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On the Beach in South Africa

Long Beach near Noordhoek, Cape Peninsula courtesy SA Tourism Image Library by Walter Knirr Ranging from the West Coast's wild, deserted, sun-bleached stretches of snow-white sand to the sub-tropical, coral-fringed, forest-backed beaches of Maputaland, South Africa has a beach for every reason.

Fringing the cities of Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, there are long stretches of unspoiled coast - and, of course, fun urban beaches that offer every conceivable convenience.

In Cape Town, Clifton is for the fashionable set; Sandy Bay, the unofficial nudist beach, for the wouldn't-wear-fashion-anyhow set; and Long Beach for the walking.

Boulders Beach offers the very best swimming and a possible sub-aqua visit by a curious penguin as a bonus. In Port Elizabeth, Hobie Beach is good for buzz and burger bars, while Sardinia Bay offers miles of virtually deserted snow-white sand.

East London has some very popular beaches virtually right in the city, but only a few kilometres away you’ll find some practically deserted ones. And the whole city of Durban is really just a life support system for the beach.

Blue Flag Beaches
South Africa is the first country outside Europe with beaches that have been awarded Blue Flag status, which indicates an excellent standard in four aspects of beach and coastal management.

These are: water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services.

What this means is that a Blue Flag beach is guaranteed to be clean, safe and environmentally-friendly. The programme is overseen by the World Environment Society of South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. So far South Africa has eight Blue Flag beaches. In the Western Cape - Lookout Beach in Plettenberg Bay and Grotto Beach in Hermanus, both of which are also fantastic whale and/or dolphin watching destinations.

In the Eastern Cape, Humewood Beach in Port Elizabeth flies the flag. KwaZulu-Natal heads the list with five blue flag beaches, namely Margate Main Beach, Marina Beach at San Lameer and Ramsgate Beach — all on the South Coast; Durban's South Beach, and Willard Beach in Ballito on the North Coast.

Beach Restaurants
The beaches of the West Coast near Cape Town offer a spectacular, casual seafood extravaganza. Traditional, open air 'restaurants' — which consist of no more than a simple shelter made from bushes a few poles and some shade cloth, offer a spectacularly delicious, really unusual, gourmet experience. The floor is sand and the furniture rough wooden tables and chairs that may be no more than tree-trunks. There is no piped music and all the cooking is done on an open fire.

It's a set menu with an optional helping of crayfish (lobster) costing extra. Patrons are usually served a fish or mussel soup, grilled fish, fish stew, mussels, and whatever else happens to be fresh from the sea. Fresh bread baked on the fire with homemade jam and a bit of salad are the only relief from an almost intimidating procession of fishy dishes. Most people make a whole day of this and wander down to the sea for a quick dip between courses. This option is only available in summer. Of course, almost all the coastal cities have more "normal" restaurants either on or overlooking the beach — many of which serve excellent seafood.

Coastal Hikes
South Africa's coastline is so long and varied, there is an enormous selection of fantastic beach or coastal hikes, ranging from a more committed multi-day trek to a gentle day ramble. The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, in KwaZulu-Natal offers a wonderful multi-day trail that takes in far more than just the beaches.

The Whale Trail in the Eastern Cape's De Hoop Nature Reserve also offers sensational coastal scenery, as well as the opportunity to see whales between July and November. The Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape’s former nominally independent Transkei is a fabulous hiking destination. It's been a favourite for many years and the coast has conveniently spaced inexpensive family accommodation spread out along its length, so it's easy to walk from hotel to hotel. With some organisation, arrangements can be made for luggage to be transported ahead.

Probably the most popular coastal hike is the Otter Trail through the Tsitsikamma National Park — crossing steep-sided rivers where they disgorge into the sea and traversing cliff-top fynbos and coastal forest. This is a spectacularly scenic trail — but quite a strenuous one.

Just as scenic, not quite as strenuous and far more comfortable is the Dolphin Trail, which traverses very similar terrain but offers levels of luxury not usually encountered by serious hikers. The trail is guided and catered and accommodation is in lovely guest houses with fantastic views. As all the gear is carried by vehicle to the next overnight spot, only water, a jacket, lunch, swimsuit and a camera is needed.

A newly opened hike, run on similar lines to the Dolphin Trail, is the Oyster Catcher Trail further west along the Garden Route. An important feature of all these is the opportunity to stop for a swim at a lovely beach or secluded rock pool.

Beach Sports
The beach is about having fun, so most people bring all their toys and we're not just talking frisbees and beach bats. Keen surfers from all over the world make pilgrimages to South Africa to ride the wonderful waves — ranging from cute little beach breaks that 6-year-olds could learn on, to gnarly bone-crunching monsters that compare with the most challenging in the world. And, best of all, there is a whole lot in between, including remote little bays where the backline just rolls in and the sea looks like corduroy to the horizon.

Situated at the end of a massive continent, South Africa's wonderful waves are augmented by some impressive winds in certain places — as many of the most competitive board sailors and kite surfers in the world know. It's not uncommon to find neoprene-clad people talking in a range of accents in places like Langebaan, near Cape Town, which is considered one of the top board sailing and kite surfing spots in the world.

Diving is the ultimate beach sport and is a great way to get a more in-depth appreciation of the country's wonderful coastline, whether enjoying the beauty of tropical fish or getting up close to a Great White Shark.

South Africa's underwater terrain ranges from the icy kelp forests of the West Coast to the most southerly coral reefs in the world at Sodwana Bay in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal. There are dive schools and shops in most centres, even inland, and operators in all the major coastal centres.

Sea kayaking has got to be one of the best ways to appreciate the coastal scenery. There are escorted trips are on offer in Cape Town, Hermanus, The West Coast, Plettenberg Bay, Durban and St. Lucia, all of which also offer great birding opportunities and the very likely possibility of spotting dolphins, seals or whales.

But, hey – what's the beach really about? It's about taking time out. The southern hemisphere sun can be hot, so sunscreen, hats, water or juice (especially for little ones), stylish shades, an umbrella, a good book and, perhaps, a yummy picnic are a must. Have fun !

About the Author... Jennifer Stern
Source: South Africa Tourism

also see -> South Africa Tourist Attractions | Wines of South Africa





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