In the back of beyond

Atlantic Gull, West Coast, Koekenaap

When Koekenaap locals say they live in the middle of nowhere, they’re not exaggerating, because you won’t find yourself ‘just passing through’ anytime soon.

Surrounded by a hodgepodge of farming units producing wine grapes, the finest tomatoes in the country, gem squashes, potatoes, beetroot, pumpkin and sheep, the town dates back to 1928 when farmers settled along the banks of the Olifants River on the farm Roodeheuwel.

With a name like that, one wonders what on earth the history behind it is. There are two theories. The more plausible of the two is that on seeing the beautiful valley, a German missionary exclaimed to his fellow traveller, “Guck hinab” (look down there) and the accompanying Khoi guide thought this was as good a name as any, pronouncing it Koekenaap. Another possibility is that it derives from the Khoi expression ‘where the ram fell’. So, who knows?

A few degrees cooler than the surrounding towns, Koekenaap, which is 56 km west of Vanrhynsdorp, can be a harsh, stoney land, but in spring, glory arrives with fields of flowers and many feathered visitors. The perfect time to embark on the rugged 5-day, 80-km Swart Tobie trail.

Home to the largest wind turbines in South Africa and with only 1 500 residents who are mainly farmers and farm workers, this West Coast hamlet has a general dealer, post office and a burnt-down petrol station. The 380-km Olifants River gravitation canal built by Italian POWs ends in this valley and a few challenging 4×4 trails start in Koekenaap.

Life is no joke here, but with grit and a sense of humour the locals have established an agreeable livelihood in this dusty, yet fertile outpost. This place certainly is ripe for reinvention: rustic digs, cheap land, interesting people and endless possibilities.

Photo: Henlo du Toit