Growing up, December holidays were always divided between two relatively obscure seaside destinations – Betty’s Bay, a scattering of homes crouched along a 15km stretch of Fynbos in the coastal Overberg and Tergniet, an undefined collection of cottages tumbling over a large dune with a view of Mossel Bay in the distance.

I remember finding it really hard to explain the location and nature of these vacations to my Pretoria primary school friends. Most frequented popular resorts in – for lack of a better word – ‘typical’ destinations like Margate, Hartenbos, Langebaan and Plett, where pre-planned kiddies’ holiday programmes were the order of the day. In Tergniet and Betty’s Bay you had to create your own fun, something my brother, cousins and I excelled at.

In Betty’s Bay we had Blou Saffiere – a castle-shaped family fortress dreamed up by my Oupa Andre and Ouma Bobby to satisfy the needs of their burgeoning brood. Every second December we’d share this generous space with my mom’s nine siblings, their spouses and an ever-growing collection of cousins. Times changed and eventually ownership of the house changed hands. We still drive past it ever-so-often, but it’s no longer the same.

Tergniet was where we went every other year. Here our haven was a cosy, matchbox-sized cottage perched right on top of the massive petrified dune with about 1 000 steps leading up to it. Okay, more like 70 or 80 or 90 – nobody in my family seems 100% sure – but as sis-in-law Tamara says: basically too many. The brainchild and handiwork of Oupa Marius, my paternal grandfather, it was appropriately dubbed Kruin van Duin and nowadays belongs to his namesake, my dad’s younger brother.

We fortunately still have the privilege of visiting it every so often and made a mini road trip earlier this year. What made it even more special was the fact that Ouma Naomi was there on her annual seaside respite.

Since my grandfather’s passing in 2013, she has made the long trip from Heidelberg in Gauteng to the rocky Indian Ocean shoreline every year, hopping in the car with my Aunt Adele as well as my dad, who would always slip behind the wheel to drive them down.

My childhood holidays at Tergniet were characterised by adventurous mornings exploring the rock pools unveiled by low tide, neon-coloured fishing net in hand. I remember the excitement that came with capturing a couple of tiny-finned specimens and transferring them to a saltwater-filled bucket. We’d spend some time examining their frantic movements and then release them back into the wild. I also remember how I used to scoop up mother-of-pearl shells, amazed at their natural gloss… and then the profound disappointment that came with the fading brilliance as they dried on the beach.

I recall my grandfather in the blue robe he always wore over his swimming trunks, shuffling along on the rocks to his favourite sloep – a sort of a rocky trench where the seawater from the backline would come rushing through. An excellent swimming spot for those who craved something a little wilder than sitting pretty in a static pool. He’d remove the robe and lower himself carefully into the gushing crevice. More often than not, my mother and father would be close behind. I always felt slightly anxious watching them out there, afraid that one day they’d be washed right out to the oil tankers anchored out there in the bay.

On our recent visit, these memories came flooding back. As they always do. While my gran sat on the porch overlooking the sea and squinting at a crossword puzzle, we headed down to the beach to cool down in the tidal pool, since an influx of sand seemed to have blocked up any alternative swimming spots.

While Imar and Tamara strolled along the sand, Guillaume and I decided to pick our way along the rocks and in the process stumbled upon a sloep of our own. We jumped right in and felt a rush as Indian Ocean washed over us. We swam out as far as we dared and then headed back to shore as the tide came in to join Imar and Tamara at the tidal pool instead. The sun baked down and we basked, only later realising that we had burned ourselves to a crisp.

Embracing the southern Cape singe, we lathered ourselves in after-sun and lit a braai fire as the sun set the entire sky a-glow. Our feast drew to a close with a tasting of our cousin Con’s Umeshu-inspired liqueurs. He had spent months soaking a variety of fruit – apricots, plums and peaches – in clear alcohol, producing a range of tongue-tantalising home-made spirits at his tiny flat in George.

Along with the cool evening breeze, Con’s Umeshu proved to be a delectable assuage for the tingling discomfort our scorched skins. We sat on the stoep and sought out the constellations above (another of my Oupa’s favourite pastimes).

As a contented mellowness set in, I heard my gran softly murmur to Aunt Adele: “This has been a wonderful evening, has it not?” and I felt a surge of gratitude through my veins. How special it is to have these places that hold our memories and allow us to make even more anew.

Words & Photos: Nadia Krige