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Between two shores
There’s more to Cape Point than just a lighthouse
It’s the middle of the night. Out on the choppy sea bobs a ghostly glow. It’s the Flying Dutchman; a phantom ship doomed to sail along the Cape of Good Hope for eternity. And it’s staffed by ghouls. Be wary, it’s said a sighting is a portent of doom.
This legend dates back to the 1700s, and numerous sightings have been reported. An explanation has been offered that the apparition is merely a reflection of an actual ship, but due to distance and perspective, it remains unseen. Whatever the case may be, the treacherous shore is littered with shipwrecks, and many adventurers in creaky wooden boats have long ago sunk to the bottom of the sea.
Let’s clear something up. Table Mountain National Park’s Cape of Good Hope is not the southernmost tip of Africa, no; it’s the most south-westerly tip. The former is Cape Agulhas, and it’s another experience entirely.
The lighthouse, the main attraction, is perched on the edge of a soaring cliff rising a staggering 238 metres from the sea. Up here the wind whips around ancient stone; laid out below is the never-ending blue of the sea, and the craggy twists and turns of the Peninsula’s edge.
Some of history’s biggest names have cut along those curves. Men like Bartholomew Diaz, Vasco Da Gama and Captain Cão, the latter who described this stretch of land as: ‘a desert coast and no sign of the end of the continent.’
Plus you can spend the night, and see the ghostly ship for yourself. The accommodation in the reserve is self-catering, and you can choose from either Olifantsbos Cottage or Eland and Duiker Family Cottages. Both are modern, fully equipped options in the heart of pristine nature.
Things to do
- Deserted wild beaches are the perfect canvas for picnics.
- Bring a magnifying glass and identify the colourful creatures in tidal pools at Bordjiesrif and Buffels Bay.
- There’s plenty of fish in the sea: bring along your angling rod.
- The kids will love the Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre, plenty of curiosities to see. Plus you’ll find all you need to know about the area.
- Take the Flying Dutchman (yes, named after the ship), a funicular that takes you to the lighthouse lookout. Or walk up to take in the breathtaking scenery.
- Keep your eyes peeled for wild ostriches, Cape otter, buck, and baboons.
- A little bird told us, that the birdlife is as diverse as the fynbos. Bring your binoculars.
- Swim in the marine pool by Buffels Bay, no tour busses are allowed, so you’re guaranteed a tranquil dip.
- Did someone say braai? Ask at the information centre where the official spots are.
- And hike; see below for more information on the routes.
There are six scenic walks to enjoy. Purchase the helpful brochures from the Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre; they were created by volunteers and retail at a mere R3.00 each. Inside you’ll find a map, distances, tips, and notes on what to look out for.
Smitswinkel View Point.
Start from the Smitswinkel car park and go south on the coastal trail. Go right when you reach the cannon and follow signs. This walk goes around the lower reaches of Judas Peak, and will lead you to Die Boer.
Wow factor: the majestic panorama, and the black eagles make these cliffs their home.
Look out for: the Troll’s Ballroom; a rock shelter on the right 200 meteres before you reach the signal cannon on Kanonkop. It was used to signal the arrival of ships in False Bay. Also, keep an eye of for Mr. Smith, a human-head shaped rock believed to have been named after a farmer who once owned the area.
Duration: 5 km, budget on four hours.
Start at the Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre, cross the river and follow the path. Once you reach the cannon take the path towards the coast to get to the Lime Kiln.
Wow factor: a naturally sun-warmed pool called The Venus Pool. And the old signalling cannon, of course, used to report ship arrivals in the 1800s.
Look out for: bontebok, blue disas and unusual black rocks. Also the explorers’ crosses dotted along the path.
Duration: 5.5km, three hours or five depending on how relaxed you take it.
Take the southern steps, and turn right at the first path junction. Then follow the hiking trail. Follow this to the end of Gifkommetjie Ridge. At the signboard, take the path to your left, go past the vlei, and through the dunes to the shipwreck of Phyllisia.
Wow factor: the steam-trawler wrecked in 1968, and the naturally forming Milkwood tunnel.
Look out for: and avoid the blister bush. Contact with it causes compounds to react in sunlight and leave you with blisters. Along with gulls, terns and cormorants, the sacred ibis is also a regular visitor to this area.
Duration: 5.5kms, three and a half hours.
You can start from two entrances for this coastal walks, either the Platboom parking area or the Gifkommetjie area.
Wow factor: the walk itself, explore coastal flora, marshlands, pans, beach and dunes.
Look out for: large kelp beds, and maritime detritus, including raw blocks of rubber leftover from a cargo vessel that was torpedoed in World War 2.
Duration: 8km, roughly a four hour journey.
Take the coastal path from the car park to the wrecks of the Tucker and Nolloth, you can return at this point or go further along to Staavia Ridge.
Wow factor: the shipwrecks, and also the ruins of the Fortress Observation Posts. Plus you can stay the night at Olifantsbos cottage.
Look out for: a freshwater lake called Sirkelsvlei, said to be fed by underground springs
Duration: 6.5km, four hours or 24, if you plan to spend the night.
Cape of Good Hope Trail
This is a two day hike that starts at the main gate, down to Smitswinkel Bay, up to Kanonkop, and then towards the Buffelsfontein Visitor. Continue towards Rooikrans, and it’s here you can spend the night in an overnight hut. On day two, you’ll continue along the coast to Pegram’s Point, Hoek van Bobbejan and turn inland towards Sirkelsvlei, and end right where you started.
Wow factor: you’ll see more of the nature reserve on this walk than on any other route.
Look out for: baboons, birds, flora—this one has it all.
Duration: Two days, the kilometres vary.
By Malu Lambert
Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point):
+27 (0)21 780 9010
April - September (winter) 7am - 5pm
October - March (summer) 6am - 6pm
Conservation fee: Adults, R85; children R30; free entrance for WILD Card holders