From fancy governors to dandy explorers, from hard-pressed shipwreck survivors to hard-bitten timber barons, from whalers to captains of industry, and from famous artists to world-class polo players, the jet-set elite of South Africa and beyond, Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route has welcomed them all.

Did you know?

Whaling was introduced to Beacon Isle at Plettenberg Bay in 1912 – and ceased in 1920.

Plettenberg Bay, the ‘Riviera of South Africa’, has been called by many names over the past 500 years.

In 1448, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias dubbed it the 'Bay of Lagoons'. In 1576, his countryman, Manuel da Mesquita Perestrello, called it 'Bahia Formosa' – Beautiful Bay. It was also called the Bay of Content, while in 1778 Cape Governor Baron Joachim van Plettenberg took one look at this idyllic spot and ‘graced’ it with his own name.

A scant four years later the dandy traveller Francois le Vaillant came visiting, and in his records he calls it ‘Blettemberg Bay’. He also inadvertently renamed the nearby Keurbooms River ‘Queur Boom’.

Call it what you like, Plettenberg Bay has been a glamour seaside spot of South Africa for ages, and these days, every Christmas it’s the place to see and be seen. Locals will tell you that at this time the ‘air is thick with helicopters’ carrying the rich and famous to the polo fields and resorts that dot the district.

This part of the Garden Route in the Western Cape was first inhabited by Middle Stone Age people who lived in a series of caves along the coastline for more than 100 000 years. It still yields the tools, middens and ornaments of the Khoisan who followed them.

In 1630, a Portuguese merchant ship called the Sao Goncalo floundered into Plettenberg Bay. About 100 of the crew went ashore and built a camp. They are noted as the first permanent European residents of what is fondly known simply as ‘Plett’.

Unfortunately the ship sank with the remaining 400-odd souls on board. The survivors stayed for about a year, building boats that would take them in small parties to India and, eventually, back to Portugal.

Dutch settlers moved into the Plettenberg Bay area early in the 1770s, which prompted Van Plettenberg to make a rather grand road trip from Cape Town across the wilderness to this marvellous bay.

Farmers en route were instructed to prepare banquets, supplies and relief horses for the passing grandee. The party was led by explorer-soldier Captain Robert Gordon, and two months later the governor had a special memorial stone erected on a hill above the bay to mark the occasion.

Van Plettenberg’s journey was shaded by that of Le Vaillant, who at one stage found himself on the wrong end of a Knysna elephant, hurtling through thick forests to escape the enraged beast.

His time at ‘Blettemberg Bay’ was marked with a rather rich supper of elephant trunk, and an equally astounding breakfast of elephant foot. He pronounced both to be delicious and proceeded on his jaunty way.

Serious family dynasties have settled in Plettenberg Bay over the centuries, helping to set up an infrastructure that is, in fact, still a work in progress. Every year, the fleshpots of Plett surprise, delight and astound the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the beautiful bay.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Plettenberg Bay Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)44 533 1960

How to get here

Plettenberg Bay lies approx. 520km east of Cape Town on the N2 highway (about a six-hour drive) and approx. 240km south-west of Port Elizabeth (about three hours' drive), also on the N2.

Best time to visit

Plettenberg Bay is popular during the summer months of November to March, but locals claim the ‘secret season’ of May to August is the best time.

Around the area

Nearby Knysna stages the Oyster Festival in May.

Tours to do

Go whale watching with one of the tour companies like Ocean Blue Adventures or Ocean Safaris – see the listed website for details.

Get around

There are bus services available from both Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, but it’s probably best to have your own car – it makes you more mobile to see the local sights and set your own timetable.

What will it cost

Plettenberg Bay is an upmarket destination, although there are accommodation options to suit all pockets – see the listed websites for choices.

Length of stay

Set aside at least two nights for your visit to Plettenberg Bay, but more if you can. Many South Africans choose to spend two weeks or more over the Christmas summer holidays here.

What to pack

Pack some good beachwear, casual clothes and something semi-formal for the odd evening occasion.

Where to stay

Plett has it all, from the five-star-plus luxury establishments to the more affordable options – see the listed websites.

What to eat

There is much fine dining in Plettenberg Bay, and seafood is always the best bet here.

What's happening

Plettenberg Bay is very active, staging cook-outs, open microphone singing evenings and poetry readings on a regular basis. Check the listed Plettenberg Bay website for details.

Best buys

Visit Plett’s Market on Main for food, gifts and oddities.

Related articles