Cape Point isn't the southernmost point in Africa. That honour goes to the lesser-known Cape Agulhas, some 155 miles/ 250 kilometers further east. It is often touted as the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans officially meet; but in reality, the Agulhas and Benguela currents merge somewhere between the two Capes, at a location that changes with the season. However, while Cape Point is not geographically superlative, it is the point best-loved by South Africans and visitors alike. Unlike Cape Agulhas, it is both easy to get to and breathtakingly scenic.
A History of Exploration
Cape Point lies 0.7 miles/ 1.2 kilometers east of the Cape of Good Hope, and together the two form the Cape Peninsula. Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias named the peninsula the Cape of Storms when he sailed past it in 1488, becoming the first European to round the southern tip of Africa. Ten years later, another Portuguese explorer named Vasco da Gama followed in his footsteps, discovering the sea route to India and the Far East in the process. Portuguese King John II renamed the peninsula Cabo da Boa Esperança (Cape of Good Hope) in honour of the riches promised by the new trade route.
Cape Point's notorious storms have claimed the lives of many sailors, and legend has it that it is haunted by the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship said to have sailed these seas since 1641. In one version of the ship's story, 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, especially during bad weather.
Incredible Flora and Fauna
Today, the Cape Peninsula stretches south from Cape Town for 47 miles/ 75 kilometers and is renowned for having some of the most beautiful scenery in South Africa. At its tip, Cape Point is part of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which is in turn part of the Table Mountain National Park. The area is teeming with wildlife, and is particularly famous for its inquisitive (and sometimes intimidating) troops of Cape baboon. Other often-seen animals include mountain zebra, hartebeest, eland, kudu, ostriches and rock hyraxes.
Also known as dassies, rock hyraxes are small terrestrial mammals that resemble oversized guinea-pigs. Despite their diminutive size and fluffy appearance, their closest living relative is the elephant. Cape Point's many nature walks and cycle paths also serve as a birdwatcher's paradise, offering the chance to spot more than 250 different species. The park is also part of the Cape Floral Region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a botanical wonderland, with approximately 1,100 species of plant including many types of delicate fynbos.
Cape Point's towering sandstone peak also offers a magnificent bird's-eye view of the surrounding ocean. Dolphins, Cape fur seals and African penguins are easy to spot with a keen eye or a good pair of binoculars, while the winter months (June - November) herald the start of whale-watching season. Those that spend a half hour or two atop the cliffs of Cape Point will often be rewarded by the sight of humpback and southern right whales swimming past on their annual migration.
Cape Point Amenities
There are two lighthouses at Cape Point. Standing tall on Da Gama Peak, the first lighthouse was completed in 1859 and is now used as a monitoring station for all of the lighthouses along the Cape coast. The second lighthouse was built at a lower elevation in 1914, and has now taken over from the first. It remains the most powerful lighthouse in South Africa. Visitors can access both lighthouses via the Flying Dutchman Funicular, which connects the two and saves you from making the steep climb between them.
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. Instead, those that like walking or wildlife should pack a picnic and a pair of binoculars and allow a full day for exploring Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Alternatively, round off the experience with lunch at the Point's gourmet Two Oceans Restaurant. Here, you can sample regional wines and fresh-caught seafood whilst admiring the breathtaking view.
Visit the Cape Point website for details including opening hours, rates and directions from Cape Town.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on October 14th 2016.