The West Coast is vastly different from the more-visited Garden Route – a wild, bleak stretch lashed by the icy Atlantic and backed by rolling dunes covered in coastal fynbos; it’s far removed from the lush green landscape full of rivers and waterfalls found in the south. It has now become a standard fixture for tourists, who are attracted by both the sun-bleached coast and the spectacular flowers that blanket the area in spring. The cold Benguella of the Atlantic also brings with it some of the most nutrient-rich waters found on the planet. This fertile sea supports an enormous wealth of marine life; the fishing is superb and the coast is famous for its excellent seafood. Inland lies a fertile farming region, the Swartland, known for its grain and wine. Further north, the N7 highway passes along the magnificent Cederberg, a wilder- ness area with some of the best hiking in South Africa.
While the sea may be too cold for swimming, the region’s climate is very favourable. As you travel north from Cape Town the summer temperatures are higher, and the rainfall is less. The air is dry and, even in winter, providing the winds aren’t blowing, it can be very warm. Most of the rain falls between June and September. Whales start arriving along the West Coast around May and the mating pairs and family pods remain until December.
Driving out of Cape Town, follow the N1 through Durbanville and the northern suburbs for the West Coast. If time is not an issue, turn off the N1 at the Maitland junction, signposted Milnerton M5, and follow the signs for the R27. This is the old coast road which runs all the way north to Velddrif, north of the West Coast National Park. If you are pressed for time, take a left at Acacia Park and follow signs for the N7. This is the main highway from Cape Town to Namibia, which runs up the west coast through the Northern Cape Province.