By Franki Black
“This shark’s tooth is ten million years old,” said our guide, while pointing to an off-green fossil the size of my hand. I was staring at her in disbelief and eager to learn more about the other Jurassic treasures exhibited at the West Coast Fossil Park. We followed our guide along a dirt road towards an archaeological working site.
Parts of the site have been opened up to the public, thereby offering a fascinating insight into the Western Cape as it was five million years ago. For decades the land on which the park is now situated operated as a phosphate mine, but mining activities were eventually stopped when a motherlode of fossils was uncovered. Declared a National Heritage Site in 1996, the fossil park is world-renowned for its exceptionally well-preserved fossil fauna and for having one of the most diverse collections of fossil animal species on the planet.
We were led onto an elevated bridge from where we could observe beautifully-preserved fossils of an African bear, a short-necked giraffe and a sabre-toothed cat.
The Fossil Park was a pit stop en-route to BON Hotel Shelley Point. Situated 55-kilometres up the coast from Langebaan, this hotel is a favourite choice for big groups, families and energetic travellers who come here to participate in a range of activities such as golfing, bowling, swimming, tennis and beaching.
There’s also a big kids’ club comprised of an outdoor and indoor centre. I was travelling with a group of 12 women who all looked keen on some outdoor action. We’d left Cape Town in the morning and two hours later, we clocked in at the thatched-roofed BON Hotel Shelley Point.
After a quick check in, we gathered around the first tee-box of Shelley Point’s 9-hole links golf course. Oom Piet, the local instructor, demonstrated how to hit the ball successfully with a range of clubs. Hesitantly we followed his lead. Some of us managed to drive the ball far into the distance, while others dismally hit fresh air instead.
Next up was a bowling contest at the hotel’s outdoor bowling green. I quickly discovered that bowling is a game of conniving finesse. Our big black balls were carefully rolled as close as possible to a little white one, but competitors were quick to spoil strategic placements. In the end, many of the defeated found solace in glasses of wine served on the sideline.
With 84 guest rooms, two restaurants, a spa and meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 90 delegates, BON Hotel Shelley Point is a favourite choice for corporate teambuilding events. Our next activity saw us gathered in the Woodlands Conference Room. Here we were presented with a selection of one-minute challenges. Oreos had to be moved from foreheads to mouths without the use of hands; teaspoons had to be catapulted into cups, and towers had to be built and balanced with metal rounds.
After a day packed with BON activities, we met up at the Sao Antonia Restaurant for dinner. Overlooking palm trees, a rim-pool and the golf course, the restaurant is finished in trendy white and charcoal tones and includes a festive bar area. Platters of locally-sourced seafood were served alongside fresh mojitos.
BON, Beach & Beyond
Shelly Point consists of its hotel, a golf course, privately-owned homes and, of course, its prized private beaches. It’s also home to a monument dedicated to Portuguese explorer, Vasco De Gama, who first set foot on South African soil in 1497 at nearby St Helena Bay.
On our last morning at the hotel we strolled past this monument towards Shelley Beach for a glimpse of the rising sun. On the shoreline black pebbles edged towards the icy waves and a lighthouse stood far away in the mist. It occurred to me that Shelley Point offers all the comforts of a swish estate, while capturing the wild and rugged ways of the West Coast.
The hotel staff members assured us that during the festive season holidaymakers flock from all over the country to Shelley Point. “We are kept very busy and the hotel gets jam-packed!” exclaimed one of the waitrons. It’s not surprising considering that regional attractions are plentiful.
Besides visiting the Fossil Park, BON guests can go hiking in the West Coast National Park; horse-riding in Paternoster; quad-biking at the Sunset Adventure Farm; surfing in Elandsbay; wind-surfing in Langebaan, and go-carting in Vredenburg. San-guided tours are also offered at the nearby Khwattu Lodge where visitors can visit a replicated San village and learn more about traditional San culture.
Our drive back to Cape Town was a treat in its own right. In Velddrif we drove past fishermen gathered on the banks of an estuary and a flamboyance of flamingos flying over the water. Further along, we whizzed past sand dunes, fields filled with flowers and locals on the sidewalks selling ‘bokkoms’. Finally, a distant Table Mountain marked our approach to the Cape.
The West Coast, with Shelley Point leading the charge, proved itself as one of South Africa’s ultimate playgrounds for young and old.
Make it Happen!