Promoted as the 'Bay of Sleeping Beauty' and incorporating Jongensfontein and the community of Melkhoutfontein, Stilbaai (330km from Cape Town) offers a safe coastline, 15km of navigable river and a dollop or two of interesting history. As such and despite its name and unappealing centre, the town has a fair amount going for it. Prehistoric man made his home here several thousand years ago, as did the Strandlopers somewhat later; evidence of their presence can be seen in ancient shell middens and numerous fish traps, which are still in use. Come high December, you'll see further pre-historic evidence: thick-set creatures with large bone-snapping jaws and distended boeps shaped by evolution to cope with lean Pretoria winters. About 12km west of Stilbaai, Jongensfontein is a fast-growing holiday destination with few shops, picturesque scenery and a rocky coastline, and in our view offering a far better holiday than Stilbaai proper, as do the getaways along Stilbaai's wonderful river.
Things To Do
- Stilbaai's beach is superb for swimming and long walks, while the Goukou River and estuary is great for boating and fishing. While the rocky coast around Jongensfontein doesn't have much in the way of a beach, it does have tidal pools and good spots for casting a line.
- Unlike some towns on the Cape coastline, Stilbaai has historical substance. Visiting the ancient shell middens is a 3000-year step back in time, as are the Middle Stone Age artifacts and replicas of artifacts from the famous Blombos Cave, which can be viewed at the visitor's centre. A little younger, Stilbaai's fish traps are simple yet effective devices that were built by the Strandlopers. Still in use today, the traps comprise stacked boulders that form barricades between the high and low water marks, thereby trapping the poor blighters as the tide turns.
- Try schedule a visit to the redeveloped township of Melkhoutfontein - 4km from Stilbaai and an example of what can be achieved when a struggling community bands together for a better future. Many of Melkhoutfontein's residents are descendents of the original Strandlopers and offer an authentic glimpse into past, present and hopeful future. Sample a traditional dish, visit a modest church, chat to Tannie Lisa at the Soeterus Care Centre for the Aged, wander through the botanical garden... You'll come away feeling good.
- Whales approach Stilbaai's shores to mate and calve between June and November. The best places to see them are in the parking area above the harbour, on the harbour itself, at Morris Point, Lappiesbaai (the main beach area) and opposite the estuary in Waterkant Street.
- Been a while since we were there, but we enjoyed a slap-up meal at On the Rocks Steakhouse: good value, attentive service, big portions (Surf 'n Turf a perennial favourite) and a cheap winelist. The Stable (on the river) and Die Lappiesbaai Restaurant, which overlooks the beach (and whales in season), were also recommended by a couple of locals we met along the way.
- Meet tame hand-fed eels at Palinggat, where you will also find Stilbaai's tourism office. Feeding time is daily at 11am.
- The 11km coastal hike between Stilbaai and Jongensfontein is recommended, as are the mapped country routes between the Goukou- and Duivenhoks Rivers. The tourist office can tell you more.
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Where You'll Also Find Us
Arniston (Waenhuiskrans) • Barrydale • Baviaanskloof • Betty's Bay • Bonnievale • Bredasdorp • Caledon • Calitzdorp • Cape Agulhas & Struisbaai • Cape Peninsula & Surrounds • Ceres • Citrusdal • Clanwilliam & Cederberg • Darling • De Rust • Elands Bay • Gansbaai • George • Grabouw & Elgin Valley • Greyton • Hermanus • Hogsback • Knysna • Ladismith • Malgas • Matjiesfontein • McGregor • Montagu • Mossel Bay • Napier • Oudtshoorn • Paarl • Plettenberg Bay • Porterville • Pringle Bay, Betty's Bay and Kleinmond • Riebeek West & Riebeek-Kasteel • Robertson • St Helena Bay • Stanford • Stilbaai • Sutherland • Swellendam • Tulbagh • Velddrif • Vermaaklikheid • Wellington • Wilderness • Worcester & Hex Valley • Yzerfontein