June 13, 2022
It’s Sunday morning and we are in kayaks, off shore of Paternoster, one of the oldest fishing villages on the West Coast of South Africa. The water is crystal clear. Huge smooth, grey boulders loom above us, covered in sea birds, all squawking and calling. Black Oystercatchers, with long red legs, forage for food among the rockpools. Cormorants, with their wings spread to dry, sit in the morning sunshine. Gulls swoop and dive overhead. We see the spray from a humpback whale surfacing, and two Heaviside’s dolphins, with their striking black, grey and white markings, dive in and out of the water beside us. There can be as many as 400 whales in the bay at times during the season, we were told; though we were delighted with one! It was a perfect morning and the perfect way to start the day.
About a 90min scenic drive from Cape Town, through fynbos, wheat fields, wildflowers and the West Coast National Park, Paternoster is a wonderful destination for a weekend away, a mid-week break, or part of a longer itinerary.
Known for its lobster, and the white-washed fisherman’s cottages that fringe the cobalt-blue waters of the bay, Paternoster is a friendly vibrant little town full of colour and charm. With a coastline of sandy dunes and beaches, this is a really beautiful spot on the South African West Coast.
After our morning’s kayaking, and after drying our damp clothes, we visit the Art Shed at the Crayfish Wharf, for locally made crafts, paintings, ceramics and jewellery. Unfortunately, we are only ‘window shopping’, as we won’t have space in our luggage to fit anything fragile when flying out of the country in a few days’ time. I do however manage to purchase an old copper jug, at the eclectic antique shop, that’s full of old toy cars, model trains and an interesting mix of other bits and pieces. The antique shop had a sign outside advertising its services as a ‘husband’s day care centre’, I only wish I’d seen the sign earlier, as perhaps I might have had a bit more successful shopping expedition without my husband being ‘practical’ about luggage space every time something took my fancy! Retail therapy complete, we head back to our hotel to freshen up, and smarten up our wardrobe. We are off to an operatic concert at the atmospheric Die Koelkamers Teater (theatre), and our morning attire of shorts and t-shirts won’t really cut it for the event. Die Koelkamers Teatre is also housed in the Crayfish Wharf, and it’s a creative space full of artwork and comfortable furnishings.
Concert over, we headed to lunch at Leeto Restaurant. Leeto, with renowned Chef Garth Almazan, focuses on contemporary West Coast cuisine, using sustainable seafood and free-range meat. Freshly shucked oysters, prawn and calamari risotto, Malay spiced west coast mussels, smoke springbok carpaccio, lunch here was wonderful. Sunshine, stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding fynbos, this was fuss free food, simple but with a subtle sophistication.
After lunch, and feeling the need for a little activity and the need to burn off some of the lunch calories, a sunset stroll along the long sandy beach was in order. White washed cottages and colourful fishing boats gave way to a wide sandy beach fringed by dunes and rugged fynbos. As we left the buildings behind we had the beach to almost to ourselves, occasionally passing families out walking their dogs, who all greeted us with a smile and a wave. As the sun dropped closer to the horizon the water lit up in a shimmering kaleidoscope of colours.
Another place worthy of visit on your Paternoster getaway, is the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, just a 10 minute drive from town. The reserve covers 263 hectares, and with beautiful views and a diverse collection of flora and fauna, this is a lovely place to append some time immersing yourself in nature. You can hike along the rocky stretch of coastline, perhaps spotting whales or dolphins, or call in at the Cape Columbine Lighthouse. Built in 1936 and casting a beam visible from as far as 50km away, Cape Columbine Lighthouse is one of the last manually operated lighthouses in South Africa, and usually the first South African lighthouse seen by ships coming from Europe. At the right time of year, spring, and after the first rains fall, the Cape Columbine Reserve is covered with a dense blanket of brightly coloured wildflowers, something definitely worth seeing. (There are several pretty campsites on the water’s edge in the park for self-drivers.)
So where does one stay when visiting Paternoster? Look no further than the Abalone Hotel & Villas. Only 200m from the ocean, and with direct access to the beach, this whitewashed boutique hotel might look low key from the outside, blending perfectly with the surrounding cottages, but on the inside it’s a five-star retreat. With super friendly and helpful staff, the Abalone Boutique Hotel offers bright, modern rooms, situated around a beautiful sheltered, sunny, central courtyard, that contains a sparkling blue swimming pool. Comfortable beds with crisp white sheets, each room has a separate seating area and ensuite bathroom. Designed with the ocean in mind, the hotel’s decor is an eclectic mix of funky modern and smooth luxury. The restaurant is great and we especially enjoyed our breakfast with views looking out over the glistening water. If the sea is too cold then the hotel’s swimming pool awaits. For relaxation and rejuvenation, a visit to the hotel spa and its selection of pampering treatments and massages is just what you need, and for the perfect end to the day, a glass of South African wine on the rooftop terrace with stunning sunset views is highly recommended.
A short stroll from the hotel, on Gaatjies Beach, are the Abalone Beach Villas. Each of these modern self-catering villas has its own pool and sleeps either two couples or a family of four. The villas each have their own pools overlooking the ocean, and share the same stunning views as their neighbour, the world famous Wolfgat restaurant, (voted top restaurant in Africa and in the top 50 restaurants internationally – if you hope to eat here you will need to book many months in advance.)
For a weekend away, a mid-week break, or when you’ve finished exploring all of Cape Town’s sights and drunk your fill in the Cape Winelands, Paternoster is just the place to kick back and unwind. Relax, immerse yourself in nature, enjoy the laid-back beach vibe, feast on gourmet food, experience the town’s art scene, and enjoy the best of South Africa’s pristine West Coast. There’s a different pace of life here, but it won’t take long till you’re really in the swing of Paternoster life.
Written by Sarah Kingdom