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Cape Agulhas - Africa's Most Southerly Point

Known as Cape Agulhas, Cape L’Agulhas, L’Agulhas or simply Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the African continent is quite a spot. It is the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet and is renowned for its big seas, big vistas and big past.

The monument, which marks the spot where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, is low and discreet and does not in any way intrude on the fabulous vistas at Africa's southernmost point.

For centuries this shoreline has seen huge storms and massive waves, the hazardous seas responsible for as many as 150 shipwrecks along the coast. Early Portuguese explorers, plying these waters in search of a passage to India around the African continent, called the area Cabo das Agulhas (Cape of Needles) with good reason. The shore is littered with needle-like rocks, deadly for passing ships and their crews. Some say it was so called because it was at this point that a compass-needle unerringly pointed due north, with no magnetic deviation. Both meanings of the word however, somehow seem to hint at the dread of the early seafarers, as they battled pounding waves and howling gales along this treacherous coastline.

There have been as many as 150 shipwrecks along the Cape Agulhas coastline through the years and the area is rather aptly named the 'Graveyard of Ships".

In memory of the countless lives lost at sea and to warn passing ships of the dangers of the Agulhas Reef, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was built in March 1849. It is the second oldest working lighthouse in South Africa (after the Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town) and is a National Monument. Its original lantern was fuelled by the fat from sheep’s tails and has obviously been replaced and modernized several times over the years. Today a 7.5 megacandela lantern, which flashes every 5 seconds, can be seen 30 nautical miles out at sea and provides a very welcome sight to passing ships. In 1968 the lantern was moved to an adjacent aluminum tower when it was discovered that the sandstone walls of the existing building were crumbling due to excessive weathering. A climb up the 71 steps to the top of the old red and white striped tower to stare out over the horizon where the two great oceans meet, is a rather special experience. The lighthouse and adjoining museum are open from 09:00 to 17:00, seven days a week and are well worth a visit, the last climb to the top allowed at 16:30.

The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, built at the southernmost tip of Africa, has looked out over the wild seas of the 'Cape of Storms' for more than 150 years.

The Agulhas National Park is one of the smallest national parks in South Africa, being a mere 21 000 hectares in size. An essential part of the scenery in the park is of course the rugged coastline, which includes the southernmost tip of Africa, but also covers a variety of habitats, from sweeping expanses of coastal fynbos and wetlands to patches of renosterveld. The area forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom and there are about 2 000 indigenous plants found here, an incredible 100 of which are endemic. All this biodiversity makes the park a bird lovers paradise, with wonderful sightings of numerous water birds, but also of the vulnerable Blue crane and African black oystercatcher. On land, the Cape grysbok can be spotted in the coastal fynbos and at sea, Cape fur seals, dolphins and several species of whales are often seen, the Southern Right whales being particularly visible from August to November when they come into the bays to calve.

The Agulhas Reef is renowned for its rich fish reserves and there is every evidence that as far back as the early Stone Age, people lived in the area and caught fish to eat. The ancient stonewall fish traps found at Rasperpunt in the park were built by the Khoisan peoples, about 2 000 to 3 000 years ago and can still be seen today. The Khoisan, the original inhabitants of southern Africa, were traditionally hunter-gatherers and lived in harmony with the natural world around them. Their ingenuous fishing technique was simple yet effective – pools encircled by walls of packed stones were created close to the beach, which trapped the fish within the walls when the tide receded. The stone walls were built to withstand the pounding of the waves and high enough not to allow the fish to swim back out to sea at low tide. The fishermen were then able to catch any fish trapped in the pools with ease.

The African black oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini), is a large and noisy wader and is unmistakeable with its all-black plumage, red legs, bill and eyes. Its genus name Haematopus means feet and legs red like blood.

So it was that indigenous people walked these shores long before explorers Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama arrived here from Portugal in the late 15th century, on the orders of their King to beat the Spanish and find the coveted trade route to India. Interestingly enough though, in all probability these two men were preceded by the great ancient mariners of history - the Phoenicians, Arabs, Chinese and Indians, who all made journeys down the west and east African coasts and could have in all probability rounded the tip of Africa. One wonders what the Khoisan made of all the activity!

The Map of Africa monument is a large topographic representation of the continent and incorporates the points of a compass. A series of boardwalks make it easy to access and enjoy.

A monument near the shoreline marks the spot where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, at the foot of the 2nd largest continent on earth and it is quite something to stand there and be part of this geographical landmark. Another monument in the shape of the map of Africa has recently been built to celebrate this special place. The map is a topograhic representation of the continent and it is a big one, measuring 30 metres around the outer edge. The various iconic features of Africa are easily recognisable and it is really rather amazing to be at the tip of Africa and at the same time be able to visually explore the whole continent.

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