The sound of waves, so close, wakes me from deep sleep and I have to think twice about where I am. Peeking through my unzipped tent with amazement, my eyes takes in the most spectacular scene … golden pink sunrise rays whispering over the waves rolling into beautiful Victoria Bay … the mist slowly rising up over the green hills immediately surrounding the beach. A dream-like atmosphere hangs over the water. Early morning fishermen’s lines are already deep into the sea, waiting for their first catch of the day while enthusiastic surfers are lying in wait to ride the oncoming waves with precision, confidence and much practiced (and admired) skill. Oh, Victoria Bay!
An exciting day lies ahead as I explore this gem of a bay, nestled between lush green hills on the southern, forest-clad shores of South Africa. The road along this beautiful part of our country is aptly called ‘The Garden Route’ and the area is called ‘Eden’ because of its endless, wild scenery – a photographer’s paradise.
Just outside George, on the N2 national road to Wilderness, you’ll find the famous turn off to Victoria Bay. The road winds down for 3km to sea level where you find the little bay which draws travellers and surfers from all over the world. The local surfers come back daily for the most consistent right point break on the South African coastline.
The name dates back to a public meeting at George on 24 August 1847. The meeting was called to hear a report on the capabilities of Gunter Bay, as it was known then. Captain Allen reported that it was possible to land goods at all times. In due course Gunter Bay was renamed Victoria Bay in honour of the reigning sovereign. In 1858 Captain Pilkington surveyed Victoria Bay and the smaller Christina Bay (today known as Ballots Bay) approximately 5km west of Victoria Bay.
Around the early 1900s a certain Mr ETL Edmeades owned property extending from Ballots Bay in the west to Wilderness heights in the east, extending inland as far as Saasveld. When he died in 1927, he left Victoria Bay to his eight children. The Bay was divided into eight plots at the time. The first two plots were given to his daughter Joan, who sold them to Timothy Giles on 9 Feb 1927 for £150 which is even at today’s exchange rates a hefty sum. One can imagine what these properties would sell for today.
Today there are only 13 houses along the one road in Victoria Bay, Land’s End Road. Most of these are guest houses with some permanent residents also living there, hosting travelers from across the globe. The residents are made up of families who have been fortunate enough to have bought their own properties and then there are those that have inherited their properties. All properties are very tightly held and seldom come onto the market.
As you make your way to the inviting beach from the parking lot, you see the quaint little shell shop with an amazing collection of exquisite seashells and down-to-earth interior decorating pieces, reminding you of sea-side holidays and beach houses. Di, whose welcoming smile beams at me from behind the counter, says that people love shells and love buying shells.
“Over the season people usually buy souvenirs. Visitors from upcountry like to take them home to remind them of the beach and their holiday. When the season is over, we have a lot of overseas visitors and sell a lot of shells, especially to shell collectors. Some of the shells come from Indonesia and we also have South African shells, especially those which are endemic to the Jeffery’s Bay coastal area. The most amazing thing about the Shell Shop is that it invokes memories of childhood and many visitors mention this when they walk into the shop.”
It most certainly awoke childhood sea-side memories for me!
Around the corner from the Shell Shop, at the very popular ‘Vikki’s at the Bay” restaurant, owner Michelle says: “Since we opened on 1 Nov ’14, we’ve been open for seven days a week, only closed in winter when it’s pouring with rain and there’s no one on the beach. We’re open from 8:30-5 and serve a delicious brekkie. Our menu includes Fish and Chips, Burgers, Steak, Calamari and everything is homemade. We make our own pizza bases, sauces, all our patties we make ourselves – nothing comes from a packet. All my bastings I make myself. I’m all about homemade. Our Fish and Chips has been voted the best along the Garden Route. I fetch fresh fish caught in Mossel Bay every day, nothing comes from a box. In summertime we feed 100-150 people a day. In winter people don’t want to come to the beach. There’s a TV here for the rugby on Saturdays and we’re fully licensed.”
For the happy campers, there are 38 campsites sitting neatly above the row of houses along Land’s End Road, each with its own little building consisting of a bathroom and sink for dishes. The views are just spectacular from your tent! There’s also a second camp site above the beach area and another above the windy road leading into Victoria Bay. The campsites start at number 17 and legend has it that campsites 1-16 used to be on the beach. Imagine! These campsites are booked up months in advance so be sure to book early for the December holidays! Marelize, who works in the campsite office between the Shell Shop and Vikki’s restaurant, says: “The campsites are booked throughout the year and there are as many international as local campers.”
Vic Bay (as it is called by the locals) truly is a popular bay for surfers, consisting of a right-hand reef-like wave which rolls over small boulder-like rocks for about 200m. District and National surf competitions are often held here, and despite its small village-like size, Vic Bay is known to international surfers.
Charlie**, a resident of Vic Bay for 10 years and a surfer for decades, says that a lot of hot South African surfers surf at Vic Bay. “It is an international surf spot but when JBay (Jeffereys Bay) is cooking, international surfers would rather go there. Even local surfers will go to JBay when its cooking there. Along our South African coast though, Vic Bay is the most consistent surfing place. If you want to surf six out of seven days, then Vic Bay is the place. Our winds aren’t as predominantly strong because Vic Bay recess back a bit and the wind is always very strong out at sea. The South Easter can be very strong out at Knysna, Sedgefield, maybe even Buffalo Bay, but it won’t be strong at Vic bay because we are very protected here.”
When asked what it is like to live in Vic Bay with so many tourists moving through, Charlie replies: “We rent out flats on the beach front and so many regular visitors come back the same time every year. You get attached to them. They don’t just become friends but family. They’re the kind of people you miss. We always try to make their stay as beautiful as what we’ve got, what we have every single day. We take for granted how beautiful Vic Bay is!” Along with his sons, Charlie rents out surf boards and also gives surf lessons.
** Since this article was published, Charlie sadly passed away. He will be missed by his community, the surfers and his guests.
Stretching into the sea, a concrete jetty looks out across the bay and is a popular place for watching the surfers and for fishing. The original jetty, given to the bay by the original owner of what is today the Waves B&B, was severely damaged during storms and was replaced by a larger one during the early 1990s. Next to the jetty there is a sandy-bottomed rock pool which is popular with young and old alike.
Each year Southern Right Whales migrate into the coastal waters of the Western Cape to mate, calve and nurse their young. These beautiful animals, often meters from the shore, provide unforgettable whale-watching opportunities between June and November. Humpbacks migrate through the region between May and December each year, while Bryde’s whales are found slightly further offshore all year round.
Dolphins are also regular visitors, often seen throughout the day in large schools jumping out of the water and sometimes joining the surfers at the point! Seen all year round, the most common dolphins are Heaviside’s Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Dusky Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin.
Vic Bay also has a few resident seals and the occasional otter. I am very glad to report that there’s never been a shark attack at this jewel of a bay, which is another reason why local and international surfers enjoy these waters without end!
The sun sets far away over the Outeniqua mountains and seagulls swirl around the fishermen on the jetty. I’m sitting at the end of Land’s end road, watching the waves crash against the huge rocks below me. So powerful. To my left, surfers are negotiating the waves. I breathe in the salty air and feel so grateful to be alive on such a beautiful planet.
Back at the campsite, our fire’s flames licked into the early evening air as the last of the orange sunset rays linger on the ocean in front of us. What a relaxing day it was. May you too experience Vic Bay, real soon!