Olifants River Estuary

Lakes / Dams / Landmarks in or near Papendorp, Cape West Coast in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Western Cape Tourist AttractionsOlifants River Estuary

Where? Papendorp, Cape West Coast, Western Cape

Overnight? Accommodation in Papendorp, in Western Cape

The Olifants River Estuary is the country's second most important estuary. It lies 250 km north of Cape Town at the small fishing village town of Papendorp on the West Coast of South Africa.

Papendorp is tiny and little affected by development. It has but two roads - one off the R362 to bring visitors to the river, another to reach the homes of the Ebenhaeser community that lie on the Olifants River edge. This same road also extends south of Papendorp to the shoreline.

The estuary drains one of the largest catchment areas in the country. It extends from the permanently open river's mouth upstream for about 36 km to a low water causeway near Lutzville.

It seems surreal to find such a large estuary in the midst of the Succulent Karoo. Few people live on its banks, making it one of the most sparsely-populated catchments in the country. 90% of the catchment is untouched by development, much of it in nature reserves, although there is a little dryland farming, like rooibos tea, along its banks.

The bonus, if you make it this far north in search of wild beauty, birds and the beauty of a river, is that for most of the year Papendorp and the estuary are devoid of activity. The flower season brings some tourist activity but at other times you will have the place to yourself; the only options for accommodation a little guesthouse and camping area beside the estuary.

Olifants River Estuary supports significant wildlife. 38 fish species from 30 families live in these waters, whilst 200 bird species occur here, 72 of them water birds and 21 of them long distance migrants that arrive during summer, when the number of birds almost doubles so that the average is closer to 6 000 birds. 90% of these birds are found within 9 km of the mouth.

As such the estuary is an Important Bird Area (IBA).

The Ebenhaeser community on the river's banks once operated a small-scale gill net fishery, until the 2003 country-wide policy to eliminate commercial fishing in river estuaries. Independent research suggested that fishing on a small scale is sustainable, and the community has been willing to engage.

The Olifants estuary has no protected area status. An environmental assessment by Anchor Environmental suggests that it become part of a nature reserve, that the entire estuary below the high tide mark become a Marine Protected Area, and that Papendorp become a heritage site, restricting development in the area.

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