South African seaports each have their own special identity, and Saldanha on the West Coast is no exception. This little town, with a very deep harbour, plays host to a large fishing community and a thriving tourism business that enjoys the atmosphere of boats, blue skies and deep seas.

Did you know?

There is a South African Navy training base in Saldanha Bay.

So here we are, on a sunny day, having lunch at the Slipway Waterfront Restaurant down by the docks in Saldanha, a West Coast fishing village with attitude.

The dress code simply reads ‘No overalls’, but you can see the clientele is quite upmarket, and dressed in bright yacht gear. Why not? Their magnificent ocean-going chariots are all parked nearby, within sight.

Today we’re having a lunchtime medley of cold beer, white wine, snoek, calamari and garlic mussels, while nostalgic 1970s music wafts out from the bar area.

After lunch, we go nowhere. The most active thing we do is sit back and have staring competitions with the beady-eyed seagulls perched on the railing. That’s Saldanha for you: slow-paced, nautical and simply delicious.

Saldanha is part of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ villages that make up the West Coast Peninsula, alongside Langebaan, Vredenburg, Jacobsbaai, St Helena Bay, Hopefield and Paternoster. The area is awash with great restaurants, many of them alfresco affairs on the beach, offering freshly caught seafood and unbeatable ambience.

Humans have been enjoying the bounty of the Benguela Current around here since the ancient days of the Strandlopers (beach walkers) nearly 120 000 years ago.

The town was mistakenly named after a Portuguese seaman who discovered Table Bay but never actually came to these parts himself: Admiral Antonio de Saldanha.

The area was always highly valued, but for different resources at different times. The Dutch used to take penguin eggs, while guano hunters stripped the islands around the entrance to the bay. Even the Americans arrived here, in the form of the Confederate fighting ship called The Alabama – and until today we even have a song for this momentous occasion.

In the past few decades, Saldanha has been discovered by local and international travellers who like a bright sunny day, a fresh plate of oysters, a choice of long white beaches, the colourful evening chatter of fishermen coming in from a day’s work in the Atlantic, and the slow pace of South Africa’s legendary West Coast.

And even though the serious business of Saldanha is fishing, there is always time for a regatta. For those who like to fish, hike, bike and sail the high seas, Saldanha awaits.

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