Some people like crowded beaches while for others they are anathema: give them rather endless stretches of sand where they are more likely to encounter perhaps a handful of people who, like them, revel in solitude and natural beauty.
The Eastern Cape has any number of almost-deserted beaches that stretch to eternity.
Woody Cape (Alexandria)
Slightly more than an hour from Port Elizabeth on the way to Kenton-on-Sea, Woody Cape is run by SANParks as part of the Addo Elephant National Park and is home to the Alexandria Hiking Trail – a tough but spectacular 36km circular hike.
The first day covers just less than 20km, about half of which is along the beach in the direction of the Colchester dune sea. Some dunes drop almost precipitously into the Indian Ocean and, when the tide is coming in, you have to time your dashes forward when the waves recede.
Port Alfred (Oceana Riet River mouth)
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Not far outside Port Alfred on the coastal road to East London lies Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve. Guests have the option of being driven through the reserve and dumped at the beach with a handheld radio with which to summon transport back to the lodge.
The beach is public and there is an outside chance you’ll meet someone walking in the opposite direction from the Riet River holiday home settlement, but Oceana is about 8km from there and it’s an out-and-back traipse in either direction.
The sand in the inter-tidal zone is firm and the route is flat, so it’s not much of a physical challenge except for the distances involved if you go the whole way.
This village, some 50km from East London, is where former president Thabo Mbeki’s mother is reputed to have run a shebeen even while he held office.
Prana Lodge – prana is a Sanskrit word used in yoga, oriental medicine and martial arts that refers simultaneously to a deep-breathing technique as well as sun-derived life forces that nourish the soul – is located on some six hectares of dense dune forest rich with birdlife.
A 22km stretch of pristine beach to be enjoyed either on foot or horseback.
Sadly, the old Morgan Bay Hotel has undergone extensive renovation to become a chic boutique establishment … complete with a bar serving a selection of local craft beer.
Nothing, however, can detract from the grandeur of the seafront and you can enjoy your beer on the patio watching giant breakers smashing against sheer cliff faces or – looking in the opposite direction – see small family groups ambling along a beautiful flat beach.
The best time to get out is in the early morning before anyone else other than die-hard fishermen are up.
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One Transkei bolthole that promises never to change is Kob Inn at Qhorha Mouth, one of those family hotels to which guests return year after year for extended end of year holidays.
A popular feature is the all-day rowboat that ferries people across the Qhorha River to a 21km beach that stretches to Nxaxo and beyond and is visited more by cattle than it is by bathers.
Of course, few people traverse the entire length of the beach (except participants in the annual Wild Coast Wildrun) and most just find a private spot to chill on the sand and watch huge pods of dolphins gambol in the waves.