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The beautiful bay by Deborah Rudman | 16th June, 2017 | Personalities

Plettenberg Bay in South Africa’s Western Cape is a surfer’s paradise. It has been the almost permanent home of the Orzechowskis for 13 years. Going about their lives barefoot and in view of the sea, they depend on its rhythms the way others depend on a bus schedule.

If you turn off the main coastal highway in the Western Cape, past the manicured golf courses and double-story mansions of Plettenberg Bay, and head through subtropical thickets of heathland vegetation and sand dunes, you’ll come to the magical spot where the Keurbooms River meets the ocean. Forming a natural lagoon, it is the chosen getaway spot for Frances and Wojtek Orzechowski and their son, Tadj. The trio are an integral part of the Plettenberg Bay community: Frances designs women’s leisurewear under the brand name Soul, which she and Wojtek sell in their three Indalo stores along the aptly named “Garden Route,” which stretches from Mossel Bay in the southeast to Storms River on the edge of the Eastern Cape. The coastal resort town of Plettenberg Bay (affectionately referred to as Plett) is one of the most beautiful surfing destinations on the Garden Route, blessed with pristine beaches and warm, clear water. It’s also favored for its temperate climate: winters are mild, summers are warm, and it’s protected from the strong seasonal winds that buffet most other parts of the Cape coast. Combined, these elements make it ideal for year-round watersports. Surf enthusiasts, attracted by the moderate ocean swells, descend upon Plett in cheerful droves all year round, as well as upon the international surfing hub of Jeffreys Bay 160 kilometers further north. First discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 1600s who gave it the name “Baía Formosa” – the beautiful bay – Plett remained relatively undeveloped over the centuries. Until the 1970s, it was a little more than a village, the preserve of a wandering band of young surfers from Cape Town and Durban in search of a satisfying wave. Each year, the number of those surf aficionados grew and so did the village: today its resident population is about 40,000. (This figure triples in December and January, when family holidaymakers from all over the country flock here for the holiday season.) Where there was just a handful of scattered houses, there are now schools, hotels, banks, shopping malls and most of the facilities you’d expect to find in an established town. Its enduring appeal remains, however – it’s a natural playground for both land-based and ocean-centered activities.

“We watch the tides and plan our daily activities around low and high tide” Frances Orzechowski

The Orzechowskis made this their home 13 years ago, drawn by the appeal of a coastal resort that blends elements of casual sophistication with a wholeheartedly outdoor lifestyle. Both Tadj and Wojtek are accomplished ocean men – they surf, dive, ski, kitesurf and paddle at any opportunity. “We watch the tides and plan our daily activities around high and low tide,” says Frances. Tadj, 17, gives surfing lessons to other youngsters in his school holidays. “He finds it constantly rewarding – the thrill of seeing children riding their first wave.” Frances herself prefers the calmness of the lagoon, where her favorite activity is SUP (stand-up paddling). “The estuary is so peaceful,” she observes, “and there’s wonderful birdlife here.” In fact, Plett is rapidly becoming a birder’s paradise: half of the endemic bird species of South Africa are found here, and recent migrants include flocks of majestic flamingos. For novice and professional surfers there are numerous events to provide a challenge: in addition to the Jeffreys Bay classic surfing competition – the Billabong ASP Championship, one of the topranked competitions on the international circuit – there are bodyboarding contests, such as the Wedge Classic Bodyboarding Competition, the oldest bodyboarding event in South Africa. “Nipper” classes are regularly held throughout the year, where youngsters are trained to become lifesavers. And of course, when night falls, these stars of the surf are still full of energy, swapping boards for dance beats at the local eateries and nightclubs. The end-of-year Plett Rage is on everyone’s calendar – the first week of December is when Plett hosts an influx of exuberant, newly graduated highschool students from all over the Western Cape.

“Keeping things simple and aiming for self-sufficiency is the best way to be” Frances Orzechowski

When the Orzechowskis want to escape the hubbub, they retreat to their holiday shack at the Keurbooms Lagoon: a collection of three small rondavels or “round huts” linked by a covered passageway. It’s a very particular, African-inspired design: a circular construction of stone and wood, with a distinctive thatched pitched roof. Traditionally a type of indigenous southern African rural dwelling, the style has been appropriated and modified for a variety of purposes. Frances planted a vegetable patch so that every December, when the holiday season is in full chaotic swing, they can avoid the Plett stores crammed with summer tourists, and use the produce from the garden instead. “It works so well that we now use it all year round!” Above all, the home’s appeal lies in its simplicity. It invites a barefoot- and-barbecue lifestyle: the idea is to take off your shoes on arrival and forget about them until it’s time to leave. Entertaining friends and family is also easy: the open fire pit is an irresistible gathering point, and a barbecue of fresh fish makes a delicious, simple meal, accompanied by salads from the garden. “We live off the land where possible,” says Frances. “Keeping things simple and aiming for self-sufficiency is the best way to be.” Everything one needs, she adds, is right here – the ocean for surfing, the beach for long walks, the lagoon for a swim, vegetation for color and shade, and a produce patch for the kitchen. “It’s wonderful to be at home and watch the water as it changes with the seasons. Whales pass by in winter; there are dolphins in summer. And although the house is no more than 10 minutes from town, when we are sitting in our garden, looking out over the lagoon, we feel isolated – in a good way! Time slows down and we simply enjoy being here. What more could you want?”

“Time slows down and we simply enjoy being here. What more could you want?” Frances Orzechowski

IssueGG Magazine 03/17
City/CountryWestern Cape/ South Africa
PhotographyGreg Cox/Bureaux/Livinginside