It may not be the southernmost point of Africa – that honour goes to Cape Agulhas – but Cape Point certainly makes you feel as if you are standing at the edge of the world.
It’s worth setting aside a whole day – or at least a large chunk of it – to visit the Cape Point Nature Reserve. While they tend to hog all the glory, the two peaks at the tip of the peninsula, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, form just a small part of the 7750-hectare reserve. This largely untouched stretch of land is home to buck, baboons, Cape Mountain Zebra, and a whopping 250 species of bird! Plus, you’ll find some of the most beautiful, unspoilt beaches along this stretch of Cape Town’s coast.
Of course, if you are visiting the Cape Point Nature Reserve, you have to take in the view from at least one of the peaks. Cape Point has been feared and respected by sailors since Bartolomeu Dias first rounded the Cape – which he dubbed the Cape of Storms – in 1488. The 26 recorded shipwrecks around Cape Point are testament to the perils that await those who attempt to navigate the treacherous waters, particularly at night.
One such ship was the Flying Dutchman, which was captained by Hendrik van der Decken. Legend has it that Van der Decken – headed home to Holland from Batavia – insisted on rounding the point in stormy conditions despite the pleas of his crew. He went so far as to lash himself to the wheel and – according to a more far-fetched version – accidentally shoot an angel who appeared on deck, thus cursing the crew to an eternity lost at sea. Over the centuries, many have sworn that they have seen the ghostly ship out at sea.
These days, you can catch the Flying Dutchman Funicular – the only funicular of its kind in Africa – from the lower station near the car park up to the old lighthouse on the highest section of the Cape Point peak. The three-minute journey saves you a quad-killing climb! The old lighthouse, which was built in 1859, is currently used as a centralised monitoring point for all the lighthouses on the coast of South Africa. The height at which the old lighthouse was built – 249 metres above sea level – actually turned out to be a disadvantage because the lighthouse became ineffective in very misty conditions. Because of this, a second lighthouse – the most powerful in South Africa – was built 87 meters above sea level in 1914.
From the top of Cape Point, you can see both peninsula coastlines – Atlantic and False Bay – and a seemingly un-ending expanse of ocean. However, if you are hoping to see a line where the Benguela and Agulhas currents collide, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This meeting point actually fluctuates somewhere between Cape Point and Cape Agulhas, and there is no distinctive line. For a selfie next to the sign that reads ‘Most South-Western Point of the African Continent’, you’ll have to take the 45-minute hike along the cliff to the Cape of Good Hope.
The reserve offers up a number of hikes through the fynbos and along the coastline. On the Atlantic side, you’ll find a lot of flat beach walking, and on the False Bay side, routes along the cliff-tops, where you are more likely to encounter bigger game. For information about the different trails, pop in to the Buffelsfontein Visitors’ Centre and pick up a brochure.
There are a number of pristine beaches worth visiting, but be cautious about swimming in the ocean as the area is known for its strong and unpredictable currents. Dias Beach, which you can see stretching out below you from the cliffs of Cape Point, requires a little effort (20 minutes down and another 40 back up), but is well worth it. If you have the necessary permits, the secluded Maclear Beach, is great for fishing and diving, and Buffels Beach boasts tidal pools and braai spots.
If you find yourself without a packed lunch, the Two Oceans Restaurant, which has spectacular views from its wooden deck, offers up delectable seafood and sushi. There are also curio shops for those looking to take home more than memories.
On a practical note, it is worth mentioning that you’ll have to pay a conservation fee to get into the reserve. Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes, and take along a warm top – even if it is a hot day – because the wind (and there is almost always wind) at the top of Cape Point can be icy!