Surf, sand and slums: Jeffreys Bay isn’t as ‘swell’ as I’d hoped

If you asked a surfer where he’d like to go in South Africa, he’d probably answer, “Jeffreys Bay”, followed by some incomprehensible babble along the lines of, “Totally tubular hang ten, duuuude!” That’s because Jeffrey’s Bay is widely regarded as the greatest surf spot on the planet, and is a place of pilgrimage for people who enjoy splashing around on lengths of wood.

I’m not a surfer, though, so J-Bay doesn’t hold the same appeal for me. The truth is that despite being a popular backpacker stop, there’s not much to do here if you don’t surf. The beaches are pleasant but certainly not spectacular, there aren’t any great hikes or strange animals, and the town itself is rundown and risky. I was warned not to walk outside my hostel, or to head down to the beach, even in the day. There’s a township right next to the main town, and cows and poor people lurk around every corner. In fact, a bloke who was staying in the same hostel as me was bashed to death just outside the front gate a few years ago.

In typical South African fashion, there’s a perfectly safe area just a few kilometres away. Paradise Beach doesn’t quite live up to its name – there are a dozen prettier beaches on the NSW Central Coast alone – but it is a nice place to relax. The water’s cold as shit, though, and my wiener was as small as Kevin Rudd’s after going for a dip. Alright, that’s an exageration, but there was severe shrinkage.

To end the day, I explored an abandoned penguin sanctuary in a poorly-maintained national park. I couldn’t find any penguins, and the hiking trails nearby were overrun and littered with used condoms and freaky empty shacks, so I left. After the natural joys of Stellenbosch, Mossel Bay, Plettenberg and Tsitsikamma, Jeffreys Bay has been a bit of a letdown, so I might head inland and chase some elephants in my dorky little Hyundai. What could possibly go wrong?

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