By Karen Rutter
There’s no better way to enjoy the holiday season than being close to the sea, whether it’s simply lying on the sand, or trying something new like kayaking, or relaxing with a fine meal and a chilled glass of wine.
The Golden Mile
Durban’s famed Golden Mile is a vibrant stretch of coastline taking in creamy beaches, warm waves, cool surfing hangouts, hot cuisine, curio stalls, and even a casino and an aquarium.
Stretching from uShaka Marine World to the new Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World, it’s difficult to think of what has been left out of this exciting promenade. The Big Five, perhaps? But then, there’re more than five fishy treats to make up for this.
uShaka Marine World hosts the biggest shark tank on the planet, and there’s even a snazzy restaurant, the Cargo Hold, where you dine while the ultimate predators glide pass—safely behind glass, of course. There’s also a dolphinarium, a penguin ‘paddock’, and live seal shows. The aquarium—the fifth largest in the world—is linked by four submerged shipwrecks, which contribute to the nautical theme.
Flowing through the complex are clear rivers and pools where you can splash and laze in the sun—or discover your inner child by taking a tube ride through the park. When you’re tired of frolicking, there’s the Village Walk to explore, with over 80 speciality shops and restaurants. And the beach is just a stone’s throw away!
On the other end of the mile is the Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World, which is stylishly modelled to match Durban’s beachfront art deco architecture. Apart from trying your luck at the tables, there are restaurants, beach bars, cinemas, and even a private beach, rated as one of the top three in South Africa.
Ah, the beaches. The ocean off Durban is known for its blissfully tepid temperature, just perfect for basking bathers. But if more energetic sea sport is your pleasure, it’s also a surfer’s paradise. From long boarding to short boarding to boogie boarding, there’s a wave to match your taste. Dairy Beach, North Beach, the Bay of Plenty and Snake Park are the best spots. There’s even a Surf Museum, the only one in the country, which documents all the famous names who’ve hung five or got tubed on these beaches. And for those who like more solid curves, in front of the Bay of Plenty is a Skate Park for rollerbladers, BMX riders and skateboarders.
The Ocean Way Promenade runs the length of the main beach, and you can cycle or stroll along the course while checking out the excellent Zulu arts and crafts on display. And for something a little different, there’s Mini Town, which features a scaled-down miniature model of Durban, complete with historic buildings, an airport, harbour and train system. Kids love it, but it’s actually great for all ages.
Apart from its beaches, Durban is also famous for its curries—you can’t visit without sampling some variation on this theme. The Britannia Hotel boasts the best curries in town, so it’s worth testing them on this—try a traditional dish, or a bunny chow. There’s also the Jewel of India and Jaipur Palace, both excellent restaurants for Indian-styled delights.
For a taste of Africa, Moyo on the uShaka Pier serves up local delights such as Senegalese chicken breasts and venison samoosas, plus there’s African drumming and dancing for entertainment.
Portuguese fare can be found at the Victoria Bar and Restaurant, which has a rough-diamond appeal and offers good, no-nonsense seafood. For a taste of Japan, try Daruma in the Holiday Inn, which also includes a very fine sushi menu. And for tried-and-tested Italian treats, La Cosa Nostra is an authentic trattoria that promises personal, friendly service.
Winding up a busy day on the Golden Mile, it’s always great to discover something a little off the beaten track, and the BAT Deck Bar in the small craft harbour is a welcome surprise. It’s part of the BAT cultural centre, known for its contemporary jazz, dance and theatre productions, and you can usually find a fairly arty crowd enjoying sundowners. Sink a cold cocktail, gaze across the harbour, and enjoy the atmosphere in one of South Africa’s most dynamic coastal destinations.
The Trendy Strip
It’s where Robbie Williams, Kelly Brook, Colin Farrell, David Beckham and Prince Harry come to play. Camps Bay, with its sapphire waters and pristine powdery sand, forms a great setting for sun tanning and sundowners. Gaze west, and all you see is the ocean melting into the horizon. Spin east, and you’ve got one of Table Mountain’s lumpy cheeks looming above, pockmarked with a series of clefts called the 12 Apostles. In between, a swath of designer houses runs down to a strip of restaurants, bars, clubs and even a theatre—all overlooking the sea. It doesn’t get trendier than this.
Start off your day with an aerial perspective along the Camps Bay Pipe Track walk. It’s a horizontal stroll that parallels the coastline high up along the side of Table Mountain. It’s not physically taxing, and it offers stunning views.
After that, you’re going to want a serious jolt of caffeine. Time to head down to the bay, and that’s where Vide e Caffe kicks in. For a healthier start to the day, there’s always Kauai, while Sinnful Ice Cream offers a pleasant, casual approach.
The beach itself offers plenty to do, from sunbathing (hire beach chairs and a sunshade from the local vendors) to joining in a game of volleyball. The water is famously cold (this is the Atlantic, dudes), but refreshing dips are requisite. Those of you who are braver can try surfing, or sea kayaking. And watch out for the brightly coloured canopies of paragliders, who often use the sand as a landing strip.
Across the main road is where the action happens. You’ll be spoilt for choices when it comes to either lunch or dinner. And, of course, those compulsory cocktails in between.
Blues is a Camps Bay institution. The stylish restaurant has played host to the bold and the beautiful—and those in between—for 23 years. The views across the bay are close to perfect, while the plush setting and innovative menu (think Afro-Italian fusion) will keep you sunk into your seats for hours.
Sinking into seats is obligatory at Zenzero, where white couches and beds—yes beds!—are laid out and waiting for sun-weary punters to relax. The upmarket Italian restaurant and bar offers a mouth-watering array of meals, many to share (like their Prawn Platter and Seafood Pot), which makes the lounging all the more appetising.
Just up the drag is The Codfather, another Camps Bay classic. As the name suggests, seafood is taken seriously at this restaurant, and so is sushi. Interestingly, there is no menu—the staff are impeccably trained to tell you what is fresh each day, and to recommend the various ways in which your fish can be prepared. You choose how much you want, and how you want it.
Evening entertainment also livens up the Theatre on the Bay, which features a range of shows from the hilarious Defending the Caveman to the latest plays from London’s West End.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of razzle, pull into St Yves Beach Club, the strip’s hottest watering hole. Soak up the last-minute rays as the sun sets over the breathtaking bay and sip on a mojito so good, you’ll ask for a jug next time. Then, as the night rolls in, swap your flip-flops for dancing shoes as Cape Town’s hottest DJs call out for you to cut a rug. It’s a great finish to a sublime Camps Bay day.
The Camps Bay strip also has its share of chain restaurants for easy, quick meals—Nando’s, the Cape Town Fish Market and a branch of Col’ Cacchio Pizzeria are there. Well-known, safe brands.
But you can also go for extremes. On the one hand, there’s the rough and ready, wooden-bench-and-beer atmosphere of La Med, where you can sit outside and watch surfers catch waves while you quaff a pint or three. Or you can head up The Glen to The Roundhouse, a former hunting lodge, which has been transformed into a superior restaurant with outstanding service. Go large and hire the private library for an intimate dinner for eight, or have a picnic with a difference on the lawns—complete with artisan breads, special Western Cape cheeses, and chilled Chardonnay.
But if you really want to spoil yourselves, head out to the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa just on the cusp of Camps Bay. The crisp white spread, built around an original 1929 homestead, offers a deeply luxurious experience. From the steaming underground pools in the spa to the cute on-site cinema, it’s full of surprises. And the best is settling down to a sunset drink on the deck of the Leopard Room bar (where you can choose from 72 types of vodka) before heading to the Azure restaurant for fresh oysters. Oh, and did we mention the uninterrupted views of a golden Camps Bay sun melting into the evening?
Yup, the living is easy.
It’s not called the ‘Jewel of the Garden Route’ for nothing. Plettenberg Bay is sparkly and special, truly a space to be treasured. Stretching some 15km from the Robberg Peninsula to Keurboomstrand, the terrain takes in long stretches of beach punctuated by meandering rivers and estuaries, and flanked by indigenous forests. It’s the kind of place that really does have plenty to satisfy all sorts of people, from inspiring natural beauty spots to adrenaline sports, from luxury gourmet meals to laidback grub, from horseback trails to whale-watching cruises. You can even go game spotting!
For the kind of ramble that showcases the broad reach of Plettenberg Bay, a hike in the Robberg Peninsula is essential. Pack sturdy walking shoes and some water, and set off. You can choose how far you want to go—keeping in mind that the circular route, all around the reserve, is spectacular.
Those who enjoy getting into the water can go sea kayaking around the same area with Dolphin Adventures, to get a real close-up of the coastline.
If you feel like more wild scenery, then book a drive through the Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve. Here you’ll see rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard—if you’re lucky—as well as numerous species of birdlife. You can also do a guided two-hour horseback safari, which gets one much closer to the game.
Then there’s the Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary, Noah’s Park Wolf Sanctuary, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, all conservation sanctuaries, which offer further encounters of a natural kind. Walk among free-range primates, eyeball a giant python, see African Wild Dogs, and visit the largest aviary-dome in the country.
Another unique animal experience is offered at the Elephant Sanctuary, an educational facility, which encourages interaction between elephants and humans—all strictly monitored, of course. Small, carefully-guided groups are allowed to touch, feed and even walk trunk-in-hand with the giant pachyderms. The operation is actually a ‘half-way house’ for young elephants who need a temporary space to stay, before being placed in non-human environments.
All that fresh air is bound to make one hungry, and there are options galore to explore in Plettenberg Bay village itself. The Rod and Reel will get the family nicely filled up, with space for the kids to play as well. The Lookout Deck, with a prime spot right on the beach, is a perennial favourite with locals and visitors alike. Sample their pint o’ prawns and a cold one for a typical treat. Wybo’s restaurant does “comfort food” such as oxtail and lamb curry. Cornuti Al Mare specialises in seafood with an Italian twist. Ristorante Enrico is another venue with a great vista where you can enjoy pizzas, pastas and seafood.
Casual dining is very comfortable in Plettenberg Bay. But you can also spoil yourself. Try the Tsala Treetop Lodge, a forest retreat with suites among the treetops and the top-class ZINZI restaurant. Then there’s the Ilanga restaurant, where you can sample Afro-fusion dishes such as Rooibos and Orange Parfait. And Sand at The Plettenberg, specialising in global cuisine. Here you can also organise a romantic dinner for two in their wine cellar. As the name suggests, Fu.Shi Fusion Cuisine serves up classy Asian delights, and boasts a great champagne terrace with—you guessed it—more spectacular sea views.
Plettenberg Bay was originally named ‘Bahia Formosa’—or ‘Beautiful Bay’—by early Portuguese explorers, and it’s obvious why. Despite the passing of time and the building of a vibrant infrastructure, the bay has retained its essential grace. Meandering along the beach, collecting shells, and watching seagulls paddle in the lagoon is probably as peaceful now as it was three hundred years ago.