Cape Point

Cape Point is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park. This forms part of the Cape Floral Region, a World Heritage Site. It includes the majestic Table Mountain chain, which stretches from Signal Hill to Cape Point, and the coastlines of the Cape Peninsula. This narrow stretch of land, dotted with beautiful valleys, bays and beaches, contains a mix of extraordinarily diverse and unique fauna and flora.

A Fascinating History

Cape Point has a long and colourful history, largely due to the search for a sea route to the East, instigated by Prince Henry the Navigator.

  • Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, was the first to round the Cape Peninsula in 1488. He named it the “Cape of Storms”, for the notoriously bad weather, which can blow up quickly.
  • A decade later, Vasco da Gama navigated the same route and sailed down the coast of Africa, successfully opening a new trading route for Europe with India and the Far East.
  • King John II of Portugal later renamed it the “Cape of Good Hope” because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of this new sea route to India and the East.

Need for a Light to Shine

‘The Point’ was a landmark of great navigational value until the introduction of radar. By night, and in fog, it was a menace. Ships had to approach closely to obtain bearings and thereby were exposed to the dangers of Bellows Rock and Albatross Rock. And so the lighthouse was built.

  • The original lighthouse was built in 1859 on Da Gama Peak, the summit of Cape Point, 238m above sea level.  This made it very ineffective in mist which mandated the establishment of the second lighthouse at 87 meters.
  • The newer lighthouse, built in 1914, is the most powerful on the South African coast. It emits three flashes in a group every 30 seconds and revolves.
  • The old lighthouse still stands here and is now used as a centralized monitoring point for all the lighthouses in South Africa.

On his return journey, Dias passed another rocky headland but he was unaware that this unimpressive point was the southern extremity of Africa. Many people still believe that Cape of Good Hope is the southern-most tip of the African continent but that title belongs to Cape Agulhas – the unremarkable rocky headland about 150 km further south.

Where the Two Oceans Meet

Incidentally, Cape Agulhas is also the place where the official dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans passes. A stone plaque on the beach marks the place.

The boundary has scientific basis as this is the place where the warm-water Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean meets the cold water Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean and turns back on itself. But how can oceans have a set dividing line when sea waters and currents continually shift and mingle?

According to marine biologists, the actual meeting point can be established by observing the differences in marine life brought about by the changes in temperature along the coast.

Cape Point, however, attracts more tourists than Cape Agulhas, who come to witness the Indian and Atlantic oceans splashing together. Businesses in Cape Point are cashing in on the misinformed tourists and branding their wares with the slogan, ‘Cape Point, South Africa: where two oceans meet.’

The nature reserve is popular and windy. Buffels Bay is a relatively sheltered and crowd-free beach, with breathtaking white sands, clear blue waters and patches of lawn. Be aware that the baboons also love this beach and will try to steal your food so make sure you eat in your vehicle if they arrive.

On the other side of Buffels Bay, within walking distance but accessed via a separate road, is Bordjiesdrif. It’s a sheltered, popular fishing spot, with a large tidal pool and grassier braai spots. The shoreline is fairly rocky, indicating the name’s meaning: “little plate reef”.

Cape Point promises hikes, swims and historical discoveries. Look out for the diverse animals roaming the reserve: baboons, herds of ostriches, various antelope (eland, grysbok and bontebok), Cape foxes, genets, polecats, mole rats, porcupines, mongooses, tortoises, otters and snakes.

Take time to explore the many trails and beaches at Cape Point, the gorgeous Fynbos and many shells.