Hessequa, from coastal bliss to forest serenity

by Media Xpose

By James Fouche

Boxed in by the Langeberg mountains along its northern border and the Indian Ocean making up its coastline, the Hessequa region is nearly 6 000km2 of unblemished natural beauty that is aching to be explored. It stretches from the Breede River in the west to the Gourits River in the east and consists of six towns and four smaller villages.

The region is interconnected through numerous biking and hiking routes, agricultural shows, fishing events, six municipal resorts, and the HSQA Art Route, which is a collaborative effort by artists and artisans to make local art accessible for visitors while empowering fellow creatives in the area.

Not only does each town have its unique history or anecdotes for visitors to enjoy, but the entire region also has great archaeological significance because of a series of discoveries that have linked it to the Cradle of Human Culture.


Witsand is located between Cape Town and George, nestled around the mouth of the Breede River. If you blink, you’ve missed it. This small coastal town not only marks the start of the Hessequa municipal district but also of the larger Garden Route region.

With a population of around 600, the locals pride themselves on having only one traffic light in town – and that’s in the local pub to show folks whether they are open or closed. The community is perfectly content to receive all types of tourists throughout the year. It’s worth noting that Witsand is one of only five towns in SA where most businesses prefer Bitcoin tender.

Kayaking in the river is great fun when the tides are changing. Wait for low tide, then the kids can search for pansy shells along the sandbanks where fishermen pull out bait prawns or blood worms, which they later use as bait to fish for kabeljou or gunter.

Fishermen beware; with the odd bull shark lurking under the hulls of vessels, it’s not uncommon for a catch to be eaten up while being reeled in. This is why the bull shark has been dubbed the river’s “tax man”.

On a windy day, the skyline around the river mouth is speckled with the various colours of polyester kites. The tides, a steady wind pushing in towards Malgas, and a shifting sandbank that creates a flat surface on the water, make Witsand a prime kitesurfing destination, especially for beginners hoping to improve their freestyle kite technique.

No matter where you stay, you will be within walking distance of The Anchorage seaside restaurant, where you can enjoy fish and chips with sundowners while anglers cast their lines from the backs of their bakkies or catch an early morning breakfast with the sound of the waves lapping on the shore.


Hessequa is a Khoi-Khoi word that means “people of the trees” and refers to the indigenous tribes who once occupied the land. In Stilbaai and its surrounds, there is a Heritage Route that includes the ancient fish traps at Skulpiesbaai, the cave drawings and artifacts on display at Blombos Archaeological Museum, and the Anglo-Boer War Memorial near Putstop.

At the Homestead Building where the tourism bureau is situated, you can see freshwater eels being fed chicken livers by hand. This is quite extraordinary since Stilbaai is the only place in Africa where eels gather in a pond.

While there are numerous nature reserves to roam about and restaurants to feast at, Stilbaai is the very definition of coastal living. The list of water sports and beach activities includes swimming, surfing, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, kayaking, and more. If you plan your trip, you could also make it in time for the Galjoen Derby.

The nearby villages of Jongensfontein, Melkhoutfontein, and Vermaaklikheid are worth visiting for their unique offerings. Be sure to stop in at Inverroche Distillery for a bottle of their fynbos-infused gin.


Named after its namesake in Germany, Heidelberg is steeped in a rich history that calls out to visitors from every building. With wide roads that accommodated the ox and horse-drawn wagons of old, high-ceilinged farmhouses built in the 1700s with clay bricks, and a modest-looking Post Office, the town is easy to navigate on foot for a self-guided historic walking tour.

The town is famous for being the southernmost battle point in the Anglo-Boer War; the British had army barracks in the centre of town, where rumours still rustle of a curious skirmish between Boer and Brit.

Down the road from the newly renovated Dutch Reformed Church, is Star Nation Art Studios, where they offer art classes with a professional artist or a chance to make a skittle with the help of a blacksmith.

Make some time to explore the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy or play a round of golf at the Heidelberg Golf Course.


A short drive along Garcia’s Pass will lead travellers to the Sleeping Beauty Hiking Trail. This comfortable scenic trail leads up from the old Toll House to the mountain peak, which forms the famous crest of “The Sleeping Beauty” where she rests peacefully among the Fynbos.

Wine lovers should make their way to the Baleia Winery, where they do a wine tasting while ruminating over the unique terroir and the diversity of grapes grown on the Cape South Coast.

Some historical gems worth visiting are the Julius Gordon Africana Museum and the Old Jail Coffee Shop. Besides horseback-riding excursions for nature lovers or boating and bass fishing on the Korentepoort Dam, there is also a nine-hole golf course at the Riversdale Golf Club.


Starting from the west bank of the Gouritz River estuary, this coastal village is known as the fishing mecca of the Garden Route. Gouritsmond plays host to some of the world’s most famous sporting fishermen and fishing events. Local anglers are comfortable casting their lines straight from the rocks, in the estuary river, along the coastline, or out at sea, and seldom return without a catch.

There is a constant buzz of activity on the beaches; kids swimming in the tidal pool, surfers braving the swells around the exposed point break of the river’s mouth, and stand-up paddle boarders gliding along the smaller waves while shutting off from the stresses of everyday life.

Much like Witsand, the estuary river is great for boating fun, but also has shifting sand banks which can make it tricky for smaller vessels, especially when navigating the mouth of the river.


When visiting the peaceful town of Albertinia, where locals aspire to “healing through nature”, go to the Alcare Aloe factory shop where they have harnessed the bitter juice of the indigenous Aloe ferox plant to create a selection of skincare and wellness products to treat just about any ailment.

Fellow writers, if you are after creative inspiration, find it at the Voelroepersfontein Guesthouse & Writer’s Retreat. Wait until night has fallen, then take a stroll to the old Whispering Tree, a giant wild fig tree that speaks only to those who seek its wise council.

Albertinia is also home to the Garden Route Game Lodge, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. This is possibly the biggest attraction for international tourists hoping to view the Big 5 in all its splendour. The lodge has buffalo, different buck, rhinos, wildebeest, lions, majestic elephants, and a couple of shy hippos. Consider yourself fortunate if you happen upon a cheetah on the game drive.

The Hessequa region at a glance

It is impossible to take in everything that the Hessequa region has to offer during a short trip.

Regardless of which town you visit, expect to find an endless supply of hiking trails, beaches, art exhibits, curio shops, eateries, friendly locals, and breathtaking scenery to boot. With so much to do, it is better to do return trips or to extend holidaying times to accommodate the mesmerizing allure of the Hessequa region.


Baleia Winery
T          +27 28 713 1214
W         www.baleiawines.com

Jakkalsvlei Wines
T          +27 44 333 0222
W         www.jakkalsvlei.co.za

Inverroche Distillery
T          +27 28 754 2442
W         www.inverroche.com

Coffee & Cream
T          +27 76 666 5237

Ikigai Coffee Bar & Deli
T          +27 28 713 1260
W         www.ikigaicoffeebar.co.za

Voelroepersfontein Guesthouse & Writer’s Retreat
T          +27 28 735 1016
W         www.vrfguesthouse.com

Garden Route Game Lodge
T          +27 28 735 1200
W         www.grgamelodge.co.za

Oakhurst Guest House
T          +27 28 713 3636
W         www.oakhurstguesthouse.co.za

Star Nation Art Studio & Gallery
W         www.starnationart.co.za

HSQA Art Route
W         www.hsqaartroute.com

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