[This was written by Fran Siebrits and published online by Wild Magazine http://www.wildcard.co.za/, 2012]

The therapeutic sound of the waves, the gentle breeze on your skin and the salty smell tickling your nostrils … short strolls on the beach can easily turn into lengthy meditative walks. Follow our tips to get the most from a seaside saunter.

Many of our parks and reserves encompass pristine beaches. Some are kilometres long and call out to us for a blissful stroll. But romanticism aside, beach hiking can be tough! In order to enjoy your time without blisters, aches and sunburn setting in, here are a few tips from the Wild team to help you tackle your sandy adventure.

Tip#1: Cover up
Because of the dry, harsh climate that goes hand in hand with most of South Africa’s coastline, sun- and windburn can be intense and painful. There is no shelter on a beach hike, so it’s best to cover up with light clothing or paste a high factor SPF sunblock on your skin. It goes without saying that you should keep a hat on at all times and invest in a good pair of protective sunglasses.
  • Test this tip out: West Coast National Park

    Sixteen Mile beach, as it is named, is both captivating in its beauty and daunting in its expanse. But with a little preparation, you can enjoy a day-long hike without too much fuss. The beach is accessible at certain points for shorter strolls as well.

  • Look for: Sanderlings are small sandpipers with a short, stubby black bill. They are easy to identify as they run up and down the beach, often in groups, following the receding waves as they search the sand for prey.
Tip#2: Turning tides
Check the tide table to plan the majority of your walk for low tide. This is when the sand is more compact and firm underfoot – at high tide the soft sand will tire you out quickly. Walking at low tide is as pleasant as a breeze coming off the sea on a hot day.
  • Test this tip out: De Hoop Nature Reserve

    Forming part of the popular Whale Trail, this long stretch of beach will provide ample opportunity for you to negotiate tides with your tide information. But even if you just hang out in the dune field absorbing the magnificent view, you will still be able to appreciate why this is a much-loved destination.

  • Look for: Whales shelter near the coast from late winter through to spring during the breeding and calving seasons. Views from atop a dune promise a sighting of humpback and southern right whales during the whale season.
Tip#3: Water, water, and more water
It may sound obvious to remember to drink water on a hike, but in a cool breeze and with water in sight it may slip your mind. Make sure your hiking group remains conscious of this. Maybe even remind each other to drink at regular intervals to avoid dehydration.
  • Test this tip out: Cape Point 

    With the Indian Ocean on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous sea views.

  • Look for: Kelp breaks off from its underwater forest environment and washes up on beaches. Although it can have a pungent smell, it is a great source of food and shelter for many organisms, both in and out of the water.
Tip#4: Gaiterize
Get some gaiters to avoid sand getting into your shoes, irritating the skin and causing blisters.
  • This beach seems to stretch on forever, untouched. It is possible to walk the entire day and not see another person or sign of civilisation. At high tide there may be some soft sand and dunes to tackle, so keep those gaiters handy.

  • Look for: Pansy shells, closely related to sea urchins, are a delight to come across and a rare collector’s item. When they die their spines fall off and they bleach white, washing up on beaches in their delicate 5-petalled, pansy-like design.
Tip #5: Airy feet
Pack a pair of Rockies/strops if there are river crossings, swampy areas or if your feet need to breathe some fresh air.
  • Test this tip out: Umlalazi Nature Reserve 

    Opening onto a gorgeous beach, one of the three trails in the reserve winds along the river edge, incorporating dune forest and mangrove swamp.

  • Look for: Interesting mud-skippers can be seen in the more swampy areas. These amphibious fish walk on land and live up to their name by using their pectoral fins to propel their slimy bodies forward. Click here to see mud-skippers in action.

For more beach time, check out these multi-day trails.