Rich pickings

All manner of oceanic delights awaits at Laaiplek with its picturesque working harbour and idiosyncratic West Coast way of life.

Once seen as a tired and tacky fishing resort, Laaiplek doesn’t always get the love it deserves. A quieter, off-the-radar destination than sister town Velddrif, the town is unashamedly in a fifties/sixties time warp architecturally with no chain stores or ye-olde theme restaurants. But the quayside is a colourful collection of old-fashioned, brightly painted wooden fishing boats with names such as Doloreze, Roseveld and Excalibur. It follows then that the town is home to one of two dry docks in South Africa where wooden-hulled fishing boats are maintained and refurbished.

In 1693 Dutch ship Die Gouden Buys ran aground eight miles south of the river mouth after most of her 200-strong crew had died of scurvy on the voyage from Holland to the Cape. Seven starving men came ashore and made their way north to the Berg River, but only two survived after being rescued by Hottentot clans. Upon notification, the Dutch authorities sent ships to rescue the seamen and salvage the cargo. Thus Laaiplek was founded by fish merchant Carl Stephan – with its name obviously meaning loading place.

Although most Cape towns were created around a Dutch Reformed church, Laaiplek was established around a fish cannery. In 1899 a pont was built to ferry people and livestock across the river and it stayed in service until 1950. Five years later the Carinus Bridge was completed, giving Laaiplek and Velddrif direct road access to the Cape.

When a channel was blown through the massive sandbank at the river mouth in 1968, Laaiplek’s harbour finally was completed. Since then business has flourished with fish canning and fish meal factories being the chief industries. And needless to say, bokkoms are big business.

Welcomed by flamingo flocks on entry, Laaiplek proudly maintains a distinct fisherman’s town atmosphere.