Is there anywhere in South Africa closer to paradise than Nature's Valley in the Western Cape? This tiny, unspoilt village seems to have absolutely everything - kilometres of long sandy beaches that are safe for swimming, a gently-flowing river that opens up into a shallow lagoon near the mouth, lush sub-tropical vegetation, a mild and balmy climate throughout the year and (possibly best of all) none of the crass and tasteless property development that you see in over-exploited places like Plettenberg Bay and Keurbooms River. The lagoon is shallow enough for even the youngest child to splash around in it safely and the water is so warm that you can simply walk in without the slightest of flinching. And it is clean, in large part because (thankfully) power-boating is not allowed on the river and lagoon - only human-powered craft like canoes, kayaks and sailboards are permitted.
Nature's Valley is at the mouth of the Groot River, one of the four rivers that were such an obstacle to early explorers heading east along the southern Cape coast. For years the river could only be crossed by a low bridge about a kilometre from the river mouth and this is where the N2 national road from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth was routed until the 1980's. After 1980 a new toll road was constructed on the escarpment ; three massive bridges over the Groot, Bobbejaan and Bloukrans river gorges ensured that the road had no need to traverse down and up the steep sides of each of the gorges in order to cross the rivers at the bottom [Aside : a bridge over the fourth major river in this area, the Storms River, had been built as far back as 1954]. After the new road was opened the old twisting road down from the escarpment became a minor side road serving a few small villages like Nature's Valley, and this undoubtedly helped to ensure that Nature's Valley remained unspoilt.
The village of Nature's Valley itself stretches for about two kilometres west of the Groot River mouth along the beach. There are only four roads parallel to the beach and no high-rise mansions or apartment blocks. The road nearest the beach does not even have houses on its sea-side! Between the road and the sea is a strip of thick bush and trees indigenous to the area, with pedestrian paths cut through to the beach. The roads are all very narrow - two cars cannot pass each other without one or both of them putting their wheels on the grass verge. A speed limit of 40 kilometres per hour is not enforced (there are no policemen in Nature's Valley) but is still adhered to, partly due to speed bumps but mostly because the residents and visitors want a quiet, peaceful town without cars screaming around at high speed. Most of the houses are simple structures half-hidden behind thick trees, with gardens open to the street - there are very few property fences here.
Hardest of all to grasp is the fact that there is exactly ONE shop and ONE restaurant in Nature's Valley! In fact, both are run by the same people and are right next to each other. Neither are fancy - the shop sells basic essentials like bread, milk, fruit and some canned goods while the restaurant has simple pub-style fare. In this era of massive tourism, that is amazing.
Long may the laid-back character of Nature's Valley remain as it is! I spent a week there in January 2015 and had a fabulous time (see my travelogue about our trip)...