Attractions on the Donkin Reserve

Last week I took a group of students on a walking tour around the Donkin Reserve and Route 67 and just realised again how much history Port Elizabeth has. The Donkin Reserve is a combination of history and public art and lining up the mosaic with the pyramid and lighthouse like this shows how easily you can incorporate the two.

Wild Coast lighthouses – Cape Morgan Lighthouse

The Wild Coast isn’t called the Wild Coast for nothing.  It may be paradise but it can get rough out there if it wants.  So with that in mind, it’s nogal strange that there are only three lighthouses (some websites say four but I’m not sure which the 4th one is) along this whole piece of coastline, Cape Morgan in the South, M’bashe roughly in the middle and Cape Hermes at Port St Johns in the North.  Out of the three only Cape Hermes is what I would call a traditional lighthouse. One built of brick and mortar.  The other two are both lights sitting on top of lattice steel towers.  Crossing back over the Kei Pont from Trennery’s Hotel recently I decided to make a quick detour and have a look at the Cape Morgan Lighthouse.
A roughly three-kilometer drive along a narrow dirt road took me up to the 12-meter high Cape Morgan Lighthouse built in 1964.  The light is located in the Cape Morgan Nature Reserve and emits two white flashes every 10 seconds with a range of 24 sea miles.

The reserve saw Titanium mining take place here in the 1950’s and if you follow the path down to the coast from the lighthouse you will see the remains of the mine’s old seawater pump station.  The 4-day / 3-night Strandloper Trail also starts at the new Eco Centre in the reserve and covers a distance of 57 kilometers to Gonubie in East London.

Driving away I was happy to tick off another light on my list of South African lighthouses.  We seem to take them for granted seeing them along the coastline yet don’t always realise how important a role they have played over the years and still do. Flash on.

The Great Fish Point Lighthouse – finally visited

I have driven between Port Elizabeth and East London so many times over the years yet the Great Fish Point Lighthouse has always just been a dot on the coastline some distance away.  The reason? Word has always been that the track up to the lighthouse is terrible and my Polo isn’t quite high clearance nor 4×4.  A little while ago a fellow blogger posted about the lighthouse and I asked what the road was like. “Not a problem, you’ll be able to do it easily.” Suddenly it jumped up to the top of my Eastern Cape “to do” list. A road trip shortly after gave me the opportunity I needed and I took a sharp right off the R72 and what do you know… A quick smooth ride along a relatively smooth track. 
At 9 meters high the Great Fish Point Lighthouse is one of the smallest lighthouses on the South African coastline.  It didn’t need to be built very high as it stands 76 meters above sea level and looks out across a dune veld to the coastline.  It may seem that the lighthouse is actually far from the coast (800 meters from the shoreline in fact), but the light can be seen 32 nautical miles out to sea and flash on the sea side every 10 seconds.

Although the large ships sail past quite far off these days, back in the 1800’s ships had to be warned about three shallow reefs to the north-east of where the lighthouse is located.  These outcrops have taken a number of ships over the years, both before and after the erection of the lighthouse. In 1890 a Lighthouse Commission set up by the Colonial Government recommended that a lighthouse is built on this coast, but after several holdups the light was only completed in 1898, making it 120 years old this year.  Now I can say I’ve been there and done that.  Next time I want to stay over as it is one of only a few lighthouses on the South African coast that also offers accommodation.

An Express Holiday In(n) Umhlanga

Everybody knows I like to explore and in South Africa we really have so much to discover.  So when an invitation to visit Umhlanga and bring the Damselfly along came from the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga, I jumped at the chance to see a new place and share it with my wife.  With two nights in the hotel it meant that we had a whole day to explore the coast around Umhlanga Rocks on foot and really take in what this very popular beach destination has to offer.
Waking up Saturday morning we were met with a gale force wind when we opened our hotel room balcony door.  “Oh no!”  Not the ideal beach weather but nothing short of a hurricane would have stopped us getting out there to see what there was to see.  We grabbed a taxi from the hotel and he dropped us off behind the Breakers Resort which is the last hotel on Lagoon Drive on the northern side of town.  From there we followed a short path down to the beach and hit the sand.  Or more like the sand hit us, but the wind was from behind and our sails were set.

Our first Umhlanga destination waited for us a few hundred meters up the beach.  The beautiful Umhlanga Lagoon.  Umhlanga is a Zulu work which means “place of reeds” and the river and lagoon is definitely where the name originated.  Umhlanga Lagoon isn’t just a stunning scenic spot, it’s also a well known… erm… come closer… *whispering* unofficial nudist beach.  Yes you heard me, don’t pretend like you didn’t sit up when I said it.  Or rather you read it.  So just to repeat myself quickly in case you didn’t, Umhlanga Lagoon is a nudist beach.  Something I found out a few years ago when I got curious about the state of naturism in South Africa and did a little bit of research.  I wasn’t expecting many nudists to be hanging around (excuse the pun) with the gale force wind as you won’t just end up with sand in every possible crevice, but also have the skin sandblasted off your… Ja, you get what I mean.  I have to add though that there was a guy who arrived just before us and when he reappeared from behind the dune he was wearing his birthday suit.  It didn’t last long though as he was heading back fully clothed before we even turned around.  I’m sure he’s still trying to rinse sand out everywhere. 
We weren’t keen to walk back along the coast right into the wind so veered off the beach and onto the trails leading through the adjacent Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve.  The reserve covers 26 hectares from the end of Lagoon Drive up to and including the lagoon and river mouth.  As soon as we hit the trails it was as if the wind had just died on us.  Totally sheltered we took a leisurely stroll back towards Umhlanga Rocks along one of the paths, passing a few other people along the way.  Clearly this is a very popular spot for a walk for young and old looking to break away to nature close to civilization.
At Breakers we left the trail and followed the beachfront walkway between the buildings and the beach.  Still fairly sheltered against the wind it was a nice refreshing walk with a lot of restaurant options to get something to eat, vendors to buy something from to take back home as a gift and sea views.  Lots and lots of sea views.  It’s not difficult to see why Umhlanga is such a popular destination.  We walked as far down as the iconic Umhlanga Lighthouse, built in 1954.  The circular concrete tower, painted white with a red band at the top, stands 21m high and must be one of the most recognised lighthouses on the South African coastline.
A little backtrack from the lighthouse brought us to the Umhlanga pier with it’s curved “ribs”.  The interesting part about the pier is that there is a large underground box culvert used to take storm water down to the sea with the pier being built on top of the extension taking the water out to a deep water channel 80 meters from the beach.  The wind nearly took us even further out but we just had to take a walk down to the end of the pier to enjoy the view.  From here we headed away from the beach to go and find something to eat and wait for our taxi back up to the hotel.

Staying at the Holiday Inn Express on Umhlanga Ridge meant that we were literally two blocks away from the Gateway Shopping Centre and we took a walk up to the mall on the Saturday evening for dinner.  Gateway is more than just a little collection of shops under one roof with a huge amount of retail stores, entertainment and restaurants to pick and choose from.  After a little retail therapy and a look around the Wave House we found ourselves a spot to enjoy some good sushi and wine before moseying back to the hotel.  
Umhlanga has a wide range of accommodation options with the ones down on the coast being more expensive than those up on the ridge.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga (do go and read my review) and the fact that it wasn’t right on the beach didn’t effect our holiday at all.  In actual fact it’s very nicely located to enjoy both the beachfront as well as the Gateway Shopping Centre, has great views, very spacious and comfortable rooms (mush more so than what I was expecting), always friendly staff and all in all a very good choice for an express holiday in Umhlanga.

Disclosure: We were invited for a weekend at the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga by the InterContinental Hotels Group and they carried all the costs for the weekend.  They asked for a blog post to be written but had no editorial input in the content of the post. 

Agulhas – the most Southern point of Africa

I have finally had the opportunity to take the family to see Cape Agulhas.  I got to visit it the first time when I was doing my tourist guide training for the Western Cape but as a family we have never been in the area.  A day of exploring along the coast took us from Gansbaai past Danger Point to Struisbaai and Agulhas.  It took us a lot longer to make the journey than initially expected and the family already started grumbling about heading back to the campsite at Vloedbos so I decided to rather skip climbing the Agulhas Lighthouse.  At least I’ve been up before and the family got to climb Danger Point.  I did stop to get a couple of photos of the lighthouse though.

The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was opened in 1849 and was the third lighthouse to be built in South Africa.  Today it is the second-oldest still operating after Green Point.  The design of the building was inspired by the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the original 7 Ancient Wonders of the World.  In 1968 the lighthouse was taken out of service when it was discovered that the sandstone walls were crumbling due to excessive weathering.  The light was moved to an aluminium tower and restoration started on the lighthouse building with it being recommissioned in 1988.
From the lighthouse it’s a short drive to the parking area from where we followed a boardwalk to Cape Agulhas.  Cape Agulhas is significant as it is the most Southern point of Africa and officially the spot where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet (no matter what some Cape Townians would like you to believe about Cape Point).  The cape was named by Portuguese navigators around the year 1500 who called it Cabo das Agulhas, Portuguese for “Cape of Needles”, after they noticed that the direction of magnetic north (and therefore the compass needle) coincided with true north in the region.

Chaos Boy who was the most excited about seeing the most Southern point was rather disappointed what what he saw when we got there.  Cape Agulhas is relatively unspectacular with a gradually curving coastline and a rocky beach.  To be honest, if it wasn’t for the small stone monument and plaque, one would probably not even know that you are actually standing at the cape.  The significance isn’t lost on you when you are there though and we joined the other tourists in a line for our turn to take photos.

Drama Princess wasn’t really bothered about the cape, although she had to pose for a picture as well.  She was more worried about finding one of the oldest Geocaches in South Africa nearby.  Something we did afterwards by the way.
Cape Agulhas may not be as spectacular as Cape Point but it’s still very cool to be able to say one has stood at the most Southern point of Africa.

Discovering Danger Point Lighthouse

South Africa has some famous lighthouses. Cape Point, Green Point, Agulhas, Great Fish and Umhlanga just to name a few.  There are close to 50 lighthouse along the South African coast though and some often receive very little publicity because they are very much off the beaten track or just don’t get visited as often as the well known ones.  During our camping holiday at Vloedbos in the Overberg we spent one day exploring the coast between Gansbaai and Agulhas and I got to visit the Danger Point Lighthouse just outside Gansbaai for the first time.
Bartolomeus Dias landed at what is now known as Danger Point on 16 May 1488.  He originally named it Ponte de Sao Brandao.  The name Danger Point comes from the dangerous reefs and rocks below the water which make it very dangerous for ships to sail close to the coast.
The most famous ship to be wrecked off Danger Point was the troopship HMS Birkenhead.  It was wrecked about 1,6 km from Danger Point in 1852, three years before the lighthouse was built, on a barely visible rock now named Birkenhead Rock.  The ship carried young Welsh and Scottish soldiers as well as their officers and families, on their way to Eastern Cape to fight the Xhosa.  The Birkenhead became famous as it became the first wreck where the captain called “women and children first”.  All women and children were saved but most of the men perished.

The light was first activated on 1 January 1895.  The first light produced a beam of 45 000 candle.  Today’s modern light has a strength of 1 700 000 candle at its peak flash intensity.  The lights is 45 meters above high water and can be seen from 25 sea miles out.

Out little lighthouse expedition was a lot less eventful although I did follow the women and children protocol to allow me to get some pics of the family shuffling up the exposed stairs. *smile*
You can see for miles from the top and it’s clear why it is easy for a ship sailing close in shore to get into trouble here.

We fortunately didn’t run into any trouble and avoided any collision with the rocks.  Unfortunately there weren’t anybody else at the top of the lighthouse to take a family photo so here is one minus yours truly.  Once again just a little exploring took us to yet another new place.  It makes it hard to understand why some people never want to go anywhere and just sit in front of the tv or go walk around shopping centres.

Cape Recife Lighthouse

I wish I had more time to go and explore Cape Recife Nature Reserve more often with my camera.  It offers so many photo opportunities, one of these being the Cape Recife Lighthouse.  The lighthouse was built in 1851 on the western point of Algoa Bay.  Cape Recife is one of the major turning points on the South African coastline and the lighthouse warns ships of Thunderbolt Reef and other hazards which they have to give a wide berth.  The tower stands 24 metres high and is equipped with a fog signal, radio beacon, a red light (28º) and the main flashing white light (332º) that shines every 30 seconds and is visible up to 29 nautical miles out to sea.

Mossel Bay’s lighthouse

The western point of Mossel Bay is named Cape St Blaze and long before the first Europeans arrived in South Africa this area was home to the Khoi people.  The Khoi found shelter in the caves along this coastline, one which can be found directly below the lighthouse where archaeological digs have found that the early inhabitants lived on the abundance of shellfish available from the rocks below. 
The Cape St Blaze Lighthouse was erected in 1864 and up until recently was one of the last South African lighthouses that was manned 24 hours a day.  Until the late 1970’s the lighthouse worked on a clockwork system to turn the lens and a lighthouse keeper had to climb up the tower every three hours to wind it up.  These days all the navigational aids and joining plant are fully automated although a senior and two additional light keepers are still employed.  Constant radio watch is kept and regular meteorological duties undertaken.

The old Cape Point Lighthouse

Cape Point is a many historic tales and legends.  In 1688 Bartolomeu Dias passed around the point in a storm without even knowing it and only got to see it for the first time on the return journey.  He named it Cabo Tormentosa or the Cape of Storms.  Its also off this point and coastline that the mythical Flying Dutchman under the command of  Captain Hendrick van der Decken is doomed to sail into eternity.  Cape Point is also one of the biggest tourist attractions in Cape Town with thousands of tourists flocking there to admire its scenic beauty and sheer cliffs.  Visitors to the point usually take the path (or funicular for those not in the mood to walk) up to the old Lighthouse at the top from where the point itself can be seen.

The old Cape Point Lighthouse was built in 1860 and could be seen out to sea from a distance of 36 miles.  The problem was that when misty and cloudy conditions moved in the lighthouse was invisible to ships.  After the Portuguese liner Lusitania wrecked just south of Cape Point in 1911 it was decided to have a new lighthouse built close to the point itself at a much lower elevation.  The old lighthouse is still around and truth be told, probably gets photographed a lot more by tourists than the new lighthouse does.