“It doesn’t matter whether you sleep with a million rand under your pillow or if you’re dirt poor; here in Paternoster, everyone goes to the same beach and everyone complains about eating crayfish again.” By Franki Black
It’s hard to fathom that Paternoster, a small fisherman’s village situated 90 minutes from Cape Town on the west coast, is even in South Africa. White-washed homes, an arid landscape and street-side café culture make it seem better suited to Greece. We arrive just as the sun sets pink over a flat bay and navigate our way to the Abelone House, a 5-star boutique hotel that houses one of celebrity Chef Reuben Riffel’s four restaurants.
Leigh Longden, Abelone House’s General Manager, welcomes us and leads the way to a double room that blends African flair with Mediterranean comfort. At dinner time, we join fellow guests in the candle-lit Reuben’s. Leigh offers us a glass of Krone Borealis and reveals a few quips about her town, “It doesn’t matter whether you sleep with a million rand under your pillow or if you’re dirt poor; here in Paternoster, everyone goes to the same beach and everyone complains about eating crayfish again.” Dinner arrives and unlike the locals, we dare not complain about the fleshy crayfish peering at us from our seafood platter.
Most visitors come to Paternoster to relax. It’s known to be the ultimate weekend retreat for city slickers, even Leigh talks about the soothing effect that Paternoster’s “white noise” has on the soul. There is, however, another side to Paternoster and that is …Adventure!
Situated five kilometres from town, the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve is the ideal spot for hiking and exploring a multitude of coves. Visitors can also go on a walking tour of the Cape Columbine Lighthouse, one of the last manned lighthouses on the South African coastline. If you fancy a trip on a boat, chat to a local fisherman who may be happy to take you for a spin. Alternatively, Gecko Kayak Adventures offers excellent 1.5-hour-long paddles around the bay. We, however, settle for some action that takes me back to my childhood: horse-riding.
Drikus Horse Trails is situated ten minutes out of town on a dry and deserted plot of land. Distant boulders protrude skyward, but for the rest, the land is flat and brown. The only sign of human life is a few small houses occupied by a Swedish chocolate factory owner, a restaurateur and our riding instructor, Ronel Colombo who stands waiting for us next to three saddled horses. Adam regards his stallion with suspicion but mounts nonetheless. We trot off on a dusty road that curves past dried-up marshlands and a dead crow lying on the gravel. “These crows peck out the eyes of lambs, so the farmers shoot them,” explains Ronel. For a moment, images of cowboys and the Wild West come to mind. We saunter over dunes onto a rugged beach devoid of another soul. I feel like Lady Marion being carted over waves and through fresh morning mist.
Paternoster ambassador, Naomi Cloete, meets up with me after the ride. She was born and bred in Paternoster, she’s spent the better part of her life fighting for the rights of small-scale fishermen and she’s the perfect person to talk to about local life. Over the years, Naomi has seen Paternoster develop from an insular fishing village to a town that attracts thousands of visitors every year. “Twenty years ago, the only career option in town was fishing,” she explains. Naomi fondly recalls how she used to run down to the beach as a child to help her dad scale snoek, freshly brought in from the sea. Tourism may have brought with it many more job opportunities, but Paternoster remains, first and foremost, a fisherman’s village.
Naomi knows that Paternoster is no longer a secret and I get the sense that she’s unsure about how modernization will affect her people. Before I depart, she tells me that it’s important to remember your roots in order to move forward.
A Foodie’s Haven
Today artists, entrepreneurs, writers and chefs from places far beyond the west coast call Paternoster home and, as a result, a thriving food scene is taking root. Besides the ever-popular Reuben’s, trendy restaurants in town include the Noisy Oyster, Voorstrandt and Oep ve Koep – our lunch stop.
Highly recommended by Leigh, Oep ve Koep is a shop and garden bistro situated in the heart of town. It’s owned by Chef Kobus van der Merwe who moved from Cape Town to Paternoster a few years ago. As someone who is passionate about creative cooking, he finds his inspiration from the local coastline where he liberally draws on ingredients like seaweed. We take our seats in a tranquil courtyard for a big small-town feast and in the corner, a customer strums his mandolin.
For starters we tuck into steaming, homemade bread served with oyster butter and figs, followed by Sweetcorn Bobotie, and for mains we choose Kobus’ recommendation, Saldanha Bay Mussels drenched in garlic white wine sauce. It’s nothing short of world-class.
Spoils for the Soul
Stretched out in front of Abelone House, lies a beach of the finest of sand and gigantic boulders. We follow Naomi’s advice and walk towards these huge rocks. Going against earlier predictions, the mist has not cleared and we find ourselves beached on a boulder looking at a wild Atlantic crashing through the cracks. My mind drifts to the dozens of shipwrecks that have come to rest on this coast over the centuries.
Our afternoon concludes with an hour-long couple’s massage at the Abelone House Healing Earth Spa. Lying side-by-side on two massage beds, we get lost in a blissful blur. Lashes of coconut-infused oil are drizzled over back and limb and elbows are pressed down for deep-tissue goodness. “No, I don’t mind oil in my hair,” I mumble, as fingers move over my scalp. The rest of the evening is a bit of a write-off thanks to the miracle hands of our therapists. Mustering our final energy reserves of the day, we sink into a Jacuzzi and manage dinner at the Square Spoon, before retreating to our room. With only the most romantic of intentions, the Abelone staff has pulled out all the stops: fresh hibiscus petals lie sprinkled across our duvet, shell-shaped chocolates accompany a typed bedtime story about seafarers and soothing Native American music plays in the background. The good intentions are sadly lost on us, as we collapse into a deep, massage-inspired sleep.
Old Meets New
Like so many other places around the world, Paternoster is dabbling with modernity, while trying to hold onto the traditional. It’s this constant and inevitable dynamic that can either make or break a destination. Paternoster seems to be marrying the old and the new into something that makes for a charming town where locals still depend on the sea for their livelihood, children still zoom around on dusty toy scooters, yet visitors can sip the finest of wines and stay in 5-star luxury. It seems as if the people of Paternoster are indeed holding onto their roots, but moving forward at the same time.