“Witsand is baai gevaarlike,” warns local business owner, Jana Wegewath. “Finally,” I think. “Some town gossip!” Since we arrived in the sleepy seaside dorp of Witsand just 24 hours ago, everyone we’ve met has told us nothing but good things. In fact, they’ve told us that Witsand is one of the safest places in South Africa. So safe that they don’t even have a police station and it’s one of the only places in South Africa where you aren’t required to have burglar bars on your windows or an alarm system in your home for insurance purposes. And then, with a big beaming smile on her face, Jana continues; “As dit eers in jou hart inkruip, sal dit ‘n brandmerk begin maak!” She chuckles and leaves us to further explore her wares.
Jana owns, WJ Crafts, a wonderfully charming gift shop located in an old woolshed. The place is packed to the rafters with handmade bits and bobs – wooden coffee tables, picture frames, jewelry boxes, cute-as-a-button knitted beanies, even giant hand carved wooden fish line the walls. If you ask me, it’s this place that is dangerous. I could spend hours in here buying up every vintage-looking piece of decor I can find. I’m a sucker for white-washed wood and there’s plenty of it here for me to obsess over!
And then, the kicker – they sell tea and cakes as well! Our guide, Bruwer, adds that it’s also the place to find the best roosterkoek in town and from that moment on I know I’m going to here all day. I glance over at my long-suffering boyfriend, he can see it in my eyes that I’m not done browsing and that I’m about to order a roosterkoek (or 5) to munch on while I spend our entire life savings on handmade wooden doo-dads. Luckily for the boyfriend, Bruwer quickly ushers us out of the Woolshed to continue our tour of the town. He promises that the tour won’t be much longer and I make a mental note to return to this treasure trove of decor and eats later that afternoon.
Luckily the tour isn’t very long. To be honest, there’s not much to see in Witsand. But that’s the beauty of it! Most places you visit your precious time is sucked up having to rush from one place to the next just so you can tell all your friends at home about what you’ve seen. The town sights in Witsand can be counted on one hand – there’s the Barry Memorial Church (which was built by the Barry family in 1859), ‘The Kraaltjie’ harbour (also built by the Barry family in the 18th century), and the Woolshed (the first wool shed ever built in South Africa) which is now home to WJ Crafts. That’s it really. In fact, the biggest attraction in Witsand isn’t something man made at all; it’s the whales.
Witsand is so well known for its abundance of whales that it’s often referred to as the ‘Whale Nursery’ of South Africa. From July to November each year, visitors to Witsand can see up to 70 whales in the bay at one time and the peaceful coastal town is considered to have some of the best land-based whale viewing spots in the country. We ended our tour of the town on a secluded beach and arrived just in time to see the whales put on a show. Because no licenses are given for boat-based whale watching in Witsand, the whales are free to carry on with their day in relative peace and it’s easy to see that they thrive in this environment.
And, when you’re not spending hours on end with a pair of binoculars glued to your eyes, you can take in all the beauty of this special place by relaxing with a good book, enjoy a meal at one of the local restaurants, taking a walk on the coastline or spending an afternoon fishing. There’s plenty to do to help you while away the hours in this small town – you just need a little imagination and a sense of adventure! What makes Witsand truly special is that it is surrounded by two natural phenomena – the Breede River estuary and the Indian Ocean. Just 300km from Cape Town, along the Garden Route, the town is situated at the mouth of the Breede River and as a result offers visitors a combination of seaside and riverside activities including snorkeling, kite surfing, boating, fishing, and bird watching.
Fishermen, in particular, are super spoiled in Witsand. The river’s close proximity to the sea sees the salt water pushing up to 60KM inland to form the many creeks that rise and fall with the tides. The river still produces cob of up to 50KG and while you might think it’s impossible to still see fish that big in our waters, a quick stop off at the local bait shop will have you thinking otherwise. All over the walls of the shop you will see photographs of local fisherman and visitors proudly posing with their ginormous catches. As for finding the best local fishing spots, you need just ask the locals and they’ll point you in the right direction to the best land-based spots. Even better, book a spot on the boat with local fishing charters and you’ll get to spend an afternoon shooting the breeze with seasoned fishermen who know just where to look.
Of course, you’ll also need a place to stay! There are plenty of wonderful accommodation options in Witsand – from local B&Bs to guesthouses and even a lodge or two. The boyfriend and I stayed in a lovely, self-catering river facing home in the newly built Breedezicht Estate. Situated on the banks of the Breede River, the estate boasts 120 prime stands with either sea, river or mountain views. The estate offers homes to buy but many of them are rented out to holiday makers throughout the year.
We found the estate to be incredibly peaceful and loved that it offered super easy access to everything in town including the harbour, shops, and local restaurants. While staying in a local B&B is always great, I definitely preferred being on our own steam and having access to a holiday home in the town. I must confess, while I was in Witsand, I was dreaming of owning a home in Breedezicht Estate myself! Mostly because we learned that after Breedezicht is complete there will be no more private estate development allowed in Witsand in order to keep the dorp’s small town charm alive. Thrilling news indeed because truth be told, they don’t make seaside drops quite like this anymore.
Growing up, my family and I holidayed in Hermanus every December but going back now, 10 years on, I always feel a sense of sadness when I see just how big Hermanus has grown. To me, it has lost its small town charm and to be honest, I’d much rather spend my holiday time somewhere small and intimate, where everybody knows your name, like Witsand. I guess Jana was right; Witsand truly is a dangerous place. After just one weekend, the quaint town borrowed into my heart and I’m already planning my next visit in December. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in The Woolshed, with a white-washed wooden fish in one hand and a roosterkoek in the other!
If you’d like to know more about Witsand and Breedezicht Estate then click here to visit the Breedezicht website.
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Article originally published on WomenStuff.co.za.