Spring is long gone, and now summer has also officially come to an end. In March as we enter autumn, many caravanners are already planning for the winter ahead, and the camping gear and homes on wheels start going into storage to hide out the colder months.
But if you are an outdoor addict and determined to go camping any time of the year, one of the best places you can set course for is Mossel Bay.
The coastal destination, situated about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, has the most moderate climate of any town in the southern hemisphere – an average of 320 sunny days a year. In fact, the only place on the planet that has better weather, is Hawaii.
This incredible climate also covers the small hamlets of Hartenbos, Great Brak River, Little Brak River and Midbrak which is nestled between its neighbours the Little Brak and the Groot Brak. South of Mossel Bay is Dana Bay. And if you head a short way inland on the R328 to Oudtshoorn you’ll find Brandwacht and Ruiterbos.
I’ve camped at all the resorts in Mossel Bay, but this trip was going to be a bit different. I was also going to be exploring the wotn like a proper tourist, I needed to check out ATKV Hartenbos, and the cherry on top was that I would be towing a very new kid on the block: the newly-launched Stealth Evo XR6 caravan.
Actually, let’s call it a double cherry on top, since my tow vehicle is the equally new Isuzu D-Max LX turbo diesel.
With a new Isuzu and new caravan (picked up at Tygerberg Caravans), I was on top of the world as I eased along the Garden Route up to the ATKV caravan park in Hartenbos.
While the Stealth was towing very smoothly, I have to note to note that it’s a bit wider than the Isuzu, so preferably you’d need to fit towing mirrors.
As always I stopped for roosterkoek at the small stall next to the Aloe Engen garage in Albertinia. Like the, garage Albertinia is known as aloe country. Thanks to the temperate weather and rocky terrain, these medicinal plants thrive in this area.
There’s an aloe factory and shop right next to the N2, they’re well worth a visit; and anyway, it’s only another 58 km up the road to ATKV Hartenbos.
The caravan park has more than 570 caravan and camping stands (all with water and electricity), and I chose one that’s basically on the beach.
Unhitching the Stealth and setting up camp, I started to get a feel of the EVO XR6 – what appeared on the outside as a relatively small caravan, turned out to be quite spacious and roomy inside!
All set up, I walked out of a small gate next to my caravan, across a walkway, and I was on the beach, taking a stroll alongside the sea down to the Hartenbos Seafront, just a couple of hundred metres down the road from the caravan park.
MOERBY TRADING & DOUGHY’S BREAD CAFE
The seafront complex has a great Pick n Pay and liquor outlet, and a huge fun park for the kids. Near the entrance to Pick n Pay is a big, grey barn-like building called the called Moerby Trading Co.
It’s a marvellous pplace that is not only a great coffee shop and deli that serves well-priced breakfasts, it also has a well-stocked camping section that attracted me like a bee to honey.
I really had to hang on to my credit card… I could have blown a month’s salary in an hour.
I can only imagine the thousands of campers from the nearby resort flocking in droves in full season! Moerby is also the place for your gas refills.
Close by was Doughy’s Bread and Café, where I bought a fantastic loaf of sourdough bread.
With some food in my belly and a few supplies for later, I headed the eight kilometres to Mossel Bay.
BARTHOLOMEU DIAS MUSEUM COMPLEX
My first port of call was the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex. I love this museum, it’s here where you get some idea of the incredible age of man’s first acquaintance with this temperate piece of country.
You see, Mossel Bay is actually the site of some pretty interesting archaeological finds in South Africa. Remains and artefacts found in the seaside caves at Pinnacle Point date back some 162 000 years.
Until these caves were discovered in 1997, conventional archaeological thinking was that our ancestors only started displaying “modern” behaviour, like making tools, around 50 000 years ago. But the caves near Pinnacle Point proves that this type of critical thinking predates such European finds by over 100 000 years!
I like the tongue-in-cheek quote on the museum brochure: “…which in effect proves Mossel Bay is the birthplace of culture and advanced technology!”
Another significant site in the area is the Cape St Blaize Cave, almost directly below the lighthouse. This cave was first explored in 1899, which makes it one of the oldest archaeological excavations sites in South Africa. And although the site is “scientifically compromised”, the middens left by San and Khoekoen hunter-gatherers are reckoned to have been used for some 200 000 years.
If you are not into archaeology, it’s still a great spot for dolphin and whale watching.
But getting back to the history: The first Europeans actually came to Mossel Bay by mistake. Heading for Cape Point but blown of course, Bartolomeu Dias and his men landed where the museum is situated today.
The museum actually has a replica of Dias’s caravel. The caravel was built in Portugal and sailed to Mossel Bay in 1988 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Dias’s trip.
Stepping on to the deck, one’s admiration for those hardy early explorers goes up in leaps in bounds as you consider the courage needed to round the Cape in this relatively small wooden vessel on their journey to the east.
The Museum Complex is close to the beach, restaurants, banks and the tourist information centre. Literally a few hundred meters from the Information centre is the harbour wall known as Quay 4.
I popped into the Sea Gypsy restaurant where the fresh oysters are kept in the sea below. Order a few and the big net with the fresh molluscs is cranked up by hand to the restaurant above.
If you are looking for some traditional fish and chips, reasonably priced, I suggest the red double decker London Bus Fish & Chips.
Right next door is the is the upmarket Mossel Bay Oyster Bar. Sit down with some wine in a fluted glass enjoying your oysters, or great sushi if that’s your thing.
A friend who used to live in Mossel Bay introduced me to the Kaai 4 Braai Restaurant. It’s known for its traditional South African cuisine. All the delicious food, including fish, is cooked on a huge open fire pit.
Even if I don’t eat at Kaai 4, I always buy a couple of their freshly-made roosterkoek made on that open fire.
DE BAKKE SANTOS
Campsites: 378 (grassed, some shaded)
Electricity: Yes: 220V
Water: Yes (shared)
Less than 2 kilometres from the museum is a fantastic caravan park – I’m sure you’ve read about De Bakke Santos in this publication before.
The last time I was at De Bakke Santos was about a year and a half ago (see August 2017 edition of Caravan & Outdoor Life).
The large campsite overlooks the beach, and my previous visit is perhaps a testimony to Mossel Bay being a good year-round holiday destination. I was there in June, the middle of winter, but there were still plenty of campers.
De Bakke Santos Camp and Caravan Park is close to two Blue Flag beaches – Santos Beach and De Bakke Beach.
The De Bakke part of the resort has 75 sites, of which 22 have sea views. About 87 in the Santos part are also right in the front.
I cannot start the day without a good brew of coffee. If you are also a java lover, then you’ll be in heaven in Mossel Bay. The harbour town has developed quite a coffee culture.
My plan for the start of the day was to travel to The Point to take some pictures of the surfers, but first I popped in at The Blue Shed Coffee Roastry.
The Blue Shed is ranked on TripAdvisor as number three for best coffee and tea establishments in Mossel Bay.
I just loved the old blue corrugated iron shed from the moment I first made its acquaintance. What first drew me to the Blue Shed was the eclectic collection of old cars surrounding the shed. Two of the vehicles were parked on the roof of an old building at the entrance.
I parked the Isuzu next to an old fire-red Bedford fire truck. At the very edge of the row of cars, there is an old rusted kombi standing as if it was too shy to show its face. But it was the wonderful wood cabinetry and woodwork of the interior that drew me to it. It had character. Although the body is rusted, whoever had built this gypsy home had done it with love.
At the entrance to the roastry, I got talking to artist Bert du Plooy who has the small gallery CLAYworx.
Bert is a really character with a rip roaring sense of humour. Many moons ago he studied Fine Arts at the University of Pretoria.
Bert tells me: “In the 80’s, I was living on the Kaaimans River near Wildernsess… I’d swop a kabeljou with the local fisherman for a couple of glasses of Old Brown!”
This is where he perfected his minutely detailed fish paintings.
I also found out that Bert once owned the old Kombi with that stands semi-hidden in the ground of the Blue Shed Roastry. Although slowly rusting into the landscape, the interior was made by a master craftsman.
Sadly, Bert didn’t know the history of the old Kombi, but he did spend six months living in it as he went about selling art along the Cape West Coast.
Bert has been running painting, drawing and sculpting classes at CLAYworx from the small gallery at the entrance to the Blue Shed. The classes are kept purposefully small and limited to a maximum of five students.
Perhaps one day I will be lucky enough to park my old Land Rover camper down at the Point Caravan Park and take one of Bert’s courses.
THE GOODS SHED & CAPE ST BLAIZE LIGHTHOUSE
With my caffeine fix for the morning sorted, I decided to take a stroll to the Cape St Blaze Lighthouse and The Point Caravan Park about 1,5 km “down the road”.
But first I headed the opposite direction in Bland Street to pop in at The Goods Shed Flea market.
The Goods Shed is a large and busy fleamarket with a rabbits warren of small stalls selling handmade craft, clothing, artisan breads and coffees to antiques and a whole lot more. It’s well worth a visit.
The market’s history apparently dates back to 1901, when owing to an increase in cargo, the Harbour Company was forced to build a warehouse.
After sniffing around the wares for a while, I headed to the the parking area at the start of the St Blaize Hiking Trail.
I wasn’t going to hike the 15km hike to Dana Bay, but I did visit the cave just up from the car park before heading up the steep wooden walkway to the Cape St Blaize Lighthouse complex on the steep promontory above the cave.
Built in 1864, the Cape St Blaize lighthouse was until fairly recently one of only two lighthouses in South Africa manned on a 24 hour basis. From the website www.lighthouses.co.za I found out that until the late 1970s the lighthouse used a clockwork system to turn the lens, and required a lightkeeper to climb up the tower and wind it up every three hours! Everything is fully automated now, but a senior lightkeeper and two lightkeepers are still employed.
It was a beautiful warm windless day at the time of my visit. I could only imagine what it be like to on a small craft when those fearsome storms rolled in from the southern ocean.
I have to say it was a helluva lot easier descending the stairs to the Cape St Blaize Hiking Trail car park.
POINT CARAVAN PARK
Campsites: 211 (grassed, some shaded)
Electricity: Yes: 220V
Just a few hundred metres from the Cape St Blaize Lighthouse is The Point Caravan Park.
This municipal caravan park is situated on the eastern-most edge of Mossel Bay, and many of the sites actually offer a sea view. All that’s between you and the Indian Ocean is Point Road!
The caravan park has grassed stands that are spacious enough so that you are not tripping over your neighbours. It is quite a large caravan park, offering 73 shaded stands and 138 unshaded stands. All sites are electrified and have municipal water that is safe to drink.
After my excursions to the fleamarket, lighthouse and caravan park, I had worked up an appetite, so I popped in at a restaurant called Delfino’s near The Point
Talking to one the youngsters later, he explained: “The Point really pumps… it has two waves – Inner and Outer Pool – breaking right next to each other…”
I nodded my head sagely as he explained further that it’s “usually an offshore that blows here” and then explained how the Outer Pool was always good for a surf on a low tide.
All I knew was it was great to watch. My only regret was I only had a 200mm lens. A bit short for this photographing this sport.
A week or two after my enjoyable time in Mossel Bay, I was sitting in my old Land Rover camper at the Gaansbaai Caravan Park, writing up my experience.
Fittingly, the south-easter was pumping so hard the old girl was rocking like Bartolomeu Dias’ caravel rounding the Cape. It’s incredible to think back to those days, of the time when brave explorers battled the unknown oceans to sail around Africa.
How wonderful it must have been when the storms calmed and they found a paradise like Mossel Bay.
And if these thoughts of a few hundred years ago don’t impress you, try getting your head around the fact that folks were “camping” and making tools around this neck of the woods some 160 000 years ago.
By Richard van Ryneveld