Words by: Paul Millar
Here in South Africa’s Western Cape the seasons are starting to change. The days are becoming noticeably shorter and the nights and early mornings have a coolness that means only one thing: winter is slowly waking up. We also see this change reflected in the presence – or absence – of birds, bugs and marine life. The climate in this part of the country is very seasonal, with hot, dry summers and wet, cool winters. The public’s response to this seasonality is predictable, with summer seeing hordes of folk flocking to the more popular bathing haunts, whereas in winter the same beaches are empty, left only to the dedicated surfers and dog-walkers.
But it doesn’t need to be like this. Although many of us see the beach purely as a place to swim and soak up sunshine, there are so many other wonderful things to do that don’t require getting wet and cold (provided it’s not pouring with rain, of course). So, here’s a list of 10 things to do at the beach this winter:
1. Rockpooling: Looking for interesting critters in among the rocks is fascinating fun. Make sure that you are there at low tide, wear a pair of non-slip shoes and ideally take a good field guide with you. Once you’re staring into a puddle full of bizarre-looking bugs, your curiosity will grow. Remember to be gentle with these creatures, and make a point of familiarising yourself with any regulations that may apply, particularly if you want to take something home with you.
2. Shell collecting: The coast is littered with beautiful shells that provide a way into learning about many of the sea’s creatures. Kids love the challenge of finding the smallest, biggest or most beautiful shell. A cold, early morning’s shell collecting makes a late breakfast taste better than ever!
3. Make a kelp horn: The Capes beaches are littered with kelp and, as every youngster knows, a kelp stem makes a great horn (or vuvuzela, as we call it here). The trick is to find not only the right shape, but also a piece that is dry and hard. Remember to leave any crawling inhabitants of the kelp on the beach where they belong! Take along some oil paints and give your new noise-maker some funky designs.
4. Fly a kite: If you don’t have a kite, so much the better – you can make one!
5. Write a poem: The sea has inspired many a writer. Close your eyes, listen to the sound of the winter swells crashing and let your pen flow…
6. Drawing: The sea has also inspired many great artists. If you don’t feel up to doing a seascape, find an interesting item (like a shell) and sketch it as you relax on the sand, warmly wrapped up in your winter woollies.
7. Take photographs: The Cape coast has its own unique moods and is at its wildest in winter. This is the time of the year to capture images of beaches with no footprints other than your own.
8. Make greeting cards: The Cape’s beaches are often littered with beautiful, delicate and colourful seaweeds. These, together with shells, can be used to decorate cards that will provide the personal touch that is missing from most of the greeting cards in the shops.
9. Make a sand sculpture: An outing to the beach, even in winter, is not complete without getting properly sandy. What better way to do this than to sculpt your favourite sea creature (or anything at all!) and add the final details using the many interesting bits of marine debris that accumulate during winter storms.
10. Play sport: People from other countries often say that you can always spot a South African among other nationalities on the beach because we Saffas are usually rushing around playing our favourite sport. So instead of wallowing in mud on a winter football pitch, go and kick that ball on the beach and get yourself properly sandy. Once you’ve built up a sweat, who knows, you might just feel like a swim!