In the Spotlight: 11 South African Lighthouses
Imagine a dark sky, wet sails, stormy waters and not a single light to guide you to shore … This is exactly the circumstances sailors faced when first exploring the vast oceans surrounding South Africa starting in the 1400s. To avoid shipwrecks and to ensure that sailors could safely reach their destinations, lighthouses were built along the South African coast. The Green Point Lighthouse in Mouille Point was the very first lighthouse structure built on our soil in 1824 and soon became a beacon of light to captains and explorers. Let’s take a look at a few of these impressive structures still standing tall and proud today.
Did you know? Lighthouses are painted differently to help mariners identify them during the day, and those in close proximity to each other have different flash patterns.
This lighthouse is located in Kommetjie close to Cape Town. Its name is derived from the Slangkop (‘Snake Head’) peak directly behind the lighthouse. To this day it’s the tallest cast-iron lighthouse in the country!
Highlight: Climb the spiral staircase from Mondays to Fridays between 10:00 and 15:00.
Look out for: The four white flashes, separated by four seconds, every thirty seconds.
First lit in: 1914 but because of the First World War only completed in 1919.
Kommetjie is the ideal spot for surfing, kitesurfing and birdwatching. From 2017 Kommetjie has become the official host of Lighthouse Festival, so gather your friends for an exciting stay at one of these places:
This lighthouse is located on the outskirts of Simon’s Town and it’s the only one in the Southern Hemisphere built on a single rock in the ocean. It was electrified in 1992 when town lights of Simon’s Town and Kalk Bay started outshining it.
Highlight: View a part of the 1914 mechanism on display at the Simon’s Town Museum from Mondays to Fridays between 10:00 and 13:00.
Look out for: Its automatic flash occurring every six seconds.
First lit in: 1861 after four years of construction.
Simon’s Town has family-oriented beaches, waters filled with surfers and sidewalk restaurants with beautiful ocean views ─ it’s the perfect destination for a family holiday! So, why don’t you treat the family to one of these excellent stays?
This lighthouse can be found at the southernmost tip of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans collide. It’s located in Agulhas National Park and it’s the second oldest operational lighthouse in South Africa.
Highlight: Climb the 71 narrow steps to the top of the tower from Mondays to Fridays between 9:00 and 17:00.
Look out for: The white lights flashing every five seconds.
First lit in: 1849 and based on the original Egyptian Faros lighthouse.
Cape L’Agulhas boasts renowned whale-watching and fishing spots ─ book a summer escape at one of these seaside stays to experience it first-hand:
Highlight: Visit the SANCCOB Seabird Rehabilitation Centre on the lighthouse grounds. There are self-guided tours or guided tours twice a day between 10:00 and 15:00.
Look out for: Its light flashing every five seconds.
First lit in: 1878 after three years of difficult construction.
Cape St. Francis has world-class surf, and brags with the perfect wave shown in the 1966 movie The Endless Summer. Why not watch the movie while relaxing in one of these comfortable beds?
This lighthouse is situated on the southern edge of Walker Bay Nature Reserve near Gansbaai. Its reefs are so dangerous that, to date, more than 140 ships have been wrecked between Danger Point and Cape Infanta.
Highlight: Climb 18.3 metres to the top from Mondays to Fridays between 10:00 and 15:00.
Look out for: Its light flashing every forty seconds.
First lit in: 1895.
The Walker Bay Fishing Trail gives 4×4 access to popular angling and picnic spots, and is a wonderful land-based whale-watching area. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars for a breathtaking breakaway at one of these places:
Columbine Nature Reserve (often called Tietiesbaai) is just outside of Paternoster. This lighthouse stands on a massive rock known as Castle Rock and is named after the Columbine ─ a ship that was wrecked just north of the reserve.
Highlight: Climb the spiral staircase that leads to views over the Britannia reef and the Atlantic ─ it’s open from Mondays to Fridays between 10:00 and 15:00 but reservations are required from May to September.
Look out for: Its light flashing every fifteen seconds.
First lit in: 1936, so it is fairly new in comparison to the others
Columbine Nature Reserve is great for fishing, kayaking and from August to September, the area is covered in wildflowers. Don’t miss these colourful flowers by booking early at one of these places:
In 1488, on the day of St Blaize, Bartolomeu Dias sailed into Mossel Bay and named the area Bahia de Sao Bras ─ the watering place of St Blaize’. Today, the St Blaize Lighthouse stands tall above a cave on the Mossel Bay coast.
Highlight: This lighthouse can be visited between 10:00 and 15:00, every day in April and October, and per arrangement during the rest of the year.
Look out for: Its light flashing every fifteen seconds!
First lit in: 1864.
Highlight: There are 95 steps to the top of the Umhlanga Lighthouse, but sadly it isn’t a lighthouse you can explore from within. However, be sure to take a picture on the beach with the lighthouse forming a lovely backdrop.
Look out for: Its light flashing every twenty seconds.
First lit in: 1954 and it only took four days and 19 hours to build.
Gateway Shopping Centre and Sibaya Casino are some of the key attractions in the Umhlanga area, and adventurers can look forward to deep-sea fishing, dolphin viewing and bodyboarding nearby. So, book a weekend getaway at one of these places and enjoy some fun in the sun:
Dassen Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Yzerfontein and is named after the many hyraxes (Dassen in Dutch) on this island. The lighthouse is set on the southern and highest point of the island and it’s the most isolated lighthouse on the South African coast.
Highlight: The island is closed to the general public, but can be visited by special permit.
Look out for: Two flashes that are separated by ten seconds, every thirty seconds.
First lit in: 1893.
Dassen Island has one of the largest concentrations of penguins in the Southern Cape. Since you need a permit to go there, you’d probably want to stay for a few days, so pack your fishing rod and head to one of these places in Yzerfontein:
Rough waters around the Thunderbolt Reef in Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth, caused many shipwrecks over the years before the pleas of locals were answered and the Cape Recife Lighthouse was built.
Highlight: Climb the 101 wooden, circular stairs to the top. Entrance rates are charged per vehicle.
Look out for: Its light flashing every thirty seconds.
First lit in: 1851, after 40 years of requests to build one.
Algoa Bay is famous for its birdlife and also known as a Hope Spot — a special conservation spot that protects our ocean life. If you care about wildlife, why not stay at one of these lovely places?
There are two lighthouses in Cape Point Nature Reserve. The Old Lighthouse is no longer operating but rather used as the centralised monitoring point for all the lighthouses on the coast of South Africa. The New Lighthouse is one of the most powerful on the coast!
Highlight: Visit the Flying Dutchman Funicular, also known as the Cape Point Funicular, named after the local legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship.
Look out for: Its light flashing three times every thirty seconds.
First lit in: 1859, where the Old Lighthouse still stands on the highest section of the peak.
Hiking, swimming and enjoying the vineyards are only a few of the activities around Cape Point! With so much to do, you’ll have to make it a weekend getaway ─ check out these options:
It is not always easy getting a perfect picture of a lighthouse, so here are a few tips for a lighthearted lighthouse lover!
Close-ups of the lighthouse should be taken from the bottom and include the highest point. Some photographers even lie on their back to take the picture. This will highlight the size of the lighthouse.
Take a photo from very far away in order to highlight the remote setting while capturing the dramatic scene of the unforgiving ocean that surrounds it. This often needs a wider lens.
Check the weather. Lighthouses are often in gloomy, misty areas and can often obstruct the quality of your photograph. When taking photos on a misty day or at dusk, use slow shutter speeds.
#nofilter? Not this time! Use Polarizing filters to get rid of unwanted glares from reflective surfaces like water, use neutral density filters to help filter some of the light entering your lens, the split neutral density filter will help you to set specific exposure settings to brighten only half of your image.
Establishing a foreground interest usually gives you a more visually appealing photo than one without. Your family will enjoy seeing you in the picture. Having a subject to focus on in the foreground creates a layered composition #selfie
This open air festival only takes place at Slangkop Lighthouse in South Africa and also where it originated in Croatia! It features more than 150 artists from all over the world combining music and art. Don’t miss it on 24 February 2018! The (optional) bus takes you from Sea Point to Kommetjie and returns to Lighthouse Road, Soetwater Resort. Book your accommodation here!
Since the Ancient World, light beams and fires were used to safely guide ships along treacherous shores. Although lighthouses have replaced these primitive forms of warning, its function remains the same and is of the utmost importance to sailors. That’s why these bright structures are annually celebrated on 7 August and with 45 lighthouses along our own coastline, be sure to visit a few of these impressive guards!
Feature Image: The Mouille Point lighthouse with Devil’s Peak as a backdrop by Hilton1949 (Wiki Commons)