Did you know?
The coast around Arniston was home to indigenous communities going back tens of thousands of years.
There is a little village at the eastern edge of the Agulhas Plains on the southern Cape coast called Arniston. With its romantic old fishing village ambience still intact and its long white beaches, Arniston is a popular weekend resort. It was once called Waenhuiskrans ('Wagon house cliff' in Afrikaans), but a tragic event at sea was the cause of its later change of name.
On the night of May 30, 1815, that part of the southern Cape coast was a scene of a vicious squall that brewed off the Agulhas Bank, sending a hurricane hurtling at a British transport ship called The Arniston. The vessel was bound for England from Ceylon, and she carried 378 passengers and crew.
The hurricane that had enveloped the ship, now forced The Arniston into the eye of the storm. Some say that Captain George Simpson headed the vessel for land, thinking he was actually just off Table Bay. According to reports, The Arniston hit a reef a little more than a kilometre out to sea and began to break up.
Only six men, clinging onto flotsam, reached the shore alive. The hull of the ship eventually grounded itself on the beach, surrounded by hundreds of washed-up bodies. The survivors took refuge in a nearby cave and lived off a bag of oatmeal they had found in the wreckage. They were discovered two weeks later by a farmer’s son and a shepherd and eventually made their way to Cape Town.
Nearly two months later, an auction was held on the beach near the crash site where the surviving contents of The Arniston were dispersed. Some of the goods for sale included 122 casks of wine and arrack.
All that remains of that fateful night in 1815 is a plaque near the beachfront in memory of the deaths of the four eldest sons of Lt-Col Andrew Giels of Her Majesty's 73rd Regiment.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Arniston (also known as Waenhuiskrans) lies at the end of the R316 on the southern Cape coast, about 250km or three hours' drive from Cape Town.
Bredasdorp, where the Shipwreck Museum is, lies just 24km inland from Arniston.
Best time to visit
The southern Cape looks greenest between May and August, because of winter rainfall. But this part of the world is nice all year round.
Around the area
Travel the Agulhas Plains to the Elim Moravian village, to Gans Bay to dive with sharks, and to Hermanus for shopping.
It's best to have your own car to get around.
Length of stay
Arniston is the perfect weekend destination.
What to pack
Pack for all weather conditions.
Where to stay
Arniston has a good hotel and a number of different accommodation options – see the website listed.
What to eat
Seafood – you're in a fishing village.