Staying in Stillbay

As a final attempt at retirement, my parents are moving to the very aptly named Stillbay. I say it is aptly named because nothing much seems to happen in this quiet little coastal town. Except, that is, in December, when it is invaded by enough bikini-clad holiday goers to cause actual, real-life traffic jams – something the locals are by no means used to seeing. This annual influx of family-filled 4×4’s and rundown Beatles bursting with sleeping bags, mop-headed students and the occasional longhaired, barefooted surfer, is enough to even breathe life into the nearby Jongensfontein (which, under normal circumstances, makes the quiet Stillbay look like a bustling economic hub).

The reason Stillbay is such a popular holiday destination is because it promises lazy days interrupted only by the occasional screech of a seagull or an over-indulged child. Like any other seaside town on the east coast, it fulfils the South African need for December sun and sea. The thing that sets Stillbay apart is, however, the very same Goukou River responsible for much of the town’s December traffic jams. Since the larger part of the town is located on the western side of the estuary formed as the Goukou flows into the ocean, access is pretty much limited to a single bridge. Not that that seems to deter faithful Stillbay devotees. In fact, the nuisance of a little traffic seems a small price to pay when you can watch your children safely and happily play on the massive sandbanks of this beautiful estuary. During high tide, one will see boats and canoes, windsurfers and divers, but when low tide comes and much of the water recedes to reveal large stretches of golden sea sand, the river embankment becomes a multicoloured playground scattered with laughing children, lopsided sandcastles and grateful parents relaxing in the sun (in this sense, it also helps that Stillbay claims to have the lowest crime rate in South Africa).

The generation not yet concerned with the safely of their offspring, will however, also find that there is more to Stillbay than retired pensioners and family-fun. As the site of the annual “touchies” rugby tournament that takes place at the end of December, Stillbay is a very popular destination for the newly-independent and the fulltime-studying – a surprisingly large number of whom know someone who knows someone whose parents have a holiday home with a conveniently-located outside shower. Local spots like the Drie Ankers Disco, Puffadders and Stables will ensure that even these party-hungry youngsters enjoy their stay in Stillbay.

Outside of the sunny season, tourists will find Stillbay returned to its quiet and normal self. People greet each other on the street, neighbours water each other’s gardens and in the early mornings you can see the more hardy residents floating up or down stream in the river, depending on the direction of the tide. Even when the winds and rains of winter make a seaside adventure unimaginable, Stillbay offers rest and escape, hours in front of the fire and long walks along the ocean – clad in parkas, of course. Overall, I think I might be visiting my parents more than they expect.


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