Soetwater Environmental Centre

Just along the coastal walk beyond the Slangkop lighthouse is a remarkable little centre where invaluable work is being done by an NGO in educating young and old alike about the local environment – birds, fynbos, sea life, snakes, history of the early inhabitants of the area and how they lived off the abundant resources of the time. The engaging and passionate Lappies Labuschagne who has been in charge for around 22 years tells us he believes education should be Fun and Adventurous, and judging from his description of the lessons, I am sure that thousands of children will remember their stay at the centre as highlights of their lives.

We took a fairly energetic stroll from The Kom along the newly concreted path next to the bay, enjoying a gentle breeze from the sea and the sight of ships passing far out on the almost calm sea. Beyond the lighthouse we veered up the old part of Lighthouse Road, now mercifully closed to traffic then took a sandy track through thick bushes till we reached the sea shore not far away. The coast here is a bird conservancy and an important breeding ground for the African Black Oystercatcher, with one of the largest populations along the coast. These birds are monogamous, but sometimes the numbers are uneven and someone gets lonely for a while, until new arrivals can fill the gap. Blacksmith lapwings screech overhead, distracting us from either a nest or chicks, and we must have been at a safe distance as no direct dive-bombing took place, as has happened in the past.

We met Lappies at one of the middens left by the Khoi, and he shared the fascinating history of the whale bones, buck bones, shells and other artefacts that are continually exposed through weathering. How amazing would it be to be part of an archeological dig on that hill! A cave with a midden has just been discovered further up the mountain, and professionals are set to work on the site soon. With fresh water springs, ample fish caught in stone fish traps (found all along the South African coast), perlemoen, crayfish and mussels, this must have been a very desirable settlement.

After our midden visit, it was back to the centre for tea and cake, followed by a hands-on demonstration of some of the non-venomous snakes kept there. Most had the opportunity to handle the snakes, but those who were obviously unable to get up close and personal were happy to view from a distance. The bird sanctuary is another must-see, but time pressed on and we will have to go back again to see the work being done to care for those that can no longer live in the wild.

A rather hot and humid walk back to the cars ended off a delightful morning of discovery. Highly recommended, visitors encouraged – phone to make sure of availability.

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