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SSouth Africa is known for many things, from its wine routes to safari and historical sites. Undoubtedly, one of its biggest attractions is its shorelines. The 2 7500 kilometres of coast, which stretches from the Namibian frontier in the northwest to the border of Mozambique in the northeast, includes some dramatic cliffs and rocky shores. There are also plenty of beaches to choose from. The Western Cape Province on the Atlantic shore is sparsely populated and has colder water. Beyond Cape Agulhas, about 177km southeast of Cape Town is the warmer water of the Indian Ocean. The most popular section of South Africa's coast is between Cape Town and Durban.
The Garden Route, a 240km stretch of Indian Ocean coastline through mountains and forests, offers something year round. The route begins at Mossel Bay. East of George is the Wilderness National Park with its chain of lakes and tree-covered slopes, and the town of Knysna, situated on a lagoon protected from the ocean by sandstone cliffs. This is a good base for exploring the area or for enjoying its cycle trails and watersports. There are a number of onshore vantage points from which to observe whales, including Plettenberg Park and Lookout Rocks. To see them at close quarters, take a boat from Central Beach. The best time to see whales is between March and November.
Cape Town is best for shore-seekers and built on a peninsula sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean. Many of its attractions are coastal, including the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, built around a working harbour that has been operating for more than 100 years. The area has now been redeveloped to turn it into a lively area full of shops, restaurants and upmarket hotels. One of the Waterfront's main attractions is the Two Oceans Aquarium. It contains more than 3 000 sea animals.
Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison, has become a museum. The austere buildings of the former prison contrast starkly with the island's idyllic setting. Boats to Robben Island depart daily, weather permitting, from the Clock Tower Precinct at the V&A Waterfront.
Table Mountain, the summit of which can be reached by cable car, is one of the city's biggest tourist drawcard. It provides superb views of the coast. Some hike up the iconic mountain.
There are many beaches south of the city that are often surprisingly crowd-free. One of the most attractive trips is towards the Cape Peninsula. Camps Bay with the Twelve Apostles mountain range in the background is the perfect setting for a beach day. The more enclosed Hout Bay has many craft shops. Simon's Town, in False Bay, is the gateway to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which is the most south-westerly tip of Africa. Cape Agulhas is further south – and it is an area of spectacular, rugged scenery and a variety of flower species.
Other than Cape Town, the main coastal conurbation is Durban, the biggest city in KwaZulu Natal. Mixed with the city's Indian and Zulu heritage are the attractions of a modern seaside resort: every kind of beach activity from surfing to beach volleyball, and a long, coastal strip of hotels, restaurants and entertainment known as Durban's golden mile.
One of the city's highlights is uShaka Marine World, the largest marine theme park in Africa, a beachfront complex comprising a salt-water aquarium, water rides and a lot of shops and restaurants.
Port Elizabeth, also known as Nelson Mandela Bay, is another coastal city worth seeing. The city has several swimming pool complexes built along the beach and the Boardwalk Centre home to a collection of shops and restaurants. The city is where many South Africans come when they want a family-friendly resort that offers a combination of watersports, good shopping and cultural attractions.
St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal
If you want to get away from civilisation, head up the east coast as far as St Lucia in northern KwaZulu-Natal. From here to the Mozambique border is an area of wetlands and coral reefs that are almost untouched by human habitation. The village of St Lucia on the edge of Isimangaliso is known for its boat cruises along the estuary with sightings of crocodiles, hippos and rare birds.
Best places for watersports?
St Lucia is one of South Africa's best diving areas with some of the best coral reefs in the world. A more popular centre is Port Elizabeth where several sports are on offer, including sailing. This, too, is a good diving spot, especially during the South African winter months, May to September, when the water is clearer. The Aliwal coast, 32km of beaches on either side of Durban, was nominated by National Geographic magazine as one of the five best diving spots in the world. Several companies offer dives, including the Aliwal Dive Centre at Umkomaas, just south of the city. About an hour further dow the coast to the South lies Shelly Beach which is the main point of departure for free diving with sharks on the Protea Banks. A good time to be in the area is during June and July when the "Sardine Run" takes place.
The Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town houses vivid and educational displays of marvellous life from beneath the waters of the Indian and the Atlantic oceans, both of which wash Western Cape shores.
Western Cape is South Africa’s premier province for fun in the sun: Cape Town is surrounded by world-class wine routes, stunning scenery and unique West Coast and Garden Route flora and fauna.
Witsand Beach in Western Cape province offers pristine white Blue Flag beaches, superb land-based whale watching, a wide variety of water sports and magnificent plants, birds and animals to view.
Arniston, Western Cape, originally called Waenhuiskrans, received an informal name change after a tragic shipwreck in 1815 – under either name, it’s an idyllic resort village on the Agulhas coast.
Hike the Hunter-Gatherer Trail in Western Cape along the Garden Route to experience the landscape as humans did for tens of thousands of years, and you’ll know you’re in the Cradle of Human Culture.
The Freedom Trail is an exhilarating mountain-bike route from East Coast to West Coast in South Africa that runs through some of the most spectacular natural beauty the country has to offer.
Northern Cape’s Diamond Coast – from Port Nolloth to Alexander Bay – is perfect for romantic getaways featuring shipwrecks, glorious scenery and spring flowers… and sparkly gems!
South Africa is a surfer’s paradise, and whether you’re a novice or an old pro, the different conditions of the West Coast, Garden Route, Wild Coast and KwaZulu-Natal offers something for everyone.