West Coast National Park: The Complete Guide

white sand and turquoise water of Langebaan Lagoon in West Coast National Park, South Africa
Malte Jaeger / Getty Images
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West Coast National Park

Address
West Coast DC, South Africa
Phone +27 22 772 2144

The majority of visitors to South Africa will only ever go as far west as Cape Town, preferring to focus their efforts on the magnificent coastline between the Mother City and Durban; or to head inland to Kruger National Park. However, the more remote west coast boasts some pretty spectacular sights for those that like taking the road less traveled. One of these is West Coast National Park, a birder and botanist’s paradise that stretches from Saldanha Bay in the north to the sleepy fishing village of Yzerfontein in the south. In total, the park incorporates 140 square miles of land, sea, and offshore islands with the impossibly blue waters of Langebaan Lagoon at its heart. 

Things to Do

West Coast National Park is best known for its breathtaking landscapes, which extend from the dynamic intertidal zone at the edge of the lagoon to the granite outcrops of the Seeberg mountain. Visitors can explore the park from the comfort of their own vehicle via a network of scenic driving routes; or they can venture out on numerous hiking and mountain biking trails. Wildlife to look out for includes mountain zebra, springbok, and eland, as well as elusive carnivores such as the caracal and the bat-eared fox.

Birds are the main draw for many visitors, though. The lagoon is a Ramsar wetland of international importance, and its salt marshes account for a third of all the salt marshes in South Africa. This unique habitat attracts a wealth of water birds all year round, but especially in the summer migration season. Wildflowers are another seasonal phenomenon, carpeting several areas of the park from August to September.

Small beaches provide access to the lagoon for kayaking, kite-boarding, and other watersports; while permits for fishing can be purchased from any South African post office. West Coast National Park is also a site of great anthropological importance, as it was here that the fossilized footprints of a young woman were discovered in 1995 and found to be 117,000 years old. A replica of Eve’s Footprints, as they’re now known, can be seen at the Geelbek Visitor’s Centre.

Best Hikes & Trails

  • Geelbek Trails: These two relatively easy trails start and end at Geelbek Information Centre. The first is 4.5 miles in length and takes hikers to Sixteen Mile Beach. The second is 5.5 miles and circles through the Langebaan dunes. 
  • Steenbok Trail: Open in August and September only, this one-day trail covers 8.5 miles and starts and finishes as the Tsaarsbank Gate. A maximum of 20 people are allowed on the trail at any one time. 
  • Postberg Trail: Also open in August and September only, this two-day trail takes hikers on a 17-mile journey through the best of the annual wildflower bloom. It starts and ends at Tsaarsbank Gate with a night spent wild camping at Plankiesbaai. Up to 12 people can be on the trail at a time.
  • Strandveld Trail: This two-day trail is open all year round, and is a 17-mile meander through the park’s unique strandveld vegetation to Sixteen Mile Beach. It is a circular route from Geelbek Information Centre. 
  • Eve’s Trail: The longest of the park’s hikes, Eve’s Trail takes 2.5 days to complete. It must be booked through Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails and is guided, portered, and catered with overnight accommodation at Duinepos Chalets. The route starts at Duinepos and visits the Fossil Dunes, Abrahamskraal waterhole, Geelbek, and the Seeberg. 
Landscape of flowers and sea in West Coast National Park
geoffsp / Getty Images

Wildflower Season

Every year from August to September, West Coast National Park acts as the southernmost stage of South Africa’s west coast wildflower superbloom, which begins in northern Namaqualand. Unbroken swathes of daisies and other bulbs in shades of white, yellow, orange, and pink cover the veld in the Seeberg/Mooimaak and Postberg areas, with the latter traditionally considered the best place to catch the bloom in all its glory. The Postberg section of the park also has the greatest concentration of wildlife and is only open to the public during the flower season.

Birdwatching 

Langebaan Lagoon is globally renowned as a hotspot for birders, being home to 10 percent of South Africa’s coastal wader population. On any given day, visitors to the park’s bird hides can spot knot and sanderling, stints, sandpipers, plovers, turnstones, and curlews. Flamingos and pelicans are also commonly spotted, with Geelbek Hide often producing the best sightings when the low tide turns. The beginning and end of summer (September and March) are considered prime birding months as Palearctic species stop over in Langebaan on their annual migration. At this time, the intertidal zone supports as many as 55,000 water birds. 

Although not as easily visited, the five offshore islands of Saldanha Bay are also part of the park, and act as key nesting areas for endangered and endemic species including the Cape gannet, the Cape cormorant, and the African penguin. The best time to visit for birding is from September to March.

Where to Stay

Unusually for South Africa, there are no campsites at West Coast National Park. Instead, accommodation is provided by a series of self-catering cottages, chalets, and houseboats, some of which are owned by SANParks and some of which are managed privately. 

  • Abrahamskraal Cottage: Situated near Abrahamskraal waterhole, this two-bedroom, self-catering cottage can accommodate up to six people. It has an open-plan kitchen and living area and is solar-powered. Electricity is limited, with no plug points and gas-powered appliances.
  • Van Breda Cottage: A renovated homestead located on Geelbek Farm, this self-catering cottage sleeps up to six people in three bedrooms. It also has an open-plan kitchen and lounge, as well as regular electricity and a braai (barbecue) facility.
  • Steytler Cottage: Also located on Geelbek Farm, this is a smaller cottage with one bedroom and a maximum capacity of two people. Its open-plan kitchen and living area includes a sleeper couch, fireplace, and regular electricity.
  • Jo Anne’s Beach Cottage: Ideally located near Churchaven, within walking distance of the lagoon, this six-sleeper cottage boasts three en-suite bedrooms, an open-plan living room and kitchen, and braai facilities in front and back. It also has lovely lagoon views. Electricity is solar-powered and there are no plug points.
  • Jo Anne’s B Cottage: This cottage has exactly the same facilities as the one above, but with two bedrooms and space for up to four guests.
  • Duinepos Chalets: This community project provides three-star accommodation in the form of 11 self-catering chalets. Each one sleeps four comfortably and six at a push, with an open-plan kitchen and lounge, a fireplace, bathroom, and outdoor braai area. Guests also have access to a communal swimming pool and boma area.
  • Kraalbaai Luxury Houseboats: Kraalbaai consists of four privately owned houseboats attached to permanent moorings on Langebaan Lagoon. Each one has facilities for self-catering, although catering may be provided upon request. Depending on which you choose, the houseboats have space for six to 24 guests.

How to Get There 

West Coast National Park is located roughly one hour’s drive from central Cape Town, although your travel time can increase significantly in periods of peak traffic. It’s a 62-mile drive north of the city along the R27 highway. 

Accessibility

All of the park’s scenic driving routes are accessible to wheelchair users with their own vehicle. Geelbek Hide is also wheelchair accessible, as is Geelbek Visitor's Centre and Restaurant. The bathrooms at the information center are also accessible but the ramp is short and steep so some people may require assistance. The Postberg section of the park can mostly be explored by car; however, the viewing point and picnic sites are only accessed via a quite narrow pathway. Unfortunately, the same is true for the lagoon jetties (which have steps) and the other hides. In terms of accommodation, two of the Duinepos Chalets are fully accessible.

Tips for Your Visit

  • June and July are the coldest, wettest months for the national park, however, temperatures rarely fall below 46 F (8 C) and highs of 68 F (20 C) are normal. 
  • January and February are the hottest, driest months, with barely any rain and highs of 86 F (30 C). 
  • All visitors must pay a daily conservation fee. For international visitors, this is 100 rand (around $7) per adult and 50 rand per child outside wildflower season. During wildflower season, it is 210 rand per adult and 105 rand per child. Discounts apply for South African citizens and residents, and SADC nationals. 
  • The West Coast and Langebaan Gates open at 7 a.m. They close at 7 p.m. from September to March, and at 6 p.m. from April to August. The last vehicle entry is half an hour before closing. 
  • The Tsaarsbank Gate gives access to the Postberg section of the park and is only open during flower season. It opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m., with last entry at 3 p.m.
  • There are no gas stations in the park. The closest one is approximately 3miles from the Langebaan Gate in Langebaan town. 
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West Coast National Park: The Complete Guide