Tidal Pools of South Africa

The first swimming pools built in southern Africa were tidal pools ('getye poel' in Afrikaans), formed in the rock pools from cement walls. The tidal pools mostly date from the 19th century, before fresh water swimming facilities became common. They suggest recreational aquatic activities although some tidal pools are still used by swimmers from training purposes. The British outdoor swimming has a similar history of tidal pools. which they brought to South Africa. 

Earlier inhabitants built stone walls on the rocks and used the space to harvest fish trapped by the receding tides. Later European colonists used some of the traps as safe swimming areas. See more about the fish traps below.

Over time some swimming pools will have silted up or simply washed away, but today there are numerous tidal pools along the coast of South Africa, with each region's pools reflecting its dominant cultural heritage. The Dutch farmers from the interior went to remote locations, in the summer, mainly to fish. The British traveled to places like Hermanus, Sea View, and Margate, where they built hotels, with tidal pools.  

Many were built by municipalities as attractions for holidaymakers, while others were private efforts. The British built numerous tidal pools around the Cape and Natal south coast - where they liked to holiday. The Afrikaners - mostly farmers from the deep interior of the country - had holiday houses in remote locations along the Cape coast, and they built fewer recreational tidal pools. For them a holiday by the sea meant lots of fishing. See the story of Heroldsbaai and its tidal pools in the Eastern Cape article below. 

Along the long cold west Atlantic coast, there are very few tidal pools. Holidaymakers on this west coast were usually farmers from the Karoo, who visited sporadically, and then mainly to fish. The Natal coast to the east is washed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and has numerous resort towns along the coast, each with a tidal swimming pool. Resort towns along the southern and eastern Cape coastal areas were often remote and largely without permanent inhabitants. These were often no more than a collection of scattered houses, with little if any infrastructure. Social and political change within the country in recent years has prompted many to occupy the seaside resort town on a permanent basis, resulting in enormous development, but no new tidal pools being built.

Tidal pools represented by blue dots can clearly be seen on the map of South Africa. The coasts of former Portuguese colonies at Angola and Mozambique are devoid of any tidal pools.

The Bath of Bethesda tidal pool (above) was built on Robben Island after it became a leper colony in 1845, as swimming was considered to be therapeutic for leprosy victims. This pool can still be seen today, and the image of the Bethseda pool is from a painting by Paul Stopforth.

The southern Africa coastline can be divided into sectors - from the cold waters of the Atlantic west coast beginning at Swakopmund, to the warm Natal on the Indian Ocean east coast.

To the north of Cape Town, there are only three tidal pools (listed in order below), while Mozambique has just one. Besides tidal swimming pools, there is also the interesting phenomenon of stone-walled fish traps (see below). 

Along the entire 1500 km, Atlantic coast north of Cape Town to Swakopmund are only three tidal pools. The furthest north is at the resort town of Swakopmund, with two more at resorts close to the Cape. The Bethesda pool on Robben Island is the only other discernable tidal pool. 

Langstrand, Swakopmund


The Ganzekraal Vakansieoord is a municipal facility 50 km's north of Cape Town. The original Ganzekraal farm dates back to the early 1700s. It was part of the network of farms and buiteposte that stretched the VOC influence all the way from the Castle to Saldanha Bay.


A few kilometres south of Ganzekraal is another municipal resort with a tidal pool.

Stone Fish Traps on the South Western Cape Coast

Stretching for more than 400km, from the Cape Peninsula in the west to beyond the harbour town of Mossel Bay in the east, the South Western Cape coast of South Africa is lined with stone fish traps. These traps are a special feature of this coast and have been reported along much of its length. On the east coast at Kosibaai there are fish traps made from sticks planted in the estuaries. Although they were initially thought to have been pre-colonial, historical evidence shows they date from the late 19th century. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40985509?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents 

Coastal developments have increased the population in the areas these traps occur. This has exposed the traps to human interference which ranges from damage by fishermen who break down walls looking for bait, to the destruction of traps for the construction of harbours or even their conversion into tidal swimming pools. https://www.icomos.org/risk/2006/10gribble2006an.pdf