The beach is my happy place. The sun on my skin, the smell and sound of the ocean, and the relaxed pace of life are some of my favorite things. I could spend days doing nothing but laying on the sand with a good book in hand. Spencer much prefers more active pursuits when on holiday, such as hiking and swimming. As we discovered this week, the little-known Wild Coast of South Africa had everything we could both want out of a vacation.
We flew from Jo’burg to East London, a drab and uninspiring city. From there we rode a short 30 minutes to Glengariff Lodge, and went straight to the water. Glengariff beach is a lovely large crescent of soft sand, and a light breeze allowed us to lay out there for hours. Again, we were the only guests at the lodge, and were treated to a nice private meal at sundown, as the fruit bats flew all around (note to travelers to South Africa: if you don’t mind the heat, late January/early February are excellent times to travel and avoid the crowds).
Waking up to the sound of crashing waves is so much better for the soul than a blaring iPhone alarm. On our first morning, we popped right on up, slung our backpacks on our shoulders, and hit the beach. We had a walk of about 6 miles ahead of us.
Those were by far the best 6 miles I have ever covered on foot in my life. Huge, rolling sand dunes rose to our left, and the clear waters of the Indian ocean tickled our bare feet on the right. Each time we turned a cove into a new bay, it was a completely different beach. Some were long expanses of nothing but soft white sand, some were stretches of deep black volcanic sand; some beaches were covered in a tapestry of shells, and some a spread of flat rock, worn by the waves into an otherworldly landscape of curves and tidal pools. It was breathtakingly gorgeous, and completely unspoiled. In the five hours we spent meandering our way along the shore, we didn’t spot a single other person. It is so rare to find a coastline that is not lined end to end with high-rise hotels and sprouting beach umbrellas like mushrooms.
The waters of the Indian Ocean were surprisingly cool, so I didn’t dive in with Spencer. But just as I was getting a little overly hot, we happened across a manmade pool, built along the edge of the shoreline and filled each night as the tide comes in. The top layer of water was heated by the sun to a wonderfully comfortable temperature. It was perfect for me – all the fun of cooling off in the ocean, without the cold water, waves, icky seaweed, or sharks!
When we finally reached our destination in Chintsa East, I didn’t want to pull myself off the sand. Fortunately our accommodation, Buccaneers Backpackers, was just a short walk over the dunes. We stayed in a cottage perched on a hill overlooking the coast, and I got to spend the next two days exactly where I wanted to be. In the evening, we sat out on our deck and listened to the rhythmic ocean as we stared in awe at the blanket of stars filling the night sky. So far south of the equator it is a completely different starscape than in the northern hemisphere, and without light pollution hundreds more stars are visible than in the city.
Words can’t quite do justice to the remoteness and raw beauty of the Wild Coast. As we made our way down the beach, Spencer tried to capture as much as he could on camera. So, without further ado, here’s a little taste of our beach adventures that we hope will convince you how incredible this place really is.