Beach South Africa Destinations
South Africa is a large, diverse and incredibly beautiful country. The size of France and Spain combined, it varies from the picturesque Garden Route towns of the Western Cape to the raw stretch of subtropical coast in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Many visitors are pleasantly surprised by South Africa’s excellent infrastructure, which draws favorable comparison with countries such as Australia or the United States.
Good air links and bus networks, excellent roads and a growing number of first-class B&Bs; and guesthouses make South Africa a perfect touring country.
For those on a budget, rapidly mushrooming backpacker hostels and backpacker buses provide an efficient means of exploring.
Chapman’s Peak Drive to Scarborough
Cape Town’s Atlantic seaboard
Chapman’s Peak Drive is a thrilling journey along one of the most beautiful drives in the world. For 10km the road carves into the mountainside on the one side, dropping precipitously hundreds of meters to the ocean on the other.
Unceasingly spectacular views take in the breadth of Hout Bay to the 331-metre-high sentinel on a curved outcrop. Viewpoints are provided along the route, but take care in high winds as it can be dangerous, with occasional rockfalls, although this doesn’t seem to bother the scores of cyclists who sweat their way round, making considerate driving a necessity.
Noordhoek a low-key settlement at the end of the descent from Chapman’s Peak Drive, consists of smallholdings in a gentle valley with a long white untamed beach stretching 3km across Chapman’s Bay to Kommetjie.
The sands are fantastic for walking and horse-riding, but can resemble a sandblaster when the southeaster blows. Swimming is hazardous, though surfers relish the rough waters around the rocks to the north.
For refreshment, the only place around here is the excellent Red Herring restaurant set back from the sea, about ten minutes on foot from the car park as you head away from the sea, with fine views from its outdoor deck.
Although only a few kilometers south of Noordhoek along the beach, getting to Kommetjie by road involves a fifteen-kilometer haul inland up the Peninsula spine south along Noordhoek Road, taking a west turn into Kommetjie Road, to descend again.
The beach’s small basin ( kommetjie ), which is always a few degrees above the surrounding sea temperature, is perfect for swimming.
Just to its north, Long Beach is a favorite surfing spot, used by devotees even during the chilly winter months.
Almost 10km by road from Kommetjie, the developing village of Scarborough is the most far-flung suburb along the Peninsula.
A long wide beach edges temptingly to its south just beyond Schusters River Lagoon – resist its potentially treacherous sea and stick to the lagoon.
Clifton and Sandy Bay
Cape Town’s Atlantic seaboard
Suburbia proper begins south of Sea Point at Bantry Bay. Fashionable Clifton, on the next cove, is sheltered by Lion’s Head.
Sitting on the most expensive real estate in Africa, Clifton is studded with fabulous seaside apartments and four wonderful sandy beaches, reached via steep stairways.
The sea here is good for surfing and safe for swimming, but bone-chillingly cold.
First Beach (they’re all numbered) is colonized by muscular ball-players, surfers and their female counterparts, so avoid it unless your tan is up to scratch.
Second and Third beaches are split between the teens and thirtysomethings, with beautiful men and some cruising on Third; if in doubt, head for Fourth, which has become the family beach because it has the fewest steps.
Hout Bay buses go to Clifton from the city center twelve times a day (a 30min journey).
Isolated Sandy Bay, Cape Town’s main nudist beach, can only be reached via a twenty-minute walk from Llandudno.
In the apartheid days, the South African police went to ingenious lengths to trap nudists, but nowadays the beach is relaxed, so feel free to come as undressed as feels comfortable.
Among the dunes and fynbos there are no houses – in fact, no facilities whatsoever – so bring whatever supplies you may need.
To get there, take the path from the south end of the Llandudno car park, through fynbos vegetation and across some rocks, to the beach. It’s a fairly easy walk, but if you’re barefoot watch out for broken glass.
Durban is KwaZulu-Natal’s largest city and the third largest in the country. The naturally formed harbor is the busiest in South Africa and provides a vital link for trade and industry. Impressive hotels line what’s known as the Golden Mile, a fun-seeker’s paradise, where a subtropical carnival atmosphere prevails.
The promenade is a colorful hub dotted with African women selling traditional handicraft, Zulu ricksha drivers, leisurely strollers, joggers, sunbathers and surfers surveying the sea swells. Holiday makers are attracted to the year-round summer sunshine playground which offers an incredible choice of leisure options.
The beaches are protected by shark nets offering secure swimming under the watchful gaze of lifesavers and there are numerous swimming baths and paddling pools on offer for those not wishing to venture into the Indian Ocean.
A whole day can be spent at Water World which is a firm favourite with children. Yachting and windsurfing are some of the popular water sports as is angling. Organised boat and deep-sea fishing trips are also available.
A visit to Seaworld is a must where sharks, turtles, and stingray to name a few, are on display in large tanks and many of the marine life are hand-fed by scuba divers in the tanks at meal times. Daily seal and dolphin shows are held at the dolphinarium which is linked to the aquarium by an underground tunnel.
Durban plays an important role in sport in South Africa. Each year the Gunston 500 competition takes place on the beach where local and international surfers converge to battle the waves.
Restaurants, pubs, action bars and discos abound and there are dozens of shops and shopping centres available for non-stop shopping. The Indian Market is a conglomeration of bazaars and stalls selling everything from curries to Indian saris adding a touch of the exotic.
False Bay seaboard
Fish Hoek, south of Kalk Bay, boasts one of the Peninsula’s finest family beaches along the False Bay coast.
The best and safest swimming is at its southern end, where the surf is moderately warm, tame and much enjoyed by boogie boarders.
Facilities include changing rooms, toilets, fresh water, and a surprisingly good restaurant right on the beach, the Fish Hoek Galley Seafood Restaurant.
Apart from this, it’s one of the dreariest suburbs along the entire False Bay coast; an obscure by-law banning the sale of alcohol in supermarkets or bottle stores, boosts the town’s image as the Mother Grundy capital of the Peninsula.
From behind the restaurant, a picturesque concrete pathway called Jager’s Walk skirts the rocky shoreline above the sea for 1km to Sunny Cove; from there, it continues for 6km as an unpaved track to Simon’s Town. The walkway provides a good vantage point for seeing whales.
The Cape Town to Simon’s Town train stops at Fish Hoek station, just opposite the beach.
If you’re driving, Fish Hoek is well-placed for access to the Atlantic seaboard or for heading into the Constantia winelands. Just south of the suburb, you can strike west on the Glencairn Expressway (M6), or alternatively take the equally scenic Kommetjie Road (M65) about 4km further south (more convenient than the M6 if you’re coming from Simon’s Town).
The two intersect halfway across the Peninsula at Sun Valley, where Kommetjie Road continues west, veering slightly south to the coastal suburban village of Noordhoek. At Sun Valley, the M6 strikes north and splits about a kilometer after the intersection.
The northwesterly branch hits the coast at Chapman’s Point, and continues along the precipitously beautiful Chapman’s Peak Drive, which eventually reaches the City Bowl along the Atlantic shore.
The northeasterly branch heads along the winding treelined Ou Kaapseweg (M64, becoming the M42), passing through the Silvermine Nature Reserve and the winelands.
Although no longer the quaint fishing village it once was, Hout Bay still has a functioning fishing harbour and is the center of the local crayfish industry. Leopards no longer stalk its kranses and koppies, but their former presence is recalled by a bronze statue looking down from Chapman’s Peak Drive.
Despite ugly modern development and a growing shantytown, the natural setting is quite awesome. Next to the harbor and car park, the little Mariner’s Wharf waterfront development shelters the Seafood Emporium selling fresh fish and there’s a decent restaurant upstairs.
The sea off the long slender beach is no good for swimming; it’s too cold, too close to the harbor and too prone to fish scales floating in its surf – but the beach is perfect for walking.
Away from the harbor, the village is just managing to hang onto its historic ambience, with the Hout Bay Museum , 4 St Andrews Rd, offering good exhibits on Strandloper culture and the local fishing industry.
Nearby World of Birds, Valley Rd, requires at least two hours to see the more than 3000 birds and small animals housed in surprisingly pleasant and peaceful walk-through aviaries.
You can watch penguins being fed at 11.30am and 3.30pm, pelicans at 12.30pm and birds of prey at 4.10pm daily except Mondays and Fridays. A large walk-in aviary open 11.30am-1pm & 2-3.30pm includes among its inhabitants cute squirrel monkeys; visitors can handle and play with them.
Hout Bay is at a convenient junction for the rest of the Peninsula and has the highest concentration of places to stay south of Sea Point, including the upmarket, country-style Hout Bay Manor.
From Cape Town it’s 20km along either the coast or inland via Constantia. At a push you can get there on public transport on one of the two buses leaving from Adderley Street every day along the latter route; you can also catch minibus taxis. Crossing the Peninsula spine from Simon’s Town, it’s 26km.
Mossel Bay, 397km east of Cape Town, gets an undeservedly bad press from most South Africans, mainly because of the huge industrial facade it presents to the N2.
Don’t panic – the historic center is a thoroughly pleasant contrast, set on a hill overlooking the small working harbor and bay, with one of the best swimming beaches along the southern Cape coast and an interesting museum.
While Mossel Bay’s modest attractions are unlikely to hold you for more than a night, it has some decent accommodation and a first-class restaurant, which make it a good place to pause before launching out along the Garden Route.
Mossel Bay’s main urban attraction is the Bartholomeu Dias Museum Complex, housed in a collection of historic buildings well-integrated into the small town center, all near the tourist bureau and within a couple of minutes’ walk of each other.
The highlight is the Maritime Museum, a spiral gallery with displays on the history of European, principally Portuguese, seafaring, arranged around a full-size replica of Dias’ original caravel.
A short walk north down the hill from the Maritime Museum gets you to Santos Beach, the main town strand, and purportedly the only north-facing beach in South Africa – which gives it exceptionally long sunny afternoons.
Adjacent to the small town harbor, the beach provides some of the finest swimming along the Garden Route, with uncharacteristically gentle surf, small waves and a perfect depth for practicing your crawl.
East of the harbor, the coast bulges south towards the Point, which has several restaurants and a popular bar/restaurant with a deck at the ocean’s edge, from which you may see dolphins cruising past, as well as a surreal five-hundred-meter rocky channel known as the aquarium, which is used as a natural tidal pool.
Adjacent to this, the Department of Marine and Coastal Management has installed an Aquarium under Tidals pub, which showcases local lobsters, crabs and fish found off this coast in a handful of small tanks, as well as a pair of Amazon piranhas.
False Bay seaboard
Once South Africa’s most fashionable beachfront, today Muizenberg, (pronounced: mew-zin-burg) on the train line and one of the beaches closest to the populous Cape Flats, has become pretty rundown, although plans are in the pipeline to upgrade and restore it.
Brightly colored bathing boxes are reminders of a more elegant heyday, when it was visited by the likes of Agatha Christie, who enjoyed riding its waves while holidaying here in the 1920s: “Whenever we could steal time off,” she wrote, “we got out our surf boards and went surfing.”
Despite the slight air of tawdriness, Muizenberg’s gently shelving, sandy beach is the most popular along the Peninsula for swimming; it’s safe for bathing, the water tends to be flat and warm, and there’s good surfing in its breakers.
This is also the most developed of the Peninsula’s beaches, with a pavilion complex around the car park featuring tea shops, a waterslide and minigolf. Along the beachfront and Main Road you’ll also find downbeat shops, cafes and restaurants catering to the seaside trade.
Getting there is best done by train: from the center it’s a 45-minute journey – the train’s first seaside stop as it trundles through the southern suburbs on its way to Simon’s Town.
By car, take the M3 through the posh suburbs, or the slightly quicker M5 via the less salubrious Cape Flats to Muizenberg. During peak season, finding a place to leave your vehicle can be near impossible.
The Overberg (“the other side of the mountain”) was the original name given by Dutch colonists in the Cape when referring to the land that lay east across the Hottentots Holland mountain range. The Overberg Coast is also known as the ‘Whale Coast’.
The region is an all year round destination, excellent for beach holidays. It is a playground of the earth and sea, a nursery of the Southern Right whales and a garden of delight, from its rare floral tapestry, to the fields of grain and orchard of fruit.
For beach holidays and to enjoy the sun of South Africa at its best December – February is the time to visit.
The busiest time, however, is December which is the traditional holiday period for South Africans. A quiet period is March – May, when the weather is moderate and the area is fairly quiet. For the best land-based whale watching in the world and the floral spectacular at its best June – November is ideal, and especially August and September.
The Overberg enjoys a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. The height of summer is in January with average temperatures 15°C to 32°C. The middle of winter is June with average temperatures from 5°C to 22°C.
Visitors to the Overberg can expect to find a superb coastal area of fine beaches and quaint villages in beautiful mountain settings. Every town and many of the farms have well preserved historical features, often still in use as part of their everyday life.
The Overberg has developed it’s own style cuisine and is renowned for its excellent seafood and traditional ‘beorekos’ dishes. It’s wine estates, many with cellars open to visitors for wine tasting, produce award winners listed on the SAA wine list and are exported to Europe. Wines range from crisp dry whites to full-bodied reds.
Outdoor lovers have a wide variety of activities to choose from. Bontebok National Park, De Hoop Marine Reserve, and the Fernkloof Nature Reserve are just a few of the nature reserves well worth visiting and walks and hiking trails are available including horse trails, mountain bike trails and 4×4 trails.
For the more daring, great white sharks can be viewed in their environment whilst in the safety of an underwater cage. For the not-quite-so-daring, there’s always angling, swimming, sailing and then there’s golf…
Over the Christmas holidays, 40,000 residents from Johannesburg’s wealthy northern suburbs decamp to Plettenberg Bay (usually called Plett), 33km east of Knysna, and the flashiest of the Garden Route’s seaside towns.
The deep-blue Tsitsikamma Mountains drop sharply to the inlet and its large estuary, providing the constant vista to the town and its suburbs.
The bay generously curves over several kilometers of white sands, separated from the mountains by forest, which makes this a green and temperate location receiving rainfall throughout the year.
Southern right whales appear every winter, and are a seriously underrated attraction, while dolphins can be seen throughout the year, hunting or riding the surf, often in substantial numbers.
Swimming is safe, and though the waters are never tropically warm they reach a comfortable temperature between November and April. River and rock fishing are rewarding all year long, and one of the Garden Route’s best short hikes covers a circuit round the Robberg Peninsula – a great tongue of headland that contains the western edge of the bay.
Visitors principally come for Plett’s beaches – and there’s a fair choice.
Southeast of the town center on a rocky promontory is Beacon Island, dominated by a 1970s hotel, an eyesore blighting a fabulous location. Beacon Island Beach, or Main Beach, right at the central shore of the bay, is where the fishing boats and seacats anchor a little out to sea. The small waves here make for calm swimming, and this is an ideal family spot.
To the east is Lookout Rocks, attracting surfers to the break off a needle of rocks known as the Point and the predictable surf of Lookout Beach, to its east, which is also one of the nicest stretches of sand for bathers, body-surfers or sun lizards.
Lookout Beach has the added attraction of a marvelously located restaurant, from which you can often catch sight of dolphins cruising into the bay.
From here you can walk several kilometers down the beach towards Keurbooms and the Keurbooms Lagoon.
Sea Point and Bantry Bay
If you continue southwest along Main Road, Green Point merges with Sea Point, a long-established place for great restaurants.
Middle-class couples, pram-pushing mothers, street kids, hookers and drunks create an uneasy blend of respectability and seediness that disappears as you move into Bantry Bay and the wealthier suburbs down the Atlantic seaboard.
The closest seaside to the city center is a block down from Main Road, although it’s too rocky for swimming.
At the westernmost edge of Sea Point lies Bantry Bay, combining the density of Sea Point with the wealth of the Atlantic suburbs and consisting of large upmarket resort hotels and self-catering apartment blocks just far enough for comfort from the sleaze of Sea Point, but close enough should you want to walk to a restaurant.
Halfway along the kilometer-long beach promenade, running alongside Beach Road, you’ll catch views of Graaff’s Pool, an institutionalized and exclusively male nudist spot, while at the westernmost end is the only place in the vicinity to swim, at the new Olympic-sized saltwater pool, alongside the crashing surf.
False Bay seaboard
St. James, 2km south of Muizenberg, and just one stop away by train, is more upmarket than its northern neighbor, and its pleasing, villagey feel makes it a nice place to hop off the train.
The compact beach draws considerable character from its much-photographed Victorian-style bathing boxes, whose bright, primary colors catch your eye as you pass by road or rail.
The rocky beaches here don’t make for great sea swimming, although it’s always sheltered from the wind and there’s a fine tidal pool that is safe for toddlers and great for bathing at high tide, when enormous breakers crash over the sea wall.
St. James tends to be overcrowded at weekends and on school holidays, so is best avoided at these times. Instead, make for Danger Beach between St. James and Kalk Bay.
A paved one-kilometer coastal path, connected at intervals to the Historical Mile, runs along the ocean from Muizenberg to St. James; as well as providing stupendous views across the bay, it leads conveniently to the Labia Museum.