escape to the west coast

“Why are you coming to Darling?” It’s not often that an Airbnb host asks why you’re heading their way, but Darling is a small rural town about 100 km north of Cape Town. It has been a farming community for 150 years and currently features a major dairy processing plant, huge cattle ranches, and several vineyards and small wineries. And oh, it’s also the home of the annual Darling Beer Festival, hosted by the town’s very own Darling craft brewery.

After six weeks in the most cosmopolitan city in South Africa, we wanted to see a bit of the countryside for Christmas. It just happened that the Darling Beer Festival fit nicely into our itinerary, to be followed by two days at a small game lodge and then a week near the beach.

The beer festival took place outside the brewery, in an industrial area that fills in the space between the original town of Darling, and the township that was created when all non-whites were removed from Darling during Apartheid. We’re happy to see that a festival like this is open to all, although we are certainly aware that significant socio-economic barriers remain for a large portion of the black population of South Africa.

Fun fact: Darling was named for the British governor of the Cape Colony, a man named Charles Henry Darling. He was born in Nova Scotia, and later he was the governor for Newfoundland and Jamaica.

After a day sampling yummy craft beer, we spent a day wandering this tiny town, having an early dinner at the only cafe that was open, and taking in a show presented by the town’s most famous (maybe only) celebrity, Tannie Evita (aka Pieter-Dirk Uys), an Afrikaner performance artist who during Apartheid challenged both racial discrimination and gender norms with shows that were banned in South Africa but well received around the world. Photos in the lobby show her rubbing shoulders with various political leaders and celebrities including Andy Warhol and Nelson Mandela.

The Thali Thali game lodge was our first experience going on a game drive. It’s a former cattle ranch that has been transformed into a private game reserve and they host a small number of visitors at a time in tents and former labourer cabins. We were booked into one of the tents, but as dinner approached, gale force winds came up that caused the tent to flap so wildly we had to be moved into a labourer’s cabin. The drives were a lot of fun, we saw giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, antelopes and more in the semi-wild for the first time. A good practice run for the big game drives we were heading for in the new year.

Our last stop on the west coast was Langebaan, located in a bay that also features a naval base, a shipping port (mostly coal and iron ore heading for China), and a national park. Consistent high winds in the bay also draw kite surfers from across the country. We were there for the wide and soft sandy beaches, but we also walked into the West Coast National Park and followed a 5km trail to the highest peak in the park for an awesome 360 degree view of the bay and surrounding countryside (the photo above shows the bay and beyond a peninsula, the Atlantic Ocean).

Our accommodation in Langebaan was a B&B, which meant at breakfast we chatted with other travellers, including a man and his adult son from Johannesburg who we ended up also sharing some beers with as well as dinner on Christmas Day down by the beach. We got along so well they agreed to give us a ride most of the way back to Cape Town just for something interesting to do that day!

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