Bay of plenty

Saldanha Bay, West Coast

In the free and easy days of summer, the quest for a great beach town is a national passion. Saldanha Bay, a town of 21 636 people, is just that, offering watersport galore, restaurants and pubs. It’s a real slice of the West Coast, with a much-photographed whale head welcoming all, tree-lined streets and long beaches touched by gentle surf.

Partly protected by a 3.1 km long artificial breakwater, fleets of fishing vessels add character to the bay. The latter is South Africa’s largest and deepest natural anchorage and port. A busy working town, iron ore, steel, fishing, crayfish, mussels, seaweed and seafood processing drive Saldanha Bay’s economy. Its port is one of the largest ore exporting ports in Africa, able to handle ships as large as 200 000 tons deadweight. The town also hosts a naval training base and the South African Military Academy.

Named after Portuguese captain António de Saldanha in Albuquerque’s fleet which visited South Africa in 1503, the appellation was first given to Table Bay, where Saldanha’s ship cast anchor. On Table Bay being called thus in 1601, the name was transferred to the bay now called Saldanha.

Most prominent of the natural attractions is Adam and Eve, two massive vertical rocks on the mountainside overlooking a panoramic Saldanha Bay. Hoedjieskoppie Nature Reserve on a hill in the middle of town boasts beautiful views and traditional fishermen’s cottages. This part of the world is also home to seagulls, cormorants, Cape gannets and terns that tend to outnumber humans by about a million to one.

If the days seem brighter in this town with its impeccably clean streets, well, they are. The bay location gives it less fog than the coastline further south, making it all the better for strolling the beach and taking a dip in the waters. You’re also a short hop from the West Coast National Park.