When one thinks of South Africa, most people do not think of its lighthouses. But, in fact South Africa has over 40 lighthouses that are located along some of the most spectacular coastlines in the world.
Quite frankly, I never thought much about South African lighthouses either, until my partner, Don Devine, returned from a trip to South Africa with fabulous videos, photos and stories about these magnificent structures. I became so intrigued, I felt we should share some of his trip with you and offer our readers the opportunity to visit South Africa and its lighthouses.
While doing some background research on South Africa, I found out that Don was not alone in his wonderful feelings about the country and its people. Americans are travelling to South Africa in record numbers-more than 100,000 last year, with 20% more this year. In fact, one of our most important citizens, President Bill Clinton, not only recently visited South Africa this year, he also visited Robben Island Lighthouse.
Robben Island, as most of us should know by now is where Nelson Mandela, now president of South Africa, was a prisoner for 13 years. Today the prison is a museum, with over 1000 tourists a day visiting the site.
It can be quite safely said that Robben Island is also the site of the first lighthouse to be built in South Africa in 1657. Although many beacons and other navigational aids have been set up along South Africa's coast since 1657, it wasn't until 1824 that the first solidly constructed lighthouse was established at Green Point in Table Bay. This lighthouse is still in operation today.
A glance at any map will show you that along the southern coast of Africa, one point of land projects beyond the rest. That point is Cape Agulhas. It is here that South Africa's second oldest lighthouse was built in 1847-48. The Fresnel lens installed here in 1914, was discontinued in 1968, when the lighthouse was replaced by a skeleton tower. However, in 1983, this lighthouse was restored and reactivated.
The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse is also the site of the first lighthouse museum in all of Africa. The museum contains a graphic display of the development of lighthouses from ancient times to the present, a photographic display of all of South Africa's lighthouses, accompanied by a map of the coastline showing the location of each station. Also on display is a photographic history of the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse from its erection to the final restoration. The museum has a collection of lighthouse lanterns, breakwater lights, bulbs, oil vapor lamps, and a breeches buoy rescue system. Of special interest is a lighthouse keepers office, as it would have appeared in the early 20th century.
One of the more interesting stations is the Cape Point Light Station, at the Cape of Good Hope. There are two lighthouses here, one having been completed in 1919 to replace an early tower built in 1860, 816 feet above high water level. Today, a replica of the original tower has been built as a tourist attraction. Once you reach the lighthouse you can view the Indian Ocean to your left and the Atlantic Ocean to your right.
A visit to South Africa would not be complete without a visit to Cape Town, the legislative capital and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city is fast becoming a major location for fashion and the filming of TV commercials. Major hotels like, Hilton, Marriott and Holiday Inn can be found right along with McDonald's and even Planet Hollywood.
However, it is the nation's countryside and game preserves that are the real attraction. Don went on to tell us, "The coastal road from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope runs hundreds of feet above the crashing surf over views that really are far better than California's Big Sur Highway."
This story appeared in the
June 1998 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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