Cape Point isn't actually the southern tip of Africa. That honour goes to the far less well-known Cape Agulhas, further east. It isn't even the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans officially meet. That is about 1 km (0.6 mile) east where the warm Agulhas and the cold Benguela currents meet and merge. But this is the point that everyone knows and loves. And unlike Cape Agulhas, everyone has heard of it, it is easy to get at and it is actually pointy.
Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, first named this peninsula the Cape of Storms when he rounded it in 1488 becoming the first European to round the Cape and find the sea route to India. It was the Portuguese King John II (the Good) who renamed it the Cabo da Boa Esperança (Cape of Good Hope) in honour of the promised riches offered by the Cape sea route to India. In 1580, British sailor Sir Francis Drake called it 'the fairest Cape in all the world'.
Humpbacks and Hyrax
The Cape peninsula stretches south from Cape Town for 75 km (47 miles) of some of the most beautiful scenery in South Africa. At its tip, Cape Point stands within the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, part of the Table Mountain National Park best known for its plentiful supply of Chacma baboons, but also has many other animals from mountain zebra, eland, bontebok and kudu to ostrich, dassies (rock hyrax) and tortoises. There are great nature walks and cycle paths, with 250 species of bird. There are also 1100 species of plant in this relatively tiny area which is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The one downside is that because of all the rocks the reserve also has a fairly healthy snake population, including puff adders and cobras, so wear sensible shoes and watch where you put your hands.
Offshore, from June to November, you may see migrating Southern rights, Bryde's, humpbacks and killer whales.
The Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre gives information on the various species you may see around you.
The Flying Dutchman
Keep an eye open in stormy weather and you may just catch a whispered glimpse of the Flying Dutchman, the ghost ship said to have sailed these seas restlessly since 1641. There are many versions of the story. In one, Captain Hendrik van der Decken was so determined to round the Cape of Storms in heavy gales that he swore to keep trying if it took him all eternity. In another, he lashes himself to the wheel, swears God himself will not make him turn back and shoots an angel. Hundreds of ships through the years have claimed sightings, lured in by request to carry letters home. Sighting the blasphemous captain is not a good omen.
There are two lighthouses on the point. The first, built in 1857, is now used as a monitoring station for all the lighthouses along the Cape coast. There is a funicular up the cliff for those who don't want to do the steep walk. The second, which took over in 1919, remains the most powerful lighthouse on the Cape coast.
Most people who visit Cape Point do so as part of a peninsula day tour that involves several other sites, and end up with little time to admire the magnificent scenery around them. Those that like walking or wildlife should take a hat, binoculars and allow a full day just for the Nature Reserve.
The Hoerikwaggo Trail
The Hoerikwaggo Trail is a magnificently scenic 5-day hiking trail from Cape Town’s Table Mountain to Cape Point. It's a lovely trek if you are relatively fit, see my article for more information -- Guide to hiking the Hoerikwaggo Trail.
Further information about Cape Point:
Open daily Oct-Mar 6am-8pm, Apr-Sept 7am-7pm
Cape Point Information:+27 (0)21 780 9010