Stilbaai: It’s only still if you want it to be: By Blaise Hopkinson

Don’t let the name fool you! This pristine bay is anything but still, unless by choice, and when you have recovered from your reverie you will find a raft of things to do, places to go.

While known as the Bay of the Sleeping Beauty, after the magnificent mountain nearby, Still Bay has an energy all of its own.

Its proximity to Cape Town by road, George’s convenient airport, Mossel Bay and Riversdale make Stilbaai an integral part of the Garden Route and a thriving town and holiday destination in its own right.

Archeologists and historians delight in their findings, which put the location as a home to sentient man, hundreds of millennia ago. Its fynbos, fecund sea and river have been home to civilisation long before it became a favourite holiday destination and retirement resort for people from all over South Africa… and the world.

Stilbaai means different things to different people, but there is one unifying sentiment, that when you breast the hill on your way from the N2 and catch your first glimpse of the distant breaking waves at the river mouth, you know you have come to somewhere special. For the lucky residents and visitors alike, you can’t but help nudge the accelerator a little harder at that vision.

Watersports, beaches that go on forever, fishing, fine dining, shopping and a usually temperate climate make Stilbaai one of the most sought after towns on the Southern Cape coast.

The Goukou River runs through it to the sea, and all along its tranquil banks are places to stay, to fish, to swim, to boat, to goof off.

And there is plenty else for everyone to do. A visit to the ancient fish traps is a must, and there you will see the ingenuity of the Khoi who used nature’s simple devices to feed their community hundreds of years ago. And in a pond at the Information Centre you can see timid eels that are part of generations of creatures that have made the place home, returning from breeding off Mozambique, probably for centuries.

One thing for sure is you won’t starve in Stilbaai. There are eateries for all tastes, from the elegant intimacy and fine cuisine at Hanlie’s Bistro at the bridge to the more boisterous steakhouse atmosphere of On the Rocks. Excellent fresh fish at Lapskuit and Seespens give you the taste of the oceans while a visit to the Press Room at Olyvenhoudt is like a visit to Provence. Stilbaai also has excellent coffee shops and takeaways and the local branches of Spar and OK carry pretty much everything you need for home catering. The local butchery in East Stilbaai has fantastic cuts of meat and especially free-range pork, not to mention biltong worth leaving home for.

One of the most unlikely finds in Stilbaai, which is both a source of fine products but also a tourist destination on its own, is Inverroche, an artisan distillery that produces gin infused with local fynbos and now exported to 13 countries. Their exclusive rum even finds its way to the Caribbean! Tastings are held daily at the elegant distillery complex and if you are lucky you’ll find Lorna Scott, the founder, in attendance.

Further afield are dozens of day trips for hiking, gambling at Pinnacle Point, eating and drinking at Cape St Blaize in Mossel Bay or even having prandials with pachyderms at the nearby Garden Route Game Lodge outside Albertinia.

Access to Stilbaai is best via the N2, which takes about three-and-a-half hours from Cape Town. The more scenic route via the Huguenot Tunnel through Worcester, Robertson and Swellendam is also a favoured country meander and, if time allows, a stop in Barrydale on the famed Route 62 is recommended.

While predominantly Afrikaans speaking, the residents of Stilbaai will almost always oblige by replying in English. But there are folks from Guernsey, Germany, Canada and elsewhere who call Stilbaai home, so it is somewhat cosmopolitan if you scratch the surface.

Packed with holidaymakers in December and January and at Easter, Stilbaai becomes more sedate in the off-season months. But there is always a fair, a cycle race or a community event to join, including the legendary pumpkin festival.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Still waters run deep!

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