Brenton to Buffels Beachcombing

We are so spoilt for choices as far as walks go around Knysna.  To name a few;  the awe inspiring sweep of beach from Brenton to Buffels, the forest walks of Diepwalle, Jubilee Creek and Goudveld, and  the rugged climb down to the sea at Harkerville.

When we first came to Knysna we did them all (easy as we were 16 years younger and full of enthusiasm to explore.)  We still walk, abeit  no longer along steep cliffs or treacherous  areas.  Hubby still cycles great distances, easier on the hips than hiking!

Beautiful Brenton Photo: Esther
Beautiful Brenton
Photo: Esther

One of our favourite spots to walk is along the beach from Buffels Bay to Brenton on Sea.  This stretch of beach must rate as one of the prettiest in the country.  The wide stretch of sand is  flanked by the fynbos covered dunes, the sky above is huge,  the black weather beaten rocks protruding from a foaming sea form silhouettes against the blue horizon,  gulls hovering above, a fisherman or two,  …  idyllic.

Wide sands and blue skies Photo: Esther
Wide sands and blue skies
Photo: Esther

Walking along the beach one invariably looks down, hoping to find something curious and/or unique. We’re all waiting for the perfect shell, or the prettiest piece of sea glass or something more unusual.  Sometimes a pretty pebble catches the eye, or a colony of  Ploughshare snails feeding in a frenzy on a washed up blue- bottle: no matter what you find, you will always leave with a sense of well-being and fulfillment.

Our daughter is a regular runner on the beach and also a beachcomber.  Her  early morning runs have produced some amazing special treasures; pansy shells and paper nautilus.  Both species are rare and not often found along our coast.

Thanks to Google I’ve learnt a lot about the above species which I would like to share in this blog.

Pansy Shells

Pansy shell  Photo: Esther
Pansy shell
Photo: Esther

Although named a shell, the Pansy Shell is not a shell at all,  but in fact a living organism that having the best of both worlds is born as a male, and later transforms into a female, enabling it to further the species. The fragile Pansy shells  are types of Sea Urchins, with flattened, irregular shells, which live buried in the sand. When the Pansy is alive, they are a purplish blue in colour and the body is covered with fine short spines resembling fur, not unlike the porcupine needles of the ordinary Sea Urchin.

Each spine is able to move around and is used to dig the animal into the sand. These animals have no brain and no eyes so they are unable to see, however they do possess a nervous system, which controls all of the bodily functions. The shells, which are distinguishable as a flat white disc with the pattern of a Pansy Flower with five petals embossed on the top surface, are the skeletons of the pansies which have died and have been washed up onto the shore. The sun bleaches them into a creamy white colour.

Pansy shell underside Photo: Esther
Pansy shell underside
Photo: Esther

The age of the Pansy can be calculated by the rings or platelets found on the underside, like a tree stump. The summer season produces a larger ring (when food is more plentiful) and the winter one is thinner.

Paper nautilus

One of the most astounding cephalopods is the paper nautilus, also known as argonaut. This family of octopus-like cephalopods lives in pelagic habitats of the subtropics and tropics. Pelagic habitats are those of the free ocean water away from the bottom, especially at the water surface.

Paper nautilus Photo: Esther
Paper nautilus
Photo: Esther

Though the argonaut is called paper nautilus, it is neither made from paper nor is it a nautilus. It not even is closely related to the nautilus, though both are cephalopods.

The argonaut’s shell is special among all molluscs. It is only built by the female, and only as case for the protection of the argonaut’s eggs, that are placed inside in long threads. The female argonaut lives in the shell’s entry and guards the eggs, until the young hatch. At the ends of the first tentacle pair the argonaut (argonauts like other octopus relatives have eight tentacles) has got wide sail-like flaps. Usually the female argonaut holds these flaps spread over the shell, but they also serve it to catch prey that swims into them.

The male argonaut is much smaller than the female. While the latter reaches a size of up to ten centimetres, the shell being up to 30 centimetres large, the male only reaches less than 2 centimetres in size.

I have also found out that  although the majority of people prefer to walk beaches during the warmer months, winter is a great time to search the shores. Rough waves churn up the ocean bottom and deliver shells, egg cases and more. Winter storms usually deposit more things on the sand than summer storms, and with fewer people enjoying the winter beach, there is less competition for the beachcombing booty.

Most beachcombers will tell you to start searching a couple of hours before dead low tide and for 1 to 2 hours after the tide has starting rising.  The intertidal zone, the portion of the beach that is exposed between high and low tide, is the place to find the most recent goodies delivered by the waves. But don’t discount the wrack line, an indication of a recent high tide. Seaweed and other plant material, egg cases, molts from crustaceans and additional lightweight treasures can be found along the wrack, or strand, line.

Storm winds, on top of high tides, may cause floating debris to be deposited near the dune line, so don’t skip the area adjacent to the dunes. And, if you explore a beach with no or low-profile dunes, you should look beyond those piles of sand. Who knows what you might find far away from the water.


A beach is not only a sweep of sand, but shells of sea creatures, the sea glass, the seaweed, the incongruous objects washed up by the ocean. ~ Henry Grunwald