Stunning sea views, sparkling surf and beautiful beaches make St Helena Bay a special all-year destination, and for residents the bonuses include nearby shopping and healthcare facilities
Long before Jan van Riebeeck set foot in the Cape of Good Hope, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived in St Helena Bay, on the West Coast, in 1497, and you can visit a monument here which marks the spot where he came ashore.
The area has spectacular beaches, regular whale and dolphin sightings, and wildflower displays in early spring. Thanks to all this as well as the tranquil seaside lifestyle, an increasing number of new residents have arrived in recent years, along with buyers seeking a weekend getaway within easy reach of Cape Town, says Chantelle Mathews, area specialist for Chas Everitt International.
The actual bay of St Helena stretches from the village of Dwarskersbos in the north to Cape St Martin in the west, encompassing 18 smaller bays and coves such as Hannasbaai, Stompneusbaai and Britannia Bay, and the Shelley Point peninsula, where there is a golf estate with private beach, country club and hotel.
Fishermen here are responsible for about half of South Africa’s annual fish catch. There are working harbours at Sandy Point and Laaiplek, which is next to Velddrif at the mouth of the Berg River. Sandy Point is home to the Tallie Marine boatyard, a leading builder of ocean-going fishing vessels.
The best beaches are Golden Mile and the Britannia beach, and there are dozens of B&Bs and self-catering establishments to meet holiday demand.
“The town of St Helena Bay and its surrounding areas are attracting an increasing number of retirees and semigrants from Cape Town and other parts of South Africa,” says Mathews.
“There is a huge choice of properties, from residential stands and holiday cottages to estate homes and beachfront mansions.
“St Helena Bay is only 170km from Cape Town and has most things one needs. We have a Spar centre, a mini-market and an Agrimark outlet, a medical centre with two doctors, and two primary schools, as well as several excellent restaurants. And just 25km away, Vredenburg has the huge West Coast Mall, a private and a provincial hospital as well as several more primary schools and two high schools.”
The property market is booming, largely due to the availability of building stands at good prices – and is expected to show further growth as the new Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) at Saldanha continues to take shape and boost employment all along the West Coast.
For now, the latest statistics from property data company Lightstone show there have been 154 transfers of freehold stands here in the past year at an average price of R213000, and 215 transfers of stands in estates at an average price of R250000. “Prices are up compared to five years ago, when the average stand price here was R137000,” says Mathews.
“As for developed properties, there have been 145 transfers of freehold suburban homes at an average price of R875000, and 71 transfers of houses in estates at an average price of R1.63m. The average home price in the area five years ago was around R620000.
“By far the busiest areas have been the Shelley Point Estate, with 29 home sales and 88 stands sales in the past year; and Brittania Bay, with 35 home sales and 58 stand sales.
“We are also pleased to note a strong contingent of young buyers coming into the area.
“Most are buying stands to build their own permanent homes here and this bodes well for the development and prosperity of the town.”
Places of interest and things to do in the area
Southern Right whales often calve in the bay, which is also home to schools of dolphins, orcas and humpback whales. The surrounding area is a bird-watcher’s delight as it is the southern turning point for many of the birds that migrate annually from northern Europe and Russia.
2 Sunrise and sunset
St Helena Bay is one of only three natural bays in the world where you can watch both sunrise and sunset over the ocean. The beacon at Stompneus Bay and the private nature reserve at Cape St Martins are great vantage points.
Charter a boat and go fishing in some of the richest waters in the world for snoek (in winter), galjoen, bream, harder, steenbras, stumpnose and more. Crayfish or rock lobster are usually available from December to March. You can buy fresh fish straight off the boats in Sandy Point harbour.
There is an excellent ninehole course in the Shelley Point security estate, which also has a luxury country club and spa facilities. 0227421037
The St Helena Nursery Coffee Shop on Main Road is a great choice for breakfast or tea with a view of the ocean (0227361564). Die See Ster in the Palms Lifestyle Centre on Shearwater Road is famous for its potjiekos buffet, bunny chows and chocolate cake. It also has an interesting gift and home produce section (0832734703). For a romantic fresh seafood dinner right on the beach, try Alegria on Sea Street in Slippers Bay (0227361393).