5 fun (and 1 controversial) things to do in Gansbaai
Gansbaai - Western Cape
What to do in a laid back seaside fishing village in South Africa
A sleepy little hollow with loads of undercurrents
Is Gansbaai worth visiting?
There is a little seaside fishing village in South Africa on the southern coast, about 150 kilometres outside Cape Town. Its name supposedly originates from a colony of wild geese that congregated at a natural spring near the old harbour. The original name ‘Gansgat” (goose hole, translated from Afrikaans) was created.
The little town of Gansbaai offers more than just five things to do. In fact it is a popular tourist destination and best known for its marine life, big and small. I’ve highlighted just a few.
When driving from the direction of Cape Town, you can either drive along the coast via Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay or you can drive over Sir Lowry’s Pass. You pass Hermanus and about 20 kilometres after Stanford you will find Gansbaai nestled between a small mountain and the sea.
Gansbaai might seem like a sleepy hollow but there are disturbing undercurrents regarding conservation (or lack thereof) of endangered species. These include the poaching of abalone and crayfish.
The fishing industry was a thriving business; indeed, it still is today. However, I think tourism is slowly taking over.
Gansbaai has a lot to offer, and who could argue if it has its own song called Wie maak vir Gansbaai lekker? Translated it means Who makes Gansbaai pleasant? Take a look at the video. The lyrics are in Afrikaans, and the words and tune are quite repetitive, but the footage is interesting, taken between 1940 and 1960.
At and near Gansbaai there are a few areas and bays with unusual and quaint Afrikaans names to get your tongue around:
De Kelders. The cellars. Duh-cal-ders
Kleinbaai. Small bay. Clane-by
Baardskeerdersbos. Beard shaving bush. Bard-sc-here-durs-boss
Perlemoenbaai. Abalone bay. Pa (as in an)-rlugh-moon-by
Franskraal. French enclosure. Fr-ons-krahl
Uilenkraalsmond. Owl enclosure mouth. Aye-len-krahls-m-on-d
What to do in Gansbaai:
Gansbaai to us means family time, but there is so much more to do, not just fishing. We tend to relax and unwind there at the end of a year but YOU don’t have to.
1. Whale watching
2. Shark cage diving
3. Walking through Fynbos
4. Explore the beaches
5. Discover the caves at De Kelders
6. Contemplate shipwrecks
The Southern Right Whales have made Walker Bay, a whale sanctuary, their home. Across the bay is Hermanus, another destination for whale watching. It is not known as the Cape Whale Coast for nothing.
Whale watching can either be done from the cliffs of De Kelders as they come close to shore, literally within meters of the land. You can see them frolic as they mate and calve. Another way of seeing them is by boat. There are many tour operators that would take you out to sea.
Across the bay at Hermanus, the bigger brother of Gansbaai, is also another good place to watch the whales.
Shark Cage Diving:
Gansbaai has become the diving mecca for shark cage diving. I’m not keen on the idea of going diving with them – not because I’m scared of these wonderful giants of the ocean (ok maybe I am just a little bit wary of them – that delicate little cage can surely be destroyed by those pearly white shark’s teeth!). I’m not in agreement with chumming principal to attract sharks for the tourists.
Between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock is Shark Alley. This is more than likely where you would be taken. Seals breed at Geyser Rock and is of course easy pickings for the shark in the narrow channel flanked by the island and the rock.
Dyer Island is a protected bird sanctuary with a breeding area for jackass penguins. Other birds include the Swift Tern, the Black Oyster Catcher and the cormorants. Many a day we’ve watched huge flocks of cormorants flying low over the sea between the mainland and Dyer Island.
Walking through fynbos and forests
If the sea is not for you, you may well want to venture into the endemic fynbos and milkwood forests with its small wild animals. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve will arrange hikes amongst the fynbos in this area. Platbos forest is another area worth exploring.
Explore the beaches
With a rugged coastline, Gansbaai itself doesn’t actually have a sandy beach apart from a small stretch in the harbour and another small bay just before De Kelders. There are however numerous rocky alcoves and bays. Not that far out of town you will find white sandy beaches such as Uilenkraalsmond.
Discover the caves at De Kelders
A limestone freshwater drip cave, inhabited earlier by the Khoisan, is hidden beneath the cliffs at De Kelders. Mineral water with supposed healing properties fills a crystal-clear pool. It is also home to the Cape Horseshoe Bats.
It is estimated that there are 150 shipwrecks buried in the seabed between Gansbaai and Cape Infanta – roughly 160 kilometres apart. Needless to say, there are many fascinating fables about this maritime graveyard. HMS Birkenhead in 1852 and more recently the Bulwark in 1963 are but two of them.
After repairs the trawler is brought down to water again.
Trans Agulhas Challenge
Gansbaai is worth a visit with so much more to explore than just the six things I have mentioned.
If you ever find yourself there on New Years Day, be sure to stand near the harbour and watch the Trans Agulhas Challenge – inflatable rubber dinghies (or ducks, as we call them) racing from Mossel Bay to the Strand, near Cape Town.
The people of Gansbaai and most other seaside villages love their fish and seafood.
Where is Gansbaai?