A trip up the West Coast is a chance to adopt nature’s pace and reset your equilibrium, writes contributor Magriet Kruger.
“The whales love it here. Because the bay is deep, they come closer to the shore than in the main bay of Paternoster,” said Jonas Sandström, owner of Gonana Guest House. Located in Bekbaai, a quiet cove to the south of the fishing village, Gonana is situated at the top of the dunes that lead down to the beach and offers uninterrupted views. The balcony with its bench seating and comfy cushions had the air of an open-air theatre. I settled in. For the time being there were no whales, but I was quite content to sit and watch the waves roll in, enjoying the stillness.
Everything at Gonana is geared towards slowing down and becoming aware of the surrounding beauty. The rooms open onto the indigenous garden; at the front of the house, you can sit on your veranda and look out at the sea. Upstairs a long wooden table lets you enjoy those same sea views over breakfast – binoculars to hand for when the whales stop by. Leather couches and comfy chairs form cosy nooks where you can sit with a book or gaze out the window.
The aesthetic is very different to the traditional beach look associated with the West Coast. As you might expect with a Swedish owner, the guest house’s interiors have a Scandinavian sensibility. Blond wood and neutral colours characterise the light-flooded airy spaces. At the same time the feel is still wholly African, with woven decorations and handcrafted pots.
Jonas believes in the motto ‘Think global, buy local’ and Gonana is testament to this. Local workmen and artisans were employed in refurbishing the guest house, which had been a family beach house before its comprehensive conversion. The towels come from Barrydale Hand Weavers and are made using locally grown cotton while the products in the bathrooms are Simply Bee, made from natural beeswax in nearby Hopefield. These organic products are free from chemicals and synthetic fragrances, making them beautifully kind to the earth. For the bedrooms, craftsmen created eye-catching headboards and substantial bedframes from pine, so no indigenous hardwoods were targeted.
Respect for nature’s gifts is a golden thread that runs through everything at Gonana. The guest house is virtually off the grid, thanks to solar panels, rainwater collection tanks and a greywater recycling system. Water is particularly precious on the West Coast and that’s why Jonas made the conscious decision to install only showers. Even though the rainwater-style shower head offers good pressure, the water use is parsimonious and you’ll be pleased to know the runoff is recycled for flushing toilets.
Gonana’s approach to touching the earth lightly helps you tune in to nature. It’s a style that Jonas and his partner, Martin, call ‘barefoot luxury’. At night, the roar of the sea lulled me to sleep while birdsong announced the morning. It was a joy to open the door from my room and walk straight out to the beach. I even found a thoughtfully placed paintbrush on the veranda so I could dust the sand from my feet when I got back.
Off the beaten track
Gonana was beautiful, but I wanted to see further afield. Cape Columbine Nature Reserve lay just down the (dirt) road. After the wet winter, I was hopeful there would still be wildflowers to see. Luckily, I had just the vehicle for it: a new-look 1.5l Suzuki Jimny from Tread Lite 4×4 Hire.
Like Gonana, Tread Lite 4×4 Hire is a member of Cape Country Routes, a group of owner-operated and managed accommodation and activity establishments on the scenic and historic routes of the Western and Eastern Cape. They rent out only Jimnys, perfect for slow travel and exploring along our country’s back roads. Tread Lite 4×4 Hire will even kit it out for you with an electric camping fridge, gas cooker, tent and camping gear if needed. With its short wheelbase and high clearance, this nuggety 4×4 can go anywhere. Because it’s so compact and lightweight, the Jimny has a lighter footprint on the environment than other 4x4s.
In Cape Columbine the signs of spring were still in evidence, with splotches of yellow, orange and purple dotting the land. The daisies associated with flower season were starting to fade, but my personal favourite, the sculptural white chincherinchee, was just beginning to bloom. That’s the beauty of fynbos, there’s always something in flower. If you would like to get even closer to the flowers, consider a tour of the reserve with WOW eBikes. Their electric bikes have fat tires to cope with the sand while the battery-powered motor assists you so you can go further. There’s also a tour along Paternoster’s lovely beaches.
Down by the water
A paddling trip with Kayak Paternoster is another activity that comes highly recommended. I went out early in the morning, the sea like glass. On a loop through the bay, we saw dolphins playing in the waves. A highlight was weaving through the massive granite boulders you can see from the beach. What a privilege to get close to their residents: cormorants, gulls and endangered black oystercatchers.
Back at Gonana, the usual ample breakfast was waiting. Freshly baked bread and muffins, platters of fruit and cheese, eggs done to your liking and tumblers of porridge with fruit, which I can only describe as little pots of joy. I sat down at the solid table overlooking Bekbaai and there they were: five whales in the bay. Every so often, their spout punctuated the air. The whales are visitors to Paternoster, returning year after year. I knew I would be back too.
Where to eat
Paternoster is a foodie destination, with more top-quality restaurants per capita than anywhere else I have been.
Leeto: The restaurant of the Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel, Leeto offers refined dishes that draw inspiration from the West Coast. Think Malay-spiced mussels, springbok loin with gooseberry compote, and Amarula crème brûlée. Enjoying West Coast mussels and bubbly while overlooking the ink blue water is pure bliss. The restaurant’s magnificent location is complemented by the chic décor, and the service was the best I’d experienced in years.
Voorstrandt: With its location right on the beach, metres away from where the fishermen bring their catch in, Voorstrandt is the quintessential Paternoster eatery. Expect fresh fish and seafood, local wines and beer, and welcoming West Coast hospitality. Here you can also pick up a Paternoster birthday calendar, with photographs by Voorstrandt manager Adrian Venter. Proceeds benefit the Paternoster Project NPC, an initiative to help the local youngsters develop their full potential.
Waffle Wharf at Whale’s Rib: Treat your children or feel like a kid yourself again when you indulge in a decadent milkshake or waffle served with ice cream. Flavours such as Bar-One, Turkish delight and lemon meringue are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.