For anyone who believes that Africa is all desert and savanna, the Cape of Good Hope will dash all those misconceptions.
The Cape of Good Hope is about 50 kilometers south of Cape Town, South Africa. (Click here for my brief guide to Cape Town!) It’s lush, green, and rocky, with stunning vistas and cool, often breezy and unpredictable weather. It’s an easy day trip from Cape Town and the drive is leisurely and scenic. If you don’t mind sharing the road with all the tour buses coming in and out, that is.
Although the Cape of Good Hope is at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, it’s not, as many believe, the southernmost tip of Africa. That honour actually goes to Cape Agulhas, 155 kilometers southeast. But the Cape of Good Hope is an important waypoint for ships following the traditional clipper route sailing between Europe and the Far East, New Zealand and Australia. The route is often still used during yacht races, as well.
The History of the Cape of Good Hope
Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese explorer, was the first European to sail around the Cape in 1488. King Juan II sent Dias to explore the coast of Africa and find a trade route to India. The expedition was challenging, though, and by the time Dias and his crew reached Kwaaihoek, they were low on food. The crew convinced Dias to turn back. On the return journey, Dias observed the southernmost point of Africa, later called Cape Agulhas.
Dias originally named the second cape “Cabo das Tormentas,” or “Cape of Storms,” due to the unpredictable storms and Atlantic-Antarctic currents that made the area so dangerous for sailing.
But King Juan II decided the Cape should be renamed the Cape of Good Hope, with the belief that this route to India would one day become well-travelled.
Unfortunately, sailing around the Cape was not without its hazards. Over the centuries, numerous ships fell victim to storms or hit the rocks around the Cape and sank.
What to See and Do
Old Cape Point Lighthouse
Due to the hazardous nature of the Cape, they built a lighthouse here in the 1850s.
Unfortunately, they built the lighthouse in the wrong spot. It turns out that the lighthouse was too high, so mist, fog and other general bad weather often obscured its light.
On April 18th, 1911, the Portuguese ship SS Lusitania attempted to sail around Cape Point just before midnight. Due to the Cape Point lighthouse being too high up, once the ship started turning, it lost sight of the beacon. The ocean current pulled the ship toward the reef, forcing it to strike Bellows Rock. The crew struggled to lower the lifeboats safely, as the Lusitania was surrounded by cliffs and rocky outcroppings. Two life boats managed to reach Dias Beach, but one sank, killing three people. The remaining guests and crew on the Lusitania were rescued later that night. By morning, the Lusitania sank into the Atlantic Ocean, where it remains to this day.
The lighthouse was decommissioned soon after, and another one built lower down. If you don’t want to walk to the lighthouse, you can take the Flying Dutchman Funicular.
Another famous ship you may have heard of is the Flying Dutchman. Although it’s existence is fully entrenched in nautical folklore, it’s said that the Dutch ship was lost off the Cape of Good Hope sometime in the 17th Century, and all on board perished. But occasionally the ship still reappears in its ghostly form, often as a warning of some impending doom.
The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
There’s more to the Cape of Good Hope than just lighthouses built in the wrong place and spooky ghost stories, though. There’s plenty of wildlife to keep an eye out for. The area is home to zebras, antelope, deer, baboons, snakes, tortoises, lizards, and even ostrich:
Some of the wildlife here clearly has their free run of the place. If you order food at the restaurant on site, keep an eye on it! I have a feeling it would disappear pretty fast.
The incredible diversity of flora and fauna, history and one-of-a-kind landscape makes this a really special place. In fact, in 1938, the local authorities proclaimed this area a nature reserve. The biggest animal at the reserve is the eland, a member of the antelope family. There are also 22 species of snakes slithering about!
Baboons roam the area as well, which can be quite dangerous. Keep your distance and don’t leave food around!
There’s nothing better than going for a leisurely hike to explore beautiful vistas.
There are seven trails to keep you busy, ranging from easy to moderate:
- Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail – 2km (easy)
- Cape of Good Hope Trail – 3.5km (easy)
- Antoniesgat Trail – 3.5km (moderate)
- Gifkommetjie – 5.5km (easy)
- Kanonkop – 5.5km (moderate)
- Phyllisia Circuit – 7km (easy)
- Shipwreck Trail
The shipwreck trails are particularly interesting. You can read more about them on the official Cape Point website here: Cape Point Shipwreck trail
Even if you don’t have a lot of time to spend, try to fit in at least one or two of the shorter hikes. Spectacular views like this one make the walk all worthwhile:
Cape of Good Hope Coordinates Sign
The other sight to see here, of course, is the famous, official sign with the location coordinates. Interesting side note: the latitude on the sign was wrong for years. It was finally corrected some time around 2006!
If you want to stay in the area a little longer, there are a few accommodations here as well.
The Cape of Good Hope definitely has a lot to see and do. It’s worth adding to any itinerary when travelling in South Africa! Check out the park’s official site to help with your trip planning here.
By car: Cape Point is about 70 km from Cape Town. It takes roughly 1.5 hours, depending on traffic.
By tour bus: The Cape Point Explorer red sightseeing bus has a full-day excursion which includes a stop at the penguin colony (which you can read more about on my blog here) at Boulders Beach, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. See their website here for tickets and prices.
Private coach tours: This is the most expensive option, but you often get more flexibility in terms of full or half day tours, as well as extra options such as cycling tours.