Wildlife, culture, scenery, food & wine, shopping…the list of South Africa’s attractions is seemingly endless, but one area often overlooked is the country’s magnificent beaches. With a long coastline of more than 2500 km stretching from the Namibian border south to Cape Town, around the tip of Africa and then east all the way up to Mozambique, it is a sand-lovers paradise, with beaches often offering much more than the traditional bucket-and-spade experience.
Starting in the north on the sometimes harsh Atlantic Ocean coastline, the charming fishing village of Paternoster, popular with weekending Capetonians, boasts deserted beaches, wonderfully-atmospheric seafood restaurants, quaint fishermen cottages, a handful of guesthouses and a laidback beachside vibe. Working south along the coast is then the small seaside settlements of Langebaan, Churchhaven, Yzerfontein & Grotto Bay, each of which has a magnificent stretch of golden sand, often backed by wild sand dunes. This is self-catering territory, with some wonderful villas available to rent.
Cape Town has numerous things to see and do, but time should be made to just relax and enjoy the city’s many and varied beaches. Those closest to the city include Clifton, (which is actually split into 4 separate coves), Llandudno, which has nothing but sea & sand, (not even a shop or beach bar), and Camps Bay, the home to the jet set, palm trees and iconic views of the Twelve Apostles mountain range which sit behind the sands. The Cape Point peninsula makes for a great day out and the beaches there do not disappoint – the 8 kilometre-long beach at Noordhoek has featured in numerous UK TV adverts, the colourful beach huts at Muizenberg & Fishhoek grace many postcards, and bathers at Boulders Beach uniquely share the waters with a large colony of African penguins.
Leaving the Cape and heading towards the Garden Route, the two beaches in Hermanus are often superb points from which to view the Southern Right Whales which visit for 6 months of every year, as is neighbouring Walker Bay, a magnificently-unspoilt area which is home to the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, which offers guided marine walks along the beach.
The southern-most point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, sits on a windswept beach backed by a row of fisherman’s cottages and a lighthouse and marks the point where the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean make way for the balmier Indian Ocean. From this point onwards the sea starts to become a little warmer, reaching its zenith in northern KwaZulu Natal.
The De Hoop Nature Reserve also combines whale-watching with beach-time before Mossel Bay marks the official beginning of the Garden Route, with Bartolomeu Dias first landing on the beach here over 500 years ago. The area is home to a number of safe, family-friendly beaches, amongst them Brenton-on-Sea, Buffels Bay and Herolds Bay. The long expanse of Wilderness beach is perfect for long beach walks before THE seaside resort of Plettenberg Bay is reached. Notoriously popular over the Festive Season, ‘Plett’ is home to a millionaires’ row of villas, a stylish selection of restaurants, bars and boutiques, and the Robberg Nature Reserve, a protected peninsula with a dramatic beach.
Pressing on past Nature’s Valley, very much Plettenberg’s poorer cousin but a with superior beach, the quaint thatched village of St Francis Bay offers a tranquil and picturesque base amongst a collection of charming waterways before the surfers mecca of Jeffreys Bay, (J Bay to locals), offers thrills and spills for all ages.
The coastline of the Eastern Cape is much less developed and beyond the small towns of Kenton-on-Sea & Port Alfred, there is nothing but a dramatic and rugged coastline, punctuated by the odd beach hotel, and aptly-named the Wild Coast. The beaches of Chintsa East are home to a perfect boutique resort – Prana Lodge, which offers horse-riding, surfing and hiking along the empty beaches.
Crossing into the KwaZulu Natal province, the South Coast, as it is affectionately known, has old-fashioned seaside resorts such as Southbroom, Ramsgate & Margate, often situated alongside the sugar cane plantations and golf courses for which this region is famed.
The city of Durban has its own Golden Mile, stretching from the north of the city at the Moses Mabhida Stadium right down to its port, along which people stroll, cycle & rollerblade, and enter competitive life-surfing competitions. The beaches north of Durban are far less frenetic, with the village of Umhlanga Sands a genteel retreat and home to the world-class Oyster Box Hotel, and Zimbali & Ballito both offering sweeping sands and the finest seafood restaurants.
Once past Richards Bay, any coastal development ceases as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park begins – it is 280kms of the protected area and runs right up to the border with Mozambique. The beaches in this part of South Africa are wild, dramatic, backed by mighty sand dunes, and are home to a smattering of coastal lodges, such as Thonga Beach Lodge, Rocktail Bay & Kosi Forest Lodge. Guests lucky enough to stay at one of these properties can expect superb scuba diving, whale-watching, and the opportunity to track the turtles which come ashore annually to lay their eggs. Those staying at the nearby Phinda Private Game Reserve can also enjoy exciting excursions by helicopter to the coast.
Once over the border, the beautiful beaches stretch onward through Mozambique and into Tanzania, eventually reaching Kenya, at each stage becoming the prime asset of another nation. South Africa has many, many attractions, but always try to remember that one of its major highlights will always be it's lengthy, varied and fabulous coastline.
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