By Hitekani Mbatsana
So, what’s blue health travel?
We know stepping outside is generally good for our physical and mental well-being but doing so near water feels extra special. Enter: blue health travel. It turns out that whether it’s a river, ocean, lake or pool, being near water makes humans happy.
“When you step outside, particularly by the edge of the water, your cortisol levels drop. Your brain switches into a different mode,” explains marine biologist and researcher Dr Wallace Nichols, author of Blue Mind. Water has the power to inspire and promote personal rejuvenation. It “boosts creativity, settles your brain and body down, reduces stress,” adds Dr Nichols. Many of us have caught ourselves simply staring at large masses of water with a mesmerising calm. You reconnect with your inner self, surroundings and the people around you.
For one, we listen to the sounds of water when we meditate. On hot summer days, we flock to places near water to celebrate. So, why not do it with your travel plans? Here are some cool near-water spots to visit.
Top blue health travel destinations in South Africa
Paternoster, Western Cape
Go there for: The call of the ocean.
Where? Gonana Guest House
How much? From R1350 per person sharing
Paternoster is one of the oldest fishing villages on the West Coast of South Africa. Stay at Country Routes’s Gonana Guest House, Paternoster’s first sustainable and environmentally conscious guest house — it is effectively off the grid and completely environmentally ethical. Experience the area in its fullness on a guided tour of shipwrecks, the local fishing community and indigenous plant life. Or explore the ocean and meet its inhabitants up close on a kayak.
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Kosi Bay, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KZN
Go there for: Snorkelling, lakes and fishing
Where? Kosi Forest Lodge
How much? From R1950 per person sharing
Kosi Bay is an estuary system comprising four lakes linked by a network of channels. It is one of the jewels of the famous iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It’s recognisable by the traditional woven fishnets used by the community to sustain themselves for over 700 years. The water is so blue here and there is barely another soul for kilometres. It is without a doubt a breathtaking, “wish you were here” destination.
Take a boat ride down the lake, then switch off the motor and listen to the peaceful soundtrack of nature. Kosi Bay is great for snorkelling, kayaking and all manner of water activities. Never been snorkelling before? Floating in busy water can be a stressful experience but these calm waters offer the perfect conditions. One of the best things about scuba diving and snorkelling is that they literally transport you to another world, where you get to explore and observe in absolute awe.
Even the wildlife seem to recognise the area as one of reconnection, wonder and rebirth. Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles still lay their eggs along the iSimangaliso coastline. It is the only remaining major nesting site for these gentle creatures in Africa. Book a turtle tour and experience this special natural event first-hand. It’s a memory you’ll treasure forever.
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West Coast National Park, Western Cape
Go there for: The lagoon, tranquillity and massages
Where? Kraalbaai Luxury House Boats on the Langebaan Lagoon
How much? From R2900 per day for a self-catering houseboat that sleeps six. Plus, entry into the national park which is R100 per adult per day for South African citizens, R150 for SADC nationals and R220 for international visitors during the annual flower season.
If travelling to places near large bodies of water inspires relaxation and rejuvenation, then certainly living on the water is an experience you cannot forgo. Imagine spending the afternoon gently floating on a lilo, swimming in crystal clear, azure blue water before hopping onto the deck of your houseboat for a sunset massage while taking in the relaxing sounds of the lagoon.
Kraalbaai Beach is a more sheltered beach further up the lagoon, where the water is warmer and softer. The houseboats are permanently anchored and a ferry transports guests to and from shore, so no skipper’s licence is required and no chance of floating away. The tranquillity of the water draws you in from the moment you arrive. Besides a restful slumber surrounded by the lagoon, there’s also kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and fishing for you to enjoy. But trust us on the lilo!
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Go there for: Surfing
Where? Supertubes Guesthouse, part of Cape Country routes, on world-famous surfing beach, Jeffreys Bay, in the Eastern Cape is modern in style and only 30 metres from the beach.
How much? From R950 per person sharing in a sea-facing room, including breakfast
Ask any surfer and they will tell you, “surfing makes you happy.” Of course, it’s full-body exercise, too — squats, lunges, push-ups and core — they’re all in there. But it’s not just the endorphins from the workout that make it a good time. Studies show that surfing is also a meditative experience and increases feelings of calm and tranquillity.
It draws your attention from future anxieties by requiring you to focus and stay in the moment. Also, beginner or pro, it’s fun and who doesn’t like to have fun?
Jeffreys Bay — or J-Bay to the locals — is home to a variety of famous surfing spots and is a popular surfing destination for surfers from all around the world. Even if you don’t come for the surf, you can get your saltwater fix swimming or take a stroll on Dolphin Beach, one of the few Blue Flag beaches in the country. Other activities in the area for the whole family include whale watching, fishing, horse-riding, Big Five game viewing, excursions and shopping. With personalised service, friendly staff and being owner-managed, guests are guaranteed a delightful stay at Supertubes.
Go for: Adventure and waterfalls
Where? Extreme Adventure Camp on the Panorama Route between Sabie and Hazyview on the R536 Sabie Road
How much? R150 per person for a guided 12km hike with access to waterfalls. Tubing is R450 per person, for two and a half hours.
Let’s be honest, hiking can be a bit of a slog at times. Still, nothing beats the energising joy of coming across a waterfall on a long hike. First, you hear small echoes in the distance. That’s followed by the ever-increasing rhythmic sound of running water (which could just as easily be a small stream). As you close the distance, the rocks and pathway dampen and the crashing sound of moving water gets louder with each step. The brush clears and then bam, the beat drops. Towering cascades of water, hidden caves, flashes of rainbows as the light hits the spray and deep rock pools. It’s magical, every single time.
There is so much benefit in experiencing water as calm, soothing and restorative. However, the hit of dopamine and adrenaline you get doing water adventure activities like geckoing, is nothing short of exhilarating. Whether you’re a hardened thrill seeker or taking a leap of faith, the feeling of going over rapids while holding onto a tube for dear life and finally clambering out the other side, with a fist pump for making it through, is pretty awesome. Sometimes a challenge and more than a little faith in yourself are just what the doctor ordered.