Cape Point Lighthouse, Western Cape

    Brightest light of them all
    The old, disused Cape Point lighthouse. © Chris Marais
    Even though it has long since been decommissioned for being built in the wrong place, the old Cape Point lighthouse is an important icon of the Cape Peninsula, and captures the imaginations of visitors who ascend to this craggy spot and look down at the rocky coastline and the ocean.

    Did you know?

    The Flying Dutchman, captain and crew allegedly disappeared while rounding the Cape in the 17th Century, and now is supposed to haunt these waters.

    On a clear day up at the old, decommissioned Cape Point lighthouse, it feels like you can see all the way down to Antarctica.

    And when the mist rolls in, there are deceptive little movements on distant waters: passing southern right whales, the sails of the mythical Flying Dutchman ghost ship – or simply your eyes deceiving you?

    Another trick of the mind at Cape Point is to believe that this is actually where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean – you almost expect a two-tone colour-divide in the seas leading south from here. The oceans actually merge all along the southern Cape coastline, not at a particular spot such as Cape Point.

    In the 15th century, Portuguese explorer and navigator Bartolomeu Dias sailed past here and dubbed this rocky peninsula the Cabo Tormentosa – Cape of Storms.

    And it has never stopped living up to this reputation. There are so many old vessels lying broken along these shores that a special Shipwreck Trail has been devised here in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve – part of the Table Mountain National Park.

    In the late 1850s, the first Cape Point lighthouse was built. You would have thought it perfectly positioned on top of the cliffs overlooking the sea. But it was too high up, and its beam was often obscured by mist and foul weather.

    In 1911, a Portuguese ocean liner called the Lusitania ran into Bellows Rock below the lighthouse and sank. This prompted the decommissioning of the first lighthouse and the building of another, lower down and closer to the sea.

    In times of crisis, the light-keeper’s ingenuity has often saved the day.

    John Allen, Cape Point light-keeper in the 1930s, was once supplied with the wrong-sized mantle for his gas lamp, which meant the automatic light-flashing machinery could not be used. And so, for three nights, Allen and his assistants sat there taking turns with the hand-switch: two seconds on, eight seconds off, two seconds on, eight seconds off ...

    Another Cape Point light-keeper, from a more recent era, Nico Saal, said he had a deep respect for the extreme weather conditions at the near-tip of Africa. His dedication to the job was firm: ‘I was drawn to light-keeping because my father was a crayfish fisherman in Lambert’s Bay – and he died in an accident in rough seas.’

    Today, the 'new' lighthouse at Cape Point sports the brightest lighthouse light in the country at 10-million candelas – visible for approx. 60km out at sea.

    And the only ‘Flying Dutchman’ around here is the cable-drawn railway funicular that takes you up to the old lighthouse and down again.

    Cape Point Route
    Tel: +27 (0)21 782 9356
    Email: info@capepointroute.co.za

    Cape Point information
    Tel: +27 (0)21 780 9010/11
    Email: info@capepoint.co.za

    Two Oceans Restaurant
    Tel: +27 (0)21 780 9200
    Email: info@two-oceans.co.za

    Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve accommodation (self-catering)
    Tel: +27 (0)21 780 9204
    Email: musam@sanparks.org

    From Simon’s Town, it’s a very scenic 40-minute drive, well signposted. Once there, you can either walk up the steps to get to the old lighthouse or take the funicular railway. The new lighthouse is part of an extended walk around Cape Point itself.

    The African penguin colony at Boulders, Simon’s Town, is a real highlight of a Cape Point Route tour. While you’re there, check out the historic Simon’s Town’s museums. Another fun experience is to take the water taxi from Simon’s Town to Kalk Bay, have lunch there and return after.

    There are many Cape Point Route tours available, from Cape Town and points along the route – check the listed websites for details.

    Drive yourself around the nature reserve, and once you’ve parked near the old lighthouse, it’s all about the well-signposted walking trails in the area.

    Reserve conservation fees: Adults R85, children R30.

    Flying Dutchman funicular: Adult return, R47; children return, R20.

    Take a 2-hour visit to the old lighthouse and, possibly, the nearby Two Oceans Restaurant, as part of your full-day trip to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

    You could also spend the rest of the day at Cape Point, taking a longer walk on 1 of the many trails here and perhaps having a picnic.

    Even if it’s a clear, warm day you should pack an insulated windcheater of sorts, as well as good walking shoes and a camera with a wide lens for landscape photography.

    The Cape Point Route has a lot of accommodation on offer, and the Olifantsbos Guest House offers 3 lovely self-catering cottages within the reserve. See Contacts for booking details.

    The Two Oceans Restaurant at Cape Point has a ‘signature dish’: a delicious seafood platter for 2 that is made up of mussels, tiger prawns, crayfish, the fish of the day, calamari and seafood curry. It's not inexpensive, but the views are unrivalled.

    Check the listed Cape Point and Cape Point Route websites for festival and event dates that might coincide with your visit.

    Lighthouse memorabilia at the Lighthouse & Gift Shop.