The Cape Agulhas lighthouse boasts the only lighthouse museum in South Africa and has done more than 150 years’ duty as possibly the most important sea beacon along the South African coastline. So beloved is this lighthouse that when it was condemned in 1962, locals took on the responsibility of its upkeep.

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 ...

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