Did you know?
The old Green Point lighthouse foghorn had such a mournful sound it was called ‘Moaning Minnie’.
It’s a ‘trench coat night’ in Green Point, Cape Town. The mist is so thick you expect Humphrey Bogart – dressed in a Burberry with a flipped-up collar – to emerge from the swirl and light up a smoke.
Suddenly, you hear a low-pitched droning that sounds strangely mechanical and bovine at the same time.
Don’t fret. It’s the infamous – some say beloved – foghorn of the still-operational Green Point lighthouse doing its thing, as it has done since 1 January 1926.
The Green Point lighthouse foghorn has been a bone of contention with Green Point and Mouille Point residents for generations (the 2 Cape Town suburbs lie side by side). When the idea for the foghorn was 1st mooted in 1923, outraged local residents met at a local tea room and compiled a letter of complaint that was addressed to the mayor of Cape Town.
No matter. The foghorn was installed 3 years later and set to emit a bass note for 3 seconds on the half-minute during heavy mists.
As recently as the 1970s, a Green Point light-keeper received a telephonic death threat from a furious resident – as a result, he kept the heavy doors of the lighthouse locked at night.
If you were a Victorian-era sailor home from the sea in Cape Town, the Lighthouse Service beckoned. You learnt your new trade at the Green Point lighthouse, which was built in 1824.
This lighthouse was designed and built by a German stone-dresser and architect called Herman Schutte. It was commissioned by the acting governor of the Cape, Sir Rufane Donkin, and building began in 1821.
When the official governor, Lord Charles Somerset, returned from a period of absence he was said to have been furious at the fact that the lighthouse was being erected without his say-so.
That’s why it took all of 3 years to build, being completed in 1824.
The job of the Green Point lighthouse was to act as a night beacon for vessels sailing into Table Bay.
Nevertheless, the Green Point area has had its share of shipwrecks. One of the most notable was the South African Seafarer, which went down on 1 July 1966. At that time the rotating lens on the Green Point lighthouse was stopped and the strong beam was instead used to provide light for the hovering helicopters saving crew members.
These days, the Green Point lighthouse is part of a typically dense and reasonably noisy Cape Town urban setting. The sound of the foghorn – now modified in volume – blends in well and would be sorely missed if it had to stop 1 day.
Many locals mistakenly refer to the Green Point lighthouse as the Mouille Point lighthouse. There was indeed a Mouille Point lighthouse – built in 1842 – but it was dismantled sometime in the 1920s.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Green Point Lighthouse
+27 (0)21 449 5171
South African Lighthouse Tourism (part of Transnet National Ports Authority)
Tel: +27 (0)21 449 2400
How to get here
From the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront take Beach Road towards Mouille Point and then Green Point. The lighthouse stands at the end of Beach Road, and the entire trip from the V&A by car should take you no longer than 10 minutes.
Best time to visit
Visiting hours at the Green Point lighthouse are 10am to 3pm week days only.
Around the area
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront – with all its shops, museums, pubs and restaurants – is worth an entire morning’s meander. If you’re in the mood for fresh air and exercise, join healthy Capetonians on their walks on the 5km walkway next to Beach Road, Green Point.
Tours to do
Cape Town is built for day tours – see the Cape Town Tourism website for options.
What will it cost
Entrance fees are R16 for adults, R8 for children under 12, and R10 for pensioners and students. Ask about group specials.
Length of stay
A self-guided tour of the lighthouse, including an ascent to the tower, should take you no longer than 30 minutes.
What to pack
Remember to bring your camera for some great ‘aerial’ shots of Cape Town from the top of the lighthouse.
Where to stay
This lighthouse does not offer accommodation, but the Green Point/Mouille Point area is packed with many good options. See the listed Cape Town Tourism website.
What to eat
Stroll around Green Point and Three Anchor Bay, where many restaurants await.
See the listed websites for happenings in the area during your stay – especially at the nearby Cape Town Stadium.
Shopping in Cape Town? There are few better and more varied shopping destinations in South Africa.