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The great explorer Vasco da Gama anchored in this bay and named it Santa Elena after the mother of Constantine the Great. On 8 November 1497 the went ashore and found water and provisions. A number of years after the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck free burghers were sent to St Helena Bay to look into the potential of the bay with the abundance of fish found here. Many years later the first fish canning factory was founded. Over time other factories were founded, each with its own wharf, and now there are 8 fish processing factories and 4 crayfish factories along the bay.

The mainstay of St Helena Bay is the fishing industry. More than 50% of South Africa’s fish production and processing are done in St Helena Bay factories. St Helena Bay Fishing, which produces Lucky Star products, is the largest in the southern hemisphere. The various factories in the bay produce tinned fish products like pilchards in tomato puree, processing of hake, fish-meal and export of live crayfish. Other industries like engineering works, shipping maintenance, fish-net repairs, complete shipbuilding industry and more can be found on the wharf.

Some interesting facts about the St Helena Bay:

  • It is the largest bay in Africa
  • It is one of only three bays in the world where the sun rises and sets over the same bay
  • nothing rusts here
  • The sea is usually very calm and because the bay is relatively shallow, there are no large waves. Definitely not suitable for wind surfing!
  • St Helena Bay Fishing, which produces Lucky Star products, is the largest in the southern hemisphere.

The St Helena Bay area enjoys moderate temperatures, with less wind and rain than in the Cape and more sunny days which are ideal for relaxation. There are a hotel, several self-catering units and caravan parks available to suit all preferences.

Bordering Stompneusbaai are large luxurious private resorts such as Shelley Point, Britannia Bay, Cape St Martin – with round granite boulders, white beaches and palm trees! Paradise on the West Coast.

What to do…

Visit the fish and crayfish factories
It is an experience to visit the fish canning factory, observing the process which causes fish to end up in tins; or to view the teeming crayfish in the fresh water tanks or to watch staff gut the snoek.

View fish trawlers on the kaaie
A harbour or wharf is always worth a visit. Talk to the fishermen; watch the women repairing the nets; buy fish and snoek at the fish shop; absorb the atmosphere.

Vasco da Gama monument
Visit the granite monument which was erected by the Portuguese government in 1969 to commemorate the arrival of Vasco da Gama. It tells you the story of Da Gama and his voyage around Cape of Good Hope in his search for the sea route to India, and his landing at St Helena Bay.

Whale watching
Because the St Helena bay is sheltered and calm, whales often visit the bay.

Visit the shipyard
It’s not only trawlers that are built here. Even large boats as long as 90m are built at the shipyard.

Windsurfing at Britannia Bay
Although you won’t get far if you try to windsurf in St Helena Bay, conditions at Britannia Bay, which is “just around the corner”, are excellent for wind surfing.

Hiking between Stompneusbaai and Paternoster
Enthusiastic hikers with strong legs and large calves will enjoy the hiking trail which starts at Stompneusbaai and runs past Shelley Point and Britannia Bay, ending at Paternoster. This 30km route is a challenge for strong legs.

St Helena Hotel
There are slot machines to keep you busy, or you can enjoy an excellent meal at the Da Gama restaurant.

The West Coast is known for its wealth of flowers during spring, which also appear in abundance in the St Helena Bay region.

If you know where to go, there are a number of places suitable for fishing. There are lots of hotnosvis and galjoen in the region.

During the 15th century navigators seeking the route to the East explored the shoreline in search of fresh water, one being Vasco da Gama who landed here on 7 November 1497. A granite monument marking the landing has been erected next to the beach at Stompneusbaai. Visit the Vasco da Gama Nautical Museum in Shelley Point to view replica artifacts of those adventurous years. The Britannia lies buried beneath the waters of the so-named bay and the wrecks of many other old sailing ships offer up a challenge to the underwater diver. In more recent times the hillside caves of Britannica Heights hid escaping British soldiers during the Anglo-Boer War. And did you know that our own Madiba was escorted on a secret outing to the West Coast while still in prison?

We care about our animals and visitors should drive with caution, especially after dark, which is a vulnerable time for owls and other nocturnal birdlife, and we ask you please to watch out for wildlife along the roadside and given that birding is the world’s fastest growing pastime, we are sitting on a gold mine in terms of eco-tourism. It has the potential to be a great money-spinner and birders will pay big bucks just to tick off another “lifer” on their list – and here in St Helena Bay there are numerous species to be found. Professor Phil Hockey says, “The Vredenburg peninsula (Vredenburg-Paternoster-St Helena Bay-Velddrif) drive is a good one”.
Being at the southernmost point of the migratory route from Europe and the Steppes of Russia makes the West Coast a must in the birder’s calendar. The diversity of vegetation and many lagoons, marshes and river estuaries support huge migrant Palaerctic populations. Over 250 species of birds have been recorded - some 65 of which are seabirds, including flamingos, a variety of duck species and the striking African Black Oystercatcher that breeds both onshore and on the offshore islands and is threatened by predation of its natural home – the pristine beaches where it lays its eggs.

The West Coast is known internationally as a wader's hotspot that peaks between November and March when visiting migrants appear on these shores. Some of the more sought after species include Red-necked Phalaropes, Common Redshanks, White-rumped Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwits.
This area is home to many resident and endemic species: Cape Clapper and Cape Long-billed Larks, Karoo Scrub-robin, Capped Wheatear to name but a few and is a rewarding birding experience all year round.
From Rietvlei at Milnerton, headquarters of Sanccob where injured seabirds are rehabilitated and released, to Bird Island at Lambert’s Bay, birdwatching can be both fun and fulfilling. Recently launched, the Flamingo Birding Route embraces Intaka Island at Century City on the perimeter of Cape Town north to the Olifantsrivier mouth and estuary, inland to Vanrhynsdorp and then meandering south via Citrusdal to Malmesbury. A user-friendly checklist is available to assist birders to tick off their ‘lifers’ and the detailed map makes traversing this terrain in search of an elusive species that much simpler.

Besides the nature reserves, birders should visit the hides at the West Coast Fossil Park and the golf club in Vredenburg. Also highly recommended is Rocher Pan Nature Reserve and Verlorenvlei further north – another ‘hotspot’ – with its roost of terns. The mountainous backdrop is home to Verreaux’s Eagle and the strandveld vegetation supports birds such as Cape Penduline-Tit, Southern Black Korhaan and the Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler. On Britannica Heights at St Helena Bay four of the lark species can be seen.
Many of the larger species can be seen from the comfort of the car, in particular the Black Harrier - whose home is the West Coast National Park that lies parallel to the R27 - the Lanner and Peregrine Falcons and the Booted Eagle.

Alternatively, drive 25km north of Velddrif through Dwarskersbos to Rocher Pan Nature Reserve, a wild coastal strip based around a seasonal vlei (or pan) – a wonderful place to see Great White Pelicans and Lesser Flamingos, which are all threatened species – but you wouldn’t think so! They spend much time feeding here, flying north to Botswana and Namibia to breed. From the pristine beaches you’ll also see seasonal whales and dolphins. Entry fee is minimal and the reserve is open daily from 7am till dusk.
For further information telephone 022-9521727 / 931 2900. Still well within a day’s trip is Verlorenvlei. An IBA RAMSAR site, this 22km permanent fresh water lake lies inland from the coastal town of Elandsbaai and is not to be missed, especially after good winter rains. There are 12 maps covering the area to help you get to the best bird spots.

Whatever your needs in the avifaunal field, the West Coast offers you the opportunity to list a ‘lifer”.

We on the West Coast are privileged to see a number of different species of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) in our nutrient-rich waters, fed by the Benguela current, among them southern right whales, humpback whales, Bryde’s whales, common dolphins, killer whales, Heaviside’s dolphins and dusky dolphins. There have been reported sightings of Arnoux’s beaked whales, but occasions are rare. You may well be one of the fortunate visitors to the West Coast who can watch whales doing what whales are supposed to do (other than make Homo sapiens have a nice warm feeling!).

The following descriptions are taken from articles published by courtesy of Dolphin Action and Protection Group’s (DAPG) Dolphin Whale Watch and edited by Meredith Thornton of the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute (“MRI”). They include information on strandings garnered from Whales and Dolphins of the Southern African Subregion by Dr Peter Best, Extraordinary Professor at the MRI. In particular I would like to thank Meredith, who has been an inspiration to me personally. Her patience in reading through the article (over and over again so that I got it right) is highly appreciated.

Bryde’s Whale was named after a Norwegian businessman, Johan Bryde (pronounced “brew-der”), who was one of the financiers of the SA Whaling Company land station at Durban in 1908 and later expanded the company’s operations to Donkergat, Saldanha, in 1909. It was in 1912 that he financed the first scientific investigation of whales in Southern African waters which showed that a local whale species, previously described from a skeleton found in Burma in 1878 and named B. edeni (in honour of Sir Ashley Eden, Chief Commissioner of Burma at that time), was in fact a new species. Previously, Bryde’s whales had been confused with sei whales, whose external features they closely resemble.

Distribution of this species is worldwide in temperate and sub-tropical warm waters between 40°N and 40°S. Off South Africa, as in other areas, there appear to be two populations: one resident inshore over the continental shelf and another, which is migratory, found off the shelf edge. Whales from these two populations differ in size, scarring, baleen (horny plates growing from the palate – in their case numbering about 280 on either side of the top jaw) shape and reproductive behaviour.

They grow to an average length of 12 m and their weight averages about 12 000 kg, with a maximum of 20 000 kg. Their coastal distribution is recorded mainly between East London and Cape Point, although sightings have been made beyond but taper off after Cape Columbine in the west and Port St John’s in the east and more likely to be encountered at sea than close to shore.

Once thought to be a cold-hearted killer, the orca – as in Free Willy - or killer whale (Orcinus orca), to give it its correct name – and just to clear up any misunderstanding, it is a dolphin, not a whale! - is one of the only cetaceans that live on warm-blooded animals. Today we know that its much maligned reputation is fable not fact, thanks to the many studies and films made about their biology and to see these beautifully marked creatures in the wild is an experience that will remain with one forever.

Says Meredith, “There are three different types of killer whales: transients that are mostly mammal eaters, residents that are fish eaters and the offshore type that probably do both! We suspect that the ones occurring off our coast are the mammal eating type.” The group (pod) is cohesive and consists of the same individuals (males, females and juveniles) that travel together throughout the year and over a period of at least seven years. They are co-operative hunters and a typical pod ranges in size from single animal to about 50 animals. Found worldwide, they are more abundant in Arctic and Antarctic waters where the food source is guaranteed: fish, cephalopods and other cetaceans, seals and seabirds.

They are the super-chargers of the sea and are capable of swimming at speeds of 50 kph and can dive to depths of 250 m. Their ‘spyhopping’ (lifting the head vertically above the surface of he water) gives them a clear view of what’s around them and their ‘breaching’ (leap out of the water) and ‘lobtailing’ (slapping of their flukes on the water’s surface – a sound which carries for a considerable distance) are behaviours which may be used to communicate, navigate and herd their prey.


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