Did you know?
The rock where the HMS Birkenhead foundered is sometimes visible from the Danger Point lighthouse tower.
Perhaps the most aptly named piece of geography along the Southern Cape coast of South Africa is Danger Point, near the seaside village of Gansbaai.
Thus the looming Danger Point lighthouse, which throws its night lights far beyond the distant Dyer’s Island, is no postcard plaything. It has been warning sailors off these treacherous rocks since 1895.
Myth has it that the Flying Dutchman ghost ship was spotted for the 1st time from Danger Point. Reality, however, trumps legend here.
More than 40 years before the Danger Point lighthouse was built, the HMS Birkenhead struck an unmapped rock at sea near this part of the coast. More than 440 people aboard perished, but all the women and children were brought to safety. The story of what happened at 2am on 26 February 1852 has become one of the most poignant tales in a sailor’s chest of naval accounts.
It is believed that the remains of seven sunken ships lie on the rocks at the foot of the Danger Point lighthouse. But think on this: as you take a meandering day drive from Gansbaai across the Agulhas Plain and beyond to Cape Infanta, with stops at Bredasdorp, L’ Agulhas, Arniston, De Hoop and Port Beaufort, you’re passing the hidden wrecks of more than 140 unfortunate vessels that sank along here.
The Danger Point lighthouse, which today is a popular spot to visit after your morning at sea – possibly watching curious great white sharks from the submerged safety of a steel cage – was not a popular posting with the early light-keepers.
The weather was often bad, there was not much happening in Gansbaai, the road to Hermanus was challenging and Cape Town was very far away back then. How times have changed.
The area, known as the Overberg, is now a hot traveller’s destination. People from all over South Africa and the world come here to indulge their adventure fantasies, view the aquatic wildlife that includes whales, be part of a slower country lifestyle and enjoy the genteel offerings of centres like Stanford, Arniston and Hermanus.
And many of them make a brief stop at the base of the Danger Point lighthouse, read the plaque dedicated to those who died on the Birkenhead, and then look thoughtfully out to sea.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Info on SA lighthouses
Tel: +27 (0)21 449 5171
Danger Point Lighthouse
Tel: +27 (0)21 449 2400
Tel : +27 (0) 28 384 1439
The Great White House Restaurant
Tel: +27 (0) 28 384 3273
Mobile: +27 (0) 82 895 2736
How to get here
Leaving Cape Town on the N2 east, take the R44 near Somerset West down to Gansbaai. On the way, you will see Gordon’s Bay, Betty’s Bay and Hermanus. This is 1 of the Southern Cape’s finest drives. The lighthouse at Danger Point is approx. 10km from Gansbaai, and about a 2-hour drive from Cape Town.
Best time to visit
The southern Cape is a ‘green season’ destination, meaning it looks best in the autumn/winter months of May to the end of July. For fine, hot weather, the spring months of September through November are also good times to visit the Overberg and southern Cape.
Around the area
The top event of the area is the Hermanus Whale Festival in September. Southern right whales arrive off Hermanus’ Walker Bay from July onwards and can often be spotted from the coastal rock paths. They leave for their ‘2nd homes’ in Antarctica sometime in November.
Tours to do
The best trips around Gansbaai are out to sea on whale-watching expeditions or the very popular shark cage-diving jaunts. Check the tours section of the Gansbaai Tourism website for options.
It's best to drive yourself to the Danger Point lighthouse because you might well want to extend your drive across the Agulhas Plain and take in most of the sights of the lower Overberg.
What will it cost
The entrance fee to the Danger Point lighthouse is R14 for adults and R7 for children. Ask about group and pensioner rates.
Length of stay
The lighthouse itself is worth an hour-long walkabout, but you might want to make a day of it and explore the area.
What to pack
Pack a detailed map of the area so you can take a couple of byways and explore the road less travelled.
Where to stay
The Danger Point lighthouse has a 4-bed (2 bedroom) self-catering cottage called Gale Force, costing approx. R580 to R820 for the whole unit per night, depending on the time of year. Nearby Gansbaai has a number of guesthouse options – see the listed website for details.
What to eat
Fresh fish from the sea and selected meats from the hinterland – all are available at a number of restaurants in Gansbaai. See the dining section of the listed Gansbaai website for details. Try the seafood and fine wines at the Great White House in nearby Klein Bay.
Gansbaai stages a half-marathon and wine tastings, as well as the Festival of the Geese in late July. Check both listed Overberg and Gansbaai websites for details.