St Helena Bay – stretching from Dwarskersbos in the north, past Shelley Point peninsula to Cape St Martin in the west – actually comprises a total of 18 small bays with intriguing names such as Hannasbaai and Vioolbaai. It also incorporates the neighboring towns of Stompneusbaai and Britannia Bay.
Favoured by yachtsmen and canoeists, each bay has its own attractions, stunning sea views and sparkling surf. The bay is an all-year-round destination for outdoor and nature lovers and an ideal base for exploring outlying areas.
The main harbour is at Sandy Point, with a second port at Laaiplek. Fed by the nutrient-rich cold Benguela current along the coast, the waters here boast abundant fish – including snoek – and crayfish (rock lobster), providing a livelihood to many locals, with fish often sold straight off the boats. The area is home to a number of fish-processing factories and much of South Africa’s fish processing is done here.
One of several navigators seeking a sea route from Europe to Asia in the 15th century, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in St Helena Bay in 1497, originally naming it Bahia de Santa Elena.
Imposing granite boulders provide a stunning backdrop to the town and unspoilt white beaches hug the long shoreline, a favourite destination for walkers and beachcombers, who will often spot various species of dolphins. Southern right whales also visit in winter and spring to calve, and humpback and killer whales are frequently seen too.
St Helena Bay – which is at the southernmost point of the migratory route from northern Europe – is on the Cape Birding Route. Keen birders should keep an eye out for roosting cormorants and the African black oystercatcher along the rocky shoreline.
As elsewhere on the West Coast, the veld comes alive with vibrant wildflowers in spring after good winter rains.
Things to see
Saint Helena Bay is the only area along the West Coast where the sun rises across the bay because of it location, with the town facing north east.
For great views and photo opportunities, head to the attractive beacon (sometimes erroneously called a lighthouse) at Stompneus Point, marking the western entrance to St Helena Bay.
Things to do
- Play a round of golf at Shelley Point Country Club
- Charter a boat for a cruise in the bay
- Have your picture taken at the monument where Vasco da Gama first set foot in St Helena Bay
- Go for a surf off Shelley Point