Words: Kit Heathcock Images: Supplied

From the wild Atlantic beaches of the West Coast, to the balmy sub-tropical beaches of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is blessed with an incredibly varied coastline. Many of us return to the same favourite spot year after year, but perhaps it’s time to explore and discover a new soul-restoring escape ruled by the rhythm of the tides, barefoot walks, and shell-seeking on long sandy beaches. Here are a few away-from-it-all gems that we fell in love with:

Romantic escapes

At the edge of the fishing village of Paternoster on the West Coast, Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel looks out over the long beach and neighbouring nature reserve. It’s an ideal couples’ escape with elegant uncluttered beach style and plenty of luxury, plus the joys of excellent cuisine at Chef Garth Almazan’s Leeto Restaurant in-house.

Hidden in lush coastal vegetation south of Durban, above the sandy beach and warm Indian Ocean in the Trafalgar marine protected area, Days at Sea is a five-star beach lodge with just six suites and a chic art-lover’s sense of style. Lazing by the pool to the gentle murmur of waves below, sundowners on the beach, leisurely dinners and fine wine, make for a magical beach hideaway.

For the ultimate wilderness beach getaway, Thonga Beach Lodge in the remote iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal, is an all-inclusive lodge set-up, where you can track turtles, scuba and snorkel on the shallow reefs, kayak to see hippos, and enjoy forest and beach walks in pristine, protected landscapes.

Family resorts

Resorts and away-from-it-all, don’t always go together, but here are three gems that combine the two.

Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape enjoys a stunning remote setting on the river mouth with the Indian Ocean just over white sand dunes, with individual thatched bungalows set in indigenous gardens. Fishing expeditions, swimming in the river, dolphin or whale-spotting and beach-time are supplemented by organised kids’ activities and a dedicated spa.

Pumula Beach Hotel at Umzumbe, KwaZulu-Natal, gives directly onto the blue-flag beach with so much for kids to do that you might not see them all day! For a family holiday with kids of varying ages, from teens to toddlers, it’s a comfortable and relaxing stay, and has everything from interleading rooms and child-minding services, to adaptable chefs catering to special dietary needs.

Giving directly onto a Knysna Lagoon beach near the Heads, Under Milkwood self-catering chalets are an ideal spot for a peaceful family holiday. Sun loungers, kayaks and paddle boards await on the beach and when the tide is out, there’s a wide stretch of sand for kids to play. There are 16 comfortable log chalets where a self-catering kitchen means Le Creuset and a daily house-keeping service.

Private retreats

For a total escape and privacy you can’t beat renting a holiday home.

Perfect Hideaways have made an art out of discovering the best private beach retreats, each with their own style, character and plenty of comfort. At The Sound in Yzerfontein, you step directly out from the French doors of the large living room onto the quiet end of the sandy beach.

Summerhill outside Stilbaai is totally away from it all – perched above a deserted sand beach in a fynbos reserve, it runs off solar power and you need a 4×4 to get there.

Soul Arch in Plettenberg bay is hidden away over a sand dune from a lovely local beach, with views over the vlei, ideal for swimming, chilling and surfing. On the KwaZulu-Natal Dolphin Coast, No37 is a gorgeous Sheffield Beach villa with ocean views, direct beach access to sand and rock pools and natural bush surroundings.

For luxury beach houses at Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape, The Oyster Collection have you covered. The Oyster Box Beach House has stunning views over the river mouth and beach, while Driftwood and the Boat Shed are two more beautiful seaside houses close to the beach.

Stilbaai is our favourite seaside escape. The beaches are calm, there are wonderful little treasures around every cove, animals to discover, and the river outlet is wonderful to swim in. There are so many activities to do and places to explore, the kids are kept busy all the time. It’s so relaxing.” Chantal De La Hogue

Hotels and resorts:

Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel
www.strandloperocean.com

Days At Sea
www.daysatsea.co.za

Thonga Beach Lodge
www.thongabeachlodge.co.za

Pumula Beach Hotel
www.pumulabeachhotel.com

Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa
www.umngazi.co.za

Under Milkwood
www.milkwood.co.za

Private holiday rentals:

Perfect Hideaways
www.perfecthideaways.co.za

The Oyster Collection
www.oystercollection.co.za