The seaside village of Paternoster, a huddle of quaint whitewashed houses overlooking a sandy bay, might be quite close to the great city of Cape Town yet down on the sands I feel a million miles away.
It can sometimes be wild, wet and windy in these parts but all that provides is a most welcome breath of fresh air after days negotiating the dusty, noisy chaos of urban sprawl.
Paternoster is less than two hour’s drive from South Africa’s “fairest city” yet it remains off the radar to the majority of foreign tourists to the Cape, few of whom venture north up the R27 highway beyond Melkbosstrand.
A trip up the Cape’s west coast is a journey into Afrikaans-speaking South Africa. Much of the local population is of mixed blood and many are descendants of the region’s original Bushman inhabitants. English is sparingly heard but widely understood.
The West Coast seems to be slightly out of sync with the rest of the country. While mountains and Cape wine remain part of this coastal experience they’e not dominant features. Instead, think wild flowers and fresh crayfish.
Fynbos is the name given the fine-leafed, shrub-like vegetation found in winter rainfall areas. The protea is the best-known example. Different species of plants flower throughout the year but the height of the West Coast wild flower season is between August and September, with the latter month the time of festivals and shows.
Paternoster is one of the country’s last remaining traditional fishing villages. Nothing much has changed here in the past century, with the obvious exception being the emergence of guest houses and seafood restaurants with crayfish the local delicacy.
Each night a small fleet of family-owned fishing boats heads out into the sweeping bay, hoping to return before the sun is high with a haul of spiny, long-legged crustaceans. Every morning these returning boats are greeted by locals and holidaymakers who’ve been strolling the strand in expectation.
A decent sized cray bought off the boats costs a sixth of what you’d pay in Cape Town. Or you can devour one at a restaurant beside the beach. Could you possibly be more of a locavore?
Paternoster is also home to the endemic Heaviside’s dolphin and it’s likely you’ll also see dusky dolphins. A colony of Cape fur seals lives among the rocky coves south of the village, as do African penguins and black oystercatchers. From June to December this splendid Atlantic coastline is known for whale watching, these visitor activities centred in nearby St Helena Bay. And with such an abundance of wildlife it’s hardly surprising that sea kayaking is so popular.