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VELDDRIF, LAAIPLEK AND PORT OWEN

These three towns are so close to each other, it is difficult to say where one starts and the other ends.

Port Owen, the most luxurious of the three towns, with its large villas and sailing-yacht marina, is nestled between the other two more humble and down-to-earth towns – Laaiplek with its fish processing factories at the mouth of the Berg River, and Velddrif with its bokkom industry a few kilometres to the east, higher up the river.

Laaiplek was the first of the three towns to develop. At about 1860 Carl Stephán bought the ground at the river mouth and developed it as a quay where produce and fish could be loaded onto the ships for the markets in Cape Town. Thus the name Laaiplek*.

Laaiplek has a large wharf where several trawlers, which are used to catch pelagian fish for the Marine Products factory, dock. Fish-net repairs can also be done here, and there are several jetties. People from the bokkom factories also come to Laaiplek to buy the herring which are caught in the open sea just off Laaiplek.

Theunis Smit owned ground up-river from Laaiplek. There was a ford in the river which the shepherds often used to get their herds to the grazing land on the other side of the river. That is how the name Velddrif* began, and the town later started to develop here.

Velddrif is known as the “Bokkomhoofstad” of South Africa. Here a series of small individual factories are found along the river, which produces about 95% of South Africa’s bokkoms. Each factory has its own small jetty on the river at the front of the factory. Years ago the fishermen catching the herring in the river tied their bakkies (small boats) to these jetties to unload their catch. Because of over-fishing, the catching of herring in the river is now prohibited and herring must be netted in the open sea just off Laaiplek.

The Cerebos Salt factory is also situated here. It is the largest factory in South Africa where salt is extracted from sea water. The dry summers and relatively low rainfall are ideal for this. Spring tide pushes the sea over the extensive salt pans. During low tide the water evaporates and the salt is scraped. Thereafter it goes through many processes to make it fine enough for table salt. Iodine is also added. More than 12 000 tons of salt are produced annually.

Port Owen is marshland which was developed during the second half of the previous century as a luxury life-style residential area with a sailing-yacht marina. A network of canals connects the marina with the river and the sea. It is the only deep water marina in South Africa. Overseas visitors often enter the river from the sea and dock at the marina, where they live on their yachts for several months, enjoying the sunshine, peace and security of Port Owen while sailing in the bay.

The Berg River region is a birds paradise. More than 200 species has been counted here, with ibises and flamingos the main species, as well as a number of wade bird species, pelicans and kingfishers, cormorants and many others. Sometimes up to twenty thousand birds can be found along the river.

In the Velddrif-Laaiplek-Port Owen region there are two hotels, several guest houses, Bed & Breakfast establishments, self-catering units and a caravan park available, as well as restaurants and the whole spectrum of other businesses and services.

What to do…

Visit the fish processing factory at Laaiplek

Visit the bokkom factories
Observe the process of changing herring into bokkoms and buy some herring and your own bunch of bokkoms.

Port Owen Marina
Visit the marina and enjoy the sight of sailing-yachts and grandiose villas.

Bird watching
For bird watching you can visit the marshlands; the salt works and evaporation pans at Velddrif just before the bridge; there is a bird-hide in Voortrekker street in Velddrif; the bokkom factories – there are usually lots of pelicans; you can take a boat trip up the river (as far as 40km inland) to their breading-grounds – there are different size boats with guides available.

Flowers
The West Coast is known for its wealth of flowers during spring, and this region is no exception. Flowers can be found everywhere and it is well worth the trip.

Boat trips
There are always boat rides available for leisurely trips up the river.

The Salt Factory
Guided tours are available at Cerebos, which gives you the opportunity to observe the process of sea water turning into table salt.

Bokkom Festival
The Bokkom Festival takes place annually during February at Velddrif – a very jolly occasion. Don’t miss it.

The Alabama Festival
The Alabama was a ship which carried fish and farm produce between Laaiplek and Cape Town during the nineteenth century. This festival takes place during August each year at Velddrif.

Fishing
The breakwater at Laaiplek is a popular spot for catching galjoen. You can fish from the jetties from the breakwater as far as the train bridge – cod, elf and steenbras. Where the fresh water starts, black bass and large carp can be caught.


*Literal translations:
Laaiplek - loading place
Velddrif - field ford
Bokkomhoofstad - bokkom capital

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