Both Monique and I have been planning to get away for a while now, and while our initial plans were to head east and camp in the Wilderness, with winter now fairly close we decided that it may be rather risky at this time of the year. Instead we decided to look elsewhere. I initially sent out several emails to camp sights and farms in the Cedarberg area, but received no responses. In turn I decided to look at something on the West Coast, eventually settling for a place on AirBnB called “Die Klein Huisie”. Die Klein Huisie is located in Church Street in Saldanha Bay and the pricing was quite affordable. It was my first time going to Saldanha so I didn’t really know what to expect…
None the less, I put in for 2 days leave for the Thursday 28th April and Friday 29th April. The plan was that we would leave Somerset West early on Wednesday (public holiday) and head through to the West Coast National Park, before heading to Saldanha and unpacking.
Another Early Morning
We woke up at around 5am on Wednesday and were soon on route. We would be taking the drive through Stellenbosch, then towards and through Malmesbury and then Darling, before connecting with the West Coast Road and heading north. On route, my body may have been awake but my brain certainly was not. As we approached Stellenbosch, we stopped at a red traffic light and talked while waiting for the light to turn green. Being the scholar and gentleman that I am, I was looking over at Monique during our discussion, when suddenly I saw the light turn green and instinctively drove through… About half way across the street I realized that it wasn’t our light that turned green it was the other side, but since I was looking over at Monique, I only saw the now green light in my periphery. Needless to say there was no traffic at that hour, but there was however a camera at that light and I expect that I will be seeing a fine arrive in the mail within the next month or so.
After laughing off my criminal act, we continued our drive heading through Stellenbosch and then into the farm lands just outside the town. Our timing worked out well, as we approached the turbines near Klipheuwel at around sunrise, giving a good early morning photo opportunity. I had photographed the turbines before many times, but never at sunrise – and what a sunrise it was! Cirrus clouds in the sky meant we got treated to quite a colourful display to start our journey.
Malmesbury was our next stop, where we made a pit stop at the Wimpy and used the bathroom and picked up some snacks (and coffee for Monique). While driving straight through the town leads one towards Picketberg, we wanted to head West now and towards Darling. On route to Darling I stopped on the side of the road several times hoping to get some new birds for my life list, I knew that Sparrow Larks were sometimes seen in the area, as well as hoping to finally get visuals on a Cloud Cisticola, a bird that I should have ticked off years ago and despite always hearing them – I am yet to actually get visuals on.
Our first stop was under golden morning light and despite no Clouds responding to playback, a male African Stonechat came and perched on the wired fence in front of me before darting off across the road. We stopped several more times along the stretch of road. The traffic was minimal and pulling over never proved to be a challenge. I was a little surprised by the lack of bird life, even if there was a cold front just off shore bringing in a few low clouds.
Into the West Coast National Park
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at the entrance to the West Coast National Park and despite fighting with some low cloud earlier in our travels, the park was mostly sunny and things were looking promising. By the time we got to the park it was now around 09:00 and we had yet to see a single raptor, nor more than 5 species of bird.
Our first stop within the park would be Abrahamskraal, as I was still needing to see the African Rail that resides there. Despite having visited the park several times, it has evaded me each of them. Monique and I got to the hide and initially seemed fairly quiet with some Cape Shoveler, Sacred Ibis and Yellow Billed Duck being the only species in the area. We stayed there for about an hour, while I taught Monique some more about photography and more specifically the camera settings and what they do.
Once again I left the hide disappointed, and we were then going to make our way to Geelbek. I hadn’t checked the tides or anything for our visit and I wasn’t sure if we’d manage to catch the right one – but arriving at the hide luck wasn’t too bad as the tide was quite far out. A little too far out, but much better than having a high tide where the waders are not around at all. Things were generally quiet with only several Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Lesser Flamingo, Greater Flamingo and then the other regulars around.
The highlight was a very, very distant shot of the Osprey carrying a fish that it had just caught. I wish that I was positioned better in order to capture a proper shot out of it, but it’s always good to be able to connect with an Osprey.
After some time at the one Geelbek hide, we moved across to the other hide in hopes of seeing more from that side – but due to light position and the tidal distance things weren’t that great there either and I couldn’t spot any additional species that we had missed.
It was now time to head towards the Langebaan end of the park, but not before stopping off at the Seeberg View Point and the Seeberg hide. At the view point things were fairly quiet apart from the usual Karoo Girdled Lizards and a Bokmakierie.
At the Seeberg hide things were also quiet, it was now low tide and the birds were way too far, the few of them that there were. We did see our second raptor of the day here though, as a Black Shouldered Kite gave a short show. We got treated to a Jackal Buzzard further down the road, though he quickly ducked into a tree after being mobbed by a Pied Crow.
We passed through Langebaan and made our way towards Saldanha. Passing the steel works plant on the way, a view that feels almost post apocalyptic, like something out of Mad Max.
As we entered Saldanha a few things became apparent to us, Saldanha is not the kind of place you want to go if you’re looking to get away from people and towards quiet. The town is busy and not very well kept, and without sounding like a snob – the place has a slightly ‘dodgy’ feel to it. We arrived at our accommodation in Church street, two roads up from the railway lines and while the cottage itself was beautiful – the area left something to be desired. The whole of Saldanha seemed to have drunk beggars wandering the streets, and it wasn’t within 2 minutes of parking that one of them approached us over the fence and tried to get money – despite smelling like a bottle store.
We decided to leave Saldanha again, at least until evening when it’s quietened down and perhaps wasn’t so busy. So we unpacked and got back into the car, heading north to Paternoster. We passed through Vredenberg where we decided to get some lunch at a Steers. The town was a bit messy too – and I suppose it could be summed up accurate by this car which we came across in the parking lot.
Arriving at Paternoster, the town seemed very unlike what one is used to down this way near Cape Town. Instead of visual distinct lines being drawn between wealth gaps and class, Paternoster seems to be a town where one may earn twice as much as one’s neighbour and be of completely different cultures – but still live alongside one another. Granted though, I would struggle to stay there given the loud nature of many of the residents (far too many echos of shouting going through the air).
We got out the car and took a walk on the beach. The weather at this point was quite hot, despite the sun beginning to dip in the sky – and I could feel myself getting a little sun burnt. The beach is well known for the scattered small boats lying around, which I made sure to grab a few photos of. Plenty of large muscle remains lay in the waning tide, along with shells from various large crab species.
We probably walked for about 45 minutes on the beach before heading back to the car and back to Saldanha to rest for the night. On the drive back I am 90% certain I saw a Black Headed Canary, a bird that I was targeting, but by the time I had stopped the car and put it into reverse the bastard had disappeared!
Settled In For the Night
Arriving back in Saldanha things had indeed quietened down and the streets were vacant as we got back to the cottage. After a shower, we decided to settle in for the night watching Fawlty Towers and eating Flings. The cottage had an alarm beam on the inside of the gate which protects the visitors car and it was stocked with a free bottle of milk, water and fruit juice. As mentioned before, the cottage itself was very nice. Everything was neat and tidy, there were ample towels and bedding – and the bed itself was amazing (best pillows I’ve ever slept on). So if one is looking to get away and don’t mind the proximity to the town’s main road – it’s worth looking into Die Klein Huisie.
Part 2 is now available for viewing