White dunes and turquoise sea, bright-coloured fishing boats and white-washed cottages, a coastline peppered with shipwrecks, a sleepy village with two names. Make a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town and discover some of the best things to do in Arniston / Waenhuiskrans, from whale-watching and caving to fishing and snorkeling.
Originally called Waenhuiskrans, Arniston in the Cape Overberg was later named after a British transport ship that wrecked here in 1815 (see point 14). Somehow both names seem to have stuck and are still used today, so it’s the only South African town that has two official names. A monument overlooking the beach in front of the Arniston Hotel commemorates some of those who died in the shipwreck; another can be found 3km further northwest, where the remains of the wreck still lie buried under the sea.
Whether you want to relax, observe or be energetic, here are some activities and experiences you can enjoy in the area.
1. Go walkabout in Kassiesbaai
2. Have lunch at Willeen’s
3. Do some whale-watching
Whales come to the ocean around Arniston each year from around May to November, though the best months for whale-watching are July to September, when you can see them lobtailing, spyhopping and breaching. Southern right whales come from Antarctica to Southern African waters to breed, so you may see calves too. Other whales that occur in the area include Bryde’s and True’s beaked whales.
4. Explore the Waenhuiskrans cave
5. Go fishing
Fishing has been the backbone of Arniston for more than a century so join the fun. Bait and tie your hook, cast a line from the rocks or the beach and enjoy the wide views of the ocean, the taste of salt on your lips. You might even catch something like steenbras or galjoen.
6. Find an old fisherman’s cottage
7. Explore the dunes
Explore the creamy white dunes around Arniston. Climb to the top of a high dune to get wonderful views out to sea, then dune-surf down. Remember that for environmental reasons you’re no longer allowed to drive your 4x4 vehicle or quad bike along the dunes.
8. Go snorkeling
Bring your goggles and snorkel and spend a fascinating hour or two exploring the rocky pools on the lookout for colourful sea creatures like urchins and anemones. It’s great fun for the whole family.
9. Go to the beach
10. See the fish traps
Walk along the coast near Baken at low tide and you should be able to see the ancient fish traps that were first used in the Late Stone Age. Basically rocky pools, they’re in the Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve about 4km from the harbour. Get there by continuing past the turnoff to the Waenhuiskrans cave from Roman Beach. The idea was that fish would swim in at high tide when the water covered the traps. Then when the tide went out, the fish would be stranded in the rock pools and could be plucked out for dinner. I’ve been told that the locals still use them today, but I haven’t seen that for myself. Other reminders of the strandlopers who used to live along the coast here are shell middens in the dunes that contain sea shells and bones.
11. Enjoy fresh seafood
12. Stay at the Arniston Hotel
Just a stone’s throw from the beach, it was originally built in 1933 and has had a varied past. From a place where rowdy types came to knock back the booze in the early days, it turned all prim and proper after World War II – a place where single women were discouraged and unmarried couples definitely got the cold shoulder. There was a major makeover in the 1980s (the incarnation we first fell in love with) and again in the early 2000s, when it became the inclusive, family-friendly place it is today. It’s now part of the Cape Country Routes collection of privately owned hotels.
13. Enjoy a spa massage
Want to feel pampered and stress free? Book a massage or treatment at the Gingko Spa at the hotel. They have a hydrotherapy bath, Turkish steam room and saunas, and offer everything from manicures and pedicures to massages, facials and body treatments.
14. Visit the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum
15. Visit the De Mond Nature Reserve
The 954ha of protected land and ocean is a biodiversity Eden with small mammals like badger, caracal and porcupine, and more than 200 bird species. The estuary is recognised as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Go mountain biking or hiking along the circular 7km Sterna Trail, or walk the De Mond to Arniston trail to take in dune fields, coastal fynbos, salt marshes and beautiful stretches of white beach.
16. Visit De Hoop Nature Reserve
It’s about a 70km drive east of Arniston to the De Hoop Nature Reserve, well worth a day visit to explore its highlights. These include 1500 plants of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the vlei which is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, and excellent land-based whale-watching from June to November. Go mountain biking or hiking, take a game drive see mammals like Cape mountain zebra, eland and bontebok and birds like flamingo. My favourite activity here is the guided marine walk along the beach at low tide to discover sea creatures in the rocky pools.
More things to do at De Hoop Nature Reserve
17. Stop at other small towns in the area
- L’Agulhas – southernmost tip of the continent of Africa with its lighthouse, and the Agulhas National Park (about 45km away)
- Elim – see Why to visit the Moravian village of Elim (about 60km away)
- Stanford – see 17 things to do in Stanford (about 90km away)
- Gansbaai and the Danger Point lighthouse – see Things to do in Gansbaai (about 100km away)
- Hermanus – see 17 things to do in Hermanus (about 115km away)
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