The best SA beaches to swim at this summer
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The Blue Flag Programme, now in its 30th year in South Africa, is focused on the conservation of marine and coastal habitats and works to increase sound environmental practices among tourists, local populations and beach management.
Blue flag status
A Blue Flag assures you that the beach is clean, safe and environmentally friendly. All Blue Flag beaches have to meet very strict international criteria and the programme is locally managed by WESSA (the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa). This year, 44 South African beacheswill fly these flags.
The flags will also be raised at seven marinas and used by 11 sustainable tourism boats around South Africa.
An additional 22 beaches across the Kwa-Zulu Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape will participate in the Pilot Programme. This is an important developmental stage for potential Blue Flag sites, during which WESSA works with beach managers and Tourism Blue Flag Beach Stewards towards achieving full Blue Flag status. Internationally, over 4400 beaches, boats and marinas currently hold Blue Flag status in 46 countries.
The top beaches in South Africa
The woman who’s seen them all
We roped in an expert to curate the best possible list of South African beaches to visit this summer. To compile MapStudio’s Life’s a Beach, a guide to SA’s beaches (R175), Ann Gadd travelled some 9500 kilometres along our coastline, from the Namibian border to Mozambique. There are few people in the country who can say they’ve done that. Here’s her choice of the best ‘all-rounder’ beaches:
1. Zinkwazi Beach, KwaZulu-Natal
Blue Flag: Pilot Stage (beaches with this status are working towards meeting the minimum requirements for Blue Flag status in safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards).
Map: See Zinkwazi Beach on Google Maps.
The lagoon is closed to the sea, making for a fun water-playing spot. To the right of the main beach there is a natural pool protected by rocks. There are also loads of rock pools to explore and sand castles to be built – a great place for kids.
Also read: How to beat the crowds in Zinkwazi.
2. Kariega Beach, Kenton-on-Sea, Eastern Cape
Blue Flag: Yes
Map: See Kariega Beach on Google Maps.
Sandwiched between the Bushmans River Mouth and the Kariega River, this beach is great for those in search of a relaxed seaside sojourn. If you want a break from the saltwater and sand, there’s a reserve just behind the beach where you can go for a walk. Go to this beach if you prefer a wild environment to a built-up coastal hub.
3. McDougall’s Bay, Port Nolloth in the Northern Cape
Blue Flag: Pilot Stage.
Map: See McDougall’s Bay on Google Maps.
This one has to be one of the more remote beaches. In the far north of the West Coast is a ‘gem that has it all’.
4. Muizenberg’s Surfers Corner, South Peninsula in the Western Cape
Blue Flag: Yes
Map: See Muizenberg Beach on Google Maps.
You’ll probably hear Clifton’s the place to be seen ‒ and if that’s what you’re after, it’s definitely the beach to head to. But the water is icy and you’ll probably soak up more sand than sea minerals. Muizenberg is a long beach lapped by the warm Indian Ocean water. It has calm sets of waves, walks, a park and places to eat. Go here if you don’t mind dodging newbie surfers. Just note, it gets packed in summer and parking can be a nightmare.
Also read: Southern charm: a guide to Muizenberg.
5. Gonubie, East London in the Eastern Cape
Blue Flag: Pilot Stage
Map: See Gonubie Beach on Google Maps.
One of the best beaches in South Africa, with lovely swimming.
All Blue Flag Beaches in South Africa
The Western Cape achieved the highest number of Blue Flag sites, with 28 of the beaches, all eleven boats and six of the seven Blue Flag marinas falling in the province. This shows an increase of three Blue Flag boats from the previous season, and one additional marina.
Plett has the most beautiful beaches with six Blue Flag options: Robberg 5, Keurboomstrand, Nature’s Valley, Lookout Beach and Singing Kettle. There’s also Mossel Bay, which has three Blue Flags. Nearby there’s Buffalo Bay and Brenton-on-Sea in Knysna.
Also read: The not-so-posh guide to Plettenberg Bay.
The Mother City has 10 of this year’s Blue Flags: at Melkbosstrand, Muizenberg and Fish Hoek. Seaforth in Simon’s Town is a new Pilot Stage Blue Flag beach. These last three put the False Bay coast firmly on the map, taking some attention away from the city’s iconic Atlantic seaboard Blue Flaggers (Camps Bay, Clifton Fourth and Llandudno). Then there’s also Strandfontein, Bikini, Mnandi and Silwerstroomstrand to visit.
Here’s why the far south is worth the drive: for Stilbaai’s Preekstoel and Lappiesbaai (both long-running Blue Flags), Jongensfontein and Stilbaai Wes (on the pilot list this year) – plus there’s Witsand too.
Also read: Fish Hoek: an underrated Cape Town stay.
Port Elizabeth is the second-best city for beaches, with three Blue Flags (Humewood, Kings and Hobie Beach). But just up the coast, Kelly’s in Port Alfred has been on the list for 13 years, nearby Kariega for nine – and now Middle Beach and Kenton-on-Sea are in the pilot stage too. Keep going, and the stretch near the Great Fish River mouth has Hamburg (already a Blue Flag gem) and Birah, Mtenthu and Mzamba with pilot status.
The South Coast boasts seven Blue Flags, while Durban has two (uShaka and Westbrook Beach). It’s the North Coast that’s making an effort – Salt Rock, Blythedale, Willard and Zinkwazi are all in pilot phase.