Cape Town  - Lamberts Bay

Lamberts Bay
West Coast - South Africa


The beach at Lamberts bay

The west coast of the Cape is steeped in history. Many of the small towns along its shores began when the Dutch and the British surveyed the area and found safe anchorages and harbours for their ships. Lamberts Bay originally known as Otterdam was first surveyed by the the Royal Navy between 1826 and 1840. The town was later named after Sir Robert Lambert who was in charge of the survey of the area.


The harbour at Lamberts Bay with Bird Island in the background

Nothing much happened in the area and then during the Anglo Boer War British ships started visiting the bay. The result of these visits was that the one and only ship to be lost by the British during the war was wrecked on Steenboksfontein near the present day Lamberts bay. Many bits and pieces of the Sybille are today on display at the local museum.

Things started to change in 1887 when Joseph Carl Stephan, bought the farm Otterdam. Stephan who had started a shop in a ship near Laaiplek used the natural harbour at Lamberts bay for trading purposes with wheat from neighbouring farms being his main product. Being an entrepreneur Stephan also saw the need for a hotel so in due course he built the Marine Hotel. Having an eye for a profit Stephan even sold off part of his farm to the government and after 1909 other people started to settle in the area.

The town of Lamberts Bay was finally proclaimed in 1913 when a number of plots were sold to private individuals. In 1929 the town became a local authority and was declared a Municipality in 1969. With the opening up of the west coast over the past few years Lamberts Bay has become well known as a tourist destination.

Deserted Island

The deserted island after the gannets had left

The drawcard being the seabird breeding colonies and a seal colony on Bird island which today forms part of the harbour. The main attraction is the gannets which are beautiful seabirds and only breed in a few places along the South African coastline. For gannets to breed succesfully they need a constant supply of fish such as sardines and pilchard and the coastline off Lamberts Bay provides just that.

The cold Benguela current which flows along the coastline provides nutrients which combined with upwelling attracts the pelagic fish shoals to the area. For many years the birds and seals have lived in harmony with the occasional seal attacking and killing gannet chicks as they follow their parents to sea. Of late however the seals have become far more aggressive and have ventured into the breeding grounds of the gannets during the night and have killed hundreds of birds, adults and chicks.

As a result of the attacks the territory once occupied by 22000 gannets is now occupied by other sea birds as the gannets have left the island en masse. The gannets leaving the island could be a tourist disaster for Lamberts Bay. However, nature conservationists are of the opinion that the birds will return when the breeding season begins in August. The whole town is hoping that this will happen.

If the gannets should return their first order of business will be to rebuild their nests in the guano on the island and then to lay one blue egg in the nest during October. Once laid the egg will be incubated for 40 days by both parents with their webbed feet. The chick after hatching grows rapidly and is ready to go to sea after about 97 days.

Also found on Bird island which is joined to the mainland by a breakwater that was built in 1959, are penguins, terns, and seagulls. Many of them also breed on the island. Lamberts Bay used to be a fishing harbour and has a number of factories built along its waterfront.

The crayfish canning factory that was erected in 1918 is still there today but is no longer used for canning crayfish. The potato chip industry has taken over one of the factories and provides raw potato chips for businesses such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mc Cains in Cape Town and its surrounding areas, a rather interesting fact as Lamberts Bay is about 290 kilometres from Cape Town by road.

 Diamond Boat

One of the boats used for diamond mining moored in Lamberts Bay harbour

Another interesting fact is that Lamberts Bay harbour is used by the diamond mining boats as a base. Offshore diamonds are mined by converted trawlers and other small craft which carry large pumps and hundreds of metres of piping. When the ships go to sea included in the crew are deep sea divers whose job it is to locate diamond bearing gravel on the seabed. When they identify an area of potential diamond bearing gravel they dive down to the seabed and direct the suction hoses into all the crevices and gravelly areas sucking up the gravel.

This gravel is pumped onto sorting tables where any diamonds found are removed before the gravel is returned to the sea. For diamond divers life is tough. Sea conditions on average only allow them to work for about six days a month and then they spend eight hours a day underwater in the bitterly cold Atlantic Ocean.

Once the day's work has been completed the boats return to the harbour where any diamonds found during the day are brought ashore. Lamberts Bay consists not only of the harbour area but also has a beautiful coastline where one can swim and tan on the pristine beaches. Consequently the area is filled with bed and breakfast establishments and self catering units which are extremely popular on weekends and during school holidays. The town although it no longer has a crayfish factory is still an important crayfishing area.

In the town many small restaurants and also open air restaurants have sprung up where one can enjoy the freshest and most delicious seafoods available. Being on the west coast, one of the drier areas in South Africa one would imagine that temperatures would be high during the day. This is in fact not the case. When we visited the area a week ago the temperature in Clanwilliam about 60 kilometres from Lamberts Bay was 42 degrees celsius while the temperature on the coast was a cool 21 degrees.

This is one of the main factors why Lamberts Bay is so popular. For visitors it is advisable to make an overnight booking as it takes about three hours to get there through some of the most beautiful scenery one can imagine. Without an overnight stay you will not have enough time to explore the area and to enjoy some of the seafood delicacies available in the town.

2020 Turtle SA - All Rights Reserved
Lamberts Bay