This is the place of barefoot holidays, ankle bracelet tan lines, and where the scent of sunscreen lingers even after an outdoor shower.

While the scent of chicken manure on farms and cows joining the Sunday traffic may be appealing for some, it is not this I seek every year during the December holidays.

Instead, I crave the secret beach location along the coast of East London that I’ve come to know like the back of my palm. The place of my heart: Haga Haga. A name so nice, you have to say it twice.

This is the place of barefoot holidays, ankle bracelet tan lines and the scent of sunscreen that lingers even after an outdoor shower. It’s the beach spot of 6am swims and where eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in my bathing suit is all I’ve known for every summer holiday of my 17 years of living.

Neighbours who’ve become family and strangers who’ve turned into friends over an evening braai fill the small community each summer. I’ve found a new relative every single year – to the point where I’m now convinced everyone is somehow related.

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Beach races on New Years Day, lantern-lighting on Christmas, along with midday heat-engraved tan lines, all attract the community like wind-swept sand to ocean-wet hair.

It is the place where everyone walks because cars aren’t needed and where a sidewalk vendor can strike a conversation with a passerby about anything.

However, it’s not just the people who make this place a gem. It’s the knowledge that it’s safe enough that my parents won’t be worried if I sleep outside on a quilt with my teenage friends. It’s the marks of the landscape that I’ve become so familiar with that you could blindfold me, and I’d still be able to trace my steps to my favourite rock pool.

The treasure lies in the silence that allows me to hear my thoughts; the the white-water noise that lulls me to sleep; and the scent of the sea that awakens me ever so gently.

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The newest upgrade in the small village includes blueberries for sale at the grocery store and an increase in the price of one pineapple from R4 to R4,50.

After one evening of ritually hiking up a hill with my father, we sat and counted the number of cottages. 57 was the total. It’s grown a lot over the years. Somehow, though, it’s the smallness and the never-changing village that pulls me back every year like gravity. It’s the fact that phones are forgotten, family is found, and that I am reminded of who I am and where I belong.

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Haga Haga allows me to investigate nature in its raw form: rock pools with starfish, sea urchins, and colourful seaweed create day-long underwater photography fun. Radiant red skies along the seashores in the evening always seem to attract the elderly couple for a stroll. Likewise, a misty morning captivates the mothers’ toddlers as the fog moves past rolling waves. For my family, the attraction lies in the repetitive morning swims before breakfast which exercises the pumping of blood in my veins and gets me going.

Even in my teen years, in desperate need of sleep, I have managed to wake up, put on the previous day’s damp bathing suit, and walk the short gravel road before throwing myself into a pool of smooth, fresh water. After that, I continuously find myself tending to the beach wash-up from the previous night and discovering seashells in desperate need of a home on our kitchen counter.

Swim, tan, eat repeat. It’s a never-ending cycle of leisure, relaxation and the feeling of holiday sinking into your bones. The wash of the water over my feet during evening strolls and the splash from my two dogs remind me of the beautiful simplicity of the ocean.

It’s not a paradise; it’s a sanctuary. It’s not a tourist attraction; it’s an escape route. It’s not a one time vacation; it’s a home away from home.