South Africa has a coastline that stretches more than 2500 kilometres from the barren border shared with Namibia on the Atlantic Ocean, to the bottom of Africa and up again to the Mozambique border on the Indian Ocean, making for plenty of ocean-facing spots to set up camp and hammer in your tent peg.
Some are remote and best suited to the escapists that crave sand beneath their toes and nothing more, while others are rich in natural beauty with uninterrupted views of the ocean, or best known for their activity-specific offerings. Either way, if your idea of heaven is waking up in your faithful tent right next to the sea with the sound of the waves for the company as you sip on your morning coffee, the ocean just meters away, then these beach camps are for you.
For those of you who love camping the old-fashioned way, having your own tents and sleeping bags is enough to spend a comfortable time connecting with nature. Very few things can give you a more authentic outdoorsy vibe than this simple setup. Tent camping remains a favourite among backpackers who seek shelter during one-night stops and people who simply want to explore the road less travelled.
However, the great outdoors can be rough. Like most things these days, experiencing nature in all its glory comes with a price tag—you have to give up comfort and luxury. If you’re not necessarily cut out for tent camping, but still want to enjoy natural landscapes, you can have the best of both worlds with glamping. For years, this trend of glamorous camping has been revolutionizing outdoor trips for the younger generation by hiking up flare and functionality.
Dwesa Nature Reserve is a green gem along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast. Owned by the local community and run on their behalf by the provincial conservation authorities, it offers a unique blend of coastal forest, open grassland and empty coastline. This is a paradise for enthusiastic bird-watchers with 290 species recorded, including the Narina Togon and Mangrove Kingfisher. The primary purpose of the 3500 ha Dwesa Nature Reserve is to conserve the unique biodiversity of the coastal forests, the southern sourveld grassland and the Marine Protected Area that provides a critical habitat for shrunken fish stocks.
Accommodation in Dwesa is provided in self-catering chalets and a very good campsite. There are five 5-bed chalets and three 4-bed chalets; all chalets have gas refrigerators and stoves. The campsite has 20 stands and good communal ablution facilities. Activities include hiking the marked out walking trails, game spotting, boat trips across the river and time immersed soaking up the unspoilt environment. The road there through the old Transkei is through rugged grasslands, rolling hills and past rural settlements, and is demanding. The recommendation is that you take all of your own food and drink, although there is a small Spaza shop just a short walk away.
Tietiesbaai Eco-Friendly Beach Camp, Western Cape
The Cape’s West Coast has a raw beauty that needs to be experienced and waking up to it on your doorstep, is the best way to do so. Set between the granite boulders of Cape Columbine Nature Reserve near Paternoster, the A-frame huts at the eco-friendly Beach Camp are equipped with beds, so all you need to take is your sleeping bag, food and drink. There’s a welcoming atmosphere, communal kitchen, hot water bathrooms with compost toilets, as well as comfy wooden furniture to settle into. Also, a designated area for people to pitch their own tents and still have access to all the facilities at the Beach Camp, should they prefer.
Everything at the camp is focused on low-impact living with cooking and heating done with gas, all waste recycled or composted, fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden on offer to guests. It’s a minimalist approach that works perfectly for those who seek an authentic West Coast getaway. Days can be enjoyed exploring the reserve. If you’re an avid surfer bring your wetsuit and board, otherwise time in the hammock, guided horseback riding, paddleboarding, mountain biking, guided sea kayak trails, flower walks, and long naps are in order.
NOTE: Double-check if the camp is currently operating.
Sodwana Bay National Park is situated within the iSimangaliso Wetlands in a sheltered bay on the Maputaland coast. The main draw here is the outstanding climate and excellent scuba diving in the many coral reefs rich in sea life that lie offshore, something that has set the area apart as one of the premier sport diving destinations in the world. These popular dive sites with their great diversity of marine flora and fauna, coral, overhangs, drop-offs and mushroom rocks, as well as spectacular night dives, are guaranteed to please any scuba diving enthusiast.
Sodwana Bay campgrounds feature over 400 open space campsites that accommodate both caravans and tents, and are set into shady surroundings in the coastal forest. While a smaller, more modern camping area is available with only 33 electrified campsites, each with their own braai facilites, electric lights, running water and modem communal ablution blocks. If you’re travelling light, scuba diving equipment is available for hire.
Talk about putting your tent up within arms reach of the ocean, at the Storms River Camp in the Tsitsikamma National Park there are ninety campsites that hug the shoreline, with maintained lawns and well-equipped communal ablutions, their chalets and self-catering accommodation set just above them. Only selected sites also have electricity points, and you’d do well to double-check this when booking.
A place of natural splendour and wild forests, this is one of the oldest marine reserves in the country, as well as one of the biggest and is a key attraction for visitors to the Garden Route. Synonymous with the wild, crashing seas and breathtaking views of Storms River Mouth, the impressive suspension bridge draws many day visitors off the N2. There are a number of short walking trails, a very good restaurant and gift shop. The nearby Storms River village provides numerous adventure activities like Canopy tours, bungi jumping from the Bloukrans River Bridge, biking trails, fishing excursions and Black Water Tubing and kloofing.
If remote and off the grid are terms that appeal to you when planning your camping trip, then windswept Kwas Se Baai in the Namaqualand National Park is perfect for you. This remarkable coastal camping site is set within a completely wild area right next to the ocean. You may see antelope, ostriches and the Namaqua speckled padloper, the tiniest tortoise on earth. This is a rustic dreamland recognised for its beautiful, quiet bay and the long sandy beach to the south, one that maintains the wilderness character of this unique and barren coastline.
Spread over a wide area from the mountainous region around Kamieskroon and Springbok to a beautiful coastal strip that was only opened to the public a few years ago, after historically being a diamond mining area, there are an estimated 3500 plant species in Namaqualand, a thousand of which are found nowhere else in the world, and in spring a demonstration of pink, yellow, orange and luminescent white patchwork colours draw crowds to witness the flower season.
If you want to stay at one of these campsites, you have to bring all your own water and take your garbage home with you. There are eco-loos available and each stand has a wind shelter to protect you from the coastal breeze. There is no cellphone reception and you need a 4×4 to negotiate certain of the deep sand stretches.
** This article first appeared in OnRoute Magazine.