From remote beaches to the best seafood spots, Keith Bain highlights some of Plettenberg Bay’s many attractions
Just less than a decade ago, one of Plettenberg Bay’s favourite beaches was swamped by dramatic flooding. Where sunbathers had once unfurled their towels, they could now paddle about in little boats. With Lookout Beach transformed into the Keurbooms River mouth, the town’s contours seemed to be forever altered.
But then, in 2013, the beach magically began to resurface. It is now once again fully intact, along with its reinstated Blue Flag status – all of which is proof that Nature’s work is never done.
Beautiful beaches aren’t all that make Plett a desirable destination, though. Sprawled over coastal hills and enfolded by the craggy contours of near-distant mountains, its natural beauty extends to idyllic lagoons, pockets of indigenous forest and swathes of scraggly fynbos, while rocky headlands plunge into the sea from a rugged peninsula populated by seals and seabirds. Its sheltered bay is visited by dolphins and whales joining the throngs of summertime vacationers, who pile in to experience what the early Portuguese sailors called Bahia Formosa – ‘Beautiful Bay’.
Plett’s 11 beaches offer an atmosphere to suit any kind of mood. Some are wild and feel breathtakingly remote, while several have Blue Flag credentials, lifeguards, and cafes and restaurants all within easy reach. Now that it’s recovered, Lookout Beach is worth trying out – with the adjacent lagoon and the hills curving up and away inland, it gives a genuine sense of the beauty that enfolds the town.
Most popular is Central Beach, with the bulky Beacon Isle Hotel looming nearby. Between the hotel and the Cape Nature-protected Robberg Peninsula is Robberg Beach – its four-kilometre stretch popular with dog-walkers and joggers, as well as with paddle-skiers and kayakers, but also a good place to lie low, often with few other souls in sight. The exception is Robberg 5, which has public toilets and parking areas, and attracts surfers and bodyboarders.
A little out of town, on the far side of the Keurbooms River, Keurboomstrand is beautifully located, a touch wild in some parts, and replete with marvellous white, sandy stretches.
Back to nature
To mix beach with wildlife, go hiking, trail running or birdwatching in Robberg Nature Reserve, with its coastline trail and vast views. At the Point, you’ll see mostly roosting gannets, cormorants and terns, but on the Witsand Circuit you can gawk at Cape fur seals flopping around on the rocks. Below the immense Witsand sand dune, there’s a glorious beach connected to a big rock – The Island – just offshore. There are rock pools nearby, and seldom anyone else to be seen.
Just outside Plett, the Harkerville Forest section of Garden Route National Park comprises 8 500 ha of indigenous forest dotted with islands of fynbos. There is also a 10 km coastal strip – between Noetsie and Crooks River – that has become very popular with mountain bikers, owing to its diverse terrain.
For hikers, the hugely popular Harkerville Trail covers 24 km over two days, starting from Harkerville Forest Station, with the night spent at a cabin called Sinclair Hut. The hike passes through pristine coastal fynbos, with views of the ocean and incredible bird life – Knysna loeries are often seen, and there are forest buzzards and pied kingfishers. Shorter hikes include the Kranshoek Coastal Day-Walk, and the two-kilometre trail through the aptly-named Garden of Eden, which takes about 20 minutes.
Up close with creatures
Plett’s sheltered bay is a veritable marine mammal nursery, with operators licensed for boat-based, close-up whale-watching. Boats may not approach any closer than 50m, though curious whales may swim right up next you. On these trips, you may also see dolphins and you’ll get a gander at the Cape fur seal colony on Robberg (literally ‘Seal Mountain’) Peninsula.
Requiring a little bit more exertion, sea-kayaking tours are another great way to get close to ocean mammals. If you’d rather be under the water, there’s a range of good dive spots along the Garden Route coast, such as Jacob’s Reef.
For land-based animal encounters, drive to The Crags, 10 km east of Plett, to spend time at one of the world’s finest animal sanctuaries: Monkeyland. With its 12 ha of indigenous forest for rescued primates – gibbons, capuchins, spider monkeys and lemurs – Monkeyland was consulted by Richard Branson when he needed advice on how to care for lemurs on his private island.
Neighbouring Birds of Eden shelters more than 3 500 feathered beauties in one of the world’s largest free-flight aviaries. At The Crags, you’ll also find Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary, the Elephant Sanctuary (where you can walk with pachyderms, trunk-in-hand) and the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, which cares for large predators such as pumas, jaguars and white lions.
Among the region’s most enticing daytime dining spots is the tapas-in-the-vineyards restaurant at Bramon, Plett’s original wine estate. Various meze-style plates (think springbok carpaccio, Spanish meatballs, smoked trout fillet and pickled fish) are served with fresh-baked bread, and you can create your own cheese platter.
Serving reputedly the best seafood in town, The Fat Fish delivers excellent line-fish and large sharing platters right on Central Beach. It also serves wines from the region.
For fine-dining within listening distance of the ocean, book a table at pale-hued SeaFood at The Plettenberg, where the seafood is straight out of the bay, and the flavours expertly coaxed out of whatever’s on your plate.
More relaxed, but no less alluring is Grand Café, on Plett’s main drag – it’s known for its retro-eclectic decor, elegant Bohemian atmosphere, free-flowing drinks, and comfort food (mussels and chips, fillet Béarnaise, aged rump, pizza and pasta).
Set in a former fisherman’s cottage with low ceilings, dark wood-and-slate floors, and sturdy, uneven whitewashed walls, Nguni offers a slight twist on traditional South African dishes, including bobotie spring rolls and Cape Malay curries.
Don’t neglect local favourite Ristorante Enrico, right on Keurbooms Beach. The eponymous Roman owner has his own boat, ensuring the freshest seafood – go for the linefish baked with olive oil, white wine and garlic. Enrico also offers a light, two-layer pizza called farcita (‘stuffed’) – it is definitely worth trying.
Photography: africanimagery.com, Gallo/GettyImages, Keith Bain, Courtesy images