Paternoster

“Yeah, I want to leave Cape Town at around 4am if possible” I say. Awkward silence. My words are jarring, causing a little extra cognition and some indignation. “What!” she says, “Are you out of your mind?” We end up settling on 5am. I will have to keep my foot on the  floor en-route, and there will be no stops for coffee. I pack a thermos instead.

Paternoster is about 150 long straight kilometers up the West Coast from Cape Town on a good tarred road. It is still dark so we miss the scenery, which is flat and mostly featureless, in a desolate, beautiful, big sky kind of way.  I want to be there a little before the sun drags itself out of the cold Atlantic, to scout out locations for sunrise landscapes. Hence the need for speed and an early departure.

As a photographer I need to be out and about shooting during twilight, when shadow creates a little mystery and the sky has the deepest blue. We make it in the nick of time. I shoot some of the original tumble-down fisherman’s cottages in the gloaming light and a few other architectural details that we stumble upon. Already I am happy with the shoot. We move towards the beach as the sun looked to be ready to rise out of the horizon. The lovely curved bay, speckled with colourful fishing boats in the first rays of light  is an epic sight. I find a great vantage point above the beach amongst some of the whitewashed cottages and feel the 1st rays of sun warm my skin before heading down to the beach for more photos.

There are two competing legends as to how Paternoster got its name. The first states that Paternoster is a reference to the Catholic “Our Father” which was recited frequently by shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. The competing legend states that the town was named after the beads that the original people of this coastline, the Khoi, wore around their necks. Either way, Paternoster is a village of the sea. It is one of the oldest fishing villages on the West Coast and is just as famous for its lobster as it is for its picturesque fishing village vibe. A modern lobster processing plant and Kabbeljou farm form a big part of the local economy but local fisherman still go out to sea in their colourful old-school fishing boats in search of herring.

 

The fishing boats are dragged up onto the beach after the days fishing is done. They are colourful, and creatively named, and all have weathered many storms. I love the way they seem to have been sculpted by the ocean. They wear the imprint of the sea like a smoothed pebble or shard of sea glass. On the older boats the primary blues and reds are flaking away revealing the wooden skeletons beneath and metal parts that would glint in the light are speckled with the dull blood brown of spreading corrosion. Like the local people, they have stories to tell.

I shoot portraits of the boats on the beach, and the sun rises. We find some breakfast, and take a drive to Cape Columbine and the lighthouse which dates from 1936 and is the first South African lighthouse vessels traveling along the coastline from the north will see. That early morning golden liquid light that defines contours and textures perfectly turns into a hard crisp stark light that works so well for big desolate views and arid country. I keep shooting, especially loving the myriad of dirt roads on the outskirts of town while she browses the lovely little boutiques and cafes in town. There are some legendary restaurants in Paternoster, the options are far wider than you would think possible in such a small town. We settle on Gaaitjie Restaurant, set on the beach in a historic fisherman’s hut with a unpretentious but varied menu with many locally sourced ingredients. After our late lunch we take a last walk on the beach before heading back to the city, more slowly this time, and enjoying the passing views. We have only really scratched the surface of this place, there is so much to do. There is horse riding on the beach, incredible birding, sea-kayaking and kite-surfing. We will return in the spring, when the Namaqualand flowers bloom and the veld is blanketed in rolling colour.

paternoster