South Africa West Coast Wonders and Northern Cape Skies


The West Coast and Northern Cape areas of South Africa are beautiful and diverse regions, offering a variety of activities in friendly and picturesque towns. This blog explores towns, villages and parks not routinely visited by international tourists despite these destinations being easily accessible from the infamous and ever-beautiful Cape Town.

South Africa continues to be a firm favourite for tourists heading to the continent of Africa. With world-class safaris on land and at sea, beautiful landscapes, high-quality food, a wealth of adrenaline activities, unique cultural experiences, exceptional accommodations and of course delicious wines and craft beers all on offer in abundance it is easy to see why so many people fall in love with this beautiful country. This is also why I believe that South Africa isn’t a country you should just visit once. Whilst Cape Town, the Garden Route, Kruger National Park and the Drakensberg are popular for those travelling for the first time (with good reason) there are so many other amazing places on offer that there is plenty to see for second, third…..even tenth-time visitors! As someone who visits at least a couple of times per year, has been more than twenty times and always finds something new to fill me with joy, I believe that South Africa is a country you can visit time and time again, whilst feeling like you are discovering it for the first time.

This blog briefly explores a number of beautiful places north of Cape Town, along the stunning and rugged West Coast region before continuing on to highlights in the Northern Cape. I have focussed on accommodations, activities and experiences that are predominantly from small, locally run businesses that directly support the communities in which they are based. Businesses where smaller, remote communities in South Africa will feel the direct benefit of increased (but not over) tourism into the region.

This exciting route can be done as a self-drive, or private guided – and I am currently looking into introducing this as a small group tour from mid-2024, which I am genuinely excited about as there isn’t anything else like this currently available…

!Khwa ttu

Starting just over an hour north of Cape Town along the picturesque R27 is !Khwa ttu – ‘the embassy of the San’. !Khwa ttu was set up to tell the story of the San in their own words. It is a truly authentic and immersive experience offering visitors the opportunity to learn all about the ancient San way of life, their languages, and their culture. It is a non-profit organisation jointly directed by the San people and the Ubuntu Foundation, operating within an 850-hectare Nature Reserve and it has been providing jobs and practical residential training for young San individuals since 1999.

Activities on offer include Tea-tasting – the veld pharmacy; Food from the ancestors; The Way of the San – spirit, hunting and gathering; Tracking – reading the signs; Colliding cultures – old and new and there is also an open vehicle game drive. No visit is complete though without exploring the exceptional San heritage centre, based across three buildings and providing exhibitions, art and stories that explore the history of the San through to the current day. !Khwa ttu is an easy day trip from Cape Town, but to make the most of this experience I recommend staying overnight at one of the twelve newly refurbished accommodations. There are six Hilltop Huisie’s that sleep two with a mini kitchen, private balcony and private braai area and there are also six Fynbos Cabins again sleeping two with glass walls providing unobstructed views of the landscapes alongside a private balcony and wood-fired hot-tub.

Paternoster

Heading further north, initially along the R27 and just under an hour away is the coastal village of Paternoster, one of few remaining fishing villages in South Africa. With its whitewashed cottages, sandy beaches, and rugged coastline, Paternoster offers a picturesque and relaxing retreat and is the perfect place to spend a few days. The village is renowned for excellent seafood, freshly caught each day by local fishermen and it can be enjoyed in numerous well-regarded eateries such as Voorstrandt, Wolfgat and Leeto. All with the added bonus of breathtaking beach views. For those looking for something truly spectacular, there is of course the infamous 10-course seafood extravaganza at Die Strandloper that showcases fresh seafood, delicious South African dishes and mouthwatering desserts (bookings essential).

Whilst Paternoster is a beautiful place to simply relax or take a walk along the coast, for those seeking a more active stay then there are a variety of activities on offer. You can do an exhilarating beach buggy dune ride, go kayaking from the waterfront, do a memorable beach horse ride or my favourite – embark on a guided ebike adventure through the scenic wonders of Cape Columbine Nature Reserve or along the rugged beach.

Paternoster offers a range of accommodation to suit all budgets and styles. One of my favourites is Gonana Guest House because it is Paternosters’ first sustainable Guest House, has wonderful beach views and offers a delicious and organic breakfast for guests. If you are looking for a wellness retreat then Abalone Hotel and Villas offer an elegant style and boutique decadence. For those seeking a more guesthouse feel, with the renowned west coast hospitality then you can not go wrong with Oystercatchers Haven with its perfect beachfront location, Paternoster Dunes with its unbroken sea views or the charming ah! Guesthouse with its funky and comfortable rooms.

Clanwilliam

Heading further inland, about 2 hours from Paternoster and nestled in the Cederberg Mountains is the town of Clanwilliam. The area is known for striking rock formations and is an excellent base for those who enjoy hiking and mountain biking, with many routes on offer in the region. Clanwilliam is often visited by tourists during Spring (August/September) as people look to witness the famous and vibrant wildflower displays. However, there is much more to the area making it a great destination to visit all year round. An activity unique to the region is Rooibos Tea-tasting, as this is the area where the tea is generally grown. Learn all about this true South African hot beverage by gaining insight into the traditional cultivation and production methods from local experts all while savouring a variety of rooibos blends, each offering a bespoke taste profile. If you are looking for something a little stronger then why not visit the Cederberg Brewery or Cederberg Wine Cellars for a tasting at the highest wine farm in South Africa?

For those with an interest in history then the Clanwilliam Museum situated in the Old Gaol offers an excellent insight into the town, which as one of the ten oldest towns in South Africa, has a fascinating history dating back as far as 1732. The museum showcases numerous historical artefacts that offer insights into the vibrant history of the area, the frontier town, and the extraordinary individuals who established it. Each exhibit tells a distinct tale, spanning from the archaeological past of the region to the distinctive industries that defined Clanwilliam, most notably Rooibos tea and “Velskoen” shoes.

My favourite place to stay in Clanwilliam is the Yellow Aloe Guest House. It is a bright and quirky property offering complete tranquility surrounded by beautiful gardens. It is ideally located for a number of independent cafes and restaurants and for all attractions in the town.

Piekenierskloofpas

I highly recommend travelling to Clanwilliam via the stunningly picturesque Piekenierskloofpas on the N7. This pass holds a rich history dating back to the mid-1800s, attributed to Thomas Bain, who engineered the inaugural passage through the neck of the Olifantsrivier Mountains. These mountains act as a natural divide, separating the fertile Swartland of the Cape from the mineral-rich lands to the North, creating the perfect environment for growing vines. For those not driving I recommend a quick wine-tasting at Piekenierskloof Wines located on a historic piece of land known as ‘De Tol’.

Orange River and Augrabies Falls

I know this is a hefty drive and some may wish to add a stopover en route but my preference next is to head straight to the Northern Cape into the area famous for the Orange River and Augrabies Falls. Upington is the location most people head to if looking for somewhere to stay near to the falls. However, when in this region my recommendation is always Khamkirri. Wonderfully located on the banks of the Orange River, there are a range of accommodations on offer including camping, family chalets and tented lodges. I am not alone in my opinion here though as this accommodation famously appeared on the 2021 documentary – South Africa with Greg Wallace! My favourite activity here is the barge dinner cruise, where a local chef boards with guests to cook a delicious South African-themed dinner, using locally sourced foods. It is a wonderful and peaceful way to end the day, and if you are lucky there will be a beautiful sunset leaving memories to last a lifetime. The owners of Khamkirri are dedicated to providing a perfect stay and can also arrange kayaking, hikes cheese tasting with local cheese, white water rafting, fly fishing and even a relaxing sundowner drive.

Many people associate the Orange River with Namibia, and it does serve as a natural border between the countries. However the river, also known as the Gariep River, Groote River, or Senqu River, with a total length of 1,367 miles (2,200 km) holds the title of being South Africa’s longest river. The Orange River is impressive, but the main reason people visit this area of the Northern Cape is for Augrabies Falls – a breathtaking natural wonder of sheer beauty and power. As one of the largest waterfalls in Africa, it plunges down a granite gorge, creating a mesmerising spectacle of cascading water and mist. Despite being one of the largest waterfalls in Africa the visitor numbers are far lower than other famous falls, such as Victoria Falls – just next door in Zimbabwe/Zambia. There are still many viewing platforms strategically placed around the falls so that you can truly appreciate the power of the falls, and the sheer volumes of water passing through continually. Augrabies falls. The best time to visit the falls is March to October as these are the cooler months, and the Northern Cape can get exceptionally hot! The waterfall is also particularly impressive when in flood, usually from February through to April.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The final destination on this beautiful Western Wonders and Northern Cape Skies route is Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This expansive wildlife sanctuary is renowned for its striking red dunes and arid riverbeds. Within its boundaries, visitors can witness the spectacle of migrating herds, including wildebeest and springbok, alongside formidable predators such as raptors and the iconic black-maned Kalahari lions. This is one of the most northern places in South Africa to do safari – and it is a truly wild and unique experience. The only place I recommend staying here is the wonderful !Xaus Lodge, a true community-owned and run lodge. The ‡Khomani San (Bushman) and Mier communities are the owners of !Xaus Lodge, and almost all the lodge employees are drawn from the local communities where otherwise unemployment is rife. One of my favourite activities here is the stargazing. Because of !Xaus Lodge’s isolation from surrounding light sources, the night sky offers a truly spectacular sight, where you can observe constellations with the naked eye, or gaze upon the Milky Way through telescopes. It really is an unforgettable stargazing experience. Other activities include a visit to a local craft school to learn about the modern lives of the local Bushman community, or an early morning dune walk with a local guide to understand more about the surrounding natural environment. Of course, no visit to Kgalagadi is complete without a game drive as seeing how wildlife can adapt to survive in this vast and dry landscape is remarkable. I recommend a three-night stay at !Xaus Lodge to fully appreciate this lodge and its location. In addition, the remote location makes a stay of less than 3 nights feel too exhausting. To get to !Xaus is around 4 Hours from Upington, and the lodge is situated 30 km into the desert, and only reached after driving over 91 sand dunes!

At the start of this blog, I stated that this route was easily accessible from Cape Town, and the reason for this is because after finishing this unique and varied journey despite being in the far north of the country, you can get a direct flight back from Upington to Cape Town. The flights are currently only in the morning so a night in Upington after !Xaus is necessary due to travel times from the lodge back out the park. The benefit of a route starting and finishing in Cape Town is that it is a hub for many international flights, and the best bit is you can always spend a few days before or after in one of the best cities in the world!

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our mailing list and get free entry into our monthly draw

You have Successfully Subscribed!