destined and he had reached it after many years of groping.”
My first overnight stop on my planned four-night, five-day tour of the West Coast, was Yzerfontein. I’d got there aboard Sir Galahad the previous afternoon after a 285 km (sadly mostly on tar) ride in from Bot River, the few dirt highlights of which had been the Mooreesburg dirt highway from Gouda and the virgin, dirt-surfaced R307 into Darling.
With the Swartland temperatures already hitting 35 degrees, I was thankful for the sea breeze pushing in from the Atlantic and arrived in Yzerfontein suitably chilled and ahead of schedule. On my ride around this Chi-Chi holiday town looking for a place to eat my humble can of pilchards (yes, Mboweni and I both love this staple) I come across a poignant scene in the parking lot of the small craft harbour. There, in the middle of road lay a mother dassie with her paws encircling her recently knocked down baby. Even though the little dassie’s soul had clearly departed the planet, she wouldn’t leave it and guarded her progeny lovingly. I eventually managed to shoo her away from the small body and the pooling red stain around it, and lifting the little critter by its hind paws, I placed it among the kind of rocks where it was born. I was no longer hungry.
But by sunset, sitting on my apartment’s stoep, nursing a scotch on a glassful of rocks while I watched the surfers scribble patterns on the waves, my mood lifted and I later rustled up a notable camp chow of All Gold vegetable curry (seasoned with a sachet of Nando’s peri-peri) and brown rice. I enjoyed it while watching the latest developments in the US elections on TV; probably not the best antidote for heartburn, but absorbing nevertheless.
Back in the West Coast National Park (WCNP) the next day, I cruise towards Tsaarsbank’s picnic sites. En route, the second puff adder of the day slid across the road in front of me and as I watch the Atlantic rollers sweep into the small bay I tally the animals I’ve seen today: tortoises of all shapes and sizes; ostriches, bontebok, black harriers, flamingos, yellow-billed kites, black oystercatchers, eland, puff adders and an enormous mole snake.
Puttering along at 50 km/h on a beautiful spring day through these pristine surrounds, even on a tar road (dead quiet mid-week), is almost as cathartic as a Zen-dirt track through the Karoo. In fact, with the cooling sea breeze in summer, it may even trump it.
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