Oh I do want to be beside the seaside of St Francis Bay
Set on the shores of the Indian Ocean, just south of Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape, St Francis Bay has to be one of the most beautiful spaces on this part of the coast. We arrived there on a wind-swept afternoon knowing little about the pretty resort but that we had managed to nab ourselves a cottage with sea views within walking distance of the beach!
We arrived in the village in the late afternoon, tired from our journey and gasping for a day or so of sun-filled beach time, as we had just descended from the Amatola Mountains and the little town of Hogsback, where it had been rather chilly to say the least …
My first impression of St Francis Bay was its strong contrast with Hogsback’s simplicity and its obvious role as the playground of the very wealthy during the holiday season. The roads were dominated by very large, predominantly silver, utility vehicles from all over the country, and the waterways of the Marina Glades and the seas by large, recently acquired power boats.
Despite this over-abundance of opulence, St Francis Bay and the Marina are incredibly beautiful, and manage to give a low-key, less garish impression than their neighbours – Santareme, St Francis-on-sea and Port St Francis – due to strict architectural regulations that observe white walls and thatch roofs throughout.
In fact, it’s rather amusing to drive through the neighbourhood and see how Harbour Road forms a boundary – on one side are the pretty, white-walled, thatched cottage style mansions, whilst on the other Santareme’s Spanish ‘theme’ means that a series of Spanish looking villas, in various shades of terracotta and peach, predominate.
A little further along a barely discernible Portuguese theme takes over in St Francis-on-Sea, and so it continues. Only Cape St Francis has managed to side-step any architectural regulations, although it is such a mish mash of architectural styles, that one rather wishes it had, particularly when compared with the other suburbs.
Our first afternoon was spent, despite the wind, in a glorious whirl of seaside activities that involved much swimming, wave jumping and digging of castles with intricate moats. Along the beach strolled families with their children, couples with their dogs, and youngsters in groups, sussing out the talent.
On my brave passage into the sea I passed an old man and his dog and we swopped notes on the water temperature. He swims both morning and evening when at the coast, and I admired his perseverance and entertained the romantic notion that when I’m his age I will do the same?
Day two dawned overcast. Whilst we were a little disheartened at not being able to immediately head down for a swim, we were soon glad for the change in weather meant that we ventured out to explore. The first place we uncovered was the St Francis Community Garden, where a sign saying ‘Santa’s Elves’ meant an obligatory stop – our son was in hot pursuit!
We were soon in conversation with Brigid, a volunteer at the garden, who, despite having only moved to Santareme less than a year previously, had acquired an extensive knowledge of the area and its environmental projects. Whilst Santa had not yet put in an appearance (he was only to do so the following week, when we were already back in Cape Town), we were invited to attend a penguin release just across from the gardens in front of the St Francis Heritage (environmental) Centre near Granny’s Pool, a safe and rather quaint tidal pool at which children were already playing.
Brigid went on to describe how she watched a family of whales recently in the bay and how dolphins visit the beaches on a daily basis (she wasn’t wrong, I was to spot them twice that day!). She regaled us to a rather interesting story of how St Francis Bay is dealing with beach erosion using a reclamation system known as PEM, introduced by the Danes that involves a series of rows of tubes in the shallow water just below the seabed. These increase the circulation of seawater and deposit sand broughtt in by the surf, slowly widening the beach. She pointed to what we had thought was a shark spotter, but turned out to be someone monitoring the tubes. Interesting to say the least.
Penguin Rescue and Rehabilitation let the locals know when they intend releasing a group of rehabilitated penguins. By 11am the crowds had grown and were three-deep along the side of the pool, waiting for the little fellows to make an appearance. Before long, they were brought onto the beach in crates, and roughly 20 of them hesitated only long enough to establish that this was indeed the sea, before heading off, heads above the water until they reached the open sea, where they soon vanished.
It was an incredibly moving experience to watch the penguins leave. It seems they know, without being told, exactly where they’re going and most of them end up on a series of seal islands off Madiba Bay. We were one of many who bought a penguin t-shirt on sale, the proceeds of which go towards helping the penguins.
By this time, the sun was again out and we headed for the marina to drive around the quiet roads, where almost every ‘cottage’ has a waterside location and boats lie bobbing just beyond their front lawns, some of which also have swimming pools.
Back in the village, beach activity had picked up and we chose a spot safely out of the way of the rising tide. The area close to our cottage had life guards, who took a ‘tea break’, when most of the families fled the beach at lunch time, by snuggling up under their anoraks on the rocks and taking a nap. We virtually had the place to ourselves and swimming here was simply delicious. I wish only that we’d had longer than two days to spend in this wonderfully lazy way.