In March of last year I decided to drag the family out on a spur of the moment day trip to the see the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse and visit the southernmost tip of Africa marker in the Agulhas National Park. Of course, seeing as we were headed out that way anyway, I also managed to throw in a visit to the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum – but only in exchange for a light breakfast in Bredasdorp first. (Chantelle and the girls drive a hard bargain!)
Much like say Strand and Gordon’s Bay, the two small coastal holiday towns or settlements of Struisbaai and L’Agulhas have pretty much merged into one another these days (i.e. you can just about get away with using either name synonymously), and is a particularly popular coastal holiday destination for many Afrikaans speaking families.
Built around a natural harbour and with some of the best fishing waters on offer, the area has done well to maintain a very laid back, undeveloped charm and it is quite easy to see just why this is such an attractive weekend getaway destination for a lot of Western Cape folks.
Operated by Transnet National Ports Authority and sitting at the entrance of the SANParks-operated Agulhas National Park, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse holds the honour of being the third ever lighthouse to be built in South Africa and is the second-oldest still operating (after the Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town).
Built in 1848 and operated until 1968 before being taken out of service due to its crumbling sandstone walls, the lighthouse (with its design inspiration taken from the Pharos of Alexandria) was declared a national monument as well as a Western Cape provincial heritage site in 1973, leading to a restoration and reconstruction effort lead by the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum and local council that resulted in its recommission in 1988.
The red and white banded lighthouse welcomes visitors and as such has become a popular tourist destination, a fact made quite apparent by the number of people squeezed into the small building on the day of our visit. That said, I don’t exactly have the body circumference conducive to climbing up lighthouse tower stairs, so I did give this one a skip.
SANParks and the Department of Tourism have put a lot of effort into making the Southern Tip of Africa (and the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) as tourist friendly as possible, going so far as to lay out a boardwalk that you can follow just about all the way from the lighthouse to the official (and photo famous) marker.
Last year also saw the unveiling of a large 3D relief map of Africa known as the Iconic Map of Africa Monument. Part of a project funded to the tune of R15 million, this monument pays homage to the African continent. The map is aligned with the earth compass (with the tip of Africa pointing to the south) and to represent the differing landscapes across the continent, the map has been sprayed with various metal powders that over time will react with chemicals in the environment and atmosphere to change color and represent the different biomes and vegetation across different regions of Africa. (Bonus, this makes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a heck of a lot easier than what it would normally be!)
The open access Agulhas National Park itself isn’t one of South Africa’s largest national parks, covering an area of around 20,959 hectares. That said, it does boast some 2,000 native plant species (hello fynbos) and a wetland that provides refuge to birds and amphibians.
The waters are of course teeming with Southern Right whales over the November to January whale watching season and there are plenty of sea birds like the Damara tern and African Black oystercatcher for birders to tag.
Apart from all the scenic rocks, crashing waves and fynbos, the treacherous, fish rich waters of Cape Agulhas is of course infamous for its many shipwrecks over the years (aka the reason for a lighthouse in the first place), with names like De Zoetendal, HMS Birkenhead, and HMS Arniston all counted among its victims. (This is also then why we have a shipwreck museum in Bredasdorp of all places).
In fact, just a short drive into the park (or about a 20 minute walk from the southern tip marker) will lead you to a rusted prow resting on the rocks, the final remains of the Meisho Maru No. 38, a small Japanese fishing trawler that met its end at Cape Agulhas in 1982.
Picture perfect, untouched, rugged, unbridled coastal views that stretch out in every direction that you look. Tranquil, fresh sea air and fynbos everywhere. Can’t say then that I didn’t love our visit to this most southernmost tip of Africa.