Think of a city with invitingly sunny shores. Los Angeles. Myrtle Beach. Sydney. Cape Town. All lie close to latitude 34° (north or south). All offer great beaches and ample sunshine, a magnet to vacationers. That’s probably about as far as a general comparison can go.
Cape Town and Sydney are of course situated in the Southern Hemisphere, so that summer and winter seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a wonderful benefit for vacationers and honeymooners who are able to escape the winter blues in Europe, Asia or North America, by flying off to soak up the sun on a sandy beach ‘down south’ or ‘down under’.
Cape Town has yet another incomparable quality that attracts visitors from around the world. In 1580, the stunning mountain, ocean and coastal vistas of the region prompted Sir Francis Drake to note that this is the “fairest Cape in the circumference of the world”. There’s no record however of his comments when he saw Cape Town’s beaches for the first time!
The Atlantic Seaboard is generally acknowledged to have the most spectacular beaches, with picturesque mountain backdrops and huge granite boulders separating coves of soft, white sand. Add to this a turquoise ocean, great surf and the bronzed bodies adorning the sand and it is enough to take your breath away. If not, it surely will when you run across the sand to plunge headlong into the waves. The ocean is cold – very cold. In summer, the water off Clifton’s Beaches can be a bone chilling 10 °C (50 °F). There is a benefit however. White sand and cooling ocean breezes lower the humidity and make the summer heat quite bearable – hence the perfect tans and crowded beaches.
For those of us that may prefer less of a perfect tan and more of a tumble in the ocean waves, a 30 minute drive across the Peninsula takes us to the shores of False Bay. Here, the ocean is remarkably warmer, complements of the Agulhas current that flows southwards off the south-eastern shores of Africa. False Bay shores are not as postcard-perfect as the Atlantic Seaboard, but the broad white sands are certainly no less crowded. The ocean surf is typically a whole lot busier with squealing children, boisterous bathers and surfers. There are many world-class surfing spots along the Cape shores on both sides of the Peninsula and wet suits are standard gear, so even the colder waters of the Atlantic shores are no deterrent.
There is however another factor to take into account in False Bay. Bathers and particularly surfers are aware that False Bay is home to a colony of 50,000 seals – and is the precinct of an endangered species, the Great White shark. The sharks feed on seals in the winter months and pelagic fish that migrate inshore during the summer months, so inevitably sharks and marine recreation activities overlap from time to time. Given the many beaches and the summer crowds, a statistically very low incidence of shark attacks occur each summer, but are an extremely traumatic experience for everyone in the vicinity and often fatal for the victim.
Six of the most frequented beaches (by bathers and by sharks) are patrolled by Sharkspotters. The threat to survival of Great White sharks as a species is immeasurably higher than the threat of attack to bathers, so this takes an admirable approach for protecting both. Spotters with polarized binoculars keep watch over the ocean from the high terrain above the beaches, bathers and surfers – and a siren/warning flag system communicates the threat of sharks spotted in the vicinity. Is it foolproof? Sadly, no – cavalier humans frequently ignore the warnings, which has resulted in some tragic incidents. Fish Hoek beach is now looking into the use of barrier nets (a type that won’t cause entrapment of sea life).
With common sense, awareness that ocean recreation is not without risk and the practice of responsible behavior by bathers, the beaches of Cape Town are safe and continue to draw record numbers of international visitors and locals each summer. There is no greater destination!
James Luck is an African destination specialist and co-founder of our comprehensive Africa Travel Guide, compiled by destination and travel specialists. Visit http://www.findtripinfo.com/ to learn more about Africa as a travel destination.
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