Winning tip: Beware the Wild Coast’s ‘Jesus fish’
The stunning Wild Coast five-day hike from Kei Mouth to Coffee Bay on the Eastern Cape is surely the ultimate beach lovers’ experience. Apart from a series of stunning sandy beaches between lush green hills, numerous river crossings form part of the fun, with some shallow enough to be waded. But beware the “Jesus fish”! Small, interested knots of locals gathered on the beach when one of us, tired of waiting for the ferry, waded into the water with a staff for support. Barely halfway across, he bellowed “JESUS!!” and fell back into the water, only to rise again clutching his staff with one hand and his foot with the other, still cursing. “Ah yes, that was the Jesus fish,” explained one of the locals, nodding sagely, “everyone shouts the same thing.” As you will, too, if you happen to tread on one of these electric rays.
Robben Island beaches
On a visit to Robben Island’s prison museum, be sure to leave time to explore the island’s unspoiled beaches. You’ll be rewarded with dramatic views of the city, and Table Mountain flanked by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. Few visitors realise that the island’s shores are the natural habitat of a sizable penguin colony: enjoy watching them with far fewer tourists than at Boulders Beach. Bird life is abundant and includes oystercatchers, ibis, egrets and cormorants. Sharks and dolphins can often be spotted offshore too.
Sand, sea … and sculpture, Durban
There’s more to Durban’s Golden Mile than sunbathing and surfing. Not only are there a veritable gallery of sand sculptures and drawings, but Lucas, one of the best resident artists, offers lessons. His amazing rhino, with its message denouncing poaching, is the only permanent fixture in a frequently changing exhibition. Lucas charges a modest R50 (£3) for a fun and surprisingly physical hour of creativity. Or, you could commission him to create a personalised sculpture for a special occasion.
Paternoster, Western Cape
Paternoster is a small beach community about 150km north of Cape Town. The route passes through the wild scenery of the West Coast national park, full of flowers in the summer, and after a few hours you emerge on a peaceful crescent of white sand. The town has rentals galore, all the Cape Dutch architecture you could want for a weekend away and some great food. Long walks on the beach, eating and drinking and watching the fishing boats make for a peaceful break. And, unlike in Cape Town, you can dip your toes in the sea without your legs freezing solid.
Nature’s Valley, Eastern Cape
Around 20 miles east of Plettenberg Bay lies the village of Nature’s Valley (on the Garden Route), with two contrasting but equally stunning waterscapes. Stand on the deserted silver beach looking inland and you’ll see the tranquil Groot river lagoon, against the backdrop of the Tsitsikamma mountains. Turn seawards to experience the thrill of the Indian Ocean’s thunderous breakers; if you are lucky you may spy a pod of bottlenose dolphins. In the surrounding forest, exotic knysna lourie birds flash red and green as they swoop among the yellowwood trees. 360 degrees of enchantment and the highlight of our South African holiday.
Sleepers on the Garden Route
In Mossel Bay on the Garden Route coast you can stay in a train which has been converted into a hotel. The Santos Express has double, twin, and dorm rooms all in former carriages, and every single room has an uninterrupted view of the ocean and the beach right underneath the windows. Even the toilet has a stunner of a view.
• From £9pp sharing, BB, santosexpress.co.za
Megan Olive Laybourn
Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape
Travelling through rolling green hills of the Transkei, among the traditional rondavels of the Xhosa, you try to avoid huge potholes in the road and cows suddenly crossing. It’s a magical landscape, then suddenly the Indian Ocean opens up, and nestled between majestic cliffs is Coffee Bay. Gigantic waves roll on to a pristine beach. The Sardine Run happens between May and July and you can go out diving with whales and dolphins. Surfing is another favourite and the famous Hole in the Wall is just to the south. We stayed halfway up the hill behind the beach at the lovely, small Ocean View Hotel, whose rooms offer amazing views. It has a restaurant on a wooden terrace, overlooking the beach.
• Doubles from £40pp half board, oceanview.co.za
Barley Bay, near Cape Town
Escape Camps Bay’s crowds by walking along the promenade towards Bakoven. Halfway round the bay, find the path that takes you down through the fynbos shrubland to the tiny, shingle beach, with rocky pools and big granite boulders to lean against. Here you can sit in blissful peace, read a book and contemplate the sparkling azure sea and the Bakoven rock, shaped like a pizza oven. It’s sheltered when the Cape Doctor is blowing, when you can contemplate the white horses of the waves. When you have had enough, return to enjoy a drink or meal at one of Camps Bay’s bars or restaurants, just 10 minutes’ walk away.
Arniston, Western Cape
Two hours east of Cape Town is the village of Arniston, home to a variety of beaches. At one, at low tide, you can wade out to the enormous Waenhuiskrans Cave. My favourite lies beyond the thatched fishermen’s cottages of the Kassiesbaai area: a vast expanse of beach home to the wreck of the Arniston. The British freighter was shipwrecked in 1815, and the individual decks still lie poignantly scattered across the sand. Behind this are sand dunes, great for exploring on foot or by dune buggy. Or sit and wait to see the southern right whales as they occasionally swim past.
Tergniet, Western Cape
There are beaches, and then there’s Tergniet on the south coast of the Western Cape. My family and I have been going there since I was four. It is quiet and clean, and has lovely pools for kids to play in. There are a few guesthouses and some self-catering places nearby. The nearest major settlements are Mossel Bay and George. The more widely known beaches of Hartenbos and Dias are a short drive away. Tergniet is still raw nature combined with beach and sea. The weather is lovely year-round and the water is far warmer than the Cape beaches.