So, what makes a beach a great beach let alone a ‘best’ beach? Perhaps it has the sand that is so white it blinds you or that the sand is just so unbelievably soft. Or the water is crystal blue? Or it has a stunning and remote location?
In reality though it’s none of these, at least not in isolation; it’s far more abstract – it’s a feeling, an emotion, it’s your first impressions. You’ll see the beach and either it’s a “wow” or it isn’t.
Well here are my first impressions…my “wows”.
Arguably one of the most exclusive islands in the world – let alone Africa! It’s where our young royals went for their honeymoon.
North Island is a short helicopter flip from Mahe in the Seychelles – ‘another world’ in the heart of the Indian Ocean. This group of picture perfect islands have everything, but it’ll be the azure blue water contrasting against the white sand and palm fringed beaches that’ll win you over.
If that’s not enough the island is a model of how to work with nature, from its design through its build, to its everyday operation. It’s the sort of place that Caroline Lucas would applaud and want to visit. But then she’ll have to fly to get there, so probably wouldn’t. So that’s another reason to go.
Mozambique – where’s that? It’s not somewhere that immediately springs to everyone’s mind but situated toward the south-eastern tip of Africa, just above South Africa it has two of the most incredibly beautiful archipelagos in Africa, Bazaruto in the south and Quirimbas in the north. The beaches make an excellent add on to a safari in Botswana or Zambia or from the Kruger National Park with direct flights into Vilanculos.
There are many idyllic islands to choose from but I’d stay on Benguerra Island. Set within the Indian Ocean’s Marine National Park of the Bazaruto Archipelago and therefore superb for diving off the miles of deserted beaches. It is not though a deserted hideaway as there’s local life and history to experience but at a gentle pace much like the local dhows criss-crossing before you. So remote but still in touch with the world and that’s why it made it onto my list.
Here’s one from the ‘left field’ for you – Malawi. Yes, it is ‘land-locked’ but it does have the third largest freshwater lake in Africa that is so large that you can’t see the other side (50+ miles away), so you’d never know it wasn’t on an ocean.
The beach property of Kaya Mawa (meaning ‘maybe tomorrow) in the local tongue) is located on Likoma Island is actually in Mozambique but that doesn’t seem to worry anyone. The lake is like glass first thing in the morning, so it’s a great time for first-timers to get on the water in a canoe or on a windsurfer but you’d need to be a little more expert later in the day when the wind funnels down the Great Rift Valley.
The island offers a mixture of bare-foot luxury with post colonial history and community in an unusual location – hence its inclusion. Visit Kaya Mawa after your safari in Liwonde or Majete National Parks – you’ll be astounded by the contras just a short light aircraft hop away.
And whilst I’m on about unusual beach locations, here’s another one for you. Like Kaya Mawa, Greystoke Mahal is not on the coast but instead on the shores of Lake Tanganyika (on the eastern side of Tanzania) in the Mahale Mountain National Park, whose forested peaks rise 8,000 feet from the lake-shore.
Greystoke Mahale has a split personality as its part safari lodge, with just six rooms set into the tree line, and part beach property. It does the first bit superbly with guided walks into the forest to encounter the local troops of chimpanzees and it equally accomplished in the second with uninterrupted views of the beach and the lake across to the Democratic (?!) Republic of the Congo, from the lodge.
So, although there is an amazing superb beach to enjoy, it’s the back drop and the chimpanzees that make it for me, along with that “wow” moment when you land for the first time.
Towards the far north-eastern tip of South Africa in an area known as Maputaland, north of Durban on the Indian Ocean coastline is Rocktail Bay. The bay, named after a ship wreck, is one of the remotest stretches of beach that I have had the pleasure to visit; it stretches for almost five miles in a huge crescent of sand dunes fringed by the dense vegetation of the coastal forest reserve in which it sits.
Diving and snorkelling here is just incredible as there are only two lodges in the area, so visitors’ numbers are never high. Giant Rays and Whale Sharks and Leather-backed Turtles are annual visitors, the latter of whom come ashore to lay their eggs, usually in late October with the hatchlings hatching from April. Late night torch light turtle safaris are offered at this time.
Rocktail is a great place to dive and to chill away from the masses but is still accessible with Durban just a four hour drive – hence it makes my list.
My last recommendation is a true exclusive beach location – it doesn’t even have a landing jetty, your boat pulls up close to the shore and off you hop, wading onto the beach. Welcome to Mnemba!
Situated to the north of the main Zanzibari island of Unguja, Mnemba is a luxurious island retreat popular with honeymoon couples for its ‘Robinson Crusoe’ secluded exclusivity – and he wasn’t found for thirty years! The stylish accommodation is located on the edge of the beach overlooking its own coral reef ideal for a lazy snorkel or gentle dive in the rich waters than run down the east coast of Africa.
Question – When is a beach not a beach?
Answer – When it’s an entire coast – the Skeleton Coast!
If you’re looking for cocktails, a club sandwich and a sun-lounger, then the Skeleton Coast is not for you. But if you after endless pristine wilderness of serene yet breathtaking beauty, dotted with the skeleton of whales and the rusting bones of ship wrecks and inhabited by desert adapted lion, elephants, giraffe and the weird looking brown hyeana, then this is the place to come.
And that sells it for me.