Western Cape Tourist AttractionsBerg River Estuary
Where? The Berg River Estuary starts 69 km upstream of its mouth in Velddrif, West Coast, Western Cape
Rated as one of three top estuaries in South Africa, in terms of conservation, the Berg River Estuary starts 69 km upstream of its mouth in Velddrif on the West Coast.
It is one of only four perennial estuaries on this dry coast and its lower reaches are an Important Birding Area (IBA) – it supports 210 species of bird, 25 of which are nationally important, whilst up to 80% of the fish in the estuary use it as a nursery.
The Berg River, one of the Cape's biggest rivers, flows from its source in the Franschhoek Mountains 294 km through Paarl, Welllington, Darling, Moorreesburg, Hopefield, Piketberg, Laaiplek and Velddrif.
Sixty five percent of it is under agriculture – its banks a combination of wheat and canola fields, vineyards and fynbos, which means that the quality of the IBA (the lower reaches of the Berg River) are reliant on how the catchment area further upstream is managed.
The estuary and floodplain extend 40 km inland, incorporating a wide variety of habitats like mudflats, reedbeds, sandy beaches, strandveld, and riverine channels. Bird spotting whilst wonderful at the river mouth, is particularly good in the mudflats and saltpans where you can spot large numbers of waders (the mudflats host the highest density of waders along the entire east Atlantic seaboard).
Heading up the West Coast one becomes conscious first of the Berg River just before the R27 crosses the river on your way into Velddrif. On your left is the Cerebos salt works – a good place to spot birds like Kittlitz's plover as it often nests on the edge of the roads around the pans.
Getting to the pans is not difficult, although security can sometimes be a little tight – you will need permission to drive or walk around the pans.
Other birds common to this part of the river are little stints, ruffs, ringed plovers, grebes, flamingos, terns and teals.
The best birding area along the Berg River Estuary is the Riviera mudflat. It has the only African record of the American little blue heron, and a good bird hide. Other birding highlights include the De Plaat mudflat, the banks of the Berg River along Bokkoms Avenue, the harbour and the Rocher Pan (24 km north of Velddrif).
The best time to spot birds on the estuary is 1.5 hours after Table Bay's high tide (do a Google search or consult Cape Town's newspapers for a timetable).
Other highlights of the estuary include fishing, water sports and picnics.