Sun, sand, sea, skimpy swimsuits and the smell of coconut scented sun tan lotion. South Africa has a 3,000km coastline with thousands of beaches, some of which are more appealing than others. So if you’re after a beach holiday, you just need to decide what kind, and then choose the right beach.
The West Coast has some unbelievably beautiful, long, lonely beaches, where you can walk for miles and not see another person. Some lovely little towns, which were once fishing villages, are great to explore and also usually have nice beaches that are not quite so deserted, but also not that crowded. It hardly ever rains, so the West Coast is a good place to work on your sun tan but – be warned – the water is freezing. Probably the best West Coast destinations are Langebaan, Paternoster and, for surfers especially, Elands Bay.
Cape Town, of course, is a beach destination of note, where you’ll find a beach for every reason. The Southern Cape Coast refers to the whole section of coast between the eastern side of False Bay and somewhere near Mossel Bay, including the Overberg beaches. Settlements are few and far between and pretty laid back generally. They’re not nearly as crowded as Cape Town or the Garden Route, but not as deserted as the West Coast. Some of the favourite beach towns here include Arniston and Stilbaai.
The relatively understated resort towns of Gouritzmond and Boggomsbaai are close to Mossel Bay, and part of the wonderful Oyster Catcher Trail, which is a lovely guided, portered, catered hike, but they’re closer to the Southern Cape coast in feel.
Many people believe the western end of the Garden Route to be at Mossel Bay, which has the only north-facing beaches in South Africa by virtue of the deeply indented bay. Other great Garden Route beach destinations include Plett, Wilderness and the fabulous Nature’s Valley where the beach is almost deserted, and you can walk for miles to lovely streams where otters play. The Garden Route has great coastal hikes and it’s a great place to ride a horse on the beach.
The East Coast cities of Port Elizabeth and East London are also good beach holiday destinations but the Wild Coast, just that bit further east, is fabulous. The beaches are uncrowded, there are lovely little family-friendly hotels and there is awesome beach hiking and horse trails.
The epitome of organised beach frivolity, though, is found on the KZN South and North Coasts, where holiday developments stretch out almost continuously along the beach, and the water is warm. Durban’s beaches are a cultural experience where you will find a truly representative cross-section of South Africa’s population – from nubile bikini-clad teenagers and bronzed surfers strutting their stuff to elegant sari-clad matrons herding their broods and beaded sangomas collecting sea water for medicinal use. Even outdoor baptisms are not uncommon.
The beaches of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park are, on the other hand, mostly much quieter. Here you can walk for miles, seeing only the odd fisherman, go snorkelling or just find a place to chill in the sun.
North of South Africa’s borders Mozambique, on the east coast, has hundreds of beautiful tropical paradise beaches while Namibia, on the west coast, does have a few good beaches but the water is icy and usually pretty rough. Most beach activity in Namibia is fishing-related.
Whichever beach experience you choose, be it sardine-style and social, or solitary and silent, bear in mind a few important precautions. Always use sunscreen and a hat. Be very careful of deserted beaches – most South Africans are very nice but some are very nasty, indeed.
Be aware of your limits in all things – how far you can swim, how long you can stay in the sun, and how much you can drink before you get the first two completely wrong and end up in deep trouble. Oh – as for the last one – it is illegal to drink on South African beaches, a law which is being relatively strictly enforced with blind eyes only occasionally turned towards quiet sundowners at sundown time.