At first glance, there’s nothing to do in Elands Bay except surf and eat crayfish. Yet the same family caravans return to the beachfront campsite each summer. Clearly, doing very little is part of the appeal in this sleepy coastal town.
Please note: we’ve included the prices, as a guideline – but although they were correct at time of travel, they’re liable to change at the owner’s discretion. Please confirm with individual establishments before booking.
The mood for a holiday in Elands Bay is set 70 kilometres before you get there. Just north of Velddrif, the width of the R27 suddenly shrinks, the shoulder vanishes and so do the overtaking cars. For the first time since leaving Cape Town, the road meets the sea and there’s only a 10-metre strip of coastal vegetation separating you from the Atlantic Ocean.
You slow down. Your elbow naturally finds its place on the open window and you cruise down the hill and into this unassuming seaside town. Elands Bay started out as a crayfish town and never really expanded into anything more. A careful dusting from the tourism industry brought with it one hotel; together with three crayfish factories, its buildings are the largest in town. The rest are simple holiday homes and flats, a restaurant and two cement-floored corner cafés with names hand-painted on their walls.
The only obvious attraction in town is surfing. They call it the Left Break and the waves here are not only big, but consistent too. Laid-back surfers from all over the country crash in the backpacker dorms during summer and spend all day in the water, perhaps breaking for an afternoon beer.
Yet the question remains: what do the families in the caravans and in the houses along the deserted gravel roads to the south of town do all day? There are caves of Bushman art to explore, crayfish to take out the sea and grill, and a long stretch of sun-bleached beach to stroll down, but once you’ve done this, what’s left? It’s a wonderful thing called boredom.
This is where the beauty of Elands Bay lies. Where the only real decision to make on a long, sunny afternoon is where next to position your reading chair or which forgotten boardgame to dust off and play again. So find the biggest mug in the house, fill it with tea and settle in for hours of sweet nothingness.
Things to do in Elands Bay
Thanks to the lack of official tourist signs, Elands Bay is very much a find-it-yourself kind of town. You don’t need much money to enjoy the town’s activities (except if you have to rent a surfboard). A comfortable pair of shoes or a wetsuit is pretty much it.
1. Ride the waves
If ever there was a place to start surfing, it’s the Left Break. The waves are big enough for the pros, but also gentler at times to give the newbies a chance. From the north of town, follow the dirt road to the left of the public campsite until it ends in a parking lot. Coming from the south, simply walk down to the beach and across the river mouth. It’s much easier and quicker than driving. Rent a surfboard from Wit Mosselpot restaurant (082 496 8931) at around R150 and a wetsuit at around R100 for three hours.
2. Spot birds at Verlorenvlei
As it’s merely a body of water dividing Elands Bay between north and south, Verlorenvlei is easily overlooked as a significant birding spot, but it’s actually the largest natural estuary in the Western Cape and a very important wetland for wading birds. It supports more than 1000 waders and, as there is no official hide, you can simply walk or drive along the shore and find a comfortable spot to settle in with your binoculars.
3. Catch a cray
West Coast rock lobster thrives on the shallow rocky reefs of Elands Bay and they’re relatively easy to catch but it’s a short season. Buy a permit at the post office (022 972 1700) as you drive into town, and take out the maximum of four West Coast rock lobsters a day. You can catch from 8am, but must be back on land by 4pm. Not a fisherman? Head over to the crayfish factories to the south of town (Changing Tides, Tel 022 972 1600) and buy fresh crayfish daily.
4. Cave discovery
Just beyond Bobbejaanberg (shaped like a baboon, it’s also called Baboon Point), where the low mountain that skirts Elands Bay juts out toward the sea, there’s a natural cave, the inside of which is covered in beautiful Bushman rock art. A multitude of tiny hand prints are interspersed with a few human figures.
To get there, drive past the crayfish factory and around the point. You’ll see three dilapidated buildings to the left collectively these used to be a World War II radar station and a narrow gravel road. Drive as far as you can and walk up the path to the cave. Watch out for snakes in the warmer months.
Where to eat in Elands Bay
1. Wit Mosselpot
If you’re not big on cooking, then Wit Mosselpot beside the hotel is the obvious eating choice, and that’s not because it’s the only restaurant in town. Old fishing artefacts line the walls, the tables are slightly rickety and the coffee mugs don’t match, but the beers are cheap and the crowd is cheerful. You may catch the owners in a festive mood, taking out their guitars and playing a few singalong tunes. If you’re brave you may even join them on stage. Both the seafood paella and calamari strips with homemade tartar are winning choices.
Contact: Tel 082 496 8931
2. Draaihoek Restaurant and Lodge
Considering the limited dining options in town, it’s worth taking the road to Velddrif for 22 kilometres until you reach Draaihoek Restaurant and Lodge. The lawn is lined with wild flowers and a narrow path leads through the dunes to a deserted bay. It’s the type of place where bikers stop to shrug off their leather jackets and enjoy a cold one on a journey up the West Coast, but it’s also a spot for kids to run on the grass and couples to enjoy a bottle of wine in peace. It’s a wonderful lunch setting, but you can also go for dinner. If you fancy a seafood platter of prawns, mussels, crayfish, sole and calamari, it’s best to reserve one when you book.
Contact: Tel 022 952 1170
Accommodation in Elands Bay
1. The only hotel in Elands Bay
Yes it is. Elands Bay Hotel is also one of few places in town where you can expect breakfast with your bed. Although the building has rusted steel window frames and lace curtains that probably date from the 1950s, the beds are comfortable, the white linen is clean and the bathrooms, while basic, are fairly modern. The hotel bar is the local hangout after the game on Saturdays, so join the crowd or be prepared for some cheerful noise until midnight. There are also five camping spots and simple dorm rooms around the side of the hotel. Find the latest rates here.
Contact: Tel 022 972 1640
In the quiet south of town, a short walk from the beach, you’ll find a massive, white, double-story house named Jigamanzi. The high-ceilinged living room of this 12-sleeper is filled with multiple mismatched couches, the long wooden dining table begs for noisy family dinners, while glass doors slide open completely to the outside patio and braai where fairy lights decorate the old tree jutting through the concrete.
Contact: Tel 083 565 1090
3. Elands Bay Beach Cottage
There’s nothing fancy about the two en-suite double rooms that make up Elands Bay Beach Cottage with face-brick walls and a communal kitchen equipped to cook a feast. It’s affordable and literally two minutes from the beach.
Contact: Tel 082 935 3351
4. Wit Mosselpot Backpackers
The two- and four-sleeper wooden shacks in Wit Mosselpot’s back courtyard offer unpretentious and basic dorm-style sleeping. Rooms are clean, come with bedding and the showers are hot. They’re the best place for young travellers to base themselves for a surfing holiday although there could be a bit of evening noise. Nights are whiled away around the fire or in the over-sized hammock hung high in a tree.
Contact: Tel 082 496 8931, email@example.com
Only the fence’s wire diamonds separate the municipal campsite from the sandy shores. But the perk of being able to check the surf report from your bed is slightly dampened by almost guaranteed afternoon wind. Thick shrubs as high as a caravan’s roof offer some shelter and shade for the 44 spots, each with its own electricity point and braai. The communal ablutions might not be grand, but they’re clean and the water is hot. If you’d rather camp beside Verlorenvlei and have a private bathroom for your group, visit Vensterklip, five kilometres out of town.
Contact: Municipal campsite Tel 022 972 1736, Vensterklip Tel 022 972 1340, www.vensterklip.co.za
This story first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Getaway magazine. All prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at the establishments’ discretion. Please take them as an indication only and check for latest prices before travelling.