Did you know?
The film Ryan’s Daughter, which was released in 1970 and features scenes with the wreck of the Kakapo, won 2 Academy Awards.
Slangkop Point lighthouse near Kommetjie in Cape Town is the tallest cast-iron lighthouse along South African shores.
Before its lamp was officially lit in March 1919, many seafaring vessels had run afoul of the rocky coastline from Cape Town to Cape Point.
One of the most remarkable shipwrecks in the area was, however, possibly the gentlest of them all.
In May 1900, a 1000-ton steamer named the Kakapo (after a large, rare, nocturnal parrot found in New Zealand) was on her maiden voyage from Wales to Australia. After stopping over at Table Bay for fuel and supplies, it sailed down the Cape Peninsula coast in a blustering storm.
At sunset, with low visibility, the captain mistook Chapman’s Peak for Cape Point, and this is how he, his crew and the Kakapo ended up ploughing some distance onto Noordhoek Beach, to the amazement of the few locals living there at the time. All hands on deck simply stepped down to terra firma, hardly getting their feet wet.
Former Slangkop Point light-keeper Peter Dennett adds legend to the near-tragedy: ‘The captain was so mortified by what he had done that he refused to come out of his cabin for weeks. They say he eventually had to be escorted off and taken to a mental facility.’
That was not the end of the Kakapo, however. In the late 1960s, when the international hit film, Ryan’s Daughter, was being shot on Noordhoek Beach, a papier mâché funnel was added to the shipwreck remains and became part of the romantic backdrop.
You can visit its old, rusting boiler section to this day as part of your morning walk along this wide 8km-long beach.
Dennett himself witnessed the storm power of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly during a ‘real north-west buster, a monster of a storm’ on September 5, 2001.
The towering 17m swells played havoc with the freighter, Ikantanda, dragging the stricken vessel onto the rocks at Scarborough, close to Kommetjie.
Dennett watched this drama unfold from the best viewing site in the area: the tower platform of the Slangkop (meaning 'snake head') Point lighthouse. He contacted the captain by radio and offered assistance, but a rescue team was already on its way – all souls aboard were saved.
The Slangkop Point lighthouse became fully automated in 1979, but is still one of the few lighthouses in the world to be manned by a light-keeper – known these days as a ‘lighthouse officer’.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Slangkop Point lighthouse
Tel: +27 (0)21 783 1717
South African Lighthouse Adventure Tour Operations
Tel: +27 (0)21 449 5171
Cape Point Route
Tel: +27 (0)21 782 9356
Tel: +27 (0)21 783 4545
Cape Town Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)487 6800
How to get here
Kommetjie (site of the Slangkop Point lighthouse) is approx. 30km south of Cape Town on the Chapman’s Peak road past Hout Bay. If you continue south past Kommetjie you will end up at Cape Point, which is well worth a visit.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit the Slangkop Point lighthouse is on a clear day (any time of year) so you can enjoy the views from the tower.
Around the area
Go fishing from Kommetjie harbour, cold-water dive off the coastline, walk along a beach trail or visit the many shipwrecks in the area.
Tours to do
Day tours of the Cape Point Route, including a stop in Kommetjie if you’re staying in central Cape Town. See the listed Cape Point Route and Cape Town Tourism websites for details.
Exploring the Cape Point Route (including the Kommetjie area) is best done by driving yourself, so you can stop and linger wherever you want. This route, from Cape Town to the tip of the Cape Peninsula at Cape Point, is 1 of the most popular day routes in South Africa, and always worth a return visit.
What will it cost
Entrance fees to the lighthouse are R16 per adult, R8 per child under 12, and R10 for pensioners and students. Ask about group rates.
Length of stay
The lighthouse itself is worth a visit of about 30 minutes, but you may want to linger in the Kommetjie area, which is very scenic.
What to pack
Pack for a Cape outing, which means pack seasonally and always be prepared for rain, especially in winter (May to September).
Where to stay
Kommetjie has a large selection of accommodation – see the listed websites for options.
What to eat
Kommetjie has a great selection of seafood restaurants, pizza parlours, pubs and surfer hangouts.
Look out for the Kommetjie Village Festival held in November – see the listed Kommetjie website for details.
Organic produce at the Free Range Farm Shop at Imhoff Farm