Smile and wave

Smile and wave

South Africa has more than 3 000 km of coastline and a beach for every mood.
Keith Bain picks a handful of scene-stealers

Western Cape

Bakoven, Cape Town
Comparatively undiscovered, this pair of tiny coves – Big Beach and Little Beach – on the outskirts of Camps Bay is perfect if you want to escape the crowds and avoid the clichés. Summer brings with it a series of once-in-a-lifetime sunsets – as the sun starts to sink, make sure you’re on one of the huge boulders tumbling out to sea and marvel as the sky melts into the ocean.


Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town
Safari on the beach? Go to Boulders. No guide required to spy on the tuxedoed seabirds cavorting between huge chunks of granite at the edge of Simon’s Town. Although there are a couple of SANParks-administered boardwalks overlooking Foxy Beach, reserved for its colony of 3 000 African penguins, continue about 200m beyond the main SANParks entrance to discover a tiny boulder-ensconced cove where you can swim among the braying jackasses and soak up the sun while they waddle across your towel. Talk about being right up-close to nature!


Between Kommetjie and Simon’s Town, bordering Cape Point Nature Reserve, and backed by marvellously steep peaks covered in fynbos, Scarborough is Cape Town’s most laid-back coastal village. A sanctuary for the soul where crowds are non-existent, the beach is an idyllic stretch of fluffy white sand, perfect for strolling, or – more productively – honing your surfing skills or diving for crayfish.


Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay
This protected peninsula preserves immaculate scenery and all the wildlife that can be spotted along its hiking trails. At The Point you’ll see mostly birds – terns, roosting gannets, and cormorants – and the Witsand Circuit takes you past colonies of Cape fur seals. At the bottom of the steep Witsand dune is a sublime beach connected to a big rock – The Island – just offshore. There are rock pools nearby and few humans in sight: the ideal place to take in fresh air and the sound of waves.

Nowhere is the West Coast-vibe better realised than in Paternoster – a whitewashed fishing hamlet where waves of gentrification have brought a degree of sophistication, without denuding its cosy village atmosphere. Wooden boats dot the beach, and howling, wild winds make it stark and melancholic. Rent out a renovated fisherman’s cottage and sink in for a bohemian holiday, or walk along the shore all the way to the lighthouse in Cape Columbine Nature Reserve. Definitely dine at Gaaitjie Salt Water Restaurant, an on-the-beach spot with tables overlooking the sea.

 Kwa-Zulu Natal

Umhlanga Rocks
Despite huge development of the village in recent years, Umhlanga’s beaches have maintained their poise, offering the same marvellous stretches of golden sand. A boon here is the brick promenade, where joggers and walkers cruise from early till late. Lifeguard stations are posted all over, and the area is dotted with spots where you can eat, drink or chill out. Where it’s unmanned, there are tidal pools that are safe for all – one is called Granny’s Pool, no doubt for this very reason. Just in front of the award-winning Beverly Hills hotel is a long, wide pier that gives a different perspective of the crashing waves, and metres away is Umhlanga’s traditional white-and-red lighthouse, a long-standing symbol of the village. Meanwhile, at its northern end, the promenade transforms into a nature reserve where you can leave civilisation behind and imagine Umhlanga – ‘Place of the Reeds’ – the way it was just a century or two ago.

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Between Hibberdene and Port Shepstone on KwaZulu-Natal’s lower South Coast, Umzumbe is among those marvellously unspoilt stretches of beach that benefit from a slightly smaller crowd, unlike its better-established neighbours along the Hibiscus Coast. Backed by wild dune forest, Umzumbe (often called Pumula Beach) holds Blue Flag status, with proximity to two natural marvels: Oribi Gorge (which boasts the world’s biggest bungee swing and the world’s highest natural commercial abseil) and the 3 247 ha Umtamvuna Nature Reserve.


Cape Vidal
North-east of St Lucia, this pretty bay backed by dunes within iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a popular deep-sea fishing base, with a beach that feels wild and endless. While it’s great for spotting dolphins and humpback whales, there’s also access to Lake St Lucia’s eastern shores, where wildlife includes hippos, crocs and buffaloes. In December, turtles lay eggs on the beach and there is a natural tidal pool for snorkelling.


Mabibi, Maputaland
Perhaps it’s the vastness of this pristine stretch of sand or the way it segues so effortlessly into dense indigenous bush and forest. Maybe it’s the incredible reef diving and warm-water snorkelling, or the chance to witness a miracle of nature when rare leatherback and loggerhead turtles clamber across the sand to lay their eggs. Whatever the reason for your visit, Mabibi’s sublime beach is balm for the soul – off the grid and marvellously wild: there’s nothing better!

A biodiversity hot spot and cradle of arguably the best scuba diving in the country, Sodwana affords access to some of the world’s most southerly tropical reefs. Some 1 200 fish species are found within this protected area, and divers can potentially spot whale sharks, raggies and manta rays. Just inland, behind the dunes, there’s every chance you’ll see hippos cruising through the bush.

Eastern Cape

On the tantalisingly named Sunshine Coast, Gonubie is considered a well-kept secret – an impeccable beach just north of East London, at the mouth of the Gonubie River. A raised boardwalk leads to tidal pools and the lagoon mouth where children can poke around for marine life. The river is quite easily navigable by canoe or kayak for five kilometres upstream, and cliffs above the vast lagoon provide vantage points for dolphin- and whale-spotting.


Cape St Francis
Surrounded by tranquil nature reserves, and with enough changeable weather and wild coastal vegetation to avoid extensive over-gentrification, this is truly among the loveliest of the Eastern Cape’s small beach towns. Aside from sunbathing, surfing or kiteboarding at Seal Point, you can check out African penguins at the SANCCOB rehabilitation centre and stand in the big shadow of the adjacent 27.5m lighthouse – said to be the highest mason structure in the country. The Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is considered by many to be the most authentic links course in South Africa, covering the sandy spaces between the dunes and the bush before the beach slips into vegetation.

Morgans Bay
A tiny hamlet on the Wild Coast known for its rugged dolerite cliffs, its dynamic mix of biomes supports more than 270 bird species, including breeding crowned cranes and fish eagles, whose distinctive calls resound across the lagoon. The cliffs extend along the beach for roughly four kilometres, reaching the Double Mouth Nature Reserve, where Bead Beach is said to be the site of a 16th-century shipwreck – that of the Portuguese Santo Espirito. Also known as Treasure Beach, today it’s where beachcombers supposedly find bits of Ming porcelain, money cowries and carnelian beads – some leftovers from the wreckage – in the sand.

At the southernmost end of the Wild Coast, just 45 km from East London, Cintsa provides access to a 20 km stretch of uninterrupted beach backed by colossal dunes. While it’s perfect for unhindered beachcombing, there’s also big five game-viewing at nearby Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve, which encompasses five different biomes and a tidal estuary. Or, for a different kind of wildlife, simply plonk down atop Cintsa’s high dunes and keep watch for dolphins and whales, frequently seen well into December.


To escape humanity as you know it, veer off the N2 and chart a course to the edge of the world. As the crow flies, Bulungula isn’t too far from well-known Coffee Bay, but it seems light years away from mass civilisation, with nothing but a humble Xhosa village along with an award-winning eco-backpackers set on the river estuary behind a dune forest. All of this is within stumbling distance of a wild, wondrous stretch of paradisiacal beach dotted with sunbathing cows and donkeys.

Photography: Keith Bain, Gallo/GettyImages, Alamy, iStockphoto, AfricaMediaOnline
December 2015/January 2016

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