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Book Review - The Coast of South Africa

Johan has travelled extensively in the USA and Southern Africa. He is a retired school teacher and evangelist.

Wild flowers on West Coast

Wild flowers on West Coast

South Coast Beach

South Coast Beach

Nahoon Beach East London

Nahoon Beach East London

Table Mountain Cape Town

Table Mountain Cape Town

Birds at Strandfontein Nature Reserve, Cape Town

Birds at Strandfontein Nature Reserve, Cape Town

"Fynbos" from the Cape Floral Kingdom

"Fynbos" from the Cape Floral Kingdom

Book Review: The Coast of Southern Africa.

Seldom in many years of reading about Southern Africa have I been as captivated by a book that at first appearance seems to be another “coffee table” picture book. As the author begins his journey in Namibia and then travels down and around the coast of the southern tip of Africa to Maputaland (Northern Kwa Zulu Natal), it soon becomes obvious that this is so much more than a pretty book to be paged through. The author divides the book into 8 areas: Namibia, The West Coast, The Cape Peninsula, The South Coast, The Garden Route, Border Country, The Wild Coast, Natal and Maputaland. This covers a distance of over 4000km and as he traces the coast line he describes the great diversity found in this part of the African Continent. What makes it particularly interesting is how he weaves natural science with human and animal life and historical events into a kaleidoscope of information. The photographs combine to make it a compelling journey for the reader.

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Facts about the sea life fascinate. The writer claims that 90% of all animal and plant life actually exists in the sea. His description of life-forms along the coast and especially those that exist in the arid regions of Namibia (annual average rainfall of under 10mm),is amazing. The animals and plants that the book introduces the reader to are fascinating.

In the opening chapter of the book the writer describes the climatological and geological events that shaped the Southern part of the great African continent. He describes the sea currents that have a huge impact on the coast and its sea life which is both interesting and informative.

At the same time he traces the settlements along the coast and interesting historical events. An example is the many counties that laid claim to Namibia, Cape Town and South Africa in general. He gives the reader a brief but balanced view to the past recorded history of this country. He writes specifically those events that took place on or near the coast. He quotes a passage from Lady Anne Barnard who writes an amusing account of her visit to the “Drup Kelder” in Arniston. His account of the ship wrecks along the West, Southern and East Coasts ignites the desire that everyone has of finding that hidden treasure! He describes how the caves in the Robberg Peninsular have been excavated to discover evidence of early life in this area. His account of the hunting of Elephants in the Knysna Forest is heartbreaking, and so one could go on and on!

Historical events that he describes include important events like the battle that took place for control of Walvis Bay between Britain and Germany and the longstanding fight for control of the Cape of Good Hope between the Netherlands and Britain. The establishment of the early feeding station under Jan van Riebeeck and the accounts of the many shipwrecks that took place along the coast make interesting reading. While he does not really attempt to make this book an historical look about the formation of South Africa, he does describe some of the many events that took place along the coast. Most of the biological information must come from Professor George Branch who is listed as the consultant.

Every area of the coastal region of South Africa has its own magic to offer and the one thing that stands out is the amazing diversity that exists in the sub-tropical region. The Skeleton Coast stands in strong contrast to the semi-tropical forests of Natal and the patch of Yellowwood Forest on the South Coast in turn differs from the Cape Floral Kingdom near Cape Town.

At the same time the photos taken by Ken Gerhardt are well chosen and of the highest quality. The text and photos fit together perfectly and made me wanting to again visit the many places that are described and illustrated in this book; some that I have visited before and some that I need to see in the future.

This is an old book and the writer considers many of the challenges faced by those who care about the environment. It is interesting to see how things have progressed over the past 40 years. He discusses the Kooberg Nuclear plant and the important nature reserve projects like De Hoop Reserve in the Western Cape and St. Lucia in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

For many people a journey around the coast of Southern Africa will remain just a dream. Reading this interesting book that describes such a journey will go a long way towards satisfying that need or perhaps lead to the beginning of the planning for such a trip.

References:

Kerch, J and Gerhardt, K. The Coast of South Africa - Struik Publishers. Cape Town 1984

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