by Lesley Marchant on August 6, 2018
6 min read

It’s no secret that the South African coastline consists of some truly impressive, world-class beaches – just look at the affluent suburbs of Cape Town’s Camps Bay, or Durban’s Ballito. But the real magic happens when you take a detour to explore some the country’s lesser-known coastal towns. South Africa’s capricious coastline and rich history make for some spectacular seaside settlements – they’re quite unlike any you could experience elsewhere in the world. Here are six of the quaintest coastal towns to visit next time you find you’re in the mood for sand, sun and surf.

1. Simon’s Town

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A historical building in Simon’s Town, Cape Town.
Photo Credit: Andrew Cuthbert

It’s impossible to make a list of the quaintest anything without mentioning Simon’s Town. This tiny town is steeped in history – in fact, its namesake is Simon van der Stel, an early governor of the Cape Colony in the 1600s. For over two centuries Simon’s Town has been a naval base and harbor – first for the Royal Navy and now for the South African Navy.

Walking through Simon’s Town is an experience straight from the pages of a storybook. Historical buildings from the 1800s have been restored, painted hot pink or deep blue, and now serve as accommodation, cafés and antique stores – a lot of antique stores. Pick through the paraphernalia that’s gathered years of dust and memories – maybe you’ll find a valuable vinyl or two – or stop off for lunch at a bayside eatery. (Don’t forget to listen out for the sax man who can often be found playing a soundtrack for pedestrians.)

2. Noetzie

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Sunset at Noetzie Beach, Knysna.
Photo Credit: Kyknoord

“The year is 1762. An infamous smuggler has landed in the Cape after months of sailing, armed with precious treasures stolen along the way. He uses his fortune to construct a castle on the shores of Noetzie Beach, a stretch of unspoilt South African coastline fit for a king.”

Or, at least, that’s the story residents of Noetzie Beach love to spin for tourists. The truth is, the curious castles built along the beach are no more than cleverly constructed holiday homes that have been owned by families for years. The history may be somewhat unromantic, but Noetzie Beach remains one of the loveliest coastal towns in the country.

Visitors to the isolated shores can search for bushbuck, otters and a variety of seabirds (Africa’s fish eagle and its iconic cry make a regular appearance). The beach’s proximity to the Sinclair Nature Reserve, an indigenous forest with flora and fauna unique to the Garden Route, also makes it well worth a visit. And if you happen to fall in love with Noetzie as so many people have? Well, there’s a castle or two for sale.

3. Yzerfontein

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Yzerfontein Beach in the Western Cape.
Photo Credit: Zaian

Home to just 1200 inhabitants, the coastal town of Yzerfontein is known for its Sixteen Mile Beach – the longest uninterrupted stretch of sandy beach on the South African coastline reaching all the way to the West Coast National Park. The stunning Sandveld region is all fynbos, limestone ridges and natural saltpans. Yzerfontein is quiet for much of the year – but when the striking wildflowers start blooming between August and October, it transforms into a tourism hub.

Beautiful as it is, Yzerfontein is more importantly the location of a truly remarkable community project. Here, the indigenous San people – a South African minority group that may very well be the earth’s first human inhabitants – have found a home in the !Khwa ttu empowerment project. On an incredible three-hour tour, !Khwa ttu’s San guides demonstrate important parts of their heritage, like tracking, hunting and gathering. Theirs isn’t just African history – it’s human history.

4. Ramsgate

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Ramsgate Beach in KwaZulu-Natal.
Photo Credit: Shepstone

What do we want? The best waffles in Africa! Where can we find them? Ramsgate! Yes, yes, the coastal town of Ramsgate in KwaZulu-Natal is very pretty indeed, but we’ll get to that in a bit. First: waffles. Established over 60 years ago, The Waffle House, nestled in the sub-tropical vegetation at the edge of Ramsgate Lagoon, has for decades been a major attraction for travellers and locals alike. Why? The. Waffles. Are. Spectacular. Eat one, eat five – nobody’s judging.

Okay. Now that you’ve sufficiently gorged yourself, it’s time to explore Ramsgate further. Nearby The Waffle House are crafty local stores where guests can browse for original art, ceramics and curios. Families can enjoy the kids’ play-area, or take a trip down the lagoon in a canoe. Kids will also love Butterfly Valley with its plethora of indigenous butterflies, and the Crocworld Conservation Centre (no prize for guessing what you’ll see here). If you’re in the mood for something calmer, the quiet Ramsgate beach is the ideal location for a lazy afternoon of swimming and sunbathing.

5. Coffee Bay

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Hole in the Wall at Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape.
Photo Credit: Vincent van Oosten

Coffee Bay in the Eastern Cape province gives a whole new meaning to the term “tiny town” – its population stands at just 258. Perhaps that’s part of the reason it’s such a delight to explore. The interesting name has an equally interesting history: Coffee Bay is believed to have been christened after hundreds of coffee trees grew from beans that were scattered either by a shipwreck or by plunderers. It’s a modern-day “Jack and the Beanstalk” story set in the rolling hills of the Wild Coast – in fact, you’ll probably see Jack’s cow grazing not too far from the sea.

Pack a picnic and take a coastal hike to Hole in the Wall, an awe-inspiring natural feature carved out of a rock by countless centuries of pounding waves, or explore all that South African Xhosa culture has to offer in the main village.

6. Arniston

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Sunset in Arniston.
Photo Credit: Rhino Africa Library

Many a photographer has dubbed Arniston, a small fishing village in the Cape’s Overberg region, one of the loveliest places in the world. It’s easy to see why. An Arniston sunset is a thousand shades of pink and sparkling silver waters. But, its wonder doesn’t end with its water: Arniston’s magical lime-washed, thatched houses, perfectly preserved from years and years ago, have been declared a national monument.

As if that isn’t reason enough to pack your polaroid and pay a visit, Arniston is also flanked by two gorgeous nature reserves – De Hoop and De Mond. De Hoop Nature Reserve conserves a major wetland and is the stomping ground of over 100 aquatic bird species. De Mond Nature Reserve, aside from supporting several small mammals, is also vitally important in the protection of the Damara tern, South Africa’s most endangered coastal bird.

If your idea of the perfect holiday is laying stretched out on the sand and sipping a sundowner, check out the 14 Most Beautiful Beaches in Africa and Her Surrounds.

Featured image credit: Andrew Cuthbert