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South Africa Beaches


durban beach surf, south africa

Simon's Town

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The best time to swim off South Africa's beaches is November - February (summertime), though, as usual, beware accommodation problems at Christmas holiday time.

For scenic driving and hiking around the beaches, however - both popular activities with rich rewards - winter (June-August) may be a better bet, as daytime temperatures are T-shirt comfortable, humidity and prices are both down while accommodation is easily available and crowds/traffic limited. This is also the best time for wildlife viewing and the driest season.

The Atlantic waters on the south and west coasts (e.g. around Cape Town, Hermanus and Elands Bay) are always cold, in the region of 12C or 13C, while further east, as the Indian Ocean drift kicks in water temperatures rise to 21C on Nature's Valley beach and 24C on beaches around Durban and north-east, up to Cape Vidal.
Summer air temperatures range from a low of 22C in Nature's Valley, to 28C plus in Camp's Bay (Cape Town), Durban and up to Cape Vidal.


South Africa beaches with warm waters (20 -25C in summer)

Cape Vidal, way up northeast towards Mozambique and part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park - a World Heritage Site - is the place to combine wildlife walks and great beaches in South Africa. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles lay their eggs around here mid-October to mid-February, humpback whales cruise by about June-July, the bush is alive with wildlife including elephants, hippos and crocs, and sea temperatures hit 25C. Some of the vegetated dunes reach 150m high.
Accommodation is well sorted with cosy log cabins courtsey of KZN Wildlife rest camps or a camp site if you prefer. If you prefer a more lively environment the town of St Lucia Estuary is packed with facilities and activities. Beware malaria in this zone.

Durban, North and South (Blue Flag), KwaZulu-Natal
Massive beaches with fine sand, chunky waves that suit surfers, beach showers and masses of family entertainment - including free, pleasant kid's swimming pools - and feeding places all along the somewhat tacky promenade.
Sea World and the new Ushaka Marine World amusement park, both off Durban South Beach, provide serious fun for kids. Don't even think about going downtown...



Blue Flag beaches north of Durban:

Umhlanga (Rocks), 20 minutes north of Durban. Another monster beach with fine sand and solid waves that might deter toddler bathing, though rocks pools offer alternative interest.
Surfing is excellent and shark nets are in place unless fish are so thick that following dolphins are in danger.
There is a narrow 'promenade' - more of a path, - that hugs a couple of kilometres of the beach.
The downside of Umhlanga beaches is that they are not set up for casual visitors, more for residents of the endless apartment blocks or hotels that block the shoreline. So, if you're staying in one of those colossi, no problem, but if you're passing by you will have a great deal of difficulty finding parking or food and drink services.
Dolphin viewing, deep sea fishing and scuba diving off wrecks and reefs are available.

Willard Beach, Ballito, about an hour north of urban Durban. An excellent family beach with soft golden sand bordered by black rocks, grass and with seafront buildings of the relaxed town set back at just the right distance.
Shark nets and lifeguards ensure that swimmers in the mild surf will survive to enjoy scuba diving, golf, quad biking, microlight flights or a few glasses of South Africa's fine wines later on.


Blue Flag beaches south of Durban:

Marina Beach is small and dune-backed, with tropical vegetation of the Empangati Nature Reserve circling behind. Marina is excellent for kids as the surf is unusually restrained and tidal pools offer hours of kid fiddling activities.

Margate Beach a kilometre long, and wide with it, is attractively bordered with coconut palms, dunes and rocks. Some apartment blocks are a little over-dominant but the beach is lively, popular with families and students and has two swimming pools.
All the usual Blue Flag facilities of showers, lifeguards etc. are in place, and there's an attractive coastal walk along to Ramsgate Beach.

Ramsgate Beach, wide and soft, with the usual moderate surf, a milkwood forest nearby and a lagoon with canoes and padaloes. The town behind the beach is discreet and relatively quiet.

Humewood Beach, Port Elizabeth. Although a little too near Beach Road and set in less-then gorgeous surroundings, little Humewood is popular with families as surf is kid's size, shade is easy to find, nearby Happy Valley provides tropical walks and Port Elizabeth offers plenty of easy entertainment options. Addo Elephant Park is 70kms away.

Other good, but not blue flag beaches south of Durban:

Mdumbe Beach, on the Wild Coast near Coffee Bay, 18km SW of Umtata. This is the place for serious, first-footprint beach lovers; hard to reach but you may never leave. This is an extraordinarily beautiful, tranquil and remote kilometre of fine sand, bordered with milkwood trees, grass and contented cows. Limited but varied accommodation is available in Coffee Bay.

Also: Hibberdene, Uvongo, Rocky Bay.


Beaches on South Africa's south (Western Cape) coast:

Nature's Valley, just 30kms past busy Plettenberg Bay and embedded in the Tsitsikamma Forest, Nature's Valley is a tiny village of wooden, unfenced houses hidden behind dunes and between trees and sporting just one shop and restaurant but 2kms of spectacular sand, a lovely lagoon and no artificial entertainment at all.

Lookout Beach, Plettenberg Bay. Plettenberg is smallish, calm town in a lovely setting and sports several large, excellent beaches, with isolated Lookout as the natural choice.



Beaches with cold waters (13-19C in summer)

Strand Beach in False Bay, about 40km from Cape Town, is a 2km hunk of sand with a variety of waves to suit all ages, rock pools for kiddie fun, views of Table Mountain and the Hottentots Holland Mountains and plenty of non-sand Strand entertainment options, including Water World and the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

Grotto Beach (Blue Flag), attached to pleasant - though middle-age spreading - Hermanus town, is long and white, with dunes, a mountain backdrop, a small playground, a barbeque area (known as a braai in South Africa) and a nearby restaurant, has the unusual attraction of whale watching from the beach July-December (picture above left).

Sandy Bay is the nearest nudist beach to Cape Town, and also popular with gays. It's a ten minute drive past Camps Bay, near the good surf spot of Llandudno. After parking at Sunset Rocks the pretty beach is a 15 minute walk.

Camps Bay, Cape Town, is the city's favourite strand of sand, with good access, facilities, and stunning views, though the surf can be tough to handle, the sea is cold and it can get windy. Posh folk might prefer to flash their gilded thongs on neighbouring Clifton Beaches (see below).

Clifton Beaches (Cape Town suburb) - there are four beaches separated by rocks - small, characterful and very fashionable with the glitterati and gays, backed as they are by $multi-million apartments. The beaches are more sheltered than Camps Bay but have limited parking possibilities, require a steep walk down from Victoria Road and offer almost no facilities. Hawkers sell drinks and icecreams but little else is on sale.
First Beach has the best surf, Second and Third the are the places to flash your cash, pecs or thong, and Fourth is for families, with easiest access, parking and least bumpy waters.

Elands Bay, northwest of Cape Town is a sensational surfer spot with some of the best, consistent left point breaks in the business, lovely dunes, great walks, but generally has too much wind for sunbathing and is too cold for comfortable swimming.


Blue Flag Criteria:
Fine water quality (regular testing and pollution control)
Safety (lifeguards, first-aid, security patrols)
Beach management (regular cleaning, building maintenance, beach activities monitoring)
Infrastructure (beach access, drinking water supply, shower facilities, telephones)

Whale watching:
Whales are clearly visible just off the coast of Hermanus, including Grotto Beach (picture above left taken from the beach with 280mm lens) from July-December and also, but less clearly from many other locations such as Plettenberg Bay.



Shark Diving:
Cage diving and close viewing of Great White sharks is popular in South Africa, safe and high adrenalin but there are questions about the behaviour of sharks attracted by chum (meat offal) dumped near humans. Some think that this is training sharks to associate easy meat with humans, thus putting swimmers and surfers in more danger.


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