McDougall’s Bay is something of a coastal playground in the Northern Cape province, a region better known for its deserts and wild flowers than its beaches. Modern day pursuits such as windsurfing, kayaking and bodysurfing are a highlight; however this Bay also has a fascinating history that dates back to the time of Bartholomeu Dias.

Did you know?

The last large-scale ship to visit Port Nolloth fortnightly, the Oranjemund, was withdrawn from service in 2006.

You'll find McDougall’s Bay on the north-western coast of South Africa close to the diamond town of Port Nolloth, established as a small harbour and railway junction back in 1854.

The municipality of Port Nolloth takes pride in the Blue Flag status of McDougall’s Bay over the summer holidays, ensuring lifeguards are on duty, facilities are clean and drinkable water is available, even though the icy temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean mean that this is hardly a popular swimming spot.

There are, however, lots of other activities to participate in or observe, such as the crayfish fishermen who dive for their catch or span nets out at sea. Windsurfing, kayaking and surfing are also popular here.

Port Nolloth, often swathed in mists, appears somewhat sleepy, yet is an intriguing town. Its location was first marked by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1847, before a wild storm blew his ship off course for 13 days. The Namaqua people dubbed the bay Aukwatowa meaning ‘Where the water took away the old man’.

When copper was discovered in the interior in the 1850s, this sheltered spot was developed as a port from which the ore could be shipped. It was named by the Cape Colony administration after its surveyor, Captain MS Nolloth.

In the 1870s the horse-drawn wagons that conveyed the copper were replaced by a narrow gauge railway line. But as ships grew in size, the port’s shallow entrance became problematic and shipments declined.

A new lease of life came with the discovery of alluvial diamonds in 1926 and, although large-scale mining has long since tailed off, people are still engaged in the search for the precious stones using offshore dredgers and divers.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

It’s a long drive from the Cape to Port Nolloth, best reached via the N7 heading to Steinkopf, before turning left on the R382 to Port Nolloth. An overnight stop along the way is recommended. If you wish to fly, the nearest airport is at Upington, but from that point you will need a car. From Upington airport take the N14 to Springbok some 114km from Port Nolloth, and again turn left at Steinkopf onto the R382.

Best time to visit

To enjoy the sea off McDougall’s Bay at its best, December is the month when water temperatures are at their optimum.

Tours to do

Attractions near Port Nolloth include the Namaqua National Park with its rich bulb flora and endemic plant species; the Namaqualand Flower Route and its floral profusion in the spring; and the mountain desert wilderness of the Richtersveld National Park.

Get around

Public transport is not easily accessible in this part of the world, so having your own hired vehicle is definitely a good idea.

What to pack

It gets very hot in this part of the world during the South African summer (November through to January) so pack accordingly. During winter the evenings can get extremely cold so ensure you bring warmer clothing with you.

Where to stay

There are a number of bed & breakfasts and modest hotels in the Port Nolloth area. If you are looking for accommodation the local AA Guides are a good source of information.

What to eat

The area is known for crayfish.