West Coast National Park comprises stunning lagoons, pearly beaches and flowering fynbos.
South Africa’s West Coast National Park consists predominantly of the Langebaan Lagoon, the offshore Saldanha Bay islands and a picturesque stretch of strandveld with indigenous flora. The spring months between August and October renders the veld to a rainbow of coastal flowers, ceding spectacular scenes of eland, red hartebeest and zebra in colorful floral mosaics.
The lagoon, with its salt marsh wetlands, is a haven for sea birds, and as such has been identified as a world Ramsar site and an ‘Important Bird Area’ by Birdlife International. From white pelicans and flamingos to rare endemic species, the West Coast National Park is a bird lover’s paradise and offers a range of hides to enjoy them.
The tranquil waters of the lagoon are also a hotspot for watersports enthusiasts, offering the perfect platform for kayaking and kite-surfing. Additionally, visitors can take on the park’s numerous hiking trails or simply relax with a braai or picnic and enjoy the peaceful scenery.
Treat your senses to the richness of this magical coastal park. Take in the millions of flowers blossoming in spring, creating a carpet of colors set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and the bright blue waters of the Langebaan Lagoon, with a multitude of seabirds, and antelope roaming freely over the reserve.
Birds from all over the world flock to the region to have their annual summer holiday in the Southern Hemisphere. The curlew sandpipers all the way from the Siberian Arctic are amongst these special guests. Other highlights include the Black Harrier, and the large colony of Cape Gannets that call the area home.
The Langebaan Lagoon is the perfect destination for adventurous water sports. The prevalence of strong winds in the region makes it perfect for kite surfing and windsurfing. For those that would like to try something a bit more uncomplicated ,there are boat trips, kayaking and fishing from the shore or from a boat.
The West Coast National Park is situated in the Western Cape close to Cape Town. Guests traveling to the park will be welcomed at OR Tambo International Airport and board on a domestic flight to Cape Town International Airport. The short flight from the north to the south offers a great aerial view of the Karoo on a clear day, so be sure to take a look if you can.
The park is approximately 100km from Cape Town, and the short drive along the western coast of South Africa offers beautiful scenic mountainous and oceanic landscapes. The road is relatively easy, although the last section is untarred – African Sky will transport guests to the park in a private, air-conditioned 4x4 vehicle driven by an experienced guide.
Much like the Namaqualand National Park, it is best to visit the West Coast National Park during spring and early summer when the flowers are in bloom. The area experiences comfortably warm winter days when compared to other parts of South Africa, but evenings can get cold with temperatures dropping below 10C.
The summers are also not as warm as other parts of the Northern Cape. This is due to the fog that is blown inland from the cool Atlantic Ocean. The region experiences strong winds throughout the year. Rain occurs mainly in the winter from May to August. Whales can also be seen in the area, and start arriving in June.
The area that is now the West Coast National Park has been occupied by humans for hundreds of thousands of years. On the shores of the Langebaan Lagoon, the skull cap of an archaic human (Homo sapiens) has recently been excavated. When it was dated, scientists estimated the skull cap to be approximately 400 000 years old. Trace fossils in the form of fossilized footprints were also found in 1995, at Kraalbaai, next to Langebaan Lagoon. These footprints have been estimated to be around 120 000 years old. The size and shape of the footprints indicate that it is was a woman walking down a steep sand dune. There are only four sets of ancient human footprints worldwide.
In recorded history, the first people to occupy this area were the Khoikhoi. The Cochoqua tribe was found in this region. They were nomadic livestock farmers and traded fat-tailed sheep, goats and cattle with the early Dutch that settled in Cape Town. As early as 17 October 1652, Jan Van Riebeeck dispatched a skipper and bookkeeper to trade with the Cochoqua at Langebaan. By 1654, Van Riebeeck sent large vessels to Langebaan to collect salted penguins and bird eggs to feed slaves. The Dutch used Langebaan Lagoon as a safe haven for ships in danger and to repair ships. Between 1652 and 1795, 61 ships were repaired and 140 ships escaped dangerous seas into the lagoon.
Late winter to early spring - when the flowers start to bloom - is the best time to see wildlife. This time of year is the breeding season for many animal species. Animals that are typically shy and skittish like caracal, bat-eared fox and Cape fox are seen much more frequently. West Coast National Park is home to a healthy population of common eland, the continent's second largest antelope specie, and gigantic bulls can be found. Other species of antelope include gemsbok, bontebok, grysbok, steenbok, springbok and common duiker. The once endangered Cape mountain zebra makes for brilliant sightings and amazing photographs.
In the Atlantic Ocean, Cape fur seals are the most abundant mammal, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are seen occasionally and humpback and southern right whale are spotted in season. Reptiles are plentiful in the reserve. One is most likely to come across puff adders, mole snakes and legless skinks. Angulate and parrot-beaked tortoises can also be found. Birding around the lagoon is exceptional. Curlew sandpipers come to the park in the summer all way from the Siberian Arctic. Swift terns, Cape gannets, crowned cormorants and even the endangered African black oystercatcher are all common. African penguins may also be seen.
The West Coast National Park contains 24,025 hectares of strandveld vegetation. Recently the park has acquired more land to add to the diversity of the vegetation. The extra 6382 hectares is made up of Hopefield Sand Plain Fynbos. Both areas have a high rate of endemic flora. The sand plain fynbos, however, has been given higher conservation value than the strandveld vegetation, as very little of the sand plain fynbos is being formally conserved and it is being threatened more and more by alien plant invasion. Most of the vegetation in the West Coast National Park grows on either granite or limestone rock, and the plants tend to be very colorful during spring, which attracts a lot of visitors.
The area where the strandveld vegetation occurs in the West Coast National Park is both on the Langebaan peninsula and around the Langebaan lagoon, on the eastern side, where it grows in the deep chalky sands of the Langebaan formation. The sand plain fynbos occurs inland of the strandveld vegetation, on deep acidic light-gray to pale-red sands of the Springfontyn formation. On the fringes of the Langebaan lagoon, there are extensive marshes. The vegetation of the West Coast National Park can be divided into 36 associations and 482 plant species. 21 of these species are red data book species and a further 14 red data book species occur in the newly acquired sections of land.
The West Coast National Park encompasses the strikingly blue Langebaan Lagoon, and accordingly a variety of water-based activities are available in the area. The area is also known for its windy climate, and windsurfing, kayaking and kite-boarding are some of the most popular past times. The park also caters for nature lovers, and it was established to conserve the Langebaan Ramsar, which is a natural saltwater wetland, and also one of three lagoons in the world not fed by fresh water. Several hikes are available in the park, including the Geelbek and Bakoor day walks, which are favorites among visitors.
Birding is exceptional in the park, with over 250 species to be found, including the flightless ostrich and the famous flamingo. It is no surprise that the park has four bird hides from which these amazing animals can be observed. Guests can also head for the beach, where you can enjoy a relaxing picnic or braai (barbecue), and a swim if you dare. The waters of the Atlantic are extremely cold, and guests should also be vigilant for tides - especially in the lagoon area. Whales can also be seen making their way languidly along the coast from August to September. During spring, visitors can enjoy the thousands of flowers that cover the park with a beautiful array of colors.
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