Paternoster is a fishing village set on the Atlantic seashore, with whitewashed homes in the mold of southern Spain but without the mountainous backdrop. With a population of under 2,000 featuring a foodie delight at various restaurants, art studios for aficionados, bed and breakfast accommodation, self-catering apartments, guest houses, and several hotels. This seaside resort count swells with numerous tourists to this quaint region year-round. Sadly, on the drive from Cape Town along the coast, we saw that recent droughts had ravaged this region. The environment provides magnificent walks along the beach and shopping experiences through the town.
Three hundred years ago, Paternoster was known as St Martin’s Bay. The area was rich in wildlife, including hippos and leopards on the land and the marshes that stretched for miles to the east. The rocks and offshore islands were rich in guano. Penguin colonies thrived.
The ancestors of the coastline were the Strandlopers (beach walkers), who roamed the shores and gathered food from the sea to sustain themselves. The Strandlopers are a Khoikhoi-derived people who lived by hunting and gathering food along the beaches of southwestern Africa, originally from the Cape Colony to the Skeleton Coast. When the Dutch settled the Cape in 1652, they met these nomads.
Many people believe Paternoster means “Our Father” in Latin. It refers to prayers by Catholic Portuguese seamen when they were shipwrecked. Others believe it refers to the beads that the Khoi tribe wore that were called Paternosters.
Paternoster is a sought-after tourist destination and is known for lobster and the whitewashed anglers’ cottages. The remarkable coastline of jagged cliffs and white boulders makes this one of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast of South Africa.
The area is a pillar in the South African commercial fishing industry. The town has a lobster factory and a newly erected Kabeljou (one of the most targeted edible saltwater fish off South Africa’s coastline) farm. At the same time, the local people catch and sell herrings or draw mussels from the rocks. There are several more commercial activities in the greater area, including deep-sea fishing, snoek catching, abalone farming, oyster farming, canning of pilchards, and mussel farming.
The oyster farm in the lagoon of the neighboring town of Langebaan is currently the largest in South Africa. The first Portuguese navigators (1497-1502) enjoyed the West Coast rock lobster (Jasus lalandii). By 1902 a full-blown lobster industry was in operation, canning and exporting lobster to France in particular. The West Coast lobster industry generates millions each year and employs large numbers of local people.
In the 1930s, the first Redro factory was erected in Paternoster. The Stephan family developed Redro fish paste to compete with the already popular Peck’s Anchovette of Britain. It flew off the shelves when it was first released and enjoyed three decades of uncompromising sole monopoly in the savory spread market and is now owned by Pioneer Food Group.
The Cape Bokkoms (dried, salted, and small whole fish) have been well known in this region and have been a cheap and practical source of protein for centuries. The unique method of preparing and drying fish has grown with leaps and bounds, often for export, in response to the growing demand for the product from South Africa.
When you travel in South Africa, everyone is imprisoned by living in homes with high walls, topped with razor wire, electric fences with an armed response on call. Paternoster is the exception to this rule. Not a burglar bar insight, and total absence of security without the obsession to keep everything locked. Even the retail stores and restaurants did not have security gates. We were assured that this is a crime-free community.
We were fortunate to get accommodation at Gaby Carstens Dunn’s self-catering “Karibu in Paternoster,” located on Mosselbank Street. Her Facebook page is here. We had our room with a bathroom and a shared lounge with utensils to prepare and enjoy meals. In fairness, we did not cook but enjoyed the many available restaurants.
Our first-night outing was to Leeto Restaurant by Chef Proprietor Garth Almazan. Authenticity and local specialties merge with sophistication in both the menu and restaurant design. Leeto (Khoi language: ‘journey’) stays true to its unique beach location, capturing local flavors whilst at the same time boasting spectacular views. I ordered a steak and was horrified that I was not offered a steak knife. When the meal arrived, I was amazed to discover that a regular knife managed to cut the tender and delicious meat with ease. If I had any complaints, the Restaurant was so noisy with the multiple diners participating in animated discussions. I could hear the magnificent classical music playing in the background.
The Restaurant at Paternoster Lodge presents a magnificent view of the ocean. Dealing with crayfish is illegal in Paternoster, especially if you purchase the fish from independent merchants who roam the streets. We witnessed a police raid from our lofty view of the ocean and saw the illegal traders scattering at the sight of police vehicles. The food was a treat. Our server mentioned that she was born in Worcester, a 2-hour drive from this village. Unable to find suitable employment, she enjoys her job and the quieter community of Paternoster.
The Voorstrandt (beachfront) Restaurant is in a 114-year-old quaint red and green tin house, right on the white sandy beach with panoramic views of the sand, sea, and sky overlooking the bay. Seafood was a natural selection for our dinner. We had the opportunity of taking photographs of the beautiful seashore and sunset from our table.
We used our visit to drive to the lighthouse near Cape Columbine Nature Reserve in Tietiesbaai (breasts bay). Tietiesbaai got its name from two large rocks that indeed look like a pair of boobs. Those familiar with the Pennsylvania Amish would know they have a town named Intercourse, the junction of two roads. What’s in a name?
Cape Columbine originates from the name of the last manually controlled lighthouse built in South Africa. This lighthouse, in turn, got its name from the British wooden ship ‘Columbine,’ which was wrecked 1,5km (1 mile) north of the lighthouse in 1829. Other notable wrecks include “Eve” March 17, 1829, “Friends Goodwill” February 6, 1840, “Alicia Jane” May 16, 1845, SS “St. Lawrence” November 8, 1876, SS “Ismore” December 3, 1899, SS “Haleric” April 5, 1933, and SS “Chub” November 2, 1945.
Cape Columbine Lighthouse was built in 1936 on Castle Rock; it is usually the first South African lighthouse seen by ships sailing from Europe. Its light stands 80m (260 feet) above sea level and casts a beam visible for about 50km (30 miles). We had two surprises. Getting into the reserve required an entrance fee. Getting into the lighthouse to climb the four flights of 98 steps required an additional cost. The way down requires that you slowly reverse on the narrow staircase. The view from the top makes the venture worthwhile.
This area is windswept, and we were delighted to see a local wind farm.
In a small fishing village, Paternoster, on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe struggles to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom. He recently returned from Paris, where his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize. The Restaurant is named after the nearby Wolfgat cave – an archaeological wonder containing remnants of an ancient culture and rumored gateway to underground passages. Says Kobus: “There is a rich history of early civilization on this coastline, which we find very inspiring.
One disappointment. On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, I emailed Kobus requesting a reservation for lunch on Thursday, February 21, at 12:30 pm. I instantly received an automated response that read in part, “All reservations for Wolfgat are taken online; please visit our website to view available dates and to reserve your table. Lunch is served Wednesday to Sunday, and dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, by appointment only.” The Restaurant was fully booked through the end of April 2019. Subsequently, I learned it was fully booked through June 2019. The 7-course meal costs R850 (US$60) per head and R1,400 ($100), including drinks, with payment at the time of reservation. So yes, I was disappointed I could not experience this fantastic Restaurant and chef who operates with a team of eight helpers.