5 Of The Most Beautiful Beaches In Garden Route, South Africa

Sun, salt, sand, and serenity.

When one drives east from Cape Town, after about 5 hours on the road, one will arrive at a point where the colours of the landscape change from brown to green, where the land gives way to the ocean, where rivers and lakes and forests appear all around, and all at once you will know that you have arrived at the Garden Route. Named for its mild climate, year-round rainfall, and its verdant beauty, there is something for everyone. Bordered by mountains to the north by mountains, hugged to the south by the ocean, and filled with an endless bounty of plant and animal life. This is nature at its most boastful. The Garden Route in South Africa is a famous road trip, and a special journey well worth taking.

The seaside holds something for each of us. For some, it is a place of peace, where the sight and sound of the waves quiet the mind. For others, it is a place to play, to surf, to swim, to celebrate life in the water and the sand. For others, a place to absorb as much sun as one can in one summer.

All of these beaches have serviceable bathrooms, safe parking, and (in the busy season) lifeguards. The water, depending on the time of year and prevailing current, ranges from cold to cool (but is always far, far warmer than Cape Town.)

Brenton-on-Sea & Buffels Bay

Brenton, Looking Toward Buffels Bay
Brenton, Looking Toward Buffels Bay. PHOTO DAVID THESEN

These two beaches sit facing one another in opposing corners of the same beautiful bay. Separated by 5km (3.1 mi) of sand, they are non-identical twins: Buffels Bay is pleasant, placid, and open. Brenton-on-Sea is wild, exciting, and passionate. They each hold different attractions and yet complement one another perfectly.

Where Buffels Bay catches the sunrise and silver morning light, Brenton catches the Sunset and pink and violet bursts of the evening. Buffels is all calm water and good surf, Brenton all powerful swells and no surf. Buffels has a small shop and a humble restaurant; Brenton a good cafe, a luxurious restaurant. They are separated by an hour’s walk either way meaning strolling from one side to the other is entirely possible, and highly recommended. If you aren’t in the mood to walk, they are a 20-minute car ride apart.

For swimming and surfing, Buffels Bay is by far the best. For staring off into the smoldering sunset with a pipe between your teeth, looking for something to which you do not know the name nor if it can ever be named, Brenton wins. Together, the two sides should satiate even the fussiest thalassophile.

PS: Try the Piña Colada at the Butterfly Blu Restaurant on Brenton.

Plettenberg Bay Central Beach

Plettenberg Bay's Central Beach
Plettenberg Bay’s Central Beach. PHOTO DAVID THESEN

Plettenberg Bay is one of the most popular beach towns in the country, and Central Beach is the most popular in ‘Plett’. This is no accident. Nestled between an outcropping of rock and the famous  Beacon Island Hotel, the beach sits in a natural cove, gazing over the peaceful waters out into Formosa Bay and toward the magnificent Tsitsikamma Mountain Range.

This beach wants for nothing: three licensed restaurants, ice cream, good bathrooms, rentable bodyboards, boat trips, and sea kayaking. It’s the kind of place one could spend an entire day and fall asleep that night thinking: That was a day well lived.

PS: Located a short walk down the beach, The Bungalow is a mellow, stylish restaurant, and is highly recommended for a meal, a drink, or both.

Wilderness Beach Front

Best beaches in Garden Route, South Africa
Wilderness Beach Front, Looking East. PHOTO DAVID THESEN

One of Wilderness’ many attractions lies in the fact that you can get almost everywhere you need simply by using your feet. There is a great joy in waking from bed, walking down onto the Beach Front, slipping into the cool ocean, drying in the sun, and then to breakfast, all without having to worry about the unpleasant relationship between wet swimwear, sea sand, and car seats.

The beach itself sprawls out from under the lush green hills that Wilderness is built on, and stretches down the coastline. Due to the expansiveness of the beach, there is always plenty of space and freedom for one to spread out, even during the busy times of the year.

PS: The nearby Beach House Backpackers has live music on Thursdays and Sundays.

Sedgefield Lagoon Mouth

Sedgefield Lagoon Mouth
Sedgefield Lagoon Mouth. PHOTO DAVID THESEN

Sedgefield is a proud member of the ‘Slow Town’ movement, and the first town in Africa to be awarded this status. The concept, originating in Italy, prioritizes harmony over industry, cohesion over growth, and ‘taking time for leisure and pleasure.’ Sedgefield, a town whose primary industry is its weekly farmers market, is a place where relaxation is not just pursued, but actively celebrated, and hard to avoid.

In some way, the whole town is a beach, as it is built on sand dunes. Dig down in almost any place and you will find sand running between your fingers,

The Sedgefield Lagoon Mouth is where the Swartvlei (Black Lake) meets the sea, and so combines the humbling wonder of the ocean and the tranquil procession of the river. A small, wind-protected cove borders the river, and a larger one faces the sea. Crossing the river (which is not too deep), one can walk onto a longer, unbounded stretch of sand, or even walk the 4 km (2.5 km) to Gerickes Point, a natural sandstone sculpture bursting with rock pools and sea life.

PS: The nearby Pili Pili restaurant is a feet-in-the-sand, pizza-and-cold-beer-in-your-mouth type affair.

Nature’s Valley Beach

Best beaches in Garden Route, South Africa
Photo by Stephan Louis on Unsplash

Nature’s Valley is one of those rare and precious places where one feels completely overwhelmed with beauty. A wide and crystalline lagoon, a deep and true ocean, deep green forests and old trees, and off in the distance, the hazy mountains.

The Nature’s Valley Beach is where all these elements meet. Stretching 3 km (1.8 mi) from point to point, the beach is a perfect place to sunbathe, read a book, or have a picnic. Surrounded by hikes of every distance, and by beauty of every category, one can easily spend a day encompassed by wild beauty. For those swimmers who love water in all its varieties, there is a wonderful choice between the salty, cool, crisp sea water, or the soft, warm, silky lagoon water.

PS: The nearby Nature’s Way Farm Stall is one of the finest of its kind in the entire country.

David Thesen

South African born, happiest outside, David has lived in both Malawi and Myanmar. Interested in gardening, writing, history, and education, he seeks for the strange, the interesting, and the meaningful.

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