Getting There


So, here we are, sitting in our very comfortable room at the Oystercatcher B&B, looking out to a sea reflecting pinkly the rose-coloured clouds above, as the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean. The pod of Heavisides dolphins that cavorted out to sea has left and, as we sip our ice-cold West Coast rosé, squadron after squadron of cormorants sweep low over the sea heading westwards to their roosting rocks - there must be thousands of them.

Welcome to Shelley Point, a finger of land jutting out between Britannia and St Helena Bays on the west coast of South Africa.

Shelley Point on St Helenas Bay

We arrived today from Cape Town, driving up the flat landscape of this region, passing through low scrub and farmland, past fishing village and iron ore port, with a stop for a bite of lunch looking out over the flat calm waters of Saldanha Bay - a paradise for kite-surfers. The big attraction for us, and for many others, at this time of year is flowers - the west coast is one of the hotspots for wildflowers and, after three years of drought, the winter rains have finally returned to promise a bumper wildflower season.

Let's hope so, for we have planned a three-day walk from B&B to B&B, to see this spectacular sight of carpets of flowers, with the bonus of rugged coastal landscapes and tranquil fishing villages to boot. We raised our glasses of chilled rosé to the walk to come.

Saldanha Bay

Wandering the shore of Shelley Point gated estate

The evening cormorant fly by

We didn't set out immediately on our walk - the first day was set aside for some R&R at Shelley Point to shake the last remnants of jet-lag. Our B&B had the prime spot on the end of the point, looking over the low dunes to the sea beyond. However, behind it lay a large gated compound, full of bright white houses, some occupied by retirees, others empty holiday homes. After 30 years, there were still lots of empty building blocks - like an old fence with palings missing. Laid back is good, but we got the impression this place had laid down and gone to sleep. Still, it was a very peaceful spot and had a small, but interesting museum about the exploits of Vasco de Gama and the Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. De Gama had anchored here in St Helena Bay (which he named) in 1497 on his voyage to India (he copped a spear in his leg for his troubles, after annoying the locals).

The light house at St Helena Bay

Coffee at the golf club watching an art class for retirees, and a pleasant walk up the beach from Shelley Point (clearly named for the massive banks of mussel shells that lined its shore) to the nearby lighthouse filled in more time.

The highlight, however, was probably sitting on a seat on the dune tops in the warmth of the afternoon sunshine, a cold beer in hand, watching the pod of dolphins cavort and a trio of humpback whales far out to sea. A solitary seal, a lone penguin, Atlantic gulls dropping shellfish and sea-urchins onto rocks to crack them open for a feed, and the many other species of sea- and shore-bird that thrive on the nutrient-rich but very cold waters of the Benguela Current, rounded out a pleasant afternoon of wildlife watching.

Hump back whale blowing in the bay

Heaviside dolphins

St Helena sunset

We had enjoyed our rest day at the Oystercatcher, but we were here to walk the coast and, hopefully, tip-toe through the wildflowers. It was time to move on and leave the mussel banks and wild-life of Shelley Point behind. Thanks, Luc and Suzy, for being such good hosts.

Day 1 - Shelley Point to Paternoster (23 km)

The wind had picked up overnight and, out to sea, whitecaps frolicked on the waters of St Helena Bay. Still, the sun was shining as we left our Guesthouse at Shelley Point and headed westwards down to the white sand beach of Britannia Bay. Ahead lay ?? km of gently curving soft sand lined by a long row of white-washed holiday houses. Most were empty as we passed, creating an atmosphere more of abandonment than tranquility.

Time to go - Britannia Bay

Edging our way around Brittannia Point, we found ourselves looking out across a smaller bay, Witbaai, but one still lined with a thin edge of holiday homes. The far end of Witbaai was guarded by the light house of Cape Saint Martin. We passed its curious open-girdered structure to head southward along the shores of Malbaai.

Mussel bank at Witbaai

Cape Saint Martin lighthouse

The rocks at Klippiesbaai

With the cold nor'westerly wind at our backs, we headed down along a path through the dunes, passing a series of rocky outcrops and water-rattling stony beaches. The houses were becoming more scattered along the foreshore and the bare, low coastal hills ahead indicated that we were finally leaving "civilisation" behind.

Isolated west coast landscape

Heading west along Marines Bay

Crossing an old fence-line we entered the Groot Paternoster Private Nature Reserve, where several signs made it clear we were we not welcome beyond the fringe of the beach track. At places, patches of seaside daisy flowered yellow, but this was as good as the wildflower display got.

Start of Groot Paternoster Nature Reserve

The first wildflowers

While the lack of wildflowers was disappointing, the coastal scenery improved dramatically, as off-shore the big Atlantic swells pounded the low rocks of Paternoster Islands Reserve. This jumble of off-shore granite islets seemed to be the roosting place for the big population of cormorants that had swept past our guesthouse morning and night during our brief stay.

Paternoster Islands Reserve

Big seas at Paternoster Rocks

Groot Paternoster Beach

The point was an area of big dunes, white sand, huge water-polished rocks, clear green seas and pounding waves - spectacular. We stopped to have some lunch in the rocky shelter of Steenbrasbaai and enjoy it all.

Old fishermen's cottages - Groot Paternoster

Algal-orange tinted rocks at Steenbrasbaai

With the cold wind at our backs, the afternoon walk was one of those zen times, as we headed southward down the long stretch of soft sand, between low vegetated dunes and the crashing surf - a wild and isolated coast-line. The beach changed from white sand to steeply sloping banks of shellgrit, rimmed by empty mussel shells and strands of broken bull kelp.

Heading down to the long beach .....

.... for a stretch of zen walking

Paternoster across the big Atlantic surf

In the distance, the white houses of Paternoster shimmered above the surf and, as we approached, the steep mussel-shell lined grey shellgrit beach gave way to pippi-spattered finer sand - a flatter and firmer bed for walking on. It was low tide as we reached the fishing village of Paternoster, where we were entertained by Atlantic Gulls, as they cracked open shellfish by dropping them on to the rocks below.

Our B&B

The white houses of Paternoster

Following the line of white-walled houses along the beach, we turned inland for the first time to wander though the quiet streets and find our B&B for the night. It was a nice spot, with views out over the whiteness of the shore-lined houses to the wild Atlantic beyond. However, the sky to the west was now brooding grey, as cloud swept the sun away and announced the change in weather. Rain was on the way, but we had beaten it in.

Day 2 - Trekoskraal to Paternoster (17 km)

The wind blustered and rain squalls passed overnight. They had gone by morning, but left a legacy of heavy grey cloud, as we headed 15 km south to Trekoskraal ..... by car. The usual plan for this section would be to walk from Paternoster to Trekoskraal and then be picked up and driven back. In view of the weather, we decided to reverse that, so that we could have more flexibility.

Scatterings of wildflowers at Trekoskraal

Our driver, Yvonne, dropped us off at the end of a pot-holy dirt road that wound through the low fynbos-covered dunes to the open and flattish edge of Sandbaai. On these dunes behind the bay, we had our first glimpes of the famed west coast wildflower displays - not a carpet, but more a series of throw-rugs of small yellow daisies, with scatterings of larger orange ones. Unfortunately, these, like many other daisies, had decided that "no sun, no open", reducing their impact a bit.


With an icy wind sweeping in from the sea and a leaden sky above, we put on wind jackets and beanies and set off northwards. The route followed a sandy jeep track along the fringe of this exposed coastline, and the walking was easy as we went into wildflower mode, a patch of pink here, some orange and red there, an isolated blue or white bloom on the sandy track - life felt good.


Rounding a low headland, to reach the rocky rim of Klein-Noordwesbaai, we had our first glimpse of the Cape Columbine lighthouse - our target - across the waters of this curving shore-line. The track rounded the small bay and split - we decided to take the inland route for a while, following a series of meandering jeep tracks through the rolling dunes. The sandy surface showed the local wildlife, a set of tiny clawed footprints here, the cloven hooves of a small bok there - isolated flowers speckling the route.

Track through the dunes

The jeep track eventually spilled us back on to a long straight stretch of sandy shore. The greyness of the sky seemed to be lightening as we walked beneath the big sea-cut dunes at the end of the bay and around a low headland of large pinkish granite boulders to reach Holbaai.

Where the Atlantic Ocean eats into the dunes

Descent to Holbaai

Isolated West Coast holiday homes

Here we made a slight navigational error, deciding to follow a jeep track which took us into the fore-dunes and up to the base of the high open dunes behind. Half-way up, a sign pointed out that we were in a regeneration area, so retracing our steps, we continued along the beach and around a set of beautifully sculpted granite rocks. The big Atlantic swell was pounding into the rocks creating pools of foam - spectacular.

The dunes behind Varswaterkop

in the big dunes

Once past the rocks we strolled beneath a cluster of isolated holiday houses set on the high dunes above. Varswaterbaai was marked by a line of high dunes that led into low black sandstone cliffs. All access up the dunes was clearly marked "Privaat - geen inskrywing", and the only way forward was below the dark and jagged sandstone, the foot of which was lapped by incoming waves. It became a case of run on the ebb, leap on a rock on the incoming flow, as we picked our way around to the dryness of the next headland.

The wild seas of Varswaterbaai

Narrow passage beneath the sandstone cliffs

By this time, blue sky was appearing on the horizon, beanies had been long discarded and the walking was very pleasant. More dune-topped sandstone cliffs lay along the rocky shore-line of Koeltebaai, but this time a track led us upwards to then follow a meandering and undulating path along the cliff edge. It was nice to have a higher perspective of the wild Atlantic coast-line.

Orange rocks of Koeltebaai

Following the cliff-top track

View south across the pink granite rocks

Rounding the next granite-topped headland, we reached the peaceful setting of Tietiesbaai, a small white-sand tipped inlet protected from the ocean waves on either side by pinkish granite boulders. It was quiet today, but judging from the number of camping spots, it must get busy in the summer. At Tietiesbaai, the last band of grey cloud slowly drifted eastwards and the sun broke through - the change from the morning weather was complete.

Rest stop at Tietiesbaai

Warmed by its rays, we left the coast to climb gently up the large dome-shaped fynbos covered dune of Cape Columbine. On either side, large groups of white daisies filled the spaces between the shrubs - pretty, but it would have been spectacular if they had been open.

Being watched by a mongoose or two

Now if only the flowers were open

Cape Columbine lighthouse

Passing the square-sided tower of Cape Columbine Lighthouse, we wandered down the other side of the cape to reach the Nature Reserve entrance (or in our case exit). The fair and observant Nello noticed a small cafe / bar just nearby - an excellent spot to stop and have an ice-cold beer overlooking the rocks of Modderbaai, before the final walk down a dirt road back to Paternoster.

Panorama of Paternoster from Cape Columbine

Finally a field of open yellow blooms

Guinea fowl

The white houses of Paternoster rimming the bay

Reversing the route had been a good idea - while the weather threatened to be grim in the morning, it improved to leave us a sunny end of day and we could wander along at our leisure. True, the wildflowers had decided it wasn't sunny enough to open up and give us a full display, but we had enjoyed some spectacular and isolated coast-line. There is still one more day for the local flora to strut its stuff.

Day 4 - Trekoskraal to Jacobsbaai (11.5 km)

We woke to the pattering of rain on the roof, but the disappointment quickly dissipated as the sun came out ..... to stay for the rest of the day. As Yvonne drove us back to our start point at Trekoskraal, the road-side daisies had already opened up in a mass of snow-white petals. At last, we would get to see the West Coast wildflower display.

The wildflowers of Sandbaai




How different was our start point to yesterday - the ocean sparkled blue in the sunlight and a carpet of yellow and orange daisies spread out over the slopes leading down to Sandbaai. This time we headed south, following a sandy jeep track that led slowly up the low limestone promontory and down to picturesque inlet at Rooisteen. The track was lined with the yellow and orange daisies and the dull green of low shrubby fynbos that covered the slopes was interspersed with patches of yellow, orange, pink and white.

Heading south from Sandbaai

A carpet of daisies

From Rooisteen, this floral display continued all the way around the broad headland of Perlemoenpunt - the bright blue of the ocean on our right, the carpets of daisies on our left and, far to the south, the line of white lime-washed houses at the far end of Wesbaai.

Between a sea of blue .....

.... and a sea of yellow

Rounding the slope high above the tiny beach of Perlemoenbaai and its granite boulder-lined shore - a trap for mussel shells, bull kelp stems and frothing foam from the rolling surf - we reached the northern end of Wesbaai. The dunes on our left were cliff-like, sculpted by the sea and riddled with tunnels (nesting birds, perhaps?). The sad feature of this short section was the amount of plastic washed up on to the beach - the oceans are vast, but we humans have a great capacity to despoil.

Track over Perlemoenpunt ....

... with patches of bright blooms in the fynbos ....

.... and floral displays framed by the sea

View south from Perlemoenbaai

The fair Nello meditating upon the ocean

Ahead lay a stroll along the steeply-sloping soft grey sand, with the steady low roar of the surf creating a bit of zen, as, out to sea, an isolated storm moved slowly north. Mid-way, near a small rocky outcrop, we spotted a sandy jeep-track and followed it into Swartriet Reserve, along the arid hollows behind the front dunes.

Rain squall off shore

The long stretch of beach lining Wesbaai

Entering the dunes of Swartriet

A little while later, we emerged once again just before the row of bright white fishermens' houses. For a moment, we thought we had reached Jacobsbaai, but this was the coastal equivalent of a false crest - a false Jacobsbaai called Gonnemanskraal.

Crossing yet another mussel midden

Holidays houses of Gonnemanskraal

A bit more walking lay ahead, climbing back off the beach to reach a gravel road that by-passed Hospitaal Rock and led us into the gated entrance of Jacobsbaai proper (thanks to the driver who waited at the pin-coded gate to let us through). The bay for which this village is named is a lovely circular body of calm water, protected from the big swells by its narrow entrance.

Jacobsbaai across the wildflowers

Welcomed by a fly-past

The tranquil inlet of Jacobsbaai

We wandered round to pick up a track through the low fynbos between the white brightness of the houses and the deep blue of the sea. As we did, a group of five acrobatic planes appeared in the sky performing loops and other manouevres - quite the welcome to Jacobsbaai, and we hadn't even told them we were coming.

Relaxing at our B&B at Jacobsbaai

West Coast sunset

Thus ended our West Coast Wildflower Walk, at yet another lovely lime-washed B&B with a deck from which to sit in the warm afternoon sunshine, enjoy our customary cold ale, and admire the beauty of this unique part of the world. Thanks are due to our kind hosts on the way and to Trails and Travel for organising this walk.