Some 88 km north of Cape Town lies a beautiful gem of South Africa - West Coast National Park. Also known as WCNP, the park encompasses over 360 km² of protected land, and is a stunning wilderness area with breathtaking landscapes, seascapes, and a whole host of unique flora and fauna. With its turquoise lagoon, rugged coastline, and insane birdlife, the park is a nature lover's paradise.
The park lies inside an area called the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve. This reserve is part of a UNESCO division known as the Man and the Biosphere Programme. In a nutshell, this means the park belongs to a program that aims to help people better coexist with the environment. It’s a park with a larger purpose.
That purpose lets you expect an unparalleled experience in nature conservation and sustainable development when you visit. WCNP is committed to preserving the region's unique biodiversity while also providing opportunities for visitors to learn about and engage with the natural environment.
Keep this in mind when you’re enjoying the park's amazing selection of outdoor activities. From swimming and kayaking in the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon to hiking the park's numerous trails, there is no shortage of things to do. You can also spend your time here birdwatching, cycling, and picnicking. It's a wonderful place to completely disconnect and take in nature’s tranquillity.
In springtime, from late August to the end of September, the West Coast National Park transforms into a colourful paradise as the wildflowers bloom. Take a leisurely drive or hike along the trails to experience this spectacular natural exhibition.
This section of the park and its 19 km (12 mile) trail are only open during August and September, and it’s entirely worth planning your trip for this time. I’ve never been on another hike that provides more breathtaking views - of the ocean, the Langebaan lagoon, and the flowers. By foot is definitely the best way to see this park’s spring display. It's a challenging hike and a great way to experience the natural beauty of the park.
WCNP has a couple of stunning beaches. The Langebaan Lagoon is the focal point of the park, and along its west side is the long and sandy Kraalbaai Beach. Here you can take part in just about any kind of watersport you can think of. Waterskiing, kitesurfing, kayaking, and canoeing are just a few of the activities available to you here. And the calm, shallow waters along the soft sand are perfect for the kids to play in.
On the ocean side of the park is Tsaarsbank Beach, a rugged piece of coastline with huge boulders along the sand and rock pools to play in. Take advantage of the braai (BBQ) facilities, and walk along the water and watch for whales.
The West Coast National Park is home to an amazing variety of marine life, including whales, seals, and dolphins. From August to November, southern right whales migrate to the park's waters to breed and give birth, and you can have an incredible whale-watching experience.
You might also spot Cape fur seals, humpback whales, and orcas. These sightings are unforgettable. If you’d love a closer look, book a whale-watching cruise.
The park is legendary for its birdwatching, with an estimated 250 different species to spot. The park is especially well known for its waders, such as the Kittlitz’s Plover and the Chestnut-banded Plover. You’re also likely to see Rock Kestrel, Yellow Canary, Spoonbill, and many, many more.
Even if you’ve never had an interest in birds, the fascinating variety will turn you into a birder, at least while you’re here. There are even a few well-positioned hides to watch from. Go to the SanParks website to find a map that will show you where to find them.
West Coast National Park is located in one of those magical parts of the world where there really is no bad time to visit. The months of June and July are mid-winter, and are the coldest and wettest months of the year. Still, low temperatures rarely dip below 8ºC (46ºF) during this time, and the average high is a balmy 20ºC (68ºF).
My very favourite time to visit West Coast National Park is during the spring blooming season. Late August through to the end of September is the peak time to see the epic displays of wildflowers, when the multi-coloured fields will take your breath away.
The landscape transforms into a stunning tapestry of colours, with meadows of orange, yellow, pink, and purple flowers stretching out as far as the eye can see. It’s absolutely unbelievable.
Keep in mind that locals flock to the park on weekends and school holidays. If you like a little elbow room when you explore, it’s better to avoid these times.
The WCNP is just a 90-minute drive from Cape Town, making it the perfect day-trip destination. If you don’t have your own vehicle, there are a few public transportation options. There are no public buses that make this trip, but you can make use of the CT Train, Uber, or a taxi service. The CT Train goes as far as the town of Malmesbury, from where you can take a taxi to the park entrance. This is about another 60 km (38 miles).
Renting a car is another option, especially if you’d like to explore the park at your own pace. Several car rental agencies are available in Cape Town, including Avis, Hertz, and Europcar. It's important to note that you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, and you should be comfortable driving on the left side of the road.
The park is an easy, very scenic drive up the R27, the West Coast Highway. You’ll be treated to incredible views of the ocean and this beautiful corner of South Africa.
Finally, there are organised tours available right from Cape Town. Tour companies offer guided hikes, birdwatching tours, and other activities within the park. These tours can give you a unique perspective on the park's plants and animals, and they’re led by knowledgeable guides who can share their expertise on the park's history and its environment.
If you don't have a car, you still have some options for getting around the West Coast National Park. The park is fairly compact, and many of the major sights and attractions are within easy walking distance of each other. Walking is a great way to experience the park at a nice, leisurely pace.
Another fantastic option is to rent a bicycle. Bike rentals are available from CycleWorx in Langebaan, about 4.5 km from the north park gate. They also offer bike tours in the park. Cycling will allow you to cover more ground than walking, and there are several well-maintained bike paths for you to explore.
The West Coast National Park offers a variety of accommodation options for visitors who want to spend the night. Self-catering cottages and chalets are found around the park and are comfortable places to stay. These can be booked at the Geelbek information Centre, but you’re better off booking online at the SanParks website.
Another fantastic self-catering option is to rent a houseboat at Kraalbaai Beach. There are several boats, all of which remain anchored off the beach. Each one has its different amenities and breathtaking views. It’s a unique opportunity to sleep out on the water.
Or, if you’d prefer more upscale accommodations, there are several private lodges and guesthouses in nearby towns, such as Langebaan, Yzerfontein and Paternoster. These offer a range of amenities, including swimming pools, spas, and gourmet restaurants, and are perfect if you’re looking for a more luxurious experience. Some favourites are the Crystal Lagoon Lodge, Langebaan Beach Towers and Kaijaiki Country Inn.
It's important to note that pets are not allowed in the West Coast National Park, except guide dogs for visitors with disabilities. You should also be aware that the accommodations can fill up quickly, so booking in advance is recommended.
The usual opening hours for the park are seasonal and are as follows:
April 1 - August 31: 7 am - 6 pm
September 1 - March 31: 7 am - 7 pm
Postberg Section during flower season (Aug / Sept.): 9 am - 4 pm
At the time of writing, entrance fees for international visitors are:
October - July:
Adults: R110 (US $6) per day
Children: R55 (US $3) per day
Adults: R234 (US $13)
Children: R117 (US $ 4.50)
Note: Tap water in the park is safe to drink.
The West Coast National Park is an unforgettable destination for anyone looking to experience the natural beauty of South Africa.
With its stunning coastal landscapes, natural sights, and variety of outdoor activities, the park has something for everyone. From hiking and birdwatching to beachcombing and whale watching, you can lose yourself in nature and explore everything the park has to offer.
The park's convenient location, just a short drive from Cape Town, makes it an outstanding road trip. Its variety of accommodation options makes it a great place to stay for a longer visit. Enjoy!
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Last Updated 12 September 2023