Round trips: Travelling the Cape West Coast - Land ‘Without Fat’
Apparently named after Admiral Antonio de Saldanha who was wounded here as long ago as 1503 by a group of Khoikhoi while collecting supplies, the intriguing port is merely 13km south of Vredenburg. It clings serenely (depending on the weather) to the northern edge of a large bay that reeks, on windy days, of fish because the town hosts many industries, that include crayfish, mussels, oysters and seaweed.
During the Second World War Saldanha Bay was very important because of its strategic location and safe anchorage as a convoy assembly point. Green wrote that thousands of men in the war saw Saldanha Bay from the decks of troopships.
“For many of them it was their only glimpse of South Africa – just that huge, landlocked bay, the scavenging sea-birds, a fishing village in the northern arm, nothing to linger in the memories of sea-weary soldiers after a long passage. Men in the convoys which assembled there must have steamed on to the Middle East with bleak impressions of Saldanha” he wrote.
Today Saldanha Bay has a huge iron ore quay and is home to a large variety of fishing vessels. It’s also the largest natural bay in South Africa and in the summer transforms into a fishing, boating and water sport paradise. Its sheltered harbour plays an important part in the huge Sishen-Saldanha iron ore project at which Saldanha Steel, a state of the art steel mill, takes centre stage.
According to Saldanha Tourism, between the 1870’s and 1880’s the Bay of Saldanha became a quarantine station. Ships carrying people with contagious diseases had to be removed as far, and as fast as possible, from Cape Town. The name of one of the first ships was the “Celt”... and what better place than the isolated and deserted harbour of Saldanha to banish them to.
At the southern horn of the bay, at Salamander, a large group of tents was spread over the little headland for the victims. Smallpox victims were regularly sent there and the graveyard at Salamander is witness to this. Only after the Anglo Boer War did the bay’s function as a quarantine station end.
It’s an interesting port and well worth spending time there. The exceptional quality of the sunlight that afternoon, despite the blustery, cold wind straight off the ocean, would have left anyone camera trigger-happy and inspired to explore the French Huguenot Memorial, Doc's Cave, the Breakwater and Cummings Grave, among others.
The breakwater was built in 1976 and is 1,8 km long. It connects the mainland with Marcus Island. There is also hiking trails for the nature lover at Oranjevlei and at the SAS Saldanha Naval Base. Fishing trips and boat excursions to the islands in the bay can be organized, weather permitting of course.