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Posted on: Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Rooi-Els – Where The Water Runs Red

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The sun has made an appearance on a winter’s weekend morning in Cape Town – something it is not want to do more often than it must – and we itch to hear the sound of the sea, combined with the sun on our faces.

We crane our necks – the sun is visible on all sides – and decide to turn our noses towards Hangklip, rather than the more notoriously windy and busy Cape Point – its being a public holiday.

The attractive R44, Clarence Drive, is no less beautiful than it was the last time we were along here. Possibly more so, for the light in autumn lends a palette of colour to the day and, my tendency to motion sickness aside, provides photographic opportunities at every corner.

The day is stunning. The views are ordered from heaven. Even the chill in the air cannot displease. Visitors to Cape Town are out in t-shirts posing with their arms stretched wide, the incredible expanse of mountain vista their background. I smile at their appreciation for what we perhaps take for granted.

Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Rooi-Els, translated into Afrikaans as Red Alder – despite the fact that the Red Alder tree no longer occurs anywhere near town -, is the first little village you reach as Clarence Drive meets Hangklip. It is just five kilometres south of Kleinmond, and for this reason the little hamlet often fades into obscurity, lumped together with Kleinmond.

It lies on a bend as the R44 crosses the Rooi Els River, part of the large Kogelberg biosphere Reserve, and is also registered as a conservancy itself. Roads through town are few, untarred, narrow and without street lights. In winter, its quiet, beautiful and we wish we were there for the weekend.

Only a couple of items mar the landscape. On both edges of town’s windblown and deserted beach two monstrosities are going up amidst much hammering. Neither comes close to qualifying as the type of ‘beach cottage’ one would expect in a village within a conservancy. Both are brash, bold, squat and there to claim the view for themselves. They will remain for years – testament to the time when man usurped his rightful place in the environment.

Harold Porter Gardens

Harold Porter Gardens

Despite this Rooi Els remains relatively untamed. In season I would imagine it busies up and becomes a typical seaside resort, although despite one loo (which remarkably has toilet paper even in winter!) there is virtually no development on the shoreline – no shops or hamburger joints – if you want a meal, there are a couple of restaurants just off the main road as you enter town; the beach remains peaceful.

We stroll along the sand. To our right, the sea on our left, Klein-Hangklip mountain makes its presence known. Connical shells lie in amongst kelp. But there is a surprise for us as we round the bend, heading for the lagoon that continues until it tucks under the main road.

Red. The water is red with blood. Flashes of The Cove spring to mind, and I dash forward, my feet and hiking boots now waterlogged and heavy with wet sand, and my imagination running riot. Why is the water crimson?

But it is simply the tannins of fynbos soaking the water with its stains; rooibos tea coloured water where the Rooi Els River merges with the sea. The biosphere is so rich with vegetation that something like 1600 fynbos species are found in the vicinity. We stay to drink in the surrounds. It takes a while for the sinisterism of the my initial reaction to subside.

To do when in Rooi Els:

Look out for – Chacma baboons, dassies, the African clawless otter and even leopard
Swim – the bay around the lagoon is wonderfully calm and perfect for children
Hike – there are a myriad hikes in the biosphere
Fish – the area is well known for fishing and crayfish diving
Watch out –  for the south easter as when it blows, huge waves known as Freak or Rough waves can make their presence felt
Visit – the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and Harold Porter Botanical Garden

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Rooi Els


Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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1 comment about Rooi-Els – Where The Water Runs Red
  1. August 29th, 2013 at 14:29
    Jenny Stark says:

    Hi Wanda,
    We run a B&B in Rooi Els and I have just read your blog on our village. Rooi Els is about 6km from Pringle Bay (not Kleinmond). Kleinmond is 30 km away from us and does not threaten our identity! The Rooi Els river is indeed tinged with colour – we think of it as a ‘Rooibos Spa’ rather than blood. When the red tide happens to bloom, this DOES look like patches of blood in the sea and then we harbour the hope that it is a luminescent variety that will turn breaking waves into neon tubes when darkness falls.