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Explore the Magnificent Berg River from a Different Perspective with Cracklin’ Rosie River Tours, Velddrif

The Berg River has its source in the Drakenstein mountains near Franschhoek, and winds its way down to the coast, ending in an estuary before flowing into St Helena Bay at the little town of Velddrift, a remarkable distance of 294 km. This river has an interesting history, however.   

About 10 million years ago sea levels were much higher than they are today, flooding the area almost to the foothills of the Piketberg mountain range.  The sea level fluctuated over millions of years, gradually dropping to expose a vast flood plain. The ancient Berg River flowed down to the Langebaanweg area where it formed an estuary before flowing into Saldanha Bay.  Evidence from pollen fossils excavated at the West Coast Fossil Park indicate that there was a sub-tropical climate on the West Coast about 5 million years ago, which gave rise to forested areas with palms, ferns, and other subtropical vegetation.  This was home to many animals, some of which have become extinct.  African Bears, Wolverines, short necked giraffes, called Sivatheres, 3 toed horses, saber-toothed cats, a variety of antelope species, and many other terrestrial species roamed the area, whilst marine species such as fish, whales, penguin, true seals, dolphins, and megalodon sharks would have been frolicking in the sea, and possibly in the estuary. Hippos would have been playing in the fresher water upstream.

A big event, possibly a great storm, occurred 5 million years ago, causing the Ancient Berg River to flood its banks.  The bloated carcasses of animals which had been grazing on the banks and beyond when the river overflowed its banks, were washed downriver, and deposited in the soft silt and sand of the estuary, where they fossilized over time. Remains of marine creatures have also been deposited in this area, as well as the remains of birds. These fossilized remains can be seen at the West Coast Fossil Park, near Langebaanweg.  A visit to the Bone Bed and exhibition area at the Fossil Park is a fascinating experience.

As the sea water receded, the Berg River changed its course to flow into the ocean at St Helena Bay, near Velddrif. Today this Berg River once again opens into a large estuary before flowing into the sea.

There are 279 estuaries in South Africa, of which the Berg River Estuary is one. It is also one of the largest estuaries in the country with an area of 61 km2, and 1 of 4 estuaries on the west Coast which is permanently open. The large floodplain surrounding the middle and upper areas of the estuary are unique.  The Lower Berg River is an important Bird Area (IBA), located about 140 km north of Cape Town and has recently received Ramsar Status. 

Changes in salinity of the river during winter due to added rainwater cause many of the fish species to disappear, only returning when the salinity increases, and the area becomes a more marine environment once again. During spring, an incredible number of birds visit this wetland. 

Bokkomlaan is the oldest road in Velddrif and has been declared a Heritage site. Originally the fish houses on the banks of the Berg River were mainly built of reeds.  People have fished in the Berg River for centuries, and its rich bounty has sustained countless families over time. Fishing with nets in the river is prohibited, but fishing from the riverbank is allowed and permits can be obtained from the Post Office.

Today there are a few of the remaining fish houses remaining where mullet is salted and dried, to be sold in bunches of 10 dried fish, then called Bokkoms. Visitors to Bokkomlaan can watch how the raw fish is processed at some of the fish houses when they are operating during the day. The dried fish is available whole, or in filleted strips. It is also sold as a powder, like biltong powder.  Marinated bokkom strips are also available at the shops on Bokkomlaan. Some of the other fish houses are being used as restaurants and a Coffee Shop. The coffee shop sells amazing coffee – the Best in the West.

The SA Fisheries museum in Laaiplek is well worth a visit.  The museum showcases the rich fishing history of the area and allows one to look back in time when the fishing industry was developing.

Cracklin’ Rosie is a small passenger vessel which departs from Historical Bokkomlaan daily. You will see the Berg River from another perspective.  Join us as we slowly travel upriver past the mud flats which are teeming with birds, even in winter. On the way we pass De Plaat, a protected no-go area, which is a haven for birds, and is usually full of flamingo.

Further up we see an amazing variety of bird species, and our bird count by expert birders is 103 species on a 3-hour trip. We offer 1-hour trips, 2-hour scenic trips and 3-hour birding trips.  Early morning trips at low tide are the best times to see an amazing variety of birds as they awaken and search for an early morning feed. Trips can be tailored to fit your individual needs.

  • Our Sunset cruises offer our guests fantastic sunsets with the water and sky turning into fantastic hues of pink, purple and red, or golden yellow and the reflections in the water are breathtaking.  In the evening enormous flocks of Cape Cormorant pass us on their way to their evening roost on the salt pans – a truly amazing sight. 
  • We also host celebrations, birthdays, year-end functions, parties, and family groups. 
  • We are the River Uber to the River Shack at KnorVarkie, a delightful river pub and restaurant offering live music and good food on the banks of the river – we drop you off at the KnorVarkie jetty and collect you again later at a pre-arranged time.
  • We have joined the Camino and will be transporting Pilgrims to their starting point at Cloete’s Kraal, and other passengers are invited to join us on the trip.  This is an awesome opportunity for Bird Watching and photography.

All trips must be pre-booked and are weather dependent.  We are licensed to carry 23 passengers and we have a minimum of 6 people for a trip to take place.

The amazing vistas of the Berg River Estuary make these trips a photographer’s paradise.  Early morning light on the river is stunningly beautiful, especially at low tide. The water is usually flat in the morning, and the reflections on the water take your breath away. Evening Sunsets on the Berg River are unbeatable, and combined with a West Coast oyster or two, creates an amazing experience. A person tends to forget that you are on the West Coast!

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