As the night sky pales to a rosy glow with tendrils of dawn reaching out to brush away the tranquillity of slumber, there are a few decisions to make for the day, the most pertinent being – which beach to visit for the day. The Garden Route is blessed with 170km of coastline comprising cliffs and beaches. While the true extent of the Garden Route is much disputed, the purists prefer to consider the boundaries of this mystical destination from Wilderness in the west to Natures Valley in the east. With a diversity of beaches, deciding on which one to visit for the day can be a daunting exercise, a choice that best provides the activities suited for a day in nature.
For swimming and body surfing, the beach at Buffalo bay has to rate as the best in the Garden Route. A gradual arcing beach extending 5.1km from Buffalo Bay to Brenton on Sea, the waves except in a howling easterly wind, roll on to the western end of the bay with a synchronized consistency. Once you have had an hours swimming, you can set off to Brenton on Sea on the broad flat beach stopping at the base of the dunes to reflect the remote solitude that surrounds you.
For an island feel to a beach experience, the tombola on the Robberg Peninsula excels. An hourglass shaped beach joining the main peninsula and a remnant section of fossil dune, the beach is lapped by waves on both sides. The western beach has a gradual shelf heading out to the waves and for the adventurous visitor, the rock edges offer some rewarding snorkelling opportunities. For me this rates as a Robinson Crusoe style beach and if you want to stay there is an overnight cabin a few hundred meters away.
Setting out eastwards to the boundary of the Garden Route, the beach at Natures Valley has the potential of a private bay. Abruptly ending in a towering cliff a small ridge of rocks just out to form a channel of clear water. From lunch time this is a magic beach to tan topless in anticipation of sundowners, though you need to keep a wary out for stragglers finishing the Otter Trail as they descend the cliff.
The ultimate beach for a long solo walk has to be the section between Kleinkrans and Gerikes Point. A strip of beach at the base of fossil dune cliffs and the Indian Ocean lapping at your feet you can walk for 3 hours and not see a soul. Two bays offer perfect refreshment stops, though you do need to plan this outing around the tides. A close second for a solo walk that removes you from all contact with society extends from Platbank to Wildside taking you through the marine reserve of Goukamma Nature Reserve. In addition to investigating the rock pools at low tide you will find over 20 pairs of breeding Oystercathers and some exposed fossil footprints. The walk is worth a days outing with a picnic taken along one of the many private bays.
I would not be forgiven if I did not include a surfing beach in the list of the Garden Route’s best beaches. A heated contest between Herolds Bay and Vic Bay make it difficult to decide on a winner. Both are small beaches nestled in cliff lined coves, both offering manicured strips of white sand making them the ideal social centre for the tanning beach goer. Here you can parade and observe sun worshippers and surfers punctuated with a occasional swim.
For the nature lovers, the beach walk to Gerikes Point from Swartvlei Beach abounds with rock pools and it is worthwhile carrying a mask, snorkel and fins with you at low tide. Investigating the rock pools immerses you into a world of intrigue and colour with and unexpected diversity of marine life. In summer you can even discover some topical fish.
Irrespective of what your reason to visit the beach, everyone indulges in the pastime of shell collecting, the perpetual search for something unique and special. Along the coast there are three patches where shells wash up in abundance and deposit a seasonal variation the will entice avid collectors to make a monthly pilgrimage. My favourite is with out a doubt on the Kleinkrans beach about 3km west of Gerikes Point.
Compared to the bustling social mingling of some of the more famous beaches in South Africa, those in the Garden Route are suited to the discerning nature lovers who yearns to reconnect with the rhythm of ocean and for a brief period escape the daily tirade of urban life.
To learn more about guided beach walks in the Garden Route visit www.gardenroutetrail.co.za