There is something incredibly nostalgic and even romantic about lighthouses. In a world where technology is ruthlessly taking over, rendering old world methods, structures, and equipment redundant, it’s comforting to know that lighthouses, some many centuries old, still serve a vital function. And it’s for their history, picturesque addition to any coastal landscape, and beguiling nautical (and occasionally naughty) tales that we simply love visiting them! Here are some of the Cape’s most notable lighthouses.
Cape Point Lighthouse
Where to find it? Cape Point Nature Reserve, Cape Point, South Africa
When was it built? Originally, in 1860 and then it was relocated to a lower elevation in 1919.
Brief history: The lighthouse at Cape Point has long served as a beacon of hope to intrepid explorers and traders. Located at the resupply station for early trading ships rounding the wicked “Cape of Storms”, it would warn approaching ships of the treacherous coastline, but also bring joy at the prospect of land and a chance to replenish supplies with fresh food and good wine.
Owing to its high elevation, however, the old Cape Point lighthouse ran the risk of being spotted too early by ships, compelling them to approach too closely. Additionally, foggy conditions at higher levels would often smother the lighthouse’s powerful beams, making it invisible to ships. It was precisely this that wracked the SS Lusitania, a 5,557-tonne Portuguese ocean liner, on Bellows Rock, just south of Cape Point, in April 1911. Subsequently, a new lighthouse was built at a lower elevation (87 meters above sea level), which cannot be seen from the west until ships are at a safe distance to the south.
Why it’s worth visiting today: The new Cape Point lighthouse is the most powerful on the South African coastline, with a range of 101 km or 55 nautical miles, and shining with an intensity of 10 mega candelas in each flash. Located at the Cape of Good Hope, with commanding ocean and peninsula views, the area is also incredibly scenic, arrestingly beautiful, and offers many hiking trails and picnic spots. Just watch out for the baboons!
Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, Southernmost Tip of Africa
Where to find it? Lighthouse Street, L’Agulhas, Western Cape
When was it built? 1849
Brief history: For 171 years, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse has stood sentry over this auspicious section of coastline, the southernmost tip of the continent, and the official meeting point of the mighty Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The lighthouse was first lit on 1 March 1849 using sheep tail fat as its original fuel. This was replaced by an oil-burning lantern in 1905; a petroleum vapour burner in 1929; and then a four-kilowatt electric lamp powered by a diesel generator in 1936.
In 1968, the Cape Agulhas lighthouse was retired from service due to excessive weathering of its sandstone walls and the building declared a national monument. In 1988, however, it was restored and re-commissioned, making the Cape Agulhas lighthouse the second oldest working lighthouse in southern Africa.
Why it’s worth visiting today: The prestige and wonderment of witnessing the meeting point of two of the world’s mighty oceans is an unforgettable experience, set against the backdrop of the magnificent Cape Agulhas lighthouse, a Western Cape provincial heritage site. Visitors to the area can also see and explore the Meisho Maru shipwreck on the shores nearby, as well as the remains of ancient stone fishtraps used by the Khoisan people.
Green Point Lighthouse, Mouille Point
Where to find it? 100 Beach Road, Mouille Point, Cape Town
When was it built? 1824
Brief history: With its slick, candy-striped paint job, and squat, cheery disposition on the Mouille Point promenade, the Green Point lighthouse might not look it, but it is indeed the oldest lighthouse in South Africa. It was originally designed by sculptor Herman Shutte, who arrived in the Cape in 1790, and its single-wick Argand lanterns powered by sperm whale oil. In 1865, it was expanded to its current size and certified a provincial heritage site on 12 January 1973.
Why it’s worth visiting today: The Green Point Lighthouse is an eye-catching landmark in Mouille Point that makes for some unforgettable, atmospheric photos (and selfies) of this spectacular cosmopolitan coastal strip. Not only is it the oldest operational lighthouse of its kind in South Africa and a national monument, it is also rumoured to be haunted by a ghost called Daddy West.
Slangkoppunt Lighthouse, Kommetjie
Where to find it? Lighthouse Road, Kommetjie
When was it built? 1919 – sort of
Brief history: The lighthouse at Slangkoppunt was first due to be completed in 1914; they even had a brass sign commissioned for this date. However, the explosion of hostilities across the globe during the First World War brought progress to a standstill for a few years. The lighthouse was then officially inaugurated on 4 March 1919 but was in fact operational in the years prior to that, as was noted in the captain’s log of the HMS Himalaya on 19 July 1917. In 1979, the Slangkoppunt lighthouse became fully automated, reducing it three-man station staff to a single senior light keeper.
Why it’s worth visiting today: Today, this lighthouse, which is a visible landmark from tens of kilometres away, even as far away as Hout Bay, remains the tallest cast iron tower in South Africa. Standing at 41 meters tall and painted white to stand out against the blues and greens of its backdrop mountains, the Slangkoppunt lighthouse serves as a faithful tourist attraction to visitors to the area. It’s open for guided tours, which take visitors up a rather hair-raising inner spiral staircase to the top of its beacon.
Cape Columbine Lighthouse, Tietiesbaai
Where to find it? Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, Tietiesbaai, Western Cape
When was it built? 1936
Brief history: The lighthouse at Cape Columbine on the West Coast of the Western Cape is the last manned lighthouse to have been built on the South African coast. The lighthouse, as well as the headland and surrounding nature reserve, were named after the barque Columbine, a three-mast sailing ship that met her untimely and unfortunate end on the rocks approximately 1.5 kilometres to the north on 31 March 1829. The Columbine Lighthouse was commissioned on 1 October 1936, more than 100 years after the tragedy.
Why it’s worth visiting today: The Columbine Nature Reserve in Tieties Bay (or “Tietiesbaai” in Afrikaans) sprawls out on a spectacular stretch of coastline, even though the surrounding landscape can appear quite barren at certain times of the year. The spiral staircase within the lighthouse affords visitors breathtaking views out over the Britannia reef and the Atlantic Ocean. Also, its design is somewhat unorthodox with its tapered, square tower and buttressed tower corners.
Shelley Point AKA Stompneus Point Lighthouse
Where to find it? End of 14th Street, Shelley Point, St. Helena Bay
When was it built? 1920
Brief history: The Shelley Point lighthouse, also known as the Stompneus Point lighthouse, is a classically attractive nautical structure located at the northernmost boundary of the Cape St. Martins peninsula at the western entrance to Saint Helena Bay. In 1920, it was built in a private capacity by the owner of the surrounding estate, a lighthouse enthusiast (although, strictly speaking, it’s not a lighthouse but rather a “lead light”). Today, the site is open for all to walk around and enjoy but the tower is closed to explorers.
Why it’s worth visiting today: Perched right at the end of a tumble of rocks in the Atlantic Ocean, the Shelley Point lighthouse is a beautiful landmark and a great photographic opportunity. It’s also embraced by pristine beaches.
Danger Point Lighthouse, Walker Bay
Where to find it? Southern end of Walker Bay, near Gansbaai, Southwestern Cape Coast
When was it built? 1895
Brief history: It was in 1488 that Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias landed at the southern end of Walker Bay and called it Ponte de Sao Brandao (The Bridge of Saint Brandao). Later, this treacherous section of reefs and rocky outcrops would become known as Danger Point, a name well-earned after it saw to the demise of more than 140 ships and thousands of lives. In 1890, the lighthouse commission finally stressed for the need for a lighthouse at this particularly perilous point, although it was only actually completed several years later, in 1895. Thankfully, the Danger Point lighthouse performed its duty and has saved countless ships and lives from getting dashed against the rocks.
Why it’s worth visiting today: The Danger Point lighthouse is open to the public on weekdays from 10:00 until 15:00 (although you should call beforehand to make sure they’re open, since it is a working lighthouse). It’s a remarkably attractive structure with three lights that flash every 40 seconds and shine with the intensity of 4,750,000 candles! Also, the surrounding coastal scenery is breathtaking.