There’s much more to Mossel Bay than just mussels. At the gateway to the Garden Route, Mossel Bay hugs a crescent of Indian Ocean where you will find long sandy beaches, the most temperate weather, and plenty to do.
Words and Pictures: Keri Harvey www.keri-harvey.com
“There’s something few people know about this area,” says Fred Orban with a twinkle in his eye. “This is actually where the human race started, right here on the Cape south coast. The oldest evidence was found just around the corner at Pinnacle Point.” Fred guides the Point of Human Origin tours near Mossel Bay, and carefully explains, “This is not the Cradle of Humankind because there they were pre-human and all went extinct. This is the birthplace of modern humans, much like you and I.”
Fred says, “DNA studies show that all humans alive on the planet today can trace their origins back to Africa.”
Marcia Holm, chief operations officer for Mossel Bay Tourism says, “The caves, beaches, boat trips, whales, sandstone buildings, history, art, hikes, Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex, and seafood. These are all good reasons to visit Mossel Bay. There’s a lot to do here without leaving town, be it for a day or a week, as a family or if single. Attractions are diverse and unusual, and we have a little bit of everything – which in itself is a great attraction. Seaside accommodation here is also very affordable.” Also within striking distance of Mossel Bay is the Big Five at Gondwana, walking with elephants at Indalu, or the wine cellar at Jakkalsvlei.
Today we’re aboard the Romonza, heading out to Seal Island in the bay. The boat departs on the hour from the harbour at the bottom of Church Street, and owner Charmaine Klapwijk hands us tickets. Her son Captain Robert Klapwijk is at the wheel for the hour-long trip out to sea. It’s an atmospheric wooden boat built by Robert’s grandfather and launched almost 40 years ago. The intention then was to sail around the world, but when the time came grandma didn’t want to go.
So the Romonza became a tour boat to show guests Seal Island, southern right and humpback whales between June and October, and daily Mossel Bay sunsets from the sea. We don’t see whales, but we do see enough of the more than 3 000 Cape fur seals flip-flopping around the rocky island that’s fringed with mussels.
From the sea, looking back at Mossel Bay, the town’s sprawl is enchanting and quite different to the views of PetroSA and the massive fuel-storage tanks seen when passing by on the N2 highway. We see the stoic Cape St Blaize Lighthouse dominating the headland as it has since 1864, and the Victorian pavilion on Santos Beach is
also clearly visible. A replica of the one at Brighton Pier in the UK, it has stood on this unusual north-facing beach for more than a century.
Also iconic on Santos Beach is the Santos Express Train, but this one, while residing on the tracks, never leaves the station. It’s a unique accommodation option in town, and with various ‘classes’ – from budget, to super luxurious in the Royal Suites, which are decadent ex-Rovos Rail carriages. Waking up in your cosy suite, right on the beach to the sound of the ocean, is rather unusual. The more you explore Mossel Bay, the more you’ll be enchanted and agree with Marcia that attractions are plentiful.
South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that still has manned lighthouses, and Cape St Blaize in Mossel Bay is one of them. Its name derives from the area’s original christening, São Bras, courtesy of Bartolomeu Dias who landed here on the festival day of St Blaize. There’s doubt how the area was renamed Mossel Bay, but the popular version is that a Dutch navigator, Paulus van Caerden, entered the bay in 1601 and saw nothing but mussels to supplement his ship’s provisions.
Nowadays the town has plenty of options for replenishment, and if you love seafood there’s an abundance of that too. Café Gannet has a genteel setting at the Dias Museum Complex, while down at the harbour Sea Gypsy Café is a favourite relaxing hangout to enjoy fresh seafood within casting distance of the ocean. Café Havana, located in an historic building in the heart of town, has meaty options like ribs, steaks and burgers, and a deep veranda for lazy lunches. But there’s something for everyone’s taste – even Fruit and Veg City in town has a great fish and chips shop alongside it.
Truly excellent coffee is difficult to find. But in Mossel Bay it’s easy if you head to Voorbaai and follow your nose to Baruch’s. The coffee house is a local legend and embodies the life and times of owner and recent Businessman of the Year winner, Aharon Baruch. He’s so passionate about good coffee and others enjoying it, he still sells it for R10 a cup.
Wildly colourful and eclectic, Baruch’s Coffee Shop is a vibrant gathering place from early morning until late afternoon. “I just couldn’t find coffee I really enjoyed drinking,” says Baruch, as he’s affectionately known, “so I started roasting and brewing for myself.” Baruch still brews coffee daily, in the back corner of the shop. “It’s my passion and it makes people smile.”
At The Township Angels, it’s smiles all round. The artists and crafters here are doing what they love most: creating art. Visitors to Mossel Bay buy their unique pieces, which now decorate homes around the world. From vibrantly painted papier mâché giraffes with wings, to angels made entirely from recycled items, it’s therapy for both artists and buyers.
Hein Marais started the initiative in Church Street just opposite the Dias Museum, where he mentors budding township artists. “I love township people,” he says. “I share with them what I know.” Hein did just this for Bradley Michaels, now self-employed at the Craft Art Workshop, where he creates 3D township scenes from tin cans and paint.
Located in Market Street, the Craft Art Workshop is where you can meet artists and crafters as they work. This collaboration of working artists is a popular stop for visitors, as is The Goods Shed a block away in Bland Street – an indoor flea market and innovative shopping spot for everything from fishing equipment to biltong.
Many of Mossel Bay’s renowned attractions are clustered on the town’s slope overlooking the harbour. There are so many historical sites and buildings here that a self-guided walking tour will take you to 69 of them if you’re fit enough – from the old Mossel Bay Boating Company Offices, marked by a huge concrete dolos, to historic cemeteries, churches and pubs. Even the funky Café Havana is housed in a building circa 1880, but magnificent sandstone buildings with broekielace verandas are sprinkled across the middle of town – so there’s little escape from history here.
It all radiates from the renowned Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex, which houses a full-size replica of the caravel that Dias sailed to this shore in 1488. There’s also the Maritime Museum, and the magnificent Shell Museum that has an aquarium. The oldest South African Post Office is here too. Dating back to 1501, it was originally just a boot hanging in a milkwood tree that was a repository for letters from passing ships.
But now it’s lunchtime and the very thing for which the town is named holds greatest appeal. Maybe we’ll step out of the Dias Complex and into Café Gannet next door. Mussels are calling…
- What would the bay be without its renowned, fresh seafood – its wild oysters in particular and, what else, its mussels. But it’s quite a cuisine hotspot on the Garden Route and offers anything from pizzas to fine dining, Cuban cuisine in town to traditionally cooked venison at game lodges in the area.
- Mossel Bay Tourism has a wide variety of hotel, B&B and self-catering accommodation, from beachfront and rooms with a view over the bay to farmstays just out of town. There’re also some wonderfully unusual options like the luxurious Santos Express Train Lodge (083 900 7797, [email protected],
www.santosexpress.co.za) and Sunflower Cottage, a farmstay, off-the-grid, self-cater about 35km inland (082 467 0419, [email protected], www.blommekloof.co.za)
Get Out and About
- For the superactive, take on some kayaking, even combine it with fishing, or lace up your hiking boots and do the Oystercatcher or the Cape St Blaize trails. Take a boat trip, or enjoy splendid golf with a sea view on the local, 18-hole, links-style course. There are also percheron horse and cart rides, and horseback safaris at a nearby private game reserve. For adrenalin junkies, amazing shark cage-diving awaits in the bay.
Mossel Bay Tourism
- 044 691 2202
- [email protected]