A Guide to Hondeklip Bay, Northern Cape.
I knew I had to stay in one of the Northern Cape’s coastal towns, since I’ve never been to any of them. The roads surrounding Hondeklip Bay, Kleinzee, Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay were all uncharted territory to me, and the knowing that I was heading inland made a last little seaside stay seem all that much sweeter.
My list of options were immediately cut in half upon hearing that Kleinzee has been stuck without running water for the last two weeks, and that even the locals were now admitting that the crime in Port Nolloth is getting out of hand.
Upon first impressions, I have to admit, I immediately felt the pang of regret for fighting the 100 km stretch of corrugated dirt road to get to Hondeklip Bay. My unnecessary need to see the sea suddenly seemed all that much more unnecessary.
A quick drive around town didn't reveal much, a broken down canning factory, a small neighbourhood built of pieces of said factory, a closed restaurant and finally, the recommended campsite (which also just so happened to be the only campsite, as the municipal one was closed). If it wasn't for that dirt road, I probably wouldn't have stayed.
A decision, I later learned, I would’ve regretted if I went through with it. You see, I very quickly came to find that one does not travel to towns like these for the itinerary and the endless list of things to do, but for its people.
Situated along the West Coast in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, Hondeklip Bay lies about 104 km southwest of Springbok and can be reached by different routes, the Messelpad, The Wildeperdehoekpas, through Soebatsfontein, or Kamieskroon, or from Garies.
Only upon my arrival did I learn that it’s advisable NOT to follow your GPS when travelling to Hondeklip Bay, and that the Wildeperdehoek Pass is one of those only recommended for vehicles with 4-wheel drive and good ground clearance (thank goodness for the Jeep). However, whichever way you go after leaving the N7, it usually takes about one and a half to two hours to reach the town.
Tired, dusty and shaken to my core (I also only later learned just how deflated your tires are supposed to be), I set up camp at Honne-Pondokkies. They have 6 campsites, each fully equipped with electricity, water tap, picnic table and a braai. The ablutions are neat and clean, with showers and plugs and they even have some optional open-aired outdoor showers for the more liberal. Further amenities include a swimming pool, playground for the kiddies and a beautiful boma and observation deck with three tables where you can have a sun-downer with a view of the bay.
Hondeklip Bay was established as a trading station after a ship’s captain, Thomas Grace, came upon the town in 1846. He named the town after the gneiss rock (pictured above) which (apparently) resembles a dog. In 1853 the “Dog” was defaced when its ear was chopped off and taken to Cape Town in order to start the fictitious “Dog’s Ear Copper Company”. During a severe lightning storm in the 1970s, it lost its nose as well. Today, it’s just a rock with a story, because no matter how hard I tried, I did not see anything resembling a dog of any kind.
Since the days of Hondeklip Bay, actually being a bay with a “Hondeklip Klip” the town has gone through a couple of waves of development. This village was originally used as a harbour to export copper ore from the mines around Springbok but was later surpassed by Port Nolloth, which had a safer harbour as well as a railway line. After the copper rush in 1925, Hondeklip Bay built a crayfish factory and started exporting crayfish. The local fishing communities are still living a simple and traditional lifestyle. Today, fishermen in the small community of roughly 500, still make a struggling existence from the sea and there are some prospecting diamond concession holders around.
Dop en Kreef restaurant, right on the water’s edge, serves the best seafood in town. An easy achievement, since it was the only restaurant open during my visit (I’ve been told business hours are relative around these parts).
There’s also Sam’s, Die Rooi Spinnekop, and The Shack for the only cappuccino in town (when it’s open).
Villian and Madz Art outdoor art gallery is also well worth a visit. Villian (aka Deon Venter) spent 8 years in jail after a 10-year sentence for armed robbery (among other things). He decided to turn his life around in the less-adrenaline filled, Hondeklip Bay.
Now, he lives in a cluster of Wendy houses, which he very proudly proclaimed are, “basically squatter’s shacks”, with his wife and father-in-law. An adjacent caravan serves as his studio where he paints compulsively, either from memory or by copying images from the pages of magazines and newspapers.
After watching the sunset from Spitfire Rock (Spatklip), I tried very hard to find a way to rename a town. Surely if we’re going to be naming towns after rocks it should be ones that leave a lasting impression.
Grab a drink or even a leftover-seafood picnic and camp out here for a sunset, it’s well worth it.
The Aristea shipwreck just outside of town was a fishing trawler for I&J until she was called into duty in WWII as a minesweeper. Built in 1934 in Scotland, she ran aground on 4 July 1945, after her captain drunkenly neglected his duties.
The story goes that the captain was too tipsy to take command of the ship in the rough waters off the coast of Hondeklip Bay. From a crew of 24, only one person died in the shipwreck, thanks to a junior deckhand who swam ashore with a rope and anchor to save his fellow sailors.
If you want to learn more about the Aristea, ask anyone at the Honnehokke Resort to tell you the story and guide you to the shipwreck.
Aside from everything already mentioned, a visit to Hondeklip Bay wouldn’t be complete without exploring the more than 14 kilometres of pristine and unspoilt West Coast coastline. Gather seafood from the rocks for a delicious dinner and you can even go crayfish diving (in season, permits needed), as there are wetsuits available for hire at multiple spots in town.
Ask a local about the former abalone farm. This completed Abalone Grow-Out Pilot project was conducted in Hondeklip Bay in partnership with HIK-Abalone, the industry partner and Stellenbosch University. The trial proved to be a big success and holds quite an interesting story.
Leaving, I heard someone sum this little town up quite perfectly, “Hondeklip is the Paternoster of Namaqualand, but 40 years back in time”. Worth a visit if you’ve got an open mind and an appetite for seafood.