Travel and a bit of shopping
First published in Juice, Mango Air, June 2017
A pelican called Sakbek and other harbour tales
There’s a certain romance to old fishing harbours. It might be the photo opportunities, the rhythm of the ocean or the hard but honest work that is required of the fisherfolk.
Not only is Arniston the only town in South Africa with two distinctly different names – the other is Waenhuiskrans – it is also one of the few places in South Africa that still has a small working fishing harbour.
The unique thing about the harbour is that the boats have wheels. Seriaaslie, as the fishermen say. The wheels ease the entry of the boats into the water as the slipway is relatively steep and has very little manoeuvring space. Also there is no breakwater thus the harbour has no moorings.
The picturesque little harbour with its colourful boats sits between the popular 4-star Arniston Hotel and the quaint village of Kassiesbaai with lime-washed cottages and thatched roofs where the fishermen live. Some of the fishermen families have lived here for more than five decades.
The entire village has been declared a national monument and is the only remaining historic fishing village in South Africa.
If you sit on the hotel stoep – try their gigantic Bloody Marys – you can see how the boats launch and return with their catch of the day. If you walk closer you will see how the local women vlek the yellowtail, geelbek and red roman.
Alternatively opt for Willeen’s for seafood and country cooking on the other side of Kassiesbaai.
How Struis Bay, or Struisbaai, got its name has never been resolved. It could have been derived from the thatch or straw (strooi) roofs of the fisherman cottages, the ostriches (volstruise) that used to be abundant around here, or from an old Dutch word that meant ‘huge’ that could have referred to the long stretch of beach colloquially known as Struisbaai Plaat.
Many years ago Struis Bay harbour had a resident pelican called Sakbek that mysteriously disappeared. A few years ago a blind Cape Fur Seal took up residence at the harbour. The fishermen fed him, initially reluctantly, but he is also no longer there.
These days the harbour offers a home to some short-tail stingrays. Parrie is the largest stingray and has his own Facebook page. Parrie and the other stingrays initially moved into the harbour because the fishermen would throw fish off-cuts to them. This kind of lifestyle appealed to them so nowadays you can buy pilchards on-site and feed them in the shallow water.
When Parrie was caught by the Two Oceans Aquarium the locals were up in arms. Not too long after Parrie was returned home at their insistence.
From the harbour café Pelicans – stick to drinks – you can listen to the colourful talk of the fishermen and look at boats (called tjakkies in local speak) with names like Snow Goose, No Spares, Bella, Weltevrede and Schoonberg.
The southernmost point of Africa at Cape Agulhas is a few minutes’ drive from Struisbaai.
Gansbaai is the ugly duckling amongst these Overberg fishing harbours but still has enough appeal to lure visitors who watch the fishing trawlers come and go, smile at the giant Lucky Star pilchard can that towers above them next to the entrance of Gansbaai Marine or sit on the deck of The Boathouse Pub to enjoy a cold beer.
If you do happen to pop into Gansbaai Vismark avoid taking photographs as paranoia seems to reign here that a casual visitor might copy the not-so-unique concept.
The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary on the other side of Gansbaai is well worth a visit.
Doring Bay or Doringbaai is a small seaside village on the West Coast just over three hours’ drive from Cape Town. It has one of the only small scale safe harbours on the West Coast.
Doringbaai harbour has its own lighthouse, a white unmanned tower with a black painted top. You can only view it from the outside.
You will search far and wide to find a more atmospheric place to taste wine. At Fryer’s Cove winery you sit in a former derelict crayfish factory or on the jetty. It even has a quirky label that features a drawing of the old jetty and a sardine can opener.
Fishermen fish from the harbour wall though no-one shares information about what is the right bait to use. Apparently if you use sardine you are guaranteed only to get skaamhaaie (shysharks).
A day trip to Kalk Bay, including a visit to the harbour, is very popular among Capetonians and tourists.
The village of Kalk Bay offers a myriad of shops, art galleries, pubs and restaurants. In the harbour itself you are already spoilt for choice of where to go for a bite.
Kalky’s is a Kalk Bay institution. It’s part and parcel of the activity of the harbour. Some reckon they serve the best fish and chips in the Western Cape. Take your own wine along and sit in a totally unpretentious setting.
Harbour House offers an elegant eating experience. At Live Bait, below Harbour House, you dine at sea level on the breakwater. Local is lekker at Lucky Fish and Chips.
Take a stroll along the harbour to see the red and white dwarf lighthouse, the seals frolicking, the fishing boats bobbing and the fishermen hawking their catch.
Hermanus Old Harbour was proclaimed a museum in 1972. Although no longer used as an active harbour old fishing boats are on outdoor display at the open-air museum and some of the items used in the fishing industry in the early part of the 20th century can be seen indoors.
These boats used to wait outside the harbour in stormy seas; when there was a lull between swells they would row to the harbour. Whatever they caught were gutted and sold within the walls of the Old Harbour.
The Old Harbour is well-positioned for whale watching and there are numerous outdoor art installations in the vicinity.
Hermanus New Harbour has its own charm and, yes, it’s a working harbour with boat-based whale charter companies, Harbour Rock restaurant with a view of the harbour and the ocean and Quayside Cabin on the lower slipway.
Quayside Cabin is not much bigger than a shipping container – though it has an outside deck as well – and its rustic décor belies the fact that it has an extensive and award-winning wine list.
Before you sit down at the Quayside Cabin pay a visit to Heart of Abalone for an abalone farm tour and a tasting. See it, feel it, then taste it.
You are required to don fetching white wellingtons before you visit the 44 000 baskets that house 16 000 000 abalone.
Visitors enjoy walking the Champagne Mile – the name dates from the 1970s when the quality of the sea air reminded the marketers of yesteryear of bubbly – from the New to the Old Harbour. It’s about three kilometres along the Cliff Path. A recording is available on VoiceMap should you want to walk with audio.