I thought seventy-one steps was a doddle but I was mistaken.
Stupid me. I was comparing the ease of 71 steps on terra firm with climbing four steep ladders up the narrow interior of the famous old lighthouse at Cape Agulhas.
So by the time I’d reached the 71st step I was so shaken and stirred by terror infirma that all I could do was sit on my plonk on the metal floor and wonder how on earth I was going to get down.
Not for me the joy of stepping out on to the open platform to see the “fabulous views” described in the brochure. Instead I crouched in my corner watching a group of about 15 barefoot, pre-school tots waiting patiently for their plump andkindly teacher to give them the okay to descend.
Like a devoted bantam hen with her clutch of precious chicks, she and a young uniformed lad supervised each child to the difficult start of the ladder, urging her charges to “hou vas” to the metal rail and “moenie, moenie kyk down nie.”
She was clearly an old hand at chaperoning groups of children to the lighthouse. I didn’t wait to see her descend. As soon as I was over my bout of vertigo, I jumped the queue. Another uniformed lad stayed with me from ladder to ladder, shaming me dreadfully by fearlessly leaping off each ladder when only half way down it, so he’d be at my side when I set off on the next descent. What a star!
Pleased to meet you L’Agulhas
For years we’ve talked about going to Cape Agulhas so it was a surprise on arriving there last week to find the signboards of welcome called it “L’Agulhas”. The Portuguese named it Cabo dos Agulhas (Cape of Needles) but under the French influence in the area, it was renamed L’Agulhas.
Why the needles? “You pays your penny and takes your choice” as the expression goes. Some say it’s because of the treacherous rocks which caused so many shipwrecks.
Others that when the Portuguese navigators reached the most southern point of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, their compasses pointed true north without any magnetic deviation.
Fortunately for future sailors and passing ships local farmer Michiel van Breda, the founding father of Bredasdorp and the first Mayor of Cape Town, pushed for the building of the lighthouse which was designed by Charles Michell and lit for the first time on March 1, 1849. So for the past 169 years the red and white striped structure of the second oldest working lighthouse in operation in South Africa, has been the first thing you see on entering the town.
It is no longer manned by a lonely lighthouse keeper running up and down those terrifying ladders.
View to die for
From our king-size double bed in our beautifully appointed thatch-roofed wooden chalet – one of a group of new 22 self-catering cottages in the Agulhas National Park – we had a fine view of the wild sea breaking over layers of jagged rocks running parallel to the shore. The waves are second only in height to those at Cape Horn and we went to sleep and woke up each morning to the sound of their music, louder and more ferocious than even Beethoven could have composed.
The views from every chalet has been made possible by building most of the structure on raised platforms supported by enormously long straight poles plunged deeply into the ground and running right up and under the thatch.
On these we were happy to see, when we had our one and only braai, there were numerous little sprinklers.
The brochure describes the chalets as “fully equipped” and indeed they were with one exception – there were no teaspoons. Six soup spoons, six dessert spoons, several serving spoons, but not a solitary one for tea, coffee or sugar. We had to laugh. Were they pinched by a teaspoon collector or kleptomaniac? We will never know. But we did report the lack of teaspoons at SANParks office when we left.
Sea and sunshine
We were blessed with bright sunshine and little wind for our four days which were filled with either enjoying the safe lagoon protected from the wild sea by a wall of rocks, walking along part of neighbouring Struisbaai’s famous 14km beach (the longest in Southern Africa), or driving to the nature reserve at Die Mond. But we did do what every visitor is expected to do, we visited the stone monument marking the official spot where the two great oceans – the Indian and Atlantic – officially meet.
That site was further enhanced last year by building on ground level a huge 3-D Map of Africa showing the rivers, mountain ranges and other geographical features. Quite humbling to notice how small Table Mountain looked in comparison to Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro which, at 4 900 metres from its base to 5 895 metres above sea level, is the highest in Africa. Our flat-topped beauty is only 1 085 metres.
As well as a long boardwalk running parallel to the sea, another ambitious undertaking to help visitors reach the famous meeting point of the Two Oceans, is 1.2km brick road being built for cars and tourist buses instead of using the current dusty untarred one.
It will be great when completed but the stop/go controls are a bit of a pain for visitors to the chalets or owners of private houses in the vicinity.
Let grumpy nap
Sometimes I wake up grumpy and sometimes I decide to let him sleep on….