Did you know?
The ancient lighthouse at Pharos was famous as 1 of the 7 Wonders of the World. The lighthouse at Pharos is no more, but it has by now become the standard for all lighthouses. In fact the study of lighthouses today is called pharology.
The Cape Agulhas lighthouse, built in the classic Egyptian Pharos style, presides over the southernmost tip of Africa – a coastline that was once a frequent graveyard for ships straying too close to land.
The names of the ships that fell onto these shores – with enormous loss of life – include the Zoetendal, Arniston, Meisho Maru and the Birkenhead.
One of the local farmers owned land that took the name of one of the wrecks: Zoetendal’s Vlei. He was a Mr Van Breda, and at a public meeting in Cape Town on 11 July 1840, he had this to say: ‘I have been painfully called upon to witness ship after ship cast away, valuable cargoes strewed along the beach, and hundreds of human beings at a time washed dead upon the shore.’
He was part of a large local contingent that pleaded with the ruling British authorities to build a lighthouse at Cape L’Agulhas. On 1 March 1849, the 2nd of South Africa’s lighthouses was built here, overlooking the southernmost tip of Africa.
The lighthouse was partly financed by traders from as far afield as Bombay (Mumbai), India, because their shipping business was badly affected by this formerly unprotected part of the South African coast.
A prominent sea trader and shipmaster of his time, Captain TW MacAllen, praised the light-keepers of Cape Agulhas at its centenary celebration in 1949: ‘No words are adequate enough to express that feeling of relief at seeing the welcome flash of such an important focal point as Agulhas. Remember, it is not the sea which the sailor fears – it is the land.’
In 1962, the lighthouse building was deemed to be unsafe, and faced demolition. The local community, determined to save its lighthouse, appealed to the government to intercede. In 1971, the local council was given the responsibility for the upkeep of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse.
Today, the lighthouse boasts a restaurant, gift shop, the only lighthouse museum in the country and is surrounded by the 20 000-hectare Agulhas National Park, a delightful mix of marine- and land-based conservation at Africa’s bottom tip.
South Africa’s ‘Pharos’ still stands sentinel over the lovely Southern Cape coast ...
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Cape Agulhas lighthouse
Tel: +27 (0)28 435 6078
Agulhas National Park
Tel: +27 (0)28 435 6222
Shipwreck Hiking Trail
Tel: +27 (0)28 435 7270
Tel: +27 (0)83 540 4575
Tel: +27 (0)82 774 4448
Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum
Tel: +27 (0)28 424 1240
Morning Glory Horse Rides
Tel: +27 (0)28 482 1618
How to get here
From Cape Town, take the N2 going east, turning off at the Caledon off-ramp onto the R316. From Caledon, drive through the towns of Napier and Bredasdorp (where you should stop at the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum) and follow the R319 down to L’Agulhas.
Best time to visit
The Overberg is at its most spectacular from September to May (during summer).
Around the area
If you’re interested in lighthouses and old sea tales, then you must visit the Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp. And don’t forget to visit the cairn marking the southernmost point of Africa.
Tours to do
Many Cape-based tour companies specialise in the Overberg. You could, for instance, go shark cage-diving off Gans Bay or visit the Moravian Mission of Elim, where you’ll find the country’s only monument in memory of South African slaves.
For trips around the Agulhas Plain, it's best to drive yourself. This way, you can choose your own route, travel at your own speed – and the traffic in this area is minimal.
What will it cost
Entrance fee to the lighthouse is R15 for adults, R7.50 for children under 11.
Length of stay
A visit to the Cape Agulhas lighthouse and the museum should take you an hour, but you may want to extend your stay for a light meal at the restaurant.
What to pack
Throw in a light windcheater and dress seasonally, remembering to bring your camera and wide-angle lens to capture the lighthouse and its background.
Where to stay
The local towns of Struis Bay and L’Agulhas offer a wide range of accommodation. The Agulhas National Park also offers a number of guest cottages and rest camps – see Contacts for details.
What to eat
Light meals at the lighthouse restaurant or, if you’re there on a Sunday, an excellent buffet.
The Overberg stages many festivals, including the famous Whale Festival in nearby Hermanus. See the listed Overberg website for details.
Lighthouse memorabilia at the Cape Agulhas lighthouse shop and museum.