Whenever people ask me what my favourite beach or coastal town is, there’s always a resounding favourite. In fact, before they can even finish asking the question, I have fired out a single name, with a true lover of the ocean’s all-seriousness: Struisbaai.
If they even know anything about it at all, they usually have a follow-up question… “Why Struisbaai? What makes it so special to you?”
Honestly, I don’t have any clearly definable answer to that. It’s a mystery even to me sometimes – but it’s undoubtedly my happy place, my favourite beach town and the place I always have to return to at least once every summer now.
It’s been that way for years now… and I’m not expecting it to change any time soon. In 2014, I decided it’s the strongest likely candidate for my ‘retirement village’ and even when my older brother pointed out that I haven’t even really worked yet and so, I can’t technically be thinking about retirement, I maintained my doggedness: this is my place – it always has been and it always will be.
Everyone has that one place, I think… Their ideal family holiday destination or favourite beach. Well, this is mine… and I love my beaches so picking my ultimate seaside destination is never easy.
Maybe it’s because my first clear memories of the seaside and day-long trips to the beach were born here, in this tiny little Cape Overberg town that (at least in 2011) only had a population of 3800-odd people.
Maybe it’s because the water is deliciously warm compared to the other temperatures found around the Cape (especially in Cape Town) and the most amazingly clear, breathtakingly beautiful aqua colour like the hallowed waters of the Mediterranean.
Or perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that the coastal town of Struisbaai – which falls under the Cape Agulhas Municipality and which is roughly 4-5 km away from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa – is relatively untouched by the modernisation and overdevelopment, which has, in recent years, seemingly engulfed some of our country’s other coastal towns and villages.
Maybe it’s down to the charm of the colourful fishing boats and the seaside houses with their amusing or pretty names like ‘Sea Goose‘, ‘Delta Princess‘ (my favourite) and ‘North Wind‘, the quaintness of the lovely, thatched fishermen cottages and unique stone houses dotted about town or the white-washed church that greets you as you enter Struisbaai after driving through 30-odd km of relatively barren wasteland, with sandy ground and fynbos vegetation, found outside of the nearest (and more built-up) town, Bredasdorp.
Maybe I just love the undeniably cute, little coastal settlement where even today fishermen reside and continue to lead the same life that their fathers and grandfathers led before them, virtually oblivious to the perils of the ‘real’ world outside… with little more to fear than the approach of the next terrifying storm, which, like so many before it over the years, always hold the power to wreck countless buildings and ships in this area and just beyond off Cape Agulhas.
So you see, although some development (especially in the past six to seven years from what I can see) has taken place in Struisbaai, with its long stretches of pristine beach, colourful, age-old natural harbour and alluring, ‘warm’ aqua-green waters, it remains much as it must have been fifty or even eighty years ago, appealingly untouched by time and tribulations.
Some 200 km south-east of Cape Town, Struisbaai is actually in some pretty good company with the likes of Cape Agulhas (a deserving tourist attraction all on its own… Please see: http://tamlynamberwanderlust.com/?p=831 for my review of it), Napier, Elgin, Arniston, Gansbaai and Swellendam all roughly an hour or two away, though they lie in different directions from this small coastal settlement.
One thing you have to understand about Struisbaai is that, as soon as you begin to leave Bredasdorp, you’re likely to encounter a kind of hazy cloud cover, almost a sea ‘mist’ at times even, which it has the wilder coastline near Agulhas – a rather famous or infamous (depending on how you look at it) graveyard of shipswrecks – to thank for it. Still, when that haze burns off and the wind settles (it can often get quite bad and I expect to either end up with a mouthful of beach sand or hair), Struisbaai can be idyllic and its water as fine and smooth as tinted chapel glass.
There are three beaches… Or at least, that’s how I divide them up.
First, there’s the main Struisbaai beach (which a large and popular campsite overlooks), then there’s a more secluded beach on the other side of the harbour and local fish shop (where you can buy the latest fresh fish of the day… though prices aren’t always very reasonable) and restaurant, though its waters are used more for fishing and (I think) possibly angling than they are for recreational swimming, and finally, you have my personal favourite beach: the tiny, somewhat more sheltered stretch just beyond the ever-busy harbour where fishing boats, jet skis and fishermen are always seemingly present.
Another great and relatively new addition to the Struisbaai beachfront is the wonderful wooden walkway, which leads away to opposite sides of the harbour and even in the worst wind, makes walking that much easier and more enjoyable. It’s still in relatively good nick too and is so far weathering the elements well.
The harbour, which has been there for many years and is simple but practical and sturdy in its design, is also home to a rather famous sea friend, who enjoys the nearby waters as much as I do… His name is Parrie and he is a stingray and a well-known and popular addition to the colourful and quaint harbour, it must be said. (He even has his own sign dedicated to him.)
I am not too sure about his story but as long as I have been visiting Struisbaai (since 2001 on and off over the years), Parrie has been there. However, at one time he was removed and taken to an aquarium (possibly the Mother City’s excellent and famous Two Oceans Aquarium) for safekeeping. This didn’t seem to please local residents, who demanded he be returned to Struisbaai Harbour and thus, he was… He doesn’t seem to have been greatly unsettled by this rude (but well-intended, I am sure) interruption to his daily life.
I haven’t seen him in years… He always seems to elude me by mere moments but when my travel companions and I visited briefly in October 2014, a young boy said we had literally just missed him by a few minutes so I’ve come devilishly close in recent years.
Another relatively popular attraction near the harbour is the walled cement pier and distant red-and-white beacon where you can watch fishermen patiently fishing or enjoy taking a leisurely stroll along, with a great view of the main beach and even the harbour, which is always home to the aforementioned colourful boats that serenely float in its sheltered bay.
Although the sand dunes, with their green shrubbery and sourfigs (a type of flowering groundcover that favours sandy ground), are certainly pretty, especially near the wilder, smaller stretch of beach I mentioned earlier, the little rock pools and rocky island that join, at least during low tide, main beach with the harbour beach via a tiny stream, near the harbour are certainly fun to explore.
A word of caution: the rocks can be quite slippery and the going is hard on your feet. Still, I love exploring that section, not just because it aids me in my almost religious seashell collecting pastime, but because of the sea creatures and the ocean’s discarded treasures, which come to settle in the rock pools or cling to the rocks themselves.
I’ve seen numerous jellyfish, crabs, small fish (which allow you to get pretty close to them) and sea urchins to name just a few. Also, bluebottles and jellyfish often wash up onto the shore there so do be careful of where you tread and don’t just blindly walk.
Dogs are often seen on the beach and twice I’ve seen two digging to Australia… Though, needless to say, the sea made quick work of their holes. In Cape Town, most beaches only permit dogs on them at certain times of day (that is, usually early morning or late evening when the beaches are most empty) but out in the country, everything is more relaxed and if anything, the excitable dogs add to the fun atmosphere.
Though the harbour beach is great for children because it is quite small, the water’s depth never really gets much deeper than the average adult’s waist even in its deepest part and the waters flowing through it are calm and gentle, make sure that children stay on the right side of the bobbing buoys, which mark where you can and cannot swim, for the harbour is always busy with fishing boats and jet skis coming in and out from sea a lot.
Another detail it would be remiss of me to leave out of this review are the three historical suggestions behind the town’s name. In Afrikaans, ‘baai‘ means bay so that’s easy enough to explain or even translate but it’s the ‘struis‘ part that creates the small enigma. As a properly (and hopelessly) English South African, I have often wondered what it meant and it’s only now, in doing further research on Struisbaai online, that I discovered a possible explanation for its name.
The second is that the name has something to do with the ostriches (“struisvogel” in Dutch) that used to roam the area.
Finally, the third explanation, which is generally held as the most plausible, is that “the name was derived from an old Dutch word meaning ‘huge'”, given to it because of its long stretches of beach.
Although there’s possibly a grain of truth behind each belief, I feel this is indeed the most legitimate reason behind the town being called Struisbaai. Especially when one takes into account the fact that it holds the longest beach, which stretches for about 14 kilometres, in the Southern Hemisphere… Not too shabby for a tiny fishing village, eh?
Struisbaai knows how to celebrate summer though and especially during December and January, the town pumps with local- and foreign-visitors alike.
It also holds an annual ‘Geelstertfees‘ (or Yellowtail Festival), which is a nod to one of the most frequently caught types of fish in the area’s waters. The Festival apparently revolves around food stalls (as every good festival should), artists and musical perfomers.
Still, other fun activities to enjoy in and around Struisbaai include: fishing, horserides along the beach, hiking, paintball, quadbiking, diving and of course, swimming.
Perhaps it’s a little bit of all this and more that makes Struisbaai uniquely special to me – but whatever it is, there’s just something about this quaint and beautiful place that keeps me coming back for more.
Now I hope you have a few reasons to consider visiting it too – as far as rating’s go, both as a travel destination and for its trio of lovely beaches, Struisbaai gets a firm 10/10 but then, I am rather biased towards it, aren’t I? 🙂
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Author: Tamlyn Amber Ryan
Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. And, despite a national diploma in Journalism, in her free time, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.
Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.