Coastal foraging part II: the feast

The various edible seaweeds that we foraged
The various edible seaweeds that we foraged

After foraging on the sea shore for edible seaweeds and mussels under the guidance of Roushanna and Gael from Good Hope Gardens, we returned to Gael’s house in Scarborough to prepare a meal with our finds. The group divided into four, and we worked together to prepare the food using recipes provided by Roushanna.

Decorating the sushi rolls
Decorating the sushi rolls

Sushi rice mixed with finely chopped sea lettuce (Ulva spp) formed the base of vegetarian sushi rolls, which were decorated with kelp, tongue weed, radishes, avocado, mayonnaise, and a secret sauce (recipe for the rolls here). Sea lettuce was also the seaweed of choice for a couscous and rocket salad, decorated with hibiscus flowers and miniature tomatoes (recipe for the salad here).

I worked on the coleslaw, made from finely sliced red cabbage, carrots, and hanging wrack (Brassicophycus brassicaeformis) – a seaweed I found so tasty and crunchy I could have sat right there in a rock pool and eaten it directly off the rocks. The mussels were picked over, scrubbed, and prepared with white wine, cream, onion, and garlic. Crusty ciabatta soaked up the sauce. Once we were done, it looked as though we had enough mussel shells for our own personal shell midden!

Rinsing and scrubbing the mussels
Rinsing and scrubbing the mussels

Roushanna prepared nori (purple laver, Porphyra capensis) crips for us (like kale chips, but with a crispier texture and more flavour), and chocolate nori ice cream for dessert. We supplied our own drinks. During breaks in the lunch preparation some of the group enjoyed a face (and hand) mask made from seaweed ingredients. Others of Roushanna’s recipes you can explore for yourself are for sea biscuits (scones made with sea lettuce), fruity vegan jelly, and kelp and avo salad.

Lunch was a collaboration, and a tasty culinary adventure. I found it marvelous to discover what is available on the sea shore, and to get a small hint of how our strandloper ancestors foraged on the Cape Peninsula.

Preparing our foraged lunch
Preparing our foraged lunch

(Puzzled what this is all about? Read my first post about coastal foraging here.)

Coastal foraging part I: the forage

Roushanna educates us about foraging for seaweed
Roushanna educates us about foraging for seaweed

A chance conversation with a friend who also volunteers at the Two Oceans Aquarium led to me enrolling in a coastal foraging course with Roushanna and Gael Gray from Good Hope Gardens, the nursery between Scarborough and Cape Point. Their coastal foraging courses are run during the summer months (I went in December), on dates close to spring tide, so that the maximum possible area of shoreline is available to forage on. The course takes the form of a rock pool expedition on Scarborough beach, followed by lunch – prepared by the participants – at Gael’s beach cottage.

Foraging for edible seaweed
Foraging for edible seaweed

As I get older I am finding it increasingly difficult to suppress a wildly eccentric streak that frequently finds me – consciously or unconsciously – making small preparations for some kind of apocalypse (zombie or otherwise). This might be related to living on the South African roller coaster for too long, but whatever the origin of this latent anxiety, it has served to make our home life more sustainable and – little bit by little bit – more independent of the electricity grid, the municipal water system, and grocery stores. The idea of coastal foraging dovetails nicely with my desire to learn how to live a little bit more off the land than off the shelves at Woolworths!

Mollusk permit inspection by fisheries officials
Mollusk permit inspection by fisheries officials

It is important to respect some simple rules to ensure that your foraging is sustainable, safe, kind to the environment, and legal. Each of us had purchased a mollusk permit allowing us to harvest mussels, obtainable from the post office (available for R94 using the same form as the scuba diving in marine protected areas permit), and these were inspected by fisheries officials quite early on in our forage. You don’t need a permit to harvest seaweed (however if you wanted to do it on an industrial scale you might need to go through official channels).

There are three types of mussels found on South Africa shores: the ribbed mussel and black mussel are indigenous, and the Mediterranean mussel is introduced. Unfortunately Mediterranean mussels out-compete the indigenous varieties, and we only saw one or two black mussels while we were out. The mussels we harvested were the Mediterranean variety, distinguishable from black mussels by the thick, flat edge to their shells. Black mussels have pointy edges all around their shells, making them more streamlined.

Mediterranean mussel (left) and black mussel (right)
Mediterranean mussel (left) and black mussel (right)

There is only one type of seaweed growing along our coast that is harmful to eat (acid weed – Desmarestia firma, which has sulphuric acid in its fronds). This brown algae species does not grow on the rocky shore but only further out in the surf zone. This gives rise to the simple rule of only harvesting seaweed that is growing on the rocks, and never collecting seaweed that is floating free.

When harvesting seaweed, we used a pair of scissors to avoid pulling the entire plant off the rocks, and cut no more than a third of the leaves. Seaweed is full of vitamins and minerals, particularly iodine and potassium. It isn’t something you’d make a whole meal of, but it is a healthful addition to many dishes and – once you know how to prepare it – tastes pretty good!

Clouds at Scarborough
Clouds at Scarborough

You can read more about the Good Hope Gardens coastal foraging experience here and here. Watch this space for more about what we prepared with our seaweed spoils…

The Cape Point Shipwreck Trail

Burned landscape near Olifantsbos
Burned landscape near Olifantsbos

Lovers of shipwrecks and wilderness will enjoy the Shipwreck Trail (also called the Thomas T Tucker Trail, which has a nice alliterative ring to it) in the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Tami, Maria and I did it on one cloudy Saturday, close to low tide. (You can do the walk at high tide, but you won’t be able to get as close to the wrecks and some parts of the wreckage will be underwater.) The trail starts from the Olifantsbos parking area inside the reserve. There is a large sign saying THOMAS T TUCKER, which will send you on your way. A waist-high pyramid-shaped cairn of stones indicates where you must climb over the dunes onto the beach – the actual path is hard to discern at this point owing to fire damage.

Rockpools abound near Olifantsbos
Rockpools abound near Olifantsbos

The path follows the coast past the Olifantsbos Cottage to the next beach, where the remains of the Thomas T Tucker are strewn around. Don’t rush past the beach outside Olifantsbos Cottage, though – there is a huge wooden log, bored by teredo worms, with rust marks at its base showing where it was attached to the deck of a ship or where fittings for lifting by crane were located.

It is possible that this is one of several hundred okoume logs that came off a cargo vessel called Lola in Table Bay in 2008. The ship was apparently in very bad repair. Similar logs can be found at Hoek van Bobbejaan, Sandy Bay, and other locations along the Atlantic coast. (Incidentally, those logs were predicted to cause havoc in the 2008 storm that uncovered the wreck of the Commodore II.)

The mast on Olifantsbos beach
The mast on Olifantsbos beach

On the beach near the Thomas T Tucker you will also see some whale bones, which are becoming more and more damaged with each passing selfie, but are still impressive in scale. I suspect that more of that skeleton is on display at the Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre near Buffels Bay in the park.

Whale skull near the Thomas T Tucker
Whale skull near the Thomas T Tucker

Continuing past the main wreckage of the Thomas T Tucker you will come across another small piece of rusty metal, which belongs to the same wreck even though it is so far away from the rest of the debris. Shortly you will spy the wreck of the Nolloth on the beach before you. Don’t overlook the rockpools on the way.

Moody skies over Misty Cliffs
Moody skies over Misty Cliffs

The route back can either be a retracement of your steps along the coast, or via the inland path marked by a sign on the edge of the beach just past the Nolloth. We struggled a bit to find the path as the plant life in the area has not recovered since the March fires, and in retrospect we’d probably have gotten on much better (and returned home much cleaner) if we’d just walked back along the beach!

Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach
Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach

You shouldn’t do any walking in the reserve without a proper map; my favourite is the Slingsby Map series. I got mine from the curio shop at Kirstenbosch, and they are available at most major bookstores (with a bias towards those in the south peninsula – I have seen them at both Wordsworth and at the Write Shoppe in Long Beach Mall). Be aware of and grateful for the baboons, don’t advertise your snacks, don’t go alone, and always take something warm with you even if it’s a sunny day when you set out.

Three adventurers at the Nolloth - me, Tami, Maria
Three adventurers at the Nolloth – me, Tami, Maria

In case you missed the links in the text, check out the separate posts on the two wrecks you’ll see along this trail: the Thomas T Tucker and the Nolloth.

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks: Thomas T Tucker

The first boiler of the Thomas T Tucker you'll come across
The first boiler of the Thomas T Tucker you’ll come across

If you’re a fan of visible shipwrecks, may I recommend the Shipwreck Trail in the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park? I’ll write a separate post just about the trail, but this post and the one that follows (about the Nolloth) concern two shipwrecks, high and dry on the shore, that can be see on the route.

Three large pieces of the Thomas T Tucker on the rocks
Three large pieces of the Thomas T Tucker on the rocks

The SS Thomas T Tucker was an American-built Liberty ship. These cargo vessels were of a standardised design and were built in great numbers, and at great speed, during World War II. They were used to transport war materiel to the Allied troops, and this is what the Thomas T Tucker was busy doing when she found herself off Olifantsbos in November 1942. She was on her maiden voyage from New Orleans to Suez, hugging the coast in a thick fog for fear of German U-boats.

The Thomas T Tucker's second boiler, high on the beach
The Thomas T Tucker’s second boiler, high on the beach

When she ran aground on 27 November (our wedding anniversary!), her captain reported that the ship was aground on Robben Island, which is over 40 kilometres to the north. The ship’s compass was found to be out by 37 degrees, which may have contributed to the accident.

Today the Thomas T Tucker is beautifully spread out on a beach about two kilometres from the parking area at Olifantsbos, inside the Cape Point Nature Reserve. She was 135 metres long, so there was a lot of ship to distribute. There are some great pictures in Shipwrecks of the Western Cape by Brian Wexham, from (I think) the 1980s. They give a good idea of how the wreck has deteriorated.

You will first come upon one of her boilers, high up on the beach, close to a small headland. If you look back the way you’ve come (first photo, above) you can see Misty Cliffs, Scarborough and – perhaps – Slangkop Lighthouse. Beyond that she is in several large pieces on the rocks, and higher up the beach. A third (bonus!) section of wreckage lies a couple of hundred metres further along the Shipwreck Trail (also called the Thomas T Tucker trail), so isolated from the rest of the wreck that I at first thought that it came from a different ship.

The "bonus wreckage" of the Thomas T Tucker further along the beach
The “bonus wreckage” of the Thomas T Tucker further along the beach

We visited the wreck of the Thomas T Tucker an hour or two after high tide. At low tide, all the pieces of the wreck are accessible; we could not reach the most distant piece without getting our feet wet! There is some wreckage that isn’t visible, lying in the shallow water, which you can visit on a scuba dive if you get the appropriate permission to have dive gear on a boat within the exclusion zone around Cape Point. We were lucky to have fairly dramatic skies for photography. The way in which the wreck is scattered is a testament to the exposed nature of this coast, and the power of the Atlantic Ocean.

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

Bookshelf: Shorelines, Strandlopers and Shell Middens

Shorelines, Strandlopers and Shell Middens – John Parkington

Shorelines, strandlopers and shell middens
Shorelines, strandlopers and shell middens

I’m currently delving into some subjects I know nothing about, stone age archaeology being one. I harboured a childhood dream of excavating ancient Egyptian artefacts, but that came to nought and I ended up a mathematician – manipulating things I can’t even see or touch. Ah well.

Strandlopers are the people who lived as hunter gatherers along the Southern African coastline, related to the San. A shell midden is basically an ancient dustbin, and the strandlopers would have generated these when they stopped at a location for any length of time. They are typically densely packed collections of shells that are all of a certain size (large enough to be worth harvesting and eating) and from a limited set of edible species. In this way they are distinguishable from random heaps of shells. A midden of considerable size would have been built up in a relatively short time owing to the sheer number of molluscs it is necessary to consume in order to have something approaching a decent diet! Shell middens exist around South Africa’s coast, including a couple in False Bay which I plan to hunt down. It is believed that the consumption of shellfish – which are extremely nutritious – by early humans contributed to increased brain size and the development of more complex civilisations.

John Parkington, the author of this book, is a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Cape Town. His writing style is clear and expository, and enabled me to follow along with little to no background knowledge on the subject. The book is extensively illustrated with photographs, including of Parkington’s collaborators at the university. I appreciated the fact that each person’s full name was provided.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the early history of humans along South Africa’s coast, I’d recommend starting with the series Shoreline, which provided an excellent introduction to the subject. The Sea-Change project also explores our ancestors’ interactions with the marine world.

You can find this book here, or perhaps at Kalk Bay Books.

Bookshelf: The Coastal Guide of South Africa

The Coastal Guide of South Africa – Lynne Matthews

The Coastal Guide of South Africa
The Coastal Guide of South Africa

This is a slim guidebook that will be useful to anyone living at the coast or enjoying a holiday there. Covering all of South Africa’s almost 3,000 kilometres of coastline, this book has sections on all the flora and fauna found between the dunes and the ocean. It is by no means exhaustive, and a local guide will always have more information on a particular locale, but for scratching the surface or beginning to learn about coastal life forms, this is an excellent start.

When I was younger we had giant Reader’s Digest guidebooks to help with road trips and visits to the shore, and this is a super scaled-down little cousin of those faithful hardback volumes. The introductory section deals with tides, currents, and the different zones along our coastline. There are sections on plants, birds, fish, invertebrates, reptiles and mammals. The species identification information is good, with distribution, size and the main identifying features provided, at a minimum.

There is also a section on fishing regulations. I’m not a fisherman so I can’t comment on whether it’s even worth putting these in a book – are they static, or subject to frequent change at the whim of DAFF? There is also a section on SASSI – how to eat seafood sustainably. If I had to add a section, I’d ask for something on ocean safety – rip currents, drinking and swimming, not wearing sunscreen, boating foolishly, scuba diving in boat traffic without a buoy – all the things that keep the NSRI and lifesavers busy over the festive season. One can’t be reminded often enough.

The book is mainly illustrated with line drawings and paintings, as well as several maps. If you have space in your bag for a larger format book, I’d recommend Southern African Sea Life: A Guide for Young Explorers over The Coastal Guide of South Africa because it’s more practical and detailed, but if you don’t have children you might feel shy whipping that one out while on the beach!

You can get a copy of this book here.

Friday photo: St James

St James beach in the distance
St James beach in the distance

There are colourful beach huts on St James beach, similar to the ones at Muizenberg. This beach, with its innumerable rockpools waiting to be investigated, is your final destination on the Muizenberg-St James walk, unless you enjoy rock climbing and train dodging. If that is the case, you may continue to Kalk Bay, where breakfast at Olympia Cafe awaits.

Friday photo: Big rock

Coastal rockery
Coastal rockery

Here’s a small sandy and rocky beach, guarded by a huge, almost cubic boulder. It’s located on the route between Muizenberg and St James. I think it’s rather striking. When the tide is out, you might be able to climb on top of it.

Friday photo: In between

Rocky shore between Muizenberg and St James
Rocky shore between Muizenberg and St James

On the rocky shore between Muizenberg and St James (accessible via this walk), there are many nooks and crannies, bursting with life that a young marine explorer would derive great enjoyment from discovering. We did the walk close to high tide, on a day with a large swell and the corresponding big waves. I wouldn’t recommend rockpooling in these conditions.

Bookshelf: Southern African Sea Life

Southern African Sea Life: A Guide for Young Explorers – Sophie von der Heyden

Southern African Sea Life
Southern African Sea Life

Marine biologist and geneticist Sophie von der Heyden has produced a beautiful, practical and useful book for young people wanting to know more about the life found in Southern African coastal waters. Von der Heyden provides information about the different species found on the coast, along with tips on how to spot them, and what gear to take along to the beach for a day of exploration. Care is taken to advise young fishermen how to handle fish (gently) and when to put them back in their rockpools (quickly).

The book’s many photographs were mostly provided by Guido Zsilavecz of SURG, author of two of our favourite nudibranch and local fish identification books. There are images of the marine life as well as the habitats in which it is found, both large and fine scale. The book’s design and layout are varied and colourful, which makes it a pleasure to page through and a source of inspiration for rockpool exploration.

I appreciated the book’s fair treatment of our entire coastline. It is tempting to view the coral reefs of Sodwana and Durban as more romantic and visually striking than the dense carpet of invertebrate life that characterises the Cape’s waters, but the interested explorer is rewarded in both areas. Children’s books about coral reefs are not unusual, but a book that teaches appreciation of the abundance of life along the south western Cape coast is a rare thing indeed.

You can get a copy of this book here. In a couple of years’ time it’ll be on my niece and nephew’s Christmas list!