I am finding it difficult to define the West Coast.
The WestCoastWaySA routes all start in Blaauwberg with the iconic view of Table Mountain, the ocean, beaches and seaside living cafes, eateries and sun loving activities showing urban living at it’s very best.
Turn around, and with Table Mountain at your back head north, either on the N7 or the coastal R27 into the heart of the West Coast.
The landscape is one of long straight roads, often flat, sometimes undulating for miles, always offering either a shimmer of mountains in the distance, or the endless yellow of farmlands that contrast so beautifully with the huge sky. Skies that are so brightly blue they seem fake, at other times putting on a show of black clouds that create a dramatic ceiling over your head, or delicate wispy white puffs that move and change as you watch them.
Look left or right and you are bound to see tractors raising clouds of dust, wind pumps creaking in the breeze and farm stalls on the side of the road tempting you to stop for something homemade.
On the coastal route, sand dunes and hills covered by fynbos or renosterveld form a band of colour between the road and the sea. Long left turns lead you to stony beaches, white sandy bays, sheltered coves and wild, windy fishing sites.
The best known towns are possibly Darling in the interior and Langebaan on the coast, but this region has a myriad of small towns, all with a very individual flavour. There is nothing generic here and I really hope it stays that way.
Tiny mission villages lost in time look up at the same starry skies as seaside resorts and small towns built around the agricultural communities and fishing industry.
Like any industry tourism has its buzzwords, the latest being the following.
Slow living, referring to a more balanced lifestyle, with a strong focus on food, locally sourced, fresh, seasonal and cooked the old fashioned way.
Authentic experiences ,in a nutshell means avoiding tourism icons and living more like a local somewhere off the beaten track or in a residential neighbourhood rather than a touristy area.
Responsible and sustainable tourism looks holistically at the industry and strives to promote community participation, environmentally friendly practices and ensure long term success. Think job creation, education, conservation, recycling, water and energy efficient, cultural development and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Food. It’s a “thing”. These days food is much more than what you eat when you are hungry. Food is in capital letters, it is a massive industry that is hugely photographed, consumed and televised.
So here’s the “thing” about the West Coast. They are on trend, and have been before any of this was a trend. On the West Coast you just do live slowly, eat well, recycle, conserve resources and get on with your life. The buzzwords are, and always have been their lifestyle.
Being remote, any experience here is authentic because they are not on anyone’s bucket list yet.
You will recall your childhood on the West Coast and you will find your granny in these towns. It might be one of her sayings coming out the mouth of a stranger, or items familiar to you from your long forgotten visits to her house, or the stories she told of days gone by that always include a good laugh , and often a larger than life character, the kind that are hard to find these days.
I had a sneak peek into parts of the two new routes launched by West Coast Way SA, namely the Scenic and Berg routes.
Koringberg on the Scenic route intrigues me, and I have yet to set foot in this tiny hamlet.
At the Desert Rose farm stall on the N7, I listened to Tannie Marta, the local Post office lady; talk about Koringberg situated 6km up the road. I think she might be the self-appointed mayor and tourism officer of Koringberg, she certainly knows everything that is presently going on, I doubt there is much she missed of what happened in the past, and she has very clear ideas on how the town should go forward into the future.
I loved Tannie Marta’s stories; I came home and virtually toured Koringberg and the surrounds on Google Earth. I need to walk its street, photograph its moments, talk to its people and absorb its essence. I can’t wait.
Koringberg is just off the N7 halfway between Moorreesberg and Piketberg, and is 118km from Cape Town.
I think it is time for rural and urban South Africa to shake hands and see each other realistically.
The young adults in the rural areas are convinced that success and happiness lie in the cities, while every increasing affluent city dwellers and early retirees are leaving the city in search of a better lifestyle in a small town.
In 2008 tourism was declared the new gold of South Africa. Since then we have been through a global economic depression, but tourism growth has managed to hold its own.
We need to mine the tourism gold responsibly and by supporting and promoting tourism in the rural towns we can do just that. For every urbanite that relocates to a small town and embraces the lifestyle and the community, jobs can be created, city friends can be exposed to the area and a micro economy can begin an upward spiral. Sometimes all it takes to ignite a creative spark is for local inhabitants to see their home town through the eyes of delighted visitors. There are thousands of wonderful people in our tiny towns who have a wealth of knowledge and passion for their area who are doing amazing things, and we should be supporting them with our custom and marketing them by word of mouth.
Creating tourism routes is not an easy job, but it is an important one. It is the first introduction to places we have previously never heard of or considered visiting. West Coast Way SA is doing a sterling job of linking the towns and attractions of the West Coast by geographical location and themed experience. The offerings are diverse but have a very strong food, wine, culture, adventure and nature loving flavour.
With the most Northern point of the routes being only 215km from Cape Town it makes it relatively easy to incorporate more than one route into your holiday planning or visit any of the towns as a day trip from Cape Town.
Everything is offered from relaxed camping to five star luxury, so do your bit for the country and find your personal favourite on the Cape’s West Coast.
I am not yet able to fully define the West Coast, contradictory, compelling, creative and surprising are the best I can do for now.
I do know that you will find the essence of South Africa on the West Coast.
I think we should refer a trip to the West Coast as “going for gold”