Escape to the West Coast and the Berg River Region
Think West Coast, think sand, heat, sea and little fresh water. And you wouldn’t be far off the mark. The West Coast is arid, wild and windswept, but it does have water.
And one of the major sources of water available that makes farming possible, in the arid Sandveld and undulating hills of the Swartland, is the Berg River – its source in the Drakenstein Mountains just south of Franschhoek and its mouth at Laaiplek on the Atlantic Ocean.
In the presence of the Berg River (more commonly known amongst locals as the Bergrivier – one word) the towns of the West Coast between Velddrif and Elands Bay and their inland counterparts – Aurora, Redelingshuys, Goedverwacht, Eendekuil, Piketberg, Porterville and Wittewater – are awash with beautiful mountains, lush vineyards, wheat fields and picturesque villages; a complete contrast to the picture one holds of the West Coast and its accompanying sandscapes.
A weekend away in the Berg River Region is simply a case of packing the car and heading up the R27 without a stop until one reaches the town of Velddrif – a trip of little more than a couple of hours. The new(ish) Weskus Mall in Vredenburg means that you don’t even have to stock up with essentials beforehand.
Conversely, the N7 to Piketberg or Porterville is an equally easy drive and delivers one to the heart of the Swartland, parallel to the accompanying West Coast town of Velddrif, joined at the hip to Piketberg by the R399.
Between these two towns is a weekend of adventure filled with wine farms, a mission village or two, hiking trails, bike and 4X4 trails, the chance to paraglide off a mountain, and consistent sightings of the blue crane.
In short, here is what you can expect from some of the little towns in the region:
An incredibly pretty little Sandveld village, Aurora lies just inland from Velddrif, popular amongst retirees and weekend visitors. It isn’t big, but it is worth a visit, not just for its location but also for its history – it is named after the first Dutch Reformed minister’s daughter, Ceylonia Aurora Ferreira.
- Find out about how the French astronomer-geodesist, Abbé Nicolas de le Caille, set up an observatory here in which he asserted that the shape of the Earth is pear-shaped
- Take a hike through and around town and look out for the protea canary or the vibrant bee-eaters
- Check out the stars – lie on your back at night and breathe in the heavens
- Seek out Aurora’s home-made rusks and find a cup of coffee in which to dunk them
- Eat at Helmut Wokalek’s restaurant
- Stroll the streets and look out for pretty little Sandveld huisies
- For more information about Aurora read here: Aurora – A Visitors Perspective
The Eden-like Moravian mission village of Goedverwacht lies in an enviable position right on its very own little stream that springs out of the surrounding hills. The coloured village’s saving grace is the focus on community life and the village’s youth, most of whom return, after a brief stint in Cape Town to gather some form of higher education, to the town. The church, the school and many of the buildings through the village are over 100 years old.
- Head to the Snoek en Patat coffee shop – for information, chats with the locals and keys to the old Water Mill Museum
- Hike the Peerboom (pear tree) hiking route – specially developed by locals to include the old graveyard, the mountains behind the old village and on to the nearby village of Wittewater (ask for a guide)
- Although not well sign posted, ask about self-catering accommodation, the village recently built a couple of wonderful spots
- Hike the Klok se Poort hiking route
- Visit the town’s incredible gardens – including a myriad fruit trees – and organic vegetable gardens
- Visit in time for the annual June Snoek en Patat Fees – this year attracted 10 000 visitors
- For accommodation near Goedverwacht see: Swartland Accommodation
More honestly described in terms of a hamlet than a town, Eendekuil (not called ‘duck pond’ for nothing) is nonetheless worth a visit, if for nothing other than the incredible views of the surrounds from here. On the R365 north of Piketberg, Eendekuil lies just below the Swartberg along the railway line (not the rather noisy Saldanha Sishen line) that was originally built as a link between the copper mines at O’Kiep in Namaqualand and Cape Town. History books show that another team got there first, linking O’Kiep to Port Nolloth. Nonetheless, a passenger train called the ‘Doekvoet Flyer’ regularly carried a great many people to and from Eendekuil.
- Breathe in the views
- Stay in the vicinity of the railway line with only the occasional Eendekuil church bell ring to disturb you
- Visit two of the original farms in the area – Goedemanskraal and Rhenosterhoek
- Visit the local cheese factory – well known for cheddar and gouda. Milk is delivered from local dairy farms
- The Eendekuil hotel is a popular spot for bikers
- For accommodation near Eedekuil see: Swartland Accommodation
Originally called Piquetberg, Piketberg lies just off the N7 in the foothills of the Piketberg Mountains, a low range of sandstone mountains on the top of which one can grow fruit and rooibos tea; the bottom is more suited to wheat farming as the local farms prove. The area is steeped in San history and rock paintings are easily viewable in the surrounding hills and mountains. The town serves as a business hub for surrounding farmers and smaller towns in the area (residents of Goedverwacht, for instance, work in Piketberg and Porterville).
- Visit Voelvleibos for a perfect picnic setting in amongst a wood of wild olive trees
- Attend the Piket-Bo-Berg farmers’ market on the last Saturday of every month
- Visit the Piketberg Museum with a series of rather impressive archives, Anglo-Boer War exhibits and incredible accounts of the town’s past
- Drive the Versveld Pass for the amazing views
- Taste local buchu brandy
- For accommodation near Piketberg see: Swartland Hotels
Velddrif is a rather large, vibey fishing town that virtually merges with the village of Laaiplek that nabs access to the Atlantic and literally functions as somewhere for fishing vessels to offload their merchandise. Velddrif is famous not only for its mounds of salt in the salt pans that line the R27 as it crosses the Berg River into town, but also for its bokkoms (dried fish).
- Drive down Bokkom Avenue alongside the Berg River and you’re in for a treat (take your camera along as it is rather picturesque)
- Look out for flamingos and other birds – Velddrif is part of the Flamingo Bird Route and the Berg River estuary is home to some 30 000 birds
- Head off to the Rocherpan Nature Reserve, 25 km from Velddrif, where there is silence and bird hides
- Use the Berg River to sail, kayak or kitesurf
- Take a boat trip up or down the river
- Visit Pelican Harbour, a renovated fishing factory
- Take a tour of the salt factory
- Take a hike from Kliphout Krans
- See the whales from the beaches just north of here
- Browse a series of shops, art galleries, antique shops and restaurants
- For accommodation in Velddrif see: Velddrif Accommodation