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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

TUGELA RIVER TO KOSI BAY

After the heavily industrialised port of Richards Bay, you enter into a wild wonderland of jungle, pristine wetlands and beautiful tropical country. From the St. Lucia wetlands, a world heritage site, to Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay, there is a lot of potential that has barely been realised.

This is a mostly unexplored coast largely made up of marine and other reserves. Maputaland is a 100km stretch of coast from Sodwana Bay to Kosi, where big mama turtles lumber up the beach to lay their eggs and – a while later – baby turtles scuttle back to the sea. The water is clear and warm, often around 26°C in summer and marginally colder in winter.

You will be surrounded by lush marsh forest, mangroves, ferns and orchids. Along the gleaming white sands lie a host of secret breaks with good potential at or near landmarks such as Gobey’s Point, Hully Point, Island Rock, Black Rock, Dog Point and Boteler Point. Much of the coastline is protected and isolated. You will need permits and a good guide to find your way around. Because it’s illegal to drive on the beach with a 4x4, access to many potentially world-class breaks is limited. But it is a magical place, so surfing should not be the only goal of your mission.

In the far north of this coast, just below the border with Mozambique, coral reefs abound off the shoreline. A typical set-up comprises a long sandy beach split by a river mouth, and an inland estuary running parallel to the beach. In many instances, the beach shelves steeply into the sea, with a calm inshore area protected by outer reefs that break up open-ocean swells that expend their energy in the form of long lines of pounding surf. Many of these outer reefs run parallel to the shore - their flat angle often results in dumping waves that mostly close out. However, there are reef passes – gaps in the coral – where surfable waves break, as well as beaches and the rare point that are directly exposed to the ocean.

{mosimage} TURNING TURTLE: A loggerhead turtle is silhouetted against shafts of sunlight.

{mosimage} WORTH THE WAIT: A goofy-footer files along the line at Alkanstrand.

{mosimage} TIGHT TUBE: The pristine waters of the north

Best winds are light west or northwest. Swells approach the coast anywhere from a south to northeast direction. Like the North Coast, the more east in the swell, the more the left-handers turn on, while south swell is better for right-breaking spots. In summer, the occasional southwest buster breaks up the continual summer trade winds that blow from the northeast, making for a messy, white-capped ocean that is not too appetising for surf. Apart from brief offshore interludes, when the southwester is often too strong anyway, the onshores sometimes blow themselves out overnight. You get a short window early in the morning before the cycle renews itself.

For the right-handers, the best swell directions – south to southeast – emanate from cold-water low pressure storms passing below the country, mostly in winter. The weather is not as hot or humid in winter, and you get more calm or offshore days, with steady south swells pulsing up the coast. While the surf tends to be more consistent in summer, it’s usually mushy and weak from endless onshores emanating from high pressure activity out to sea. From mid-summer, when cyclones form off Madagascar, plenty of big east groundswell starts to grind through. This coast is closest to the cyclones, and bears the brunt of their energy. Tropical cyclones can form quickly and powerfully, sometimes generating seriously big waves on a par with Cape Town, except of course you are wearing board shorts and nose cream – rather than full steamer and hoodie – as your protection against the elements.

There are rumours of proper big-wave outer reefs discovered by Durban’s big-wave crew. Go forth and explore.

Mtunzini

This beach resort area is near the Mlalazi River (Place of the Grinding Stone) and Umlalazi Nature Reserve. There are plenty of beach breaks on wide-open beaches that stretch far to the north and south. Surf spots come and go as the fickle sandbanks shift. Explore between Mtunzini and the mouth of the mighty Tugela River, about 60 km to the south. Heavy inland rain means brown muck pours into the sea, which becomes brown near the river mouth. Watch out for sharks here. An exposed point at Siyayi, about 12 km to the south of Mtunzini, holds potential. It works in a moderate swell and light northwest winds.

Richards Bay

Protected from the southwest wind by the piers, a big dredger pumps sands onto the banks creating some really fun waves, but only at certain times. When it works, it’s a clean, well-rounded wave, offering barrels along the piers with long down-the-line waves. Needs a long-period south swell.

Alkantstrand

Sandbanks are held in place by the massive north breakwater, making Alkantstrand the best spot – certainly in terms of consistency – in the Richards Bay area. Wedging right-handers rebound off the dolose and peel down the beach. As with most KZN spots, it’s best in a southwest wind.

When the northeast blows, you might like to check out Inside, a sheltered left-hander that breaks off the other side of the groyne. Amazingly, right on the edge of the shipping lane, inside Richards Bay Harbour, is the rare but excellent Señoritas, a bombora that comes to life in only the biggest cyclone swells.

St Lucia

This spectacular 100-km stretch of coast runs adjacent to a vast inland estuary, Lake St Lucia. The mouth lies to the south, at St Lucia town. Covered in a verdant mantle of jungle, this protected area is a world heritage site. Comprising long beaches and warm water (how’s 27 °C?) it is paradise. However, the prevalent northeast onshores make the waves messy. Most coral reefs are too near the shoreline Word has it that there are several world-class beach breaks and one or two reefs that go off in cyclone swells. Befriend a local, or go exploring on the beaches in the area. Otherwise, take a look at the point to the south of St Lucia at Maphalane. Besides Cape Vidal, other landmarks in the reserve are Mission Rocks and Leven Point.

Cape Vidal

There is a good-quality reef/sand combo near a crocodile sanctuary inside the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. Gets super-hollow. It starts on a slab and barrels across sand. Consistent. Left and right peaks. Needs a clean cyclone swell or long-period south to southeast swell. Clean west winds.

Jesser Point

Good waves can be found at Jesser Point, on the southern end of Sodwana Bay. The prevalent winds are northeast, but land breezes often blow at sunrise and sunset in summer. During winter, some days are glassy and the surf gets classic when the swell comes out of the south or southeast. A cyclone swell in summer turns this coast on.

Sodwana Bay

This is a tropical diving and angling paradise. Large, lush coastal forests to explore. Stunning coastline. Good waves can be found on the beach in Sodwana Bay itself. Breaks left and right. Fickle banks, but can go off, breaking at up to six feet. Cyclone swell territory.

Kosi Bay

A stone’s throw from the border with Mozambique, the Kosi Bay area is an eco-tourism paradise. The protected estuary is a pristine waterway. Crocodiles and hippos lurk in the Sihadhla River. Loggerhead turtles nest at nearby Bhangha Nek, slightly to the south. The surf potential of this wild and beautiful tropical coast has not been realised.

 

Comments  

 
Luke Kosi Bay
+1 #1 Surfers LodgeLuke Kosi Bay 2015-02-27 15:57
Hi,

I run a lodge in the Kosi Bay Area. I have seen how awsome the surf gets at the different breaks along this stretch of coastline. We provide boat charters in the Kosi Lakes and Snorkeling trips to the mouth...but I would love to host some adventure seeking surfers at my lodge.
Should anyone be interested...please check out our website : www.shengezacharters.co.za
We can accommodate up to 10 surfers at a time...
 

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