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How Low Can You Go

There is something quite epic and mystical about the Southernmost Tip of Africa, the geographic extreme where this primordial continent meets with the mighty Atlantic and Indian Oceans. 

The converging force of these powerful giants is reflected in the wild, windswept landscape and the surging ocean swells that batter the rugged coastline.

Early European explorers searching for a trade route to the east revered its power and geographic significance and many fell victim to its tempestuous nature, earning it the notorious reputation as the Cape of Storms. During the 15th century, the intrepid Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias gave it the name Cabo das Agulhas (Cape of Needles), either because a compass needle showed no variation between true north and magnetic north or because of the treacherous, needle-like rock formations. Perhaps it was a combination of these two factors combined with the raging storms off its coast that resulted in the wrecking of over 140 ships since the 17th century and the loss of nearly 5000 lives.

Precious Heritage

Meanwhile, the ancient Khoikhoi people had been living at Cape Agulhas peacefully for thousands of years, unperturbed by the reckless ambitions of the modern world. Today all that is left of their ancient culture are the stone fish traps known as viswyvers which can still be seen at low tide and a scattering of archeological sites which offer us a precious glimpse into their world.

The Sentinel of the South

The government of the Cape Colony finally commissioned the construction of a lighthouse at this notorious junction in 1847. The light was lit for the first time in 1849 with a torch burning sheep fat. The light has been upgraded through the centuries and today the beam can be seen 30 nautical miles out to sea, flashing once every five seconds. The lighthouse itself, which is one of the oldest in the country, has been declared a national monument and houses Africa’s only lighthouse museum as well as a small, rustic restaurant. The climb up the 71 steps of the tower is rewarded with spectacular panoramic views.

A Southern Sanctuary

The ruggedly beautiful landscape around the Southernmost Tip of Africa, known as the Agulhas Plain, has been proclaimed as the Agulhas National Park, protecting a rich biodiversity of indigenous flora and fauna, including thousands of wetland and sea birds, covering an area of over 20,000 hectares.

The Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area (SMA) involves 25 landowners together protecting rare and endangered habitat on a further 45,600 hectares of the Agulhas Plain. Aside from conserving the land, the SMA venture also seeks to promote the wellbeing of all people living within its borders and the surrounds. By offering groundbreaking solutions to the age-old conflict of farming while conserving, the SMA has been greatly successful in revitalizing ecosystems on the Agulhas Plain and has even started to reintroducing game such as buffalo and hippopotamus.

The Beginning and the End

The same spirit of adventure that lured early explorers to Cape Agulhas is still very much alive today. Many contemporary explorers and intrepid travelers have started and ended epic journeys at this geographic extreme, including Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor on their famous motorbike adventure, The Long Way Down (during which time they stayed at Grootbos).