Sinead Moodliar, 19, a philosophy student at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, was on holiday over the Christmas period last year.
She went to see the sun rise at Umhlanaga Rocks, a beach area near Durban, on Boxing Day when she was involved in a "catastrophic accident", a hearing in Huntingdon was told on Monday.
Cambridgeshire's senior coroner David Heming said: "This is a tragic, catastrophic accident.
"Sinead had gone to a beach area to witness the sunrise.
"While standing on a rocky area, a powerful wave washed her into the sea."
People on the beach reported hearing screams at 5.15am.
Miss Moodliar was dragged from the water by lifeguards and paramedics resuscitated her, but she died in hospital on December 27.
The inquest was attended by her parents Bob and Noeleen Moodliar, of Wilburton near Ely.
Mr Moodliar said he spoke to his daughter while she was in a restaurant on Christmas Day and she "seemed well and bubbly", and she later went to the beach.
He said he took a flight from the UK to South Africa as soon as he heard his daughter was involved in an accident, but she died before he could arrive.
Mr Moodliar said his daughter had been standing on a rock when the wave took her.