By the time we arrived in Hermanus, it was approximately 180 years since Hermanus Pieters had last gone fishin’. Then, as he stared out from the cliffs that would eventually be named in his honour, the Southern Right Whale was far more common than it is now. Embarrassingly for humanity, whale numbers only officially started recovering about 30 years ago but you’ll be pleased to know that spotting the Southern Right these days is actually not too difficult: Certainly, it was difficult to imagine that the vintage Mini that brought us there was actually older than an entire species’ recovery, and that the world had to wait until 1976 to ban whaling altogether (well, in most places at least). Incidentally, that was the same year that the little red number, my Mini Leyland was built, although that too is purely speculation. Truthfully, who knows.
Regardless, we circumnavigated the chiselled Kogelberg on roads that forced us left to right in a snake like rally, until eventually they straightened – much to my disappointment – somewhere at the bottom end of the Overstrand, past Bettys and then Hawston, until eventually we arrived at Hermanus’s favourite fishing spot – Hermanus. As we do, we then explored and uncovered two things about the place that we never knew. One: It has a Blue Flag beach that overlook the cliffs of the town, which is as beautiful and well-nurtured as the beach itself, and two, it is definitely further than it looks on the map if you decide to travel by Mini from Kaapstad. Regardless, it’s well worth the visit and the fried hake; I have come to realise that little Cape towns from Hermanus to Jeffreys, spread apart by driving roads built for road trip enthusiasts like me, always are.
A week later, we travelled to the Langebaan lagoon, via the obscure cosmos of a hopeful little South African town called Darling. Pieter Dirk Uys, or Evita Bezuidenhout as you might recognise him, unashamedly celebrates the history of the Afrikaner here – and the shame of our history too. Nowhere else is the liberal tongue of Afrikanerdom as loud as it is in his extraordinary museum – and nowhere else do you feel more proud of it – and shameful in its presence. I love seeing my history celebrated and unpacked in parts of the country I have never been because that, good or bad, means I’m home. Do “Saffas” in Australia celebrate the surprise of heritage in the little towns they visit? Doubt it, I thought as we then trekked west.
The drive to Langebaan is relatively low key as African road trips go. There aren’t really mountains about, except for those in the distance, which, like Cape Gods, are always there. Here though, the hills are neatly laid out into matching farms and then, as the coast nears, fynbos recovers and what welcomes you is what Vasco Da Gama once described as vaguely reminiscent of the Atlantic-beaten Portuguese coast – our most extraordinary of coasts – die wes kus.
The West Coast National Park, specifically the tucked-away beaches of its deserted inner lagoon, deep in the western interior, are some of the most lazy and spiritual beaches in Southern Africa. The lagoon itself is famous for kite surfing – but the reason I return month after month is so much more simple than that: This is Cape heaven at its finest and on a hot day, with perfectly clear colour and weather about, it is truly quite exquisite. Exhilarating in its loneliness. Free. South Africans forget what they have too often – this – and that there is the saddest tragedy of our people.
Satisfied, my search for the pure exhilaration I feel in the lonely company of nature continued the next week, in the heart of Cape Point, and a hike into its middle. When we arrived at Sirkelsvlei we noticed that the obscure body of black water was unusually dry for this time of year – the drought had taken its toll – but it was still pretty in and between the fynbos that basketed it. Its found by a path through several rocky outcrops, then through several rocky overhangs, if you travel eastwards from the Olifantsbos to its lakeside shore.
It’s the hike there that I loved most though – a three hour round trip – for there, somewhere when trying to find the vlei, you feel brutally alone, without the poison of civilisation nor its politics or opinions, or pieces like this with its bench-warming commentary. Pure bliss, I thought. Elation in this human emptiness. Delight in our own silent company. I wonder then if that too is what Hermanus Pieters sought in the solitude of his cliffs? I wonder if that is what he found when he went fishing? I wonder if before he died he felt spiritually at ease here, in Africa, in this extraordinary place that awards peace as a mere weekend’s gift.
Alone again that afternoon, it was difficult to comprehend how this was home. My own home. How I loved it so.