Travel and a bit of shopping
First published in SLOW, Edition 51
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the Irish playwright who wrote more than 60 plays, said, ‘I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve’.
Before lighthouses were built early sailors used bonfire beacons, on cliffs and hillsides to act as warning signals.
The first lighthouse was built in Alexandria, and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built between 280 and 247BC and for many centuries it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. It survived in part till 1480.
Although the number of operational lighthouses has declined due to the use of electronic navigation being used, nowadays the old Japanese proverb,‘Darkness reigns at the foot of a lighthouse’ is everything but true.
Many lighthouses around South Africa are tourist attractions for a variety of reasons such as the panoramic views they offer, the interesting history of the structures or their enhanced use – such as offering accommodation on the lighthouse site.
Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, the southernmost point of Africa
The design of the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was inspired by the Pharos of Alexandria. As with the Pharos, large blocks of light-coloured stone was used in its construction. It also has a tower made up of three tapering tiers and the lower part of the lighthouse is square with a central core.
Inside the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse is a small lighthouse museum. Climb the 71 steps – including the rungs of a steep ladder – to the top of the lighthouse for a view over the indiscernible meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean, as determined by the International Hydrographic Organisation.
Thereafter take a leisurely walk of about one kilometre along the boardwalk from the lighthouse to the stone cairn that marks the southernmost point of Africa and the Agulhas Icon Sculpture by Strijdom van der Merwe.
Doringbaai (Thorn Bay) Lighthouse, West Coast
An old adage goes, ‘Once the lighthouse is seen, the rest of the sea is ignored’.
At the fishing village of Doringbaai once the cylindrical white lighthouse with its black band has been admired, visitors seem to lose interest as they head to Fryer’s Cove Winery on the pier. This wine tasting venue is in a disused crayfish factory which – apart from adding to the charm – means that the cold sea water can be harnessed as a cooling system that saves energy too.
Sit on the jetty, sip on Doringbay Sauvignon Blanc -with its distinctive turquoise label depicting a sardine can opener – whilst looking out over the bay. Order good ole fish and chips, calamari or a platter with snoek, figs and olives from the Jetty Restaurant, run by members of the local community.
South Head Lighthouse, Saldanha Bay
Very few people get to see South Head Lighthouse as the access road passes through an off-limits South African National Defence Force base. It is colloquially known as Donkergat Island after the old whaling station that existed here from 1909 to 1967.
South Head Lighthouse is one of only three lighthouses in South Africa that features a yellow section. The other two are at Groenriviermond, Northern Cape and Cape Vidal, Kwazulu-Natal.
Seal Point Lighthouse, Cape St Francis
Seal Point Lighthouse is the tallest stone tower on the South African coast. This lighthouse, also called the Cape St Francis Lighthouse, is a very elegant all-white structure with a beautiful fanlight above the entrance.
A stone’s throw from the lighthouse a large statue of a penguin beckons visitors to the SANCCOB Seabird Rehabilitation Centre. At this centre they treat and look after sick, injured or oiled African penguins and other coastal birds. Behind-the-scenes tours are on offer and there is a souvenir shop on the premises as well.
Hood Point Lighthouse, East London
Hood Point Lighthouse is unique in quite a few ways: its red lantern house resembles a Turkish fez, its windows are keyhole-shaped and its balcony is a touch grander than those of other lighthouses.
In order to get to the lighthouse you have to drive – or walk – through a quaint graveyard with graves dating from the early 1900s. If you do not fancy taking slightly macabre photos of a lighthouse juxtapositioned with a cemetery angel, West Bank Golf Course is a short drive away. It is said that you can see the sea from every tee at West Bank.
Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu-Natal
If you harbour the desire to view a lighthouse on eye-level the only place to go is to the aptly named The Lighthouse Bar at The Oyster Box in Umhlanga Rocks.
From the terrace you have a 180-degree view of the coastline with the top of the lighthouse smack bang in the middle. Try the signature cocktail called Umhlanga Schling with local cane sugar and cane spirit whilst surrounded by oversized Alice-in-Wonderland chairs echoing the red of the Umhlanga Rocks Lighthouse.