After our wonderfully relaxing and uplifting walk around Platbos Forest, we drove down to the coast at De Kelders. Our plan was to drive through to L’Agulhas, where I wanted to climb up the famous lighthouse at the southernmost point of Africa. We had been there many, many years ago, and I was really looking forward to seeing the place again. As it happened, we did not make it that far, but we did have quite a nice roundabout trip, which I wanted to tell you about.
Our first stop was the settlement of De Kelders (you can read more about it here):
“‘De Kelders’ is the Afrikaans name for ‘The Caves’. Numerous caves penetrate deep into the rock formations under the houses of De Kelders. The main De Kelders cave is the only freshwater cave on the coast of Africa. It contains natural mineral water and was first visited in 1798 by Lady Anne Barnard.
The Drup Kelders, after which the area is named, has several quite deep freshwater rockpools, filled by water seeping in from a freshwater fountain. It was known as one of the natural wonders of the old Colony.” (from Gansbaai Tourism brochure)
By now, we were rather hungry and thirsty, though, so we had some toasted sandwiches with tea at a coffee shop, appropriately named Coffee on the Rocks, overlooking the ocean. We kept an eye out for whales, and saw some dark spots spouting water in the middle of the bay… but nothing close enough to photograph.
Whale watching can be a frustrating and disappointing business. It’s not like these behemoths of the southern oceans tend to leap out of the waves, sending massive sprays of water into the air, at exactly the moment when you have your camera trained on them, zoom extended to the max, and balanced on a tripod.
If you want instant gratification, or photogenic action on request, you’re likely to be disappointed. You’re just as likely to get tired eyes from staring out to sea, peering at black spots that might be rocks or cormorants, and having fascinating conversations like this:
“Hey! Look! It’s a whale!”
“Over there!” – gesticulating vaguely in the direction.
“I can’t see it…”
“It’s next to that swirly bit, where the sea’s lighter.” – more gesticulating.
“Follow my finger, where it’s pointing…”
“OK, can you see those buildings in the distance?”
“Er…” – wiping sea spray off blurry glasses.
“OK, now come in closer, about halfway across the bay, to where the sea is swirling and lighter. There’s a black thing in the middle of that.”
“Um, I think that’s a rock…”
“I know that’s a rock… I mean to the left of that rock. Oh! There! Did you see that?”
“Um… you mean that white smoke thing?”
“Yes! That must’ve been the whale spouting…”
“Oh… no… I missed it… Can we go now?”
Whale watching, I tell ya, is meant for people with better eyesight and more patience than me.
Our next destination was Pearly Beach, about 20 km eastwards of Gansbaai, passing Franskraal and Uilenkraalsmond along the way.
As promised by the name, we found ourselves on a looooong and pristine sandy beach, with the obligatory one or two anglers standing onshore, casting their whats-its into the waves, and looking utterly content with their lives, like most anglers do – unless they have to bring home some fish for the wife and kids, I suppose, in which case the pressure and stress of providing food for survival must be quite high.
There was also a surfskier trying his luck in the shallow waters of the bay.
We went for a refreshing walk along the beach, inhaling clean and salty sea air, letting the gentle breeze whip back our hair, and feeling our hearts gladden with the joy of being in such a lovely part of the world.
Totally reenergised, we climbed back into the car and headed further east. Our next destination would have been the small villages of Buffeljags and Die Dam beyond that. Thereafter, the road swings inland, and then down again to Struisbaai – and L’Agulhas with its famous lighthouse.
We had forgotten about that. Actually, I’d naively figured that, somehow, in the past 10 years or thereabouts, someone would’ve tarred these roads. The gravel road wasn’t in a bad state, mind you, but… gravel roads are a little rough on your car. And they make it really, really dirty. The fine reddish dust goes in everywhere. I know, because I have manually cleaned our car after gravel road excursions. It’s not fun.
Also, the shock absorbers tend to get a thorough work-out from unexpected potholes, dips and humps, as do the various joints and breakable stuff that needs a film of grease or oil – and not a film of fine sand. And, by the time we reached L’Agulhas, the lighthouse would probably be closed already, it being a Saturday afternoon and outside the summer tourist season. I had foolishly neglected to take along a contact number, so I couldn’t even phone to check whether and how long they would be open.
That was silly.
We stopped at the side of the road, and debated our options.
- Forward to Die Dam? Onward to L’Agulhas? Take our chances?
- Back to Gansbaai and Stanford?
- Or inland to Elim and Baardskeerdersbos?
Inland it was.
“Baardskeerdersbos, known locally as B’Bos, lies in a fertile valley in the Strandveld. It is one of the most undisturbed and picturesque destinations in the region.”
And so it was. Picturesque is a good adjective for this area.
In case you are curious where this unusual name (‘Baardskeerdersbos = Beard Shavers Bush) comes from:
“As early as 1660, there is a mention of Baardscheerdersbosch when an expedition team of five men reported back to Jan van Riebeeck about this valley and its Khoi residents. The expedition members wrote about the small spider-like creature they encountered and called this creature a ‘Baardscheerder’ (Beard Shaver), as these spiders were known for cutting human hair (beards) to make their nests.” (Gansbaai Tourism brochure)
I really hope that has not put you off visiting this lovely place, because the scenery was quite beautiful. We kept a lookout for a coffee shop/tea garden, but there wasn’t one to be seen along the road. Perhaps this is a gap in the market?
As we had had no luck getting as far as the lighthouse at L’Agulhas, we were rather chuffed to see that there was another lighthouse not far from here – at the appropriately named Danger Point just south of Gansbaai, so that is where we drove to next.
“The peninsula of Danger Point extends for about 8 km into the sea. The many reefs and uncharted rocks along its shoreline make it one of the most dangerous places in the world for ships coming too close inshore.” (Gansbaai Tourism brochure)
This is also the place where the legendary HMS Birkenhead was wrecked in 1852. Do you know the naval protocol of “women and children first” when it comes to shipwrecks? It has its origins in the sad fate of the Birkenhead (reference here). Clearly, it was essential to build a lighthouse here, which happened in 1895.
“The many steps to the top of the light house can be climbed, allowing for a marvellous 360 degrees over the ocean and the hinterland of the peninsula. Danger Point is a proper name for the place where the Flying Dutchman was spotted for the first time.” (Danger Point Lighthouse)
Now does that not sound utterly appealing? Well, it did to me.
When we finally reached the entrance to the lighthouse complex, unfortunately, it was closed. According to the information board outside the locked gate, visiting hours were Monday to Friday, from 10h00 to 15h00.
Hubby, undeterred, picked up the cellphone and phoned the after-hours number. He knew his beloved (i.e. me) was desperately keen to celebrate her birthday by doing symbolic stuff, such as walking a sacred labyrinth and climbing to the top of a lighthouse, and he wanted to oblige. If possible.
The friendly chap on the other end of the line was apologetic, but there was nothing he could do to assist us. Well, according to the dialling code, he was sitting in Cape Town. It wasn’t likely that he would jump in the car and drive over with the key. Quite understandable.
So, somewhat disappointed, we made our way back to the main road, and cruised along the coastal route through Gansbaai and De Kelders, gazing out at the ocean, looking out for whales, until we were tired of the glare of the sunlight on the water, and the salty sea air, and longing, instead, for a restorative pot of tea with a plate of Oreo biscuits in our magical little fynbos garden with its myriad tweetering birds.
“Shall we go home? Enough for the day?”
“Yes. Home. Tea.”
And so we did.
I can highly recommend that.
To read the next instalment, click on A waterfall picnic at Salmonsdam Nature Reserve.
Here are the links to all the posts in this series, in case you’ve missed any: