{travel} West Coast Way: a cracklin’ good time in Velddrif

Somewhere in-between lockdown living and the vague promise of a pending summer season, my heart longs for fresh air, sunshine and long road trips with unexplored twists and turns. COVID-claustrophobia is real, and that is why West Coast Way offers wandering hearts like mine a sea-breeze reprieve of the every-day push and rush of pandemic life.

Introduction

Having grown up with frequent visits to the West Coast, whether it was to see the flowers or to buy mussels in front of the Paternoster Hotel, it still remains my favourite road-trip destination. Merely 20 minutes from the city centre, the bustling R27 quickly slows down and opens up into endless panoramas and picturesque stretches of fishermen’s coastline; reminiscent of the much simpler, much more down-to-earth lifestyle of yesteryears.

It’s the place where my soul can breathe freely, pulling the healing salty air deep into my city-tired lungs. It’s where I am reminded about the pleasures of the little things, as I raise a glass of sterling West Coast wine against the setting sun. It’s where true human connection and sincere hospitality are found in abundance, easily, and every smile is as honest as the soil of this fertile stretch of heaven.

Background

As an unofficial, yet proud (!) ambassador of the West Coast, it’s my ultimate destination for local road trips. With such a vast and varied collection of award-winning dining destinations, wine farms, tourist attractions and accommodation offerings suited to every budget and taste, you don’t have to go far to find exactly what your adventurous heart longs for. Rich with heritage, cultural experiences and an enveloping warm-heartedness I’m yet to find elsewhere, I can simply never get enough of the West Coast’s embrace.

Recently, bound by the parameters of lock-down, my heart has been nudging me even further up the West Coast; rebelling to explore the place where time stands still as you revel in its rugged beauty: Velddrif. So I said yes.

West Coast Way

West Coast Way is South Africa’s road trip with the most twists, which invites those looking to discover their picture-perfect spaces by exploring a unique collection of 101 road trip stops along themed routes.

Velddrif

Our morning started long before the sun peeked its sleepy head over the Peninsula’s mountains. Wrapped up in layers of winter wool, we headed from one coast across to the other, shivering from the combination of the Cape Town cold and a little anticipation. My road trip starts when I wake up that morning, not when I arrive. The preparations, the packing, the slight giddiness at the thought of a day out always leaves me feeling intoxicated with apprehension. And this particular Saturday lay gleaming like a fresh West Coast oyster in my hand.

An introduction to Velddrif

Velddrif rose out of the mist like a lost city in-front of a treasure seeker. We found our way down to Bokkom Laan, the little gravel road with the big heart. Even at 10am, the unassuming row of buildings hugging the lagoon is dotted with fellow-adventurers, seeking their caffeine fix from Colombine Co. We, too, headed inside to wrap our hands around steaming cappuccinos and then stood outside, simply taking in the serenity of this early-morning scene.

Velddrif is a coastal fishing town in the Bergrivier Local Municipality, Western Cape, South Africa. It is located on the estuary where the Berg River flows out into St. Helena Bay at Laaiplek. This estuary is an important bird habitat, home to around 30,000 sea, river and land birds, including up to 80 species which are endemic to the Cape coast. 

Cracklin’ Rosie

But, as with any adventure, it was time to embark on the next quest – a special edition Cracklin’ Rosie cruise.

Cracklin’ Rosie is a small passenger vessel operating from Bokkomlaan in Velddrif. They offer boat trips on the Berg River for small functions, birthday parties, workshops, sunset cruises and environmental education.

All aboard

Boarding from the Avoo Health Cafe, we were looking forward to spend the next three hours on the water for an oyster and bubbly cruise. Cracklin’ Rosie is an impressively stately lady. Sturdy and graceful, we boarded her comfortable confines as the sun started to break up the mist.

For the next three hours, we’d be in the capable hands of Skipper Nico and tour guide, Wendy, as they filled our cruise with stories, birdwatching, and of course, an endless supply of Saldana oysters and bubbly.

*Masks were only briefly removed for images and worn at all times otherwise.

Bird and train watching

The absolute tranquility of the river, the sheer thrill of bird watching and the fresh breeze in our face, all held together by the gentle purr of Cracklin’ Rosie as she meandered down the Berg River, called for a superb morning. With only a small handful of people on board, it was a joy to have almost exclusive access to two West Coast jewels such as Nico and Wendy. Their  immeasurable knowledge of the area’s fauna and flora left us hungry to learn more about this unique habitat.

Having built up quite a substantial appetite by now, Nico turned Cracklin’ Rosie around in the bend of the river. We were treated to a rare sight of the endless Sishen-Saldanha train crossing the bridge. We tried to count all 342 wagons, but were momentarily distracted to admire a statuesque flock of night herons, huddling in the reeds with their faces to the sun.

A Cracklin’ good time

What a lovely opportunity to switch off for a few hours, completely focused and enthralled by the beauty of the Berg river and its inhabitants. With a kiss of sun on my skin, that signature West Coast breeze clinging saltiness to my arms, I was in my happiest of places. A must for any nature-lover, any amount of time spent on Cracklin’ Rosie, is time well spent.

All too soon, the quaint face of Bokkom Laan came back into view, now  filled to the brim with the lunch-time visitors. We reluctantly said our goodbyes to Nico and Wendy, and with a last wave to Cracklin’ Rosie, we were gently brought back to reality.

Kokerboom Kaas

After a brief pause in the sun, we made our way around the corner to the home of Kokerboom Kaas. I know, right? What is a day without cheese? Literally unable to contain my excitement, I was bouncing as we stopped in front of what looked like an incredible rock-garden. When you manage to draw your eyes up from the impressive selection of desert cacti and succulents, you’ll see David waving from the stoep, his big smile a beacon of West Coast warmth.

Completely committed to making artisanal cheese, David and his wife, Carolyn, converted part of their home into a proper cheese room about three years ago. Starting out humble with greek-style feta, David’s range of exceptional cheeses now span most iterations of this delicious food group (yes, cheese is for sure an entire food group in The Little House!). Not long after that, David welcomed Leah to the team as cheesemaker, and an absolute extension of his right arm. Doing a complex dance in the confines of the creamery, the two of them not only make cheese together, but absolute magic.

The ingredients

Intricately paying homage on multiple levels to the rich diversity of fauna and flora of the West Coast, the Kokerboom cheese range has the most beautiful names and some capture stunning local ingredients between the rinds. From the super popular White Steenbras (Camembert-style) to the more delicate Blue Crane (firm blue) and the incredibly moreish Smoked Kelp Gull (smoked Gruyere type), David’s cheeses are a pure, unadulterated celebration of everything local.

Their milk is a single source from Langrietvlei farm’s Golden Guernsey herd, just a few kilometers up the coast. Reuben Kotze supplies Kokerboom Kaas with grade A2A2 milk, especially selected for top cheese making results. A2A2 means that consumers are far less likely to experience lactose or other dairy intolerances due to the easy digestion of the A2 protein as opposed to normal A1 protein, which is more difficult to digest.

Even the salt used in the creamery is Khoi-San salt produced locally, deeply infusing each truckle of hand-made cheese with the flavours and nuances of the signature West Coast veld.

From then to now

The rest is aged history.  Kokerboom Kaas, starting out as a small kitchen hobby to keep David’s restless hands and curious mind busy, has grown from cheese (strength) to cheese (strength) in a relatively short time. Upgrading their cheese-making capacity in 2019, David can now not only supply his regular customers with their dairy fix, but also make enough cheese to run a weekly stall at The Mill Market in Hopefield.

The tasting

After a quick tour of David’s creamery and his fridges, it was time to taste. Taking our seats around his kitchen counter, David is every bit as comfortable behind it as he is in front of the 40L pasteuriser. Generously passing around beautiful chunks of his cheese, it’s clearly a proud moment for David and Carolyn to share their passion with others. Their enthusiasm is completely contagious, and that afternoon I indulged in probably the best cheese tasting I’ve done to date.

Kokerboom Kaas is so much more than just cheese; it’s a lifestyle, it’s an ethos; it’s David and Carolyn and the abundant pantry of the West Coast intensely captured in every delicious bite.

The main cheese

My personal favourites? All of them, wholeheartedly and without reservation. I could never look at “supermarket” cheese with the same eyes again, without thinking of that afternoon in Velddrif around David’s kitchen counter, eating cheese and cheers’ing icy glasses of gin. I don’t think I could ever visit Velddrif again without a quick (or not-so-quick!) stop at Kokerboom Kaas to fill my arms with rounds of Black Stilt, Cape Cobra and Velddrif Veta (unequivocally written with a “V”).

*Tastings strictly by appointment, please visit https://www.kokerboomkaas.co.za/ for more information.

In conclusion

Sometimes a few twists and turns in the road is exactly what the soul needs to recharge. A wander up the West Coast somehow always soothes the mind, refreshes the body and clears the city smog from our eyes. With so much to discover, taste, learn, explore and experience, I’m already planning my next adventure, the West Coast Way!

The fine print

Cracklin’ Rosie River Tours: 071 897 9611 (Whatsapp preferable)
Email trekduiker@gmail.com

Ek & Djy Vissery Restaurant Bar: 082 781 3878 or 082 600 1889

Avoo Health Cafe: +27 61 077 2110

West Coast Way: 0861 321 777 Email carmen@westcoastway.co.za

Kokerboom Kaas: 082 572 1822 Email david@kokerboomkaas.co.za

Columbine Co: 084 879 7006

Second photographer: The Tall Hedonist, aka Timothy P. Gibson

Disclaimer: I was invited to this event in my personal capacity. There was no expectation for platform coverage in the form of a blog, or social media posts. This is my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.

 

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