After our explorations of the Korentepoort Dam to the north of Riversdale, we returned to our accommodation at Oakdale Cottages to pick up some nibblies – and to prepare that obligatory thermos of tea – for our drive down to the coast, some distance south of Riversdale. We wanted to explore the small seaside towns of Stilbaai and Jongensfontein, situated along the Indian Ocean, some 20 km south of the N2.
A seaside picnic was calling to us. Can you hear its faint cry on the breeze?
We barely turned on to the N2, when we had to swing right again onto the road south – the small seaside resort of Stilbaai was signposted, most fittingly I thought, by a little rowing boat mounted on some scaffolding at the side of the road. Cute, hey?
About 20 minutes later, we had reached Stilbaai, which lies spread out on either side of the Goukou River estuary. The river, 15 km of which are apparently navigable, the lagoon, and the long sandy beaches are the ideal environment for water rats (of the human kind) – you can while away your leisure time by swimming, canoeing, surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing, waterskiing, or – if you prefer something less physically exhausting – strolling along the beach or angling.
Our first stop was the beach – we were planning a seaside picnic, remember?
Alas, although we confirmed that Stilbaai has a perfectly lovely beach – long and curved, perfect for walking long distances – the wind was freezing! As soon as we stepped onto the beach, our windbreakers whuppered in the howling wind, the words were whipped out of our mouth, and flurries of fine white beach-sand raced off into the distance.
“Honey?” I shouted against the wind.
“Yes?” Hubby shouted back, turning his face out of the wind.
“I’m c-c-c-old! …. we … back …. car, ple….”
“Car!!” I pointed back in the direction of the carpark.
Buffeted by the wind, we trudged back to the shelter of our car, wrenched open the doors and squeezed inside just before the wind slammed the doors shut again.
Right. I think we’ll skip that seaside picnic then, shall we? Plan B?
We turned around and drove back the way we’d come for about a kilometre, before we reached the bridge across the peaceful blue Goukou River.
The wind wasn’t so strong on this side. We drove slowly through the small town, and out the other side towards its nearest neighbour of Jongensfontein.
The holiday resort of Jongensfontein lies about 10 km west of Stilbaai, and has all the facilities you might need for a weekend (or longer) by the ocean. If you are curious, you can read more about its history here.
According to archeological evidence, the earliest inhabitants of this area, some 7000 years ago, were hunter-gatherers; when domesticated cattle were introduced about 2000 years, the people became pastoralists. A Dutch expedition that visited this area around 1713 discovered a ‘fontein’ (spring) a few hundred yards away from the beach, which was used by the Khoi. The Dutch referred to them as ‘zwarte jongens’ (or black youths), which is the origin of the place name, i.e. Zwarte Jongensfontein. Over the years, the spring and its surroundings were used more and more by the European settlers for grazing and watering their livestock, and during the early part of the 20th century, the locality began to be used as a holiday destination, especially by farmers of the surrounding areas. By 1970, it was decided to develop the town properly, with roads and houses.
We continued on until we reached the coastal road and the seashore. There was no sandy beach inviting us to picnic on the sand: instead, there were rocks and boulders all along the shoreline.
However, a closer look revealed that there was something unusual here: the rocks are piled ontop of each other in such a way that ponds of standing water remain behind when the tide recedes. These are fish traps (known in Afrikaans as ‘vis vywers’), some of which were originally built by the Khoisan and the Strandlopers, roughly 2000 years ago. Isn’t that incredible?
They are best seen at low tide. I think the idea behind them is that, at high tide, the fish are swept higher up the shore, and then left behind in these rocky ponds when the water recedes at low tide. There is even a plaque that explains what they are.
These fish traps are still maintained and in use by local fishermen. Clearly, they work!
In addition, there are also numerous middens in this area; these are piles of mollusc shells and other things, kind of like domestic refuse dumps, dating back thousands of years. We did not see any, but I found out later that there is a local museum, where the contents of some of these middens and replicas of Stone Age artefacts found in the vicinity are on display.
As we cruised slowly along the coastal road, I spotted another plaque:
In case you cannot read the text, it tells the story of a black or Khoi fugitive who fled into the sea at ‘Flip se Baai’ (Flip’s Bay) and who hid behind a prominent pillar of rock that is is known as the Soldier, or the Baboon Finger. Nonetheless, he was eventually shot by his pursuers.
We pulled over at a nearby parking area.
“Enough driving. Let’s go for a walk on the beach,” declared hubby, zipping up his windbreaker, as he got out of the car.
What beach? There was just rocks, rocks, and more rocks…
Ignoring my protestations, hubby started jumping from one rock to the next, like a delicate little klipspringer. Envying his fearlessness and his finely attuned sense of balance, I followed behind as slowly and awkwardly as a hippopotamus trying to climb a mountain. I soooo do not like rock-jumping! Besides, I did not want to risk slipping, and possibly breaking my camera. Yeh, yeh, excuses… I know…
Eventually, I too had reached the other side of a large rock pool that seemed to be filling up with seawater… Was the tide coming in?
Hubby stood on top of the tallest rocks, leaning into the wind with arms outstretched, as though he longed to leap into the churning sea barely two metres below him. I watched apprehensively, as one breaker after another threw itself angrily at the shore, thudding the rocks against each other. The wind was threatening to rip the camera out of my by now half-frozen fingers. The seagulls and the black oystercatchers with their distinctive red beaks did not mind the wind or the sea – they swirled and dipped and soared and dived around us.
The rock pool was filling rapidly with water. OK, this was definitely the tide coming in. We needed to head back to the car.
“Right, we still need a picnic spot,” I said, once we were safely back inside. “I’m frozen, I need some tea!”
“Me too, let’s see whether we can find somewhere with a nice view.”
“I’ll see whether the Garmin has anything interesting to say…” I suggested, turning on our helpful navigator, as we drove back along the seashore, until the road turned inland once more.
A couple of clicks later – “Oooh! There’s a lighthouse! Can we go see if it’s open? Maybe we can climb to the top?!”
I hadn’t forgotten about our unsuccessful attempts to visit Cape Agulhas lighthouse (which was too far away along a gravel road) and Danger Point lighthouse (which was closed) during our recent weekend away in serene Stanford. If there was a lighthouse here, I definitely wanted to see it!
Waypoint entered, we followed the directions… except that the Garmin suddenly went into a disturbing speed-wobble, repeating, “Please make a u-turn, recalculating. Please make a u-turn, recalculating”.
Its stored coordinates for the lighthouse were somewhere in the ocean, just off the coast, and it couldn’t find the road down, even though we had! We had in fact pulled onto the parking area right in front of the so-called lighthouse, but our Garmin was having a freak-out because we seemed to be in the middle of the ocean!
I tried to halt the navigation – “Please make a u-turn, recalculating. Please make a u-turn, recalculating” – nope, not working. I switched it off, waited, and switched it on again. As soon as it was live again, the desperate plea resumed: “Please make a u-turn, recalculating. Please make a u-turn, recalculating”.
Good grief. Now what?
“OK, we’ll need to go back until it finds where we are again,” said hubby sensibly, as he swung into yet another u-turn (I hope no one was watching these nutters with the Cape Town number plates doing one u-turn after another!) and took us back towards Stilbaai. Finally, the Garmin fell silent. OK. I halted the navigation instruction, and turned her off.
We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Now how about a cup of tea?”
“I saw a viewing site – whale watching site – just on the left here. Let’s go and investigate that,” I suggested.
We stopped between several other cars, filled with people who obviously had the same idea as us – to have a picnic inside the car, sheltered from the gusting wind, and with some awesome views across a beautiful horseshoe-shaped sandy bay.
After emptying the thermos of tea and nibbling our way through all the biscuits and apples we had taken along, we drove down for a closer look at the lighthouse.
It was a little disappointing, shall we say?
Ah well. Never mind. At least, now we know. And now you – my loyal readers – know too, that neither Stilbaai nor Jongensfontein have a lighthouse with stairs so that you can climb to the top of it. If, however, you do know of a real, proper, tall lighthouse in this area, please let me know so that I can present the correct facts.
Feeling rather content with our explorations, we made our way back across the Goukou River estuary, and took the road north towards Riversdale. I had something on my mind…
“Honey, on our way down, I saw a sign…”, I said, fiddling with my camera.
“Remember that sign with the cannon on it?”
“Could you stop when we get there, so I can take a closer look?”
Silence. I was trying to think of a good reason. Well, I wanted to blog about it, but that didn’t strike me as a particularly good reason.
“Just kidding. I’m sure you want to blog about it. Tell me when to stop.”
My man was reading my mind?!
And thus we stopped to take a picture of this interesting monument to the most southerly battle of the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902), which took place here on 12 September 1901. The monument was unveiled on the hundredth anniversary of this battle, i.e. on 12 September 2001.
The text (translated from Afrikaans) says:
“A boer commando under the command of Cmdr Jan Theron fought against the District Mounted Troops and the Riversdale Town Guards, under the command of Lt Smalberger, and a division of British troops under the command of Maj Kavanagh. The boers were on the hills to the north-west, west, south-west and south-east of this site, whereas the British troops were right here. Two boers, Field Cornet JA van Biljon of Kroonstad and RCH Tiell of Johannesburg, were wounded. When they recovered, they were banished. The British troops sustained heavy injuries, but the numbers are not known.”
Now isn’t that interesting?
From here it wasn’t far to the N2, which led us back to Riversdale, at the foot of the Sleeping Beauty mountains (can you make out the silhouette of the maiden lying on her back?).
We were just in time to prepare another delicious braai, under a fabulously clear and starry night sky, singing along to Sonja Herholdt’s new CD playing in the background!
Ahhh, this surely was heaven on earth.