St Helena Bay – The Bay of Many Bays
Eighteen bays, stunning sea views and sparkling surf make St Helena Bay a very special destination. Discovered by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1497, St Helena Bay, known locally as Die Agterbaai, is one of the world’s prime fishing centres. Fed by the nutrient-rich Benguela current, the waters teem with marine life, which also provides the livelihood for its coastal inhabitants.
The main harbour at Sandy Point bustles with activity, and shipbuilders and fishermen rub shoulders as they go about their daily work. The fisher folk haul in the treknets to harvest the day’s catch and the women’s sleight of hand as they ‘vlek’ snoek is a marvel to behold. Fishing boats use the safe harbour entrance to sail into the fishing paradise of St Helena Bay and at sunset the boats return heavily laden with their catch of the day.
Their cultural heritage is unique and the quaint tongue of the locals will bring a smile to the face of those who stop to savour their vernacular. When in production, and by prior arrangement, tours of fishing factories are available for visitors to join or one can watch the treknets being repaired. Southern Right whales return here to mate and calve annually and St Helena Bay is home to the endemic Heaviside’s dolphin, classified as Data Deficient by www.leisureboating.co.za December 2014 25 the IUCN Red List, as well as Humpback and Killer whales, among other cetacean species.
It is also the southernmost point for the Palearctic migratory birds from northern Europe and Siberia, making it a bird watcher’s paradise. Imposing granite boulders provide a stunning backdrop to the town and beautiful, unspoilt and long white beaches hug the shoreline; walkers and beachcombers delight in exploring the area. The actual bay of St Helena stretches from Dwarskersbos in the north, past Shelley Point peninsula, to Cape St Martin in the west, traversing a total of 18 bays with intriguing names such as Hannasbaai and Vioolbaai and each has its own unique attractions much favoured by yachtsmen and canoeists. Surfers are also very fond of this magical place, and come to ride the waves of ‘heaven and hell’ off Shelley Point when the Atlantic swells roll in.