Lying between vineyards and wheatfields on the West Coast, Darling is part of the Cape Floral Region and known for its wealth of flowering plants, especially in spring. The town itself is a strange mish-mash of ugly facebrick buildings and well restored Victorian treasures. Perhaps its most famous residents are satirist Pieter Dirk Uys and straight-talking Evita Bezuidenhout. There’s also a small community of artists creating colourful murals, fine art and wire sculptures.
Here are some of my favourite things to do in Darling.
1. See the spring flowers
Another good way to see wild flowers around Darling is to walk around the Tienie Versfeld Nature Reserve on the R315 between Darling and Yzerfontein or the Renosterveld Reserve behind Darling Primary School. If you’d prefer to drive around, take to the gravel roads at Oudepost Farm (also home to Duckitt’s Nursery), Waylands farm or the Contreberg Wildflower Reserve – all on the R307 south of town. All places I’ve mentioned are open every day in August and September and free to enter. Another flower-filled stretch is the turn off to the Groote Post winery which takes you through the Pampoenvlei private reserve.
Keep up to date on where the flowers are at their best by calling Darling’s flower hotline on 084 916-1111.
2. See a show at Evita se Perron
Go early to explore the whole precinct, stay for lunch in the Café or restaurant (see point 7) afterwards. There’s much to marvel at in the bookshop and the Museum Nauseam with its posters, photographs and artefacts that tell the stories of Afrikaner history. Don’t miss the Boerassic Park sculpture garden at the back. It’s all about Boere Kitsch and a gentle poking of fun. The series of Helen Martins-type cement sculptures include Thabo Mbeki on his plane, Tony Leon in his pram, Winnie Mandela in her bath, and Eugene Terreblanche falling off his horse. There’s even a small homage to Helen Martins herself.
3. Visit the museum
A separate section of the museum has churns, washing tables, paddles and moulds that tell the story of the early butter-making industry in Darling. Alongside, an agricultural hall portrays the history of farming in the area, with steam engines, tractors and an enormous wooden threshing machine.
Museum staff are well-informed and the building doubles as the tourism office so you can pick up a Darling map and brochures, even pump the tourism officer for anything you want to know about the town.
4. Go wine-tasting
Visit some farms on the Darling wine route. Ormonde is a gracious homestead set among vineyards in Mt Pleasant Street at the edge of Darling village. Ormonde produces five ranges: Chip off the Old Block from the oldest vines, Ondine, the Basson range, a Barrel Selection, and the Heritage collection that showcases two flagship blends and a noble late harvest. For a fee, you can choose to taste five of the 10 wines on their tasting list. There’s a chocolate and wine pairing too, and you can order cheese and charcuterie platters.
5. Visit a craft brewery
Sit at the bar or relax at tables inside or outside while you have your tasters before deciding which you like best. If you want to see the gleaming tanks where the brews are made, go upstairs to admire them through a glass wall. Choose from Darling Brew Slow Beer, Bone Crusher, Black Mist, Pixie Dust, Rogue Pony and more. If the beer starts going to your head, order a meal to soak it up. They do breakfasts and lunches from burgers and fish n chips to boerie rolls and curries. There’s a kid’s play area outside to keep them amused while you taste.
6. Discover the spirit of Darling
Darling has recently added to its wine and beer offering with a spirits launch – Darlington Gin. Billed as a ‘classical but redefined London style dry gin with a distinct juniper, taste and aroma’ it also has a hint of kukumakranka and other florals. You’ll find it at The Darling Wine Shop at 5 Main Road. They also stock other local gins like Nightshade Gin from the West Coast and Six Dogs from somewhere between the Breede River and Hex River valleys. Roll up whenever the shop is open to buy, but if you’d like a tasting first just phone ahead to be sure they can accommodate you.
7. Sample some Darling restaurants
There are two restaurants at Evita se Perron at the old Darling station. The Café, coffee shop and deli in the old theatre also sells a range of jams and preserves, toffees and chutneys, and has some interesting vintage furniture and bric a brac. It’s open daily for breakfast and lunch with a menu that includes pies, boerie rolls, vetkoek, jaffles, milk tart and koeksisters. The second, Kossie Sikilela, is a more upmarket eatery where you might find things like snoek, pork belly or lamb bredie on the menu. It opens for lunch only on Fridays to Sundays – best to book ahead.
You’ll find Hilda’s Kitchen in a grand old Cape Dutch building at Groote Post wine estate, the setting reason enough to visit. The menu may include classics like pork belly, leg of lamb, or a pasta dish. Booking is essential.
Café Mosaic is a restaurant and bar on the main road that’s been around for more than 25 years. It does breakfasts as well as meals like burgers, pizzas, and fish and chips. For Italian food from pasta to pizza, try Ciao Darling where you can eat inside or in the shady garden. And of course there’s also grub at the Darling Brew Tasteroom (see point 5).
Not all of these restaurants are open seven or even six days a week. Please use the links above to check opening days and times before you visit.
8. Wander the town
9. Go mountain biking
Love your mountain bike and getting out in the fresh air for a bit of a workout? Spend some time on one of the trails at Wolwefontein 5km out of Darling on the R315 towards Yzerfontein. Download the map of the trails from the website, park, pay the small fee and then follow the arrows. The green route (about an hour) is for those with moderate skills, the red route (90min) for experienced riders. There are ablutions on site, and fresh food and hot/cold drinks from Living Colour.
10. Become sweet on Darling
11. Taste olives and olive oil
12. Marvel at Darling’s orchids
13. Support the performing arts
14. Rock the music
Rocking the Daisies is a massive music festival held in October at Cloof Wine Estate just outside Darling. Some 15 000 people rock up for the three-day extravaganza, camping nearby or staying in Darling to attend the various music acts, from rock and house to indie and hip-hop. Part of the fun are the lights, the dressing up, the festival’s food stalls, the installation art, the vibe of creativity and excitement. The next event will take place in October 2022. No under-18s allowed.
15. Stay in Darling accommodation
With so much to do and experience in Darling and the surrounding area, you’re going to want to stay over for a night or two. There’s a range of Darling accommodation from guest houses to bed & breakfasts, self-catering and farm stays. Check out Darling Tourism’s website to make your selection. Just remember that flower season in August and September and festival times (see points 13 and 14) can get very busy so it’s best to book your accommodation as far ahead of time as you can to give yourself the broadest choice.
In the wider area
16. Discover the way of the San
17. Go to the beach
If you’re craving a beach experience during your sojourn in Darling, take the R315 west towards Yzerfontein where you’ll find long beaches and sweeping views of the sea. There’s also lots of fynbos in the town’s urban conservancy and a wealth of wild flowers in spring. The cold Benguela current of the West Coast means swimming is frosty, but don a wet-suit and go surfing or wind-surfing. There’s hiking, fishing and whale watching (July to December) too.
18. Visit the West Coast National Park
19. Find out about fossils
20. Pop in to a West Coast farm stall
If you find yourself on the R27, don’t miss stopping at one of the West Coast farm stalls along this stretch of road, like Vygevallei Farm Stall, West Coast Farm Stall or the Weskus Spens. Enjoy a hearty meal in a typically relaxed West Coast way, or buy some padkos to take away – from farm-fresh bread, pies and cakes to biltong, dried fruit, rusks or jam.
Best time to visit Darling
When is the best time to visit Darling? The short answer is: any time. The longer answer is that it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to see the wild flowers at their best, August and September are the months to go. If you prefer to be a little more chilled and aren’t too fussed about flowers, visit during October to July.
Most of Darling’s rain falls from April until the end of August. Summer temperatures can reach the high 20s or even low 30s. Winter minimums are about 6 or 7 degrees Celsius, warming up to around 20 degrees when it’s sunny. My favourite times of year here are autumn and spring, although winter brings with it the attraction of log fires with your red wine if you book accommodation with a fireplace.
Where to find it
Darling is in the West Coast district, about 78km or an hour’s drive north of Cape Town along the N7 and R307.
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