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EExplore the Agulhas National Park, and you can instantly accomplish a whole lot of must-dos. See the southernmost lighthouse in Africa? Check. Swim in 2 oceans on the same day? Check. Explore the true wonder of fynbos – and its rarer coastal cousin, strandveld – in spring? Check. Hear strange tales of legendary shipwrecks? Check. Watch whales slap their tails as you explore a talcum-white beach? Check!
You can drive through the Agulhas National Park on your way to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. There’s a glamour, an explorer’s thrill, that lies in visiting such a place.
The second-oldest lighthouse in South Africa was built here in 1848, an exclamation mark at the continent’s tip. (The oldest is Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town, erected in 1824 to warn ships off the rocks outside Table Bay). Agulhas Lighthouse offers stunning views of this gently rounded coastal peninsula.
There is so much more to see. Even though this area is still in the process of being developed as a national park, it already attracts birders, beach-lovers, amateur botanists interested in the pristine fynbos and strandveld, and anyone who loves a good shipwreck story – there’s a shipwreck for every kilometre of coastline here.
Agulhas means ‘needles’ in Portuguese – the peninsula was so named by navigators in 1500 because true north and magnetic north coincided here. The needle-sharp rocks that guard this part of the coast may also have been a factor.
The weather at Cape Agulhas is quite mild, but every now and then mad winds whip up the sea, threatening ships with waves 30m high. The dozens of ships that have foundered along this spectacular coastline are a source of tragic – and some comic – tales of castaways, stowaways and ghosts.
Here you’ll also find ancient Khoisan middens and stone fish traps – some of which may be traces of even earlier inhabitants. Not for nothing is this part of the coast rich with Cradle of Human Culture sites; anatomically modern humans have left evidence of their settlements here for more than 70 000 years.
You may want to just succumb quietly to the rhythms of the sea. The Agulhas National Park protects a 56km coastline – endless white beaches from which to watch whales, giant dunes covered in strandveld (‘beach scrub’ – unique, endemic and endangered succulents that form ground cover on the dunes and help secure them against the wind) and fascinating tidal pools patrolled by black oystercatchers.
Inland, you’ll walk through fragrant fynbos, fussed over by long-tailed sugarbirds. It’s ever so easy to imagine yourself a castaway in an untouched land.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
South African National Parks - Reservations
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111
Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum
Tel: +27 (0)28 424 1240
John Dave Horse Rides
Tel: +27 (0)82 853 6732
How to get here
Cape Agulhas is about two hours’ drive from Cape Town. From the N2 highway, turn off at Caledon onto the R316 and follow the road to Napier and Bredasdorp, where you turn onto the R319 to Struisbaai and L’Agulhas.
Best time to visit
In late winter and spring (August to October), the fynbos is alive with flowering proteas and tortoises freshly woken from hibernation. This is also a great time to see southern right whales.
Tours to do
There is an excellent shipwreck tour available which will also help you appreciate the extraordinary strandveld vegetation. Alternatively, you could do it at a canter on horseback.
Length of stay
This park is an excellent day-drive, especially if you’re staying in nearby towns like Hermanus or Struisbaai. But to immerse yourself in the fynbos and shipwreck lore, stay at least a night or two.
Where to stay
A rest camp, built in late 2010, offers accommodation above a beautiful lagoon which is perfect for swimming. It is also well situated for long coastal walks and is close to the historic lighthouse. In addition, there are 4 restored dwellings, some dating back more than 2 centuries There is also plenty of accommodation in nearby towns of Struisbaai and L’Agulhas.