Three men sit against the curved stone wall that announces Papendorp to passers by. One dons a Nike cap, the other two a hood and beanie respectively, and all three are hunkered down to avoid the coastal wind that whips through here. They bring to mind the three monkeys – see, hear, speak no evil – but actually, they are just fishermen passing the time.
These men know where to find crayfish, they know when the harders are a plenty, when the tide is red and what the wind is saying when it blows. They know how to make bokkoms, produce their fishing nets by hand, and process salt in the traditional way (there are salt pans nearby). By comparison we wouldn’t last five minutes in a village like this, where you eke out an existence on the sea …
They all point down to Papendorp when I ask them the way. We follow their hands, but can see little more than a smattering of houses at the end of a road, and the sea beyond. This little former missionary settlement is definitely not along the lines of other popular holiday towns on the West Coast – there isn’t a modern, double-storey house in sight. I am relieved. We decide to visit.
Papendorp, also known as Viswater, is beautiful. It rests overlooking the river estuary of the Olifants, which forms a wetland and is tagged to become a RAMSAR site in the very near future – a pity, I think, for Papendorp – already there are a couple of new guest houses right on the water that will function as part of the Papendorp resort, if the sign is to be believed.
I already want to stay here, just for the incredible remote, uncomplicated beauty it offers, but what will it mean for the people who live here? The same people who decorate their welcome garden with little flowers surrounded by plastic bottles and colourful rocks.
Photographs: Papendorp – see the gallery below for more photos and descriptions
We stand gazing out over the wetland. There is no sound other than the wind and the accompanying bang of a piece of stray corrugated iron repeatedly hiting a wall in the old barn to our right. A little further to our left there is evidence of a play school called See-nimfies. But it’s holiday time and children are nowhere to be seen. They’re in the village to our right along the estuary where it is obviously washing day, and the average person has chosen to remain indoors given the velocity of the wind.
Down on the river the banks are filled with little birds, dipping and diving in amongst the red coloured reeds. A board provided by local government indicates that this area is the home of both the lesser and greater flamingo and that they rest here in colonies. I learn than the lesser flamingo is the smaller of the two and sweeps its head across the surface of the water, as opposed to the greater, which dips its head right into the shallows. But we see not one.
Strandfontein is a typical ‘Wes Kus’ holiday resort. As you begin the decline towards the beach there is a camping ground in the middle of it all in the shape of a horse shoe, not a tree in sight. I can understand the attraction though, as the beach, despite the lingering evidence of what appears to have been an oil spill (the sand is slightly black, which reminds me of my childhood in Durban, where I realise that this was a fairly common occurrence) stretches for miles.
The beach is beautiful. Wild and untamed and long enough to get lost on. It’s obvious that the town has recently had to put reinforcement on its shore line to prevent the water making off with its beachside road. We can’t wait to pour out of the car and feel sand under our toes, despite the wind (even the life guard is in winter gear), which we outwit by taking shelter behind a dune.
Photographs: Strandfontein – see the gallery below for more photos and descriptions
A sign on the beach strictly forbids swimming – obviously these are not tides with which you mess. There is a walk from here up above the beach – someone has lovingly outlined the initial climb with beach stones, of which there are plenty. From up here on the cliffs you can see over the sea and further beach alcoves – I’m grateful we stopped. There is also the odd vygie in bloom – evidence that the very short-lived flower season happened recently. (see more info at Strandfontein attractions and find a place to stay at Strandfontein accommodation).
Doringbaai has a lighthouse. It’s a black and white cylindrical tower that stands close to the fishery that advertises the little town’s main reason for existence. Originally built in 1963, the lighthouse was destroyed in a storm in 1991 – no surprise as the rather vicious winds are by now sending up waves that look more than a little intent on destroying the wooden fishing pier that I am amazed anyone dares use it looks so precarious.
There is the odd restaurant selling fish and chips, including the rather obscure Cabin Restaurant complete with boat. (see more info at Doringbaai attractions and find a place to stay at Doringbaai accommodation).
Photographs: Doringbaai – see the gallery below for more photos and descriptions
En route back to Vredendal along the R362, where we are staying on a wine farm, we pass a sign to Ebenhaezer and cannot resist a chance to take a look. It’s described as being close to the Olifants River mouth, but it isn’t really, although parts of it are on the river. What it is is one of the quaintest villages you will have the opportunity to visit.
The really thorough brochure we have picked up (not many tourism brochures are as well written and carefully presented as this one) aptly describes Ebenhaezer as a former Rhenish mission with a number of historically interesting buildings, which is true. The main road into the village is strewn with an assortment of pretty buildings, none of them yet restored by second-home hungry Capetonians, which is a relief.
We drive further out of the main town past fields of vegetables and lucerne, lined with bee hives – most of the locals are farmers – until we pass examples of what are known as ‘riet huisies’.
These are made with mud and clay and local reeds and they’re not only interesting but a dying art. Despite the obvious poverty here each little house has a garden strewn with wild flowers, lovingly tended. People wave as we drive past. I believe there is a bakery where the local women bake daily, and a guest house where a stay would mean real down time and a slowing of the days that would be hard to beat elsewhere.
Who needs Paternoster when places like Papendorp and Ebenhaezer exist?
Photo Gallery – Click to view descriptions and enlargements: