“The best thing about living in Cape Town, is that I have Africa on my doorstep” said a Kenyan friend who moved to South Africa from New York.
The west coast stretches an awe-inspiring 650km from Cape Town to Namibia, its white-sand beaches pummelled by the angry Atlantic all the way. Foiled by fog, the strong currents and rocky reefs, ships lie wrecked everywhere along it. German rock stars and English aristocracy, Hong Kong investment bankers and American film directors are now very much part of the fabric of Cape Town society.
The West Coast National Park is undoubtedly the jewel in this peninsula’s crown. It curves protectively around the magnificent Langebaan Lagoon, 5,700 watery hectares separated from the Atlantic by a fragile sand-dune barrier fronted by the dangerous but beautiful 16 Mile Beach. National Park accommodation is mostly limited to basic chalets, but those in the know head for Churchhaven, a secret slice of Caribbean-blue heaven on the remote western shores of the lagoon, where the sand is fine and white and the water clear and calm.
The West Coast is famous for its beach-shack restaurants serving barbecued seafood, dried mullet (bokkoms) is the region’s official snack. But the fertile Swartland, ablaze with wild flowers in the spring, also produces exceptional wines and even olives. There is a cluster of boutique wineries around the town, home to South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys (who performs as Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout, ‘the most famous white woman in South Africa’).
The less-explored Overberg Coast, to the west of the Garden Route, makes a rewarding alternative. It has wide beaches, good restaurants and wineries, moody seas at the southernmost tip of Africa, an 1824 mission station, and a sensational coastal reserve even the locals don’t know about.