Cape Point is known far and wide for its stunning views and it comes as no surprise that it’s one of the Western Cape’s top tourist destinations. It is more than just a beautiful setting to take a selfie in front of the lighthouse (which, incidentally, turned 100 in March this year) – it is a place filled with a rich history that is not particularly well-known.
“Even though Cape Point is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions drawing thousands of people all year round, it has gone through massive changes since the first visitors in 1877. Considering the fact that the first road was only built there towards the end of 1915, those first few decades required people to embark on quite a hike just to see the lighthouse,” says Fatima Anter, Marketing Project Specialist at Cape Point.
Fortunately, times have changed considerably in the intervening years.
Visitors can choose to catch a ride on the Flying Dutchman Funicular, the only commercial funicular on the continent, and experience the trip in a truly memorable way. With a 16% slope, travelling to a height of 87 metres, the Flying Dutchman can fit 40 passengers in a cart at a time. The peak season sees 450 people per hour going up to the lighthouse in the funicular. Given that the track is 585 metres long, takes approximately three minutes to reach the lighthouse and provides breathtaking views, it’s no wonder it gets so many riders.
The natural beauty of the area, however, belies the dangerous waters nearby; there have been 26 recorded shipwrecks around Cape Point. Much of the blame can be attributed to the two submerged reefs of Bellow’s Rock and Albatross Rock. Even though there are many famous shipwrecks, perhaps the most famous is one that is merely a legend – that of the legendary ship, the Flying Dutchman.
The story goes that Captain Van der Decken was determined to get home from a successful trading mission for silks and spices in Indonesia in 1641. However, the Cape of Storms lived up to its reputation with the weather making a turn for the worst as they approached Cape Point. It is believed he swore an oath: “I shall round this damned Cape, even if I have to sail until Doomsday comes.”
Thereafter, the waters miraculously calmed but the ship and crew vanished without a trace, doomed to sail the seas around Cape Point forever.
Even if you are not interested in maritime history, the area forms part of the stunning Cape Point Nature Reserve, which was founded in 1938. Sixty years later, in 1998, it was incorporated into the Cape Peninsula National Park, a veritable treasure trove of natural beauty, boasting more than 1 100 species of flora indigenous to the area. Tourists also flock from far and wide to experience whale season here between during July to October when, year after year, you can spot these massive mammals on their annual migration past Cape Point.
Contrary to popular belief, Cape Point is not the place where the cold Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Agulhas Current of the Indian Ocean collide, producing the visual effect of a line in the ocean. The line does not exist – instead the meeting point fluctuates along the southern and southwestern Cape coast, usually occurring between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. However, the strong and dangerous swells, tides and localised currents around the point contribute to its feared reputation.
Cape Point also has several interesting shops, a restaurant, hiking spots, and angling locations. The Nature Reserve opens at 6am and closes at 6pm on Monday through Sunday.
Entry is R303 for adults and R152 for children, but for locals who present their original South African ID the price goes down to R76 per adult and R39 per child (under the age of 12.)