Traditionally the West Coast National Park in South Africa has been focused on the ocean, fishing and a number of beach-based activities, which in my case is obviously fun, but as a hard core naturalist I prefer seeing areas on foot and by experiencing them with a good guide or local specialist. I mainly bird-watch when I walk and the park has a wonderful range of short trails that will last from 1 hour to a few days. To get the most of the park and its wonderful biodiversity it is best to take your time to get to grips with the plants, birds, mammals, insects and the parks immense cultural history.
We opted to do the Eves Trail (operated by the Cape Biosphere Project, a non-profit project that promotes sustainable tourism in the region), which focuses primarily on the paleoanthropological history of the region, in which hominid or proto-humans lived and sustained themselves in the area. The trail wove this theme about the early human history of the region, as well as how they utilised the land and sustained themselves. From diet to hunting and so on. The name Eve is drawn from its obvious reference, but is also named for the set of sandstone with the original footprints of the proto-humans that were discovered in the park.
The trail kicked off on Friday and ended on a Saturday and covered the different ecological zones of the park, stopping at key points like the Langebaan Lagoon, Tsaarbank Water Hole and the Geelbek bird hide (which is arguably one the best bird hides in the province to view waders and waterbirds). With a bird list of over 250 species and a range of very interesting mammals (Eland, Springbok, Bontebok and Cape Mountain Zebra) as well as the massive plant list there is so much to see. At the time of the year that we went, it was the start of the spectacular Western Cape flower season and we saw huge numbers of flowers all over the park. On its own just seeing the flowers is a worthwhile experience, something unique to south Africa and the Western Cape.
The weather was warm and fine, even though it got cooler in the evenings. We stayed in tented accommodation at Tali Tali a small lodge just outside the park. The trail included catering meals and packed lunches which certainly helped as we covered a good 8 to 10 kilometers a day. On the first, second and third days we saw herds of game regularly and saw all the large species in the park, including large numbers of Eland at close range. The guide was brilliant and really worked hard to cover the different aspects of the natural and cultural history and she was really good at identifying the myriad of interesting small plants and flowers.
The route of the trail took us along from the coastal beaches, on to the dune system, down into the amazing fynbos and estuarine areas with huge tracts of flowers, reedbeds and wetland systems as trails go, the pace and terrain is fairly manageable even for someone of average fitness, although water and dried fruit is a recommendation. The last day was a tad more tough, as we ascended out the wetland into the granite hills overlooking the park, but we took a winding route and saw even more birds, flowers and game which really added to the day. We ended the day with a meal overlooking the Langebaan lagoon whilst sitting on a granite boulder, soaking up the sun and thinking about what it must have been like to be an ancient human living off the land.
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