Historical Plettenberg Bay
Did you know?
Whaling was introduced to Beacon Isle at Plettenberg Bay in 1912 – and ceased in 1920.
Plettenberg Bay, the ‘Riviera of South Africa’, has been called by many names over the past 500 years.
In 1448, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias dubbed it the 'Bay of Lagoons'. In 1576, his countryman, Manuel da Mesquita Perestrello, called it 'Bahia Formosa' – Beautiful Bay. It was also called the Bay of Content, while in 1778 Cape Governor Baron Joachim van Plettenberg took one look at this idyllic spot and ‘graced’ it with his own name.
A scant four years later the dandy traveller Francois le Vaillant came visiting, and in his records he calls it ‘Blettemberg Bay’. He also inadvertently renamed the nearby Keurbooms River ‘Queur Boom’.
Call it what you like, Plettenberg Bay has been a glamour seaside spot of South Africa for ages, and these days, every Christmas it’s the place to see and be seen. Locals will tell you that at this time the ‘air is thick with helicopters’ carrying the rich and famous to the polo fields and resorts that dot the district.
This part of the Garden Route in the Western Cape was first inhabited by Middle Stone Age people who lived in a series of caves along the coastline for more than 100 000 years. It still yields the tools, middens and ornaments of the Khoisan who followed them.
In 1630, a Portuguese merchant ship called the Sao Goncalo floundered into Plettenberg Bay. About 100 of the crew went ashore and built a camp. They are noted as the first permanent European residents of what is fondly known simply as ‘Plett’.
Unfortunately the ship sank with the remaining 400-odd souls on board. The survivors stayed for about a year, building boats that would take them in small parties to India and, eventually, back to Portugal.
Dutch settlers moved into the Plettenberg Bay area early in the 1770s, which prompted Van Plettenberg to make a rather grand road trip from Cape Town across the wilderness to this marvellous bay.
Farmers en route were instructed to prepare banquets, supplies and relief horses for the passing grandee. The party was led by explorer-soldier Captain Robert Gordon, and two months later the governor had a special memorial stone erected on a hill above the bay to mark the occasion.
Van Plettenberg’s journey was shaded by that of Le Vaillant, who at one stage found himself on the wrong end of a Knysna elephant, hurtling through thick forests to escape the enraged beast.
His time at ‘Blettemberg Bay’ was marked with a rather rich supper of elephant trunk, and an equally astounding breakfast of elephant foot. He pronounced both to be delicious and proceeded on his jaunty way.
Serious family dynasties have settled in Plettenberg Bay over the centuries, helping to set up an infrastructure that is, in fact, still a work in progress. Every year, the fleshpots of Plett surprise, delight and astound the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the beautiful bay.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Plettenberg Bay Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)44 533 1960