Did you know?
The Great Fish Point lighthouse optics have an identical twin: Cape Leeuwin lighthouse in Western Australia.
If you should ever make your way to the mouth of the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape and hear about ‘the short, red-headed fellow in the tuxedo’, don’t assume the locals have gone mad.
They’re probably talking about the Great Fish Point lighthouse, which, at a height of only 9m, is one of South Africa’s most diminutive working lighthouses. It has a cheerfully bright red dome and is painted in distinctive black-and-white stripes – hence mention of a tuxedo.
The lighthouse is, however, built on a hillock 76m above sea level and thus has an excellent view over the Indian Ocean. It is one of only four lighthouses in South Africa to offer on-site accommodation, in the form of two cottages than can sleep a total of 12 people.
A campsite is also in the process of being established. (The other lighthouses in South Africa where you can stay are at Danger Point in Gansbaai, Cape St Blaize in Mossel Bay and Cape Columbine on the West Coast.)
Nearby is the seaside holiday town of Port Alfred, with its string of forever-stretching world-class beaches, marina, flight school and golf course. The popular resort location is packed during vacation time.
The Great Fish Point lighthouse staff has traditionally been very tourist-friendly since the lighthouse's construction in 1898. The light-keepers and their families have always been a part of the Port Alfred community, sending their children to local schools and entertaining all visitors at the lighthouse on weekends.
Back in the 1800s, ships had to be warned about the presence of three shallow reefs to the north-east of the lighthouse location. These undersea outcrops have taken a number of victims, including an iron schooner called the Waterloo (1848), the steamer SS Kilbrennan (1907) and the SS Caribou in 1928.
In June 1998, a ‘rekindling of the light’ ceremony was held at the Great Fish Point lighthouse to commemorate a century of light-keeping – and to commit to another century of service.
Today, however, the Great Fish Point lighthouse is fully automated and monitored from Port Elizabeth. No matter – a revolving light still flashes out to ships at sea once every 10 seconds, come rain or shine ...
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
If you’re leaving from Port Elizabeth (which has the closest airport), take the N2 to Grahamstown and take the Port Alfred turn-off onto the R72. From Port Alfred, drive north-east up the R72 for about 30km to the village of Fish River, site of the mouth of the Great Fish River. The drive from Port Elizabeth to Great Fish Point should take you just over two hours.
Best time to visit
You’re on the Eastern Cape coast where there is plenty of sunshine all year round. You might want to avoid the Christmas and Easter crowds, however.
Around the area
If you’re visiting in July, you should drive inland to Grahamstown for at least a day and spend time at the National Arts Festival, South Africa’s premier celebration of performing art. See the listed National Arts Festival website for dates and programme details.
Tours to do
The lighthouse is open between 10am and 3pm on week days. Weekends and public holidays are by appointment only.
You will need a hire car to drive up and down the R72, which has a number of colourful stop-over spots.
What will it cost
Lighthouse entrance fee: R14 for adults and R7 for children.
Length of stay
If you’re staying, it’s a weekend destination. It’s also part of a good day’s drive through the area from Port Alfred.
What to pack
Don’t forget a cleaning cloth for your camera – to stop the salty sea breezes from misting up your lens.
Where to stay
The Great Fish Point lighthouse has two six-bed cottages with prices ranging from R580 to R820 for the cottage, depending on the number of people in your party. Port Alfred has many accommodation options as well – see the listed Sunshine Coast Tourism website.
What to eat
You can make a ‘picnic adventure’ out of your stay in the lighthouse and buy food in Port Alfred; or you can enjoy seafood meals at one of the many Port Alfred restaurants.
The nearby small farming hamlet of Bathurst stages a popular agricultural show in late March.
It's well worth a trip to nearby Bathurst, for a delicious pub lunch at the historic Pig 'n Whistle Hotel bar.