The south-westernmost tip of the continent of Africa is known as Cape Point. The first European to sight (and round) the point was the Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias, who rounded Cape Point in January 1488. His little flotilla of two ships were hit by storms when they were close to the Point and he named the place Cabo Tormentoso (Cape of Storms). Cape Point and False Bay beyond it on the eastern side of the peninsula are notorious for the autumn northwesterly gales and the ferocious south-easterlies in summer. João II, king of Portugal (1455-1495), later renamed the cape Cabo de Boa Esperança (Cape of Good Hope), because rounding the Cape ultimately served to open the only sea route to the East and its riches at the time.
The next Portuguese explorer to round the Cape was Vasco da Gama, who sailed past Cape point in a gale on November 22nd, 1497. He was the first Portuguese to reach India by sea. Today he is remembered at Cape Point by having the tallest peak named after him.
Today the cross-shaped padrão (a limestone marker used by the Portuguese explorers to mark their landing sites) one can see near the point is in fact a replica. The original, the Padrão de São Filipe, is thought to have been erected closer to the Point on the headland known as Cape Maclear, just north-west of the point itself.
Cape Point remains one of the most significant headlands in the history of the world, and it is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful points in the world. The English sea captain and explorer Sir Francis Drake, who rounded the Cape on the 18th of July 1580, called it “a most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth”. To this day the Cape Peninsula and Cape Town are commonly referred to as “the Fairest Cape”.
Our visit to Cape Point in 2012 was on a bright, sunny and almost windless day.
The marker that greets one at the start of the track leading up to the old lighthouse.
The view along the eastern side of the peninsula towards Cape Point. The highest peak visible is Vasco da Gama Peak.
Looking north along the western side of the peninsula (looking back towards Cape Town, in other words).
Looking down on Smitswinkels Bay from the whale-watching viewpoint on the eastern side of the peninsula. The mountains on the horizon are on the far side of False Bay.
The view south from the same vantage point.
The coast is rocky and rather inhospitable, but beautiful, too.
Looking out across False Bay towards the Hottentots-Holland and Steenbras Mountains and Cape Hangklip on the eastern shore of the bay.
The old lighthouse was constructed in 1859 and is sited on the highest point of the ridge between Vasco da Gama Peak and the Point itself.
Cape Maclear, just north-west of the Point. It is here that Dias is thought to have planted his Padrão de São Filipe in 1488.
Dias Beach and Cape Maclear.
Looking north from the old lighthouse. Vasco da Gama Peak is the nearest to the camera.
A wider view in the same direction, with Table Mountain and Devils Peak in the far distance.
There is a well-constructed and beautifully maintained walkway down to a vantage point just above the sea here.
Cape Point itself, looking south. I took a photo from the edge of the flat rock in the foreground back in 1970, but was a bit more cautious this time!
Looking north, the old lighthouse just visible on top of the ridge.
Another view of Cape Point.
Even on a calm day the surf is quite ferocious. The waves breaking here have travelled unimpeded from the coast of South America!
The Point and the new lighthouse, built in 1914.
The new lighthouse is the most powerful on the coast of South Africa.
Looking back at the old lighthouse.
A last long look over False Bay before we bid Cape Point adieu…