Visitors to the Western Cape are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches. But if you’re looking for something a little more special, these five secret beaches are a must.
With 900 km of coastline stretching between Lambert’s Bay on the Atlantic Ocean, passing the Cape of Good Hope and on towards Nature’s Valley on the Indian Ocean, visitors to the Western Cape are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a beach destination. The more popular beaches of Camps Bay, Clifton, Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay never disappoint, yet there is something surreal about finding oneself on a stretch of untouched shoreline, away from the maddening crowds. These secret beaches, which are definitely worth a South African road trip, will bring you that.
1. Preekstoel Beach, West Coast National Park
The desolate beauty of South Africa’s West Coast with its cold Benguela current and constant Atlantic breeze intrigues. There’s a wild element that meets aromatic fynbos, the occasional ostrich, white washed cottages and fishing boats offering their catch right off the beach.
All up the coast are pockets of development on long stretches of white sand; some villages historic in value, others served by the navy and steel industry with new expansions to service weekenders. There are walks and hikes, lighthouses and camp sites too.
Yet the beach that I consider paradise is found in the West Coast National Park. An attraction throughout the year, it draws most people in spring with its rich display of wild flowers (the ultimate guide to spring flower season in South Africa). Here the 25-kilometre beach with its rusted shipwreck in the distance and waves bashing against the rocks, contrasts beautifully with the tranquil waters of the Langebaan Lagoon. Kraalbaai is the lagoon-side space to which I escape, where houseboats are moored in the shallows and a wooden jetty that juts out over the turquoise water. Here the Preekstoel or preacher’s pulpit provides shelter from the wind and a private world in which to nestle with water that is only waist deep, making Preekstoel one of the coolest secret beaches in the Western Cape.
2. Noetzie Beach, Knysna
A castle on a beach in South Africa is not a familiar sounding thing. Yet if you’re in the Knysna area, take the dirt road at Nekkies down towards the coast, walk the 150 steps marked ‘beach’ and you will find exactly that: a secluded cove, castles with turrets and classic beach cottages.
The earliest maps call the area Noetziekamma, Khoi-san for dark water, caused by the tannins filtering into the river from indigenous trees. History has it that later a track was laid to drive oxen to the beach for the local farmers to enjoy their annual holiday. Iron and timber cottages followed and in the early thirties, the first castle. Now there are numerous castles and three are available for holiday rentals.
The Noetzie Conservancy protects the beach and the bordering Sinclair Nature Reserve and the 10km dirt road and steep stairways have deterred visitors over the years, creating a place of isolated beauty. Go Hiking, canoeing, swimming and exploring. Being here feels like you’ve been let into a secret world, one that makes you ponder over whether or not you want to share its existence with others.
3. Arniston, Overberg
Arniston or Waenhuiskrans is a picturesque village in the Overberg region that turns visitors to regulars. There is one hotel, numerous rental cottages and a tiny spaza shop for basic supplies. The fishermen go out each day as they always have, returning with their catch to sell to holidaymakers. Kassiesbaai, which borders Arniston, offers white washed cottages stood still in time. Named for the wooden kassies that washed up from ships wrecked over the years, this was the material originally used by early inhabitants to build their homes.
Arniston itself has a beach with rocky outcrops and easy swimming. There’s a beacon offshore that must be swum to, barnacles and rock climbed. The surrounding area provides isolated splendor. To the north undulating sand dunes diverge into the blue ocean. Sandboarding, swimming and long walks are a must. To the south, the Waenhuiskrans cave which can be visited at low tide, more desolate beaches, snorkeling, scuba and walks.
4. Pringle Bay, Overberg
This village on the opposite side of False Bay to Cape Point has a long white beach with a river flowing through it. There are mountains to climb, baboons that come down to the water’s edge, great swimming and guaranteed space no matter what time of year.
The past decade has seen much growth and the village now offers restaurants, a deli and country shop. Yet there is still only one tarred road, no street lights and a charm that has not been lost to the varied styles of homes established.
The sand dunes along the top of the beach provide a welcome reprieve from the wind. Body boarding, surfing as well as kitesurfing are popular activities, as is canoeing up the river, and the swimming is excellent. Families and dogs fit in perfectly alongside sun worshippers at Pringle Bay, one of the Western Cape’s five best secret beaches.
5. Diaz Beach, Cape Point, Table Mountain National Park
Within the Cape Point Nature Reserve, which forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, and only accessible by foot off a pathway that leads from the main parking area, you will find Diaz Beach, an unbelievably beautiful beach dramatically surrounded by cliffs. Swimming can be a bit dangerous here, although surfers love the challenge it offers. It’s a good spot for photography and secluded romance. The mood changes as the mist rolls in from the ocean. Pack a bag and spend the day here: you’re most likely to have the place to yourself.
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