West Coast South Africa

Route 27 West Coast South Africa

R27 - Off the Beaten Track

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Wild seaTravellers who take the R27 (Route 27) and head in a north-westerly direction soon find themselves in that part of South Africa commonly known as the West Coast. Although the West Coast is a geographical area with known boundaries, it is primarily a particular landscape, a distinctive and unusual region with its own attraction, people and lifestyle.

Tourists from elsewhere in South Africa or abroad, who see the West Coast for the first time, usually have and initial impression of a wide open landscape with something dry and grey about it. The Atlantic laps invitingly against white beaches, but the water is freezing cold; in spring the veld and its wild flowers are almost overwhelmingly beautiful, yet this splendour lasts for only a few weeks before the countryside fades into greyness once again.

sea of flowersPeople who have been there will tell you that the light and landscape fo the West Coast remind one of Greece. You won't find the lush, well-watered green landscapes of the south and east coasts; the charm of the West Coast is different. Until recently the region was largely without water, but this has kept the long white beaches unspoilt and undeveloped, and most of the countryside shows few signs of human activity.

The Benguela Current is as nutrient-rich as it is cold, and its presence has shaped and influenced the region and its people in many unmistakable ways. There are only a few other places on Earth where winds and currents co-operate in this way to cause such upwellings of mineral-laden water from the depths of the ocean, supporting a wealth of marine life which is astounding in its diversity.

granite boulderThe land itself has certain unique features: as a geological region, it has remained virtually unchanged for millions of years - the Ice Ages with their vast glaciers which changed the landscape and vegetation of Europe so radically did not reach down to this part of the world. In geological terms this region has remained unchanged, retaining its appearance and features over the ages. There have been changes in the level of the sea involving fluctuations of up to 120 m, but the temperate, dry, Mediterranean climate has prevailed here for the last five million years.

The unchanging conditions have allowed the vegetation to adapt unhindered to this habitat. The result of this slow development is the world-famous unique fynbos, consisting of an astonishing variety of different plants ina bewildering multitude of species, sub-species and local variants. The Floral Splendour of the West Coast, which attains its full splendour in Namaqualand is the result of the adaptation of flowering plants to the area's dry summers and cool, wet winters.

wild flowersThe West Coast has been rediscovered over the last 10 to 15 years. The piping in of ample water has allowed many coastal resorts to develop and as more people have started appreciating the region's particular charms, tourism has boomed, bringing in its wake a demand for coastal properties which has almost reached the intensity of a gold rush.

The wonderful water sports - angling, diving, sailing - hiking, the seafood and other local delicacies and the area's distinctive wines and fruits are all magnets, drawing the visitor back again and again to the West Coast.

Once this part of the world has crept into your heart, it will never leave you...

Auther and photographs, sea & flowers: Cornel Truter, West Coast Tourist Guide
Photograph: Granite boulder by Peter Siegfried

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