The Langebaan Lagoon was formed by the rising and falling of sea levels during pre-historic times. This is unlike most lagoons which form where fresh water rivers enter the sea. As a result, Langebaan Lagoon is a purely salt water lagoon.
Satellite image of Saldanha Bay, with Langebaan Lagoon to the right (south)
As far back as 500 000 years ago, early Homo sapiens were probably present in the area, living in groups and hunting small game, displacing carnivores, such as lions, from their kills and gathering plant foods. They made fire as protection and for cooking and probably made simple shelters from branches. They probably used animal skins for warmth and clothing. They made wooden and stone tools.
The area is rich in historical events from the first inhabitants, the Khoikhoi and San, to the arrival of the Europeans. The first European to set foot on land was Vasco da Gama at St Helena Bay on the West Coast Peninsula in 1497.
António de Saldanha, after whom the bay is named, did not enter those waters at all. Juris van Spilbergen mistakenly named it in 1601 as Saldanha Bay; he thought that he had reached Cape Town – originally named Agoada de Saldanha. Although the Dutch were the first to claim ownership of the area, the French were frequent visitors.
Countries would claim ownership by planting a post in the ground and formally declaring ownership. One of these ‘posts’ may be seen today near Geelbek claiming the land on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. European settlement was very limited because of the lack of water for 8 months of the year.
Many stirring events have occurred in the region over the centuries including two sea battles and a visit by the Confederate States of America’s, Alabama, in 1863, the most feared warship of its day. Even the 5 islands in the area, which are administered by the West Coast National Park, have a history of their own, including battles for ownership, use as smallpox quarantine hospitals, exploits for guano, sealing centres and other activities.
The French used Schaapeneiland (close to Langebaan beach) as a storage place for whale oil and seal hides, calling it "Isle à la Biche". More recently, the whaling station was situated at Donkergat and is still visible from the town. A reminder of Langebaan's whaling history is the harpoon gun outside the Municipal Buildings.
The town Langebaan was founded in 1922 and used as a whaling station until the 1960s