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Guide to Mossel Bay, Garden Route, South Africa

Words by Jazz Kuschke. Article from the March 2014 issue of Getaway.

A temperate climate, deep historical roots and a well developed tourist infrastructure make Mossel Bay far more than just the gateway to the Garden Route. By Jazz Kuschke.

Please note: all prices were correct at time of going to print, but it’s best to confirm with the establishments concerned before travelling.

bathe with the locals – Munro Bay in the corner of kid-friendly Santos Beach is an open secretBathe with the locals – Munro Bay in the corner of kid-friendly Santos Beach is an open secret.

It’s a little after six on a Tuesday morning in March. The tide has turned and is starting to surge back in over the reefs. A brisk south-wester had blasted through the previous night, grooming two days of messy onshore southeasterly conditions into perfect three- to four-foot waves. Having done its job, the southwester died somewhere in the early hours, leaving the tidal pool still as a mirror.

In the background, due north across the bay, the peaks of the Outeniqua range outline the horizon. The hamlets of Great Brak River, Tergniet and Glentana are just visible. Further west it seems George and beyond is smothered in cloud, once again.

Up on the hill to the southwest, the whitewashed walls of Cape St Blaize Lighthouse, a beacon for navigators since 1864, gleam in the dawn rays. The surfer discards T-shirt and boardshorts for a thin 3/2mm wetsuit (air and water are both around 18 degrees) and paddles out just as the low, diesel-engine din from the commercial fishing fleet becomes audible across the Great things to dowater. They’ll be in the harbour soon to offload last night’s catch. Cob, hake, sought-after local sole and yellowtail, perhaps.

After playing in the right-handers that break over Outer Pool’s shallow reef, the surfer will head into town to plug into the real world, doing just enough to pay for rent, travel and that new custom-shaped surfboard he’s just ordered. If the conditions stay the same he’ll surf again around high tide, perhaps Inner Pool this time; if not he’ll go fishing. Or perhaps put some trail mileage in the legs at St Blaize. Hell, maybe he should just have a beer on the deck at Blue Oyster, like he did yesterday.

Dip your toes in the water at Die Poort below St Blaize Lighthouse.
This is Mossel Bay. Hidden behind the cloak of industrial buildings and badly designed face-brick complexes visible from the N2 (on which most people simply drive by) lies a holiday gem. Go in March and see just how good the locals have it.

What to do in Mossel Bay

1. Tandem skydive

Tandem or solo, Mossel Bay offers some of the finest skydiving conditions on the South African coastTandem or solo, Mossel Bay offers some of the finest skydiving conditions on the South African coast.

A bit like climbing Kilimanjaro, skydiving is something a lot of travellers claim they want to do, but most probably never will. A tandem jump is the first step and the drop zone at Mossel Bay airfield is one of the finest in the country. After a short briefing, the highly qualified and experienced instructors of Skydive Mossel Bay (ask for Arenhold Hooper) will strap you in a harness and join you for the bumpy plane ride to 10000 feet.

There are special views of the bay and Garden Route beyond on the way up, if you can pull yourself together enough to notice. Then they’ll clip you onto them and dangle your feet out the window, and from there, freedom! Besides tandems, they also offer first-jump and free-fall progression courses. Spend the extra R400 on the video and photos – after all, if it’s not on Facebook it didn’t happen.
Price: From R2000
Contact: Tel 082 824 8599, website

2. Surfing

Cape Town surfer Jake Elkington is a regular face at Inner Pool.

Cape Town surfer Jake Elkington is a regular face at Inner Pool.
There are two main breaks at the area known as The Point. Outer Pool works on a low, incoming tide. It offers an easy take-off, before bending onto the reef and turning steep and hollow (and nasty, if you’re not careful). For experienced surfers only. Inner Pool is better on a higher-tide wave and usually a lot more forgiving and fun. Watch out for the infamous ‘peanut’ though – a semi-exposed rock that lurks halfway down the point.

Want to learn? Get in touch with Llewellyn Whittaker, one of the town’s favourite sons. He spent five years on the professional world-surfing tour before returning to set up Waves S’cool’ of Surf. His experience and knowledge is valuable for all skill levels – if it’s your first time he’ll push you into the gentle rollers of Diaz Beach, while for experienced riders he’s your ticket to the best spots in every condition.
Contact: Tel 078 297 3999, website

3. Fishing

Kayak fishing is fast gaining popularity because you have the versatility and mobility of being on a boat, but it’s far less environmentally invasive and you get to experience the hunt on a much more intimate level. Desrick ‘Essie’ Esterhuizen from Mossel Bay Adventures is the reigning Southern Cape kayak- fishing champion and one of the finest proponents of the sport you’re likely to meet. He supplies fully kitted kayaks (fish-finder, safety gear, etc.), tackle and bait, and, most importantly, intimate knowledge of where the fish are. Just want to learn how to paddle? He’s your man too.
Price: From R80 an hour
Contact: Tel 071 285 6538.

For something more extreme – targeting big sharks, for example – champion angler Shawn Mey runs deep-sea and rock-and-surf fishing tours. Shawn has appeared on the cover of Stywe Lyne Tight Lines magazine showing off a 74-kilogram cob he caught – do we need to go on? His tackle shop Go Fish, in the Bayview Centre, is also the best in town for tackle, bait and up-to-date info.
Price: Tours cost from R650 a person
Contact: Shawn Mey on Tel 074 314 6651. Go Fish on Tel 044 690 3577

Both Essie and Shawn are advocates of catch-and-release, but they’ll let you keep one for the braai, provided the species is on the Sassi green list and of legal size. Various fishing licences are available at the Post Office.

4. Walking and hiking

The 14-kilometre St Blaize Trail starts at the Cape St Blaize cave and traces a spectacular path along the cliffs west of town, past Pinnacle Point and on towards Dana Bay. Go in September when the whales are in residence. Trail running your thing? The trail is technical and challenging, but runs fast and safe.
Contact: Tel 044 691 2202, website.

5. Sandboarding

Dragon Dune is faster than you think and a sandboarder’s delight.

Dragon Dune is faster than you think and a sandboarder’s delight.
Dragon Dune is the steep, groomed (by the predominant southwesterly winds) 300-metre-high adult version of a backyard sandbox. And it’s on private land. Guide Leon ‘Bugs’ Billeon mixes patient coaching and informative banter in the relaxed manner that comes only after years of working with clients. Suitable for all skill levels and ages, individuals and groups. Go on a misty morning or the day after rain; not only will the dunes run faster, but you’ll get to read all manner of animal signs in the sand.

Price: Tel 082 971 1405 for price (group Discount available)
Contact: website.

6. Step back in time

Visit the Bartholomeu Dias Museum Complex and send a letter from the 500-year-old Post Office Tree, South Africa’s oldest post office. The story goes that somewhere in the 16th century, Portuguese navigator Pedro d’Ataide left a letter in a shoe (or a pot, some claim) hanging from the branch of a milkwood tree. It was found by the commander of the third East India Fleet, João de Nova, in 1501 on his way to India. Tradition turned the tree into a postbox and so the South African mail system was born. A boot-shaped stone-and-cement postbox still stands and every card posted receives a special commemorative frank. The museum gives interesting insights into the hardships and sacrifices of 16th century mariners.
Contact: Tel 044 691 1067, website.

Also take a tour to the Point of Human Origins caves near Pinnacle Point just outside of town. It’s claimed to be where humans first created complex tools (to make fire, process meat and the like) and used ochre and beading for decoration.
Contact: Tel 044 699 1204, website.

7. See the sharks

There’s good reason so many shark documentaries have been shot in this bay. Go among them by cage diving with White Shark Africa or see them at The Shark Lab, a small aquarium and research facility near the point.
Contact: White Shark Africa, Tel 044 691 3796, website, The Shark Lab, Tel 044 690 5799

Where to eat in Mossel Bay

1. Cafe Gannet

Sip on a cocktail or two at The Blue Oyster, adjacent to Gannet Cafe at the Protea Hotel

Sip on a cocktail or two at The Blue Oyster, adjacent to Gannet Cafe at the Protea Hotel.
Cafe Gannet is the vibey extension of the adjacent Protea Hotel. Dine inside at night or sit in the courtyard for an extended sunny afternoon lunch looking out over the sea. The jury is out over whether the chilli and lime or herb-battered calamari is best… If undecided, go for the salmon-wrapped kingklip in phyllo. Has lunch slid into sundowners? Stroll over to The Blue Oyster in the same building for a cocktail.
Contact: Tel 044 691 1885

2. Baruch’s Coffee

Baruch’s Coffee is arguably the finest roastery on the Garden Route. Walk out with a bag of his freshly ground Espresso Gold or Blue Mountain but not before lingering over at least two flat whites and a tramezzini. Baruch’s offers barista courses too.
Contact: Tel 044 695 2078, website.

3. Fynbos Gourmet

Coffee shop by day, romantic restaurant by night. Emile and Marisa Nel frequently update the menu at Fynbos Gourmet and try to use only fresh local produce. The highlight? Rack of lamb with Pinotage reduction.
Contact: Tel 044 691 1366

4. Café Havana Restaurant and Cigar Lounge

The relaxed Cuban vibes of Café Havana Restaurant and Cigar Lounge might seduce you into letting a sundowner cocktail turn into a liquid snack before dinner. If it does, order your T-bone medium-rare and have it with the rum and cream sauce.
Contact: Tel 044 690 4640.

Fresh fish

Buy last night’s catch fresh off the commercial boats at Viking Fisheries.
Contact: Tel 044 691 1600

Accommodation in Mossel Bay

1. House rental

Short-term rentals are very popular among holidaymaker regulars. Mossel Bay Tourism will provide suggestions of member businesses offering guest houses and B&B accommodation, but don’t handle bookings.
Contact: Tel 044 691 2202.

2. Self-catering

Point Village manages a range of self-catering apartments and cottages in Point Village, Santo’s Beach and Diaz Beach. Prices range from basic to luxury. For views and vibe, the Point is your first prize.
Contact: Tel 044 690 7782, website.

3. The Protea Hotel Mossel Bay

The Protea Hotel Mossel Bay overlooks the harbour and Santos Beach and is within walking distance of the Bartholomeu Diaz Museum Complex. Far from the impersonal nature of some chain hotels, owner JJ Moorcroft has created a homely, relaxed and friendly experience in one of the town’s oldest buildings (circa 1846).
Price: From R1015 a couple sharing a night
Contact: Tel 044 691 3738, website.

4. Mossel Bay Backpackers

To call Mossel Bay Backpackers just a ‘backpackers’ is like referring to a soft serve as just an ice cream. Sweeter, smoother and more of an experience, it’s part traveller’s lodge, part party-central, part adventure-activity launch pad.
Price: From R120 a person a night for dorm rooms and R495 a person a night for an en-suite double room overlooking the pool.
Contact: Tel 044 691 3182, website.

Getting to Mossel Bay

Mossel Bay is about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town (about 400 kilometres on the N2 in either direction).

Useful contact

Mossel Bay Tourism: Tel 044 691 2202, website.
Map

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